RV Maintenance & Equipment

How Do I Know It’s Time To Replace My RV Roof?

RV roof repair

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How Do I Know It’s Time To Replace My RV Roof?

Not all RV roofs are made of the same materials, so their maintenance and longevity will vary. Plastics, rubbers, and composites such as fiberglass can degrade from exposure to the elements and even aluminum roofs use those materials to seal edges, seams, and screw holes.

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Signs of extreme wear or ongoing leaks may indicate that its effort to replace the roof provides a greater benefit than patching the roof multiple times a year.

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Fortunately, most leaks will happen when the sealants wear out, so the removal of the old sealant and the replacement with a new application of a matching sealant is required. Catching little problems early makes the difference between being able to use a $5 tube of lap sealant to repair where the old sealant has become dry, cracked, or chalky and having to replace an entire membrane in order to replace rotted structural wood, damaged interior, etc. which could cost thousands, even to the point of a total loss.

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It is important to know what kind of roof you have in order to use the correct products for repairs and the feasibility of replacement using a different Material. Ongoing leaks can lead to structural rot, mold, electrical, and all sorts of other problems, so it is important to inspect regularly to stay on top of regular roof maintenance.

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Most RV manufacturers recommend seasonal RV owners who store their mobile vacation homes inside or under a cover do a roof inspection at the beginning and end of the season at a minimum. Be sure to check your roof after any potential incidents which may be the cause of concern such as catching tree branches on your camper.

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If the roof needs replacement there are a number of options available that can be used depending on the type of roof that was on there previously.

What Are The Options For RV Roof Replacement?

There are a number of RV roof replacement options available from TPO Rubber, EPDM, Fiberglass, Aluminum, or spray-on polyurethane polymers such as flex armor/RV-Armor/Rhino Linings. They each have positives and negatives. Let’s have a closer look at each one.

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TPO Rubber

TPO (Thermoplastic Olefin) membranes are lightweight, flexible, and UV resistant. They are mostly plastic with rubber mixed in but are not as flexible as EPDM rubber. It is a new option for RV roofs compared to the other options, so it isn’t as time tested, but it is very cost-effective, which is why it is becoming so popular as an option with RV manufacturers.

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They are estimated to last 10-20 years or more, but those estimates have yet to be verified in the real world. It is a decent option for DIY installation because it can be screwed, glued, or mechanically attached to your RV without special tools or training unless you need to heat fuse edges together for your application. The material cost can be as little as a few hundred dollars depending on the length, but at approximately 2 hours per foot, the labor at a dealer can cost several thousand.

EPDM

EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) RV roof membranes are layered sheets of synthetic rubber. They can be either vulcanized, making them harder and tougher like tires, or non-vulcanized, making them stretchier and more flexible like balloons and better suited to fitting contours but more prone to tearing.

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Both types are compatible with the same glues and sealants, which allows them to be used together on the same install for the best benefits of both. It is good at insulating heat and noise while being able to resist hail damage without dents or dings. It has been used on RV roofs since 1983 and has been shown to last from 20 to 30 years with easy maintenance.

The material cost and labor are similar to TPO but the material is heavier, making it more difficult to get onto the roof without a forklift, which is an important consideration if doing the labor yourself.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass Roofs can be either formed with raw fiberglass fabric and epoxy resin or fiberglass nylon composite sheets called Filon. If your RV has a one-piece contoured shell, then it is made with fiberglass and resin, which means if you need to replace the roof, your best bet is to use the same thing.

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Fiberglass Resin roofs are very labor-intensive to replace, the materials are hazardous, messy, and the results can be quite ugly if not done properly, so you’ll want to hire a professional rather than to try doing it yourself.

However, they can last an exceptionally long time with proper maintenance and periodic recoating, so unless something catastrophic happens like a tree branch landing on it (which your insurance should cover anyways), you will never have to redo the roof again.

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If your RV has flat and glossy siding and roofing, with contoured caps and trim, then it is Filon. Filon is significantly more expensive than TPO or EPDM, but that is for a good reason. Filon is harder than TPO or EPDM, so where those soft membranes will typically just flex to absorb hail damage, Filon or even a Fiberglass Resin shell will break the hail.

While Fiberglass, TPO, and EPDM all resist hail damage in their own ways, the hard and glossy shell of fiberglass does not snag or tear the way soft membranes can, so they withstand tree branches much better.

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Of course, there does come a point where fiberglass will crack from a heavy enough impact, but if you have a fiberglass roof in need of replacement then most likely you already know that. Because of its hardness and rigidity, Filon does not bend around sharp edges the way soft membranes can.

As a result, retrofitting a filon roof in place of a rubber membrane is difficult and costly because of the additional materials needed to create the necessary curves on the sides and the caps to cover the front and back edges, not to mention that every pound added in the process is a pound of contents that you cannot take along on your trip.

Aluminum

Aluminum RV roofs, like Fiberglass, come in two basic flavors: thick and thin. Airstream trailers are an example of thick aluminum. These sheets are cut to shape and press formed or bent over frame components and riveted in place to create the shell of the trailer, including the roof.

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Replacement of these roofs is a complex job best suited to trained professionals and like everything else involving Airstream trailers, is expensive and hard to find what you need. RVs with thin aluminum roofs usually come with thin aluminum siding as well. The aluminum is usually backed by wood and/or foam, which makes it strong, durable, and weather-resistant.

