Keeping a solid and leak-free roof over your head is one of the most important things you can do for an RV of any type. If you don’t have a good roof, then the rest of your RV is compromised. Water coming in from leaks in the roof can be a serious issue. It can cause mold, mildew, and other unhealthy conditions. In simple terms, it will destroy your rig.
One of the best ways to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is to do regular roof inspections. Many suggest doing at least an annual roof inspection or maintenance. Even if you’re not interested in actually doing maintenance work yourself, you can save some money and time by doing an easy roof inspection. Here’s where to start.
Establish Your RV Roof Type
An RV will have either a walkable or non-walkable roof. This will determine whether the roof is rated to hold a person’s body weight, thus making it walkable. For the exterior roof material, RVs can use EPDM, TPO, PVC, fiberglass, aluminum alloy, or galvanized sheet metal among others. As for the interior construction, RV roofs are fortified from trusses and decking that form the structural skeleton of the roof. Further inside, insulation is used for retaining heat or cold within the camper itself.
A roof membrane provides protection against the elements, while a lap sealant applied on top of the membrane keeps the seams, joints, and transition points from leaking. Usually, the roof membrane is made up of a single layer of material that is stretched tight over the decking. It’s attached with a heavy adhesive between the membrane’s underside and decking, then secured with mechanical fasteners used along the edge.
With roof membranes, you generally can’t tell the difference between the two most common brands (Alpha or Dicor) by just looking at it. The best and easiest way to tell the difference is by asking the RV dealership or RV manufacturer. They will let you know which brand was used based on the year/model of your RV. If you’re a Good Sam member you can call the elite service tech advisor line and have this info provided for you. Why is knowing the difference such a big deal? The type of roof membrane you have determines what kind of lap sealant you should use since they are only chemically compatible with each designated brand.
Inspect the Roof for