Even if the paint is worn off, when Aluminum oxidizes, it creates a hard outer layer on the metal rather than eating holes through the material like rust eats through iron and steel. Aluminum oxide is commonly used in sandpaper because it is harder than most metals you might use to smooth and polish.

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Aside from any seams and holes where water can leak through and damage wood frames and backing, Aluminum can last pretty much forever, aside from how it can look after years of wear on the paint and dents from hail damage.

It definitely doesn’t beat Fiberglass in a beauty contest. A big advantage to aluminum roofs is that they can be repaired with readily available materials while damaged RVs with fiberglass roofs need to be brought to a shop, which can be difficult to do without causing additional damage.

Flex Armor/RV-Armor/Rhino Lining

(Polyurethane?)

Liquid RV roofs can be a good option regardless of what kind of roof material you have existing. The only caveat is that liquid coatings do not provide an underlying structure or fill gaps and voids without additional materials.

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Just like paint, you need to prep the surface. If you leave old membranes, sealants, dirt, dents, gouges, and rough spots on the underlying surface, the final product can have trouble adhering or may show those defects after finishing the job, so the biggest downside of these products is the amount of prep work required.

The problem that comes with using sheets of material is a tradeoff between flexibility and strength or using roofing systems. Liquid roofs make up a form-fitted, monolithic piece of material that adheres directly to all of the trouble spots surpassing traditional roofing materials and eliminates potential leak spots such as joints, trim pieces, screw holes.

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Because of the direct adhesion and form-fitting nature, even if damaged, they don’t have a tendency to catch wind loading and peel way such as solid rubber membranes. Some can be rolled or brushed on like RV-Armor, which can be a great DIY option, while others like Flex Armor and Rhino Lining require HVLP sprayers, massive spray booths, respirators, and proprietary deals with manufacturers to apply.

Manufacturers of these liquid roofing products claim long lifespans and offer lifetime warranties without upkeep requirements. Time will tell how accurate those claims are and it is smart to stick to well-established companies with diversified markets when relying on lifetime warranties so that you don’t end up with expensive and important products that fail after the company backing the warranty becomes insolvent.

What Is The Cost To Replace An RV Roof?

The Cost for roof replacement costs from a DIY solution to having someone do it for you can range from X to $20,000 depending on the size of the RV and the shape of the structure of your rig. Let’s look at the breakdown for each method of replacing a roof and how much time it might take.

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How Much Does It Cost For An RV Shop To Replace A Roof?

A new roof installed by a shop usually costs from $5,000 to $20,000. As each job can vary depending on hourly labor rates in different areas and over time, fluctuations in material prices, and that the work needed to be done on any given roof will be specific to the job, it is difficult to get accurate pricing without taking it in for an estimate.

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For example: at the Lazy Days RV dealership, a complete install of a new, 30 foot EPDM roof would cost approximately $10440 to $10940, figuring two hours of labor at $149 per foot of length and $1500-$2000 in materials including a layer of underlayment. This is the only type of roofing they install.

A 30-foot Flex Armor roof, from rvroof.com costs $5400, including removal and reinstallation of all vents and air conditioner covers. There are two good options on the market RV Armor and ECO-coat from Rhino Linings, which are only available from professional shops.

What Are The Material Costs To Replace An RV Roof Yourself?

If you’re looking to save money then the DIY option is the best option at $300 to $3000 for materials plus a 60+ man-hour job yourself. Let’s take a 30-foot trailer that needs a new roof. Plus, you may also need to acquire special tools such as a tape measure, a chalk line, putty knife or scraper, utility knife or shears capable of cutting the materials, brushes, rollers, and a caulk gun to complete the job.

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Here’s a breakdown of the costs for each type of material costs, not including any vents covers, or trim that might be needed.

How To Patch A Hole In An RV Roof?

The materials needed to properly patch a hole will depend on the materials used. First, you need to repair the underlying structural damage if there is any. Then you use enough base material to span across the damaged area and onto good, solid materials, along with the correct adhesive and sealant materials to secure it down and waterproof the seams.

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Will Sealing My RV Roof Make It Last Longer?

Provided that the sealant is compatible with the base materials and that the base materials are still in good enough condition to work with the product, sealing the roof will make it last longer.

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Do EPDM Roofs Need To Be Sealed?

In order to keep that rubber in your roofing and not streaking down the sides of your RV, applying sealants according to manufacturer recommendations is necessary. One of the disadvantages of EPDM roofing is the amount of regular maintenance they require, which includes applying a coat of sealant from time to time. Rubber does tend to dry rot in the sun, leading to cracks and shedding of material with wear.

Do TPO Roofs Need To Be Sealed?

The sealants on the market can extend the lifespan of the membrane and it is probably a good idea to use them. They aren’t said to be as necessary as with EPDM, but EPDM has been on the market much longer and part of the expectedly long life of the product is that so much development has been put into sealants to work with it over the years.

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TPO membranes are UV resistant and reflect the heat from sunlight rather well. However, they don’t last forever. Like EPDM, they still require regular inspections and repairs as needed. As TPO membranes and sealants become more established in the market, improvements and revisions of those recommendations and expectations may change.

Does A Fiberglass RV Roof Need To Be Sealed?

Over time and with the weather exposure your RV will get while your corvette is wrapped with a fabric cover inside your garage, the outer coating of the fiberglass will experience wear and will need to be reapplied. Fiberglass RVs need to be washed and waxed the same as an old corvette, so the glossy surface doesn’t wear away to expose the underlying fibers as quickly.

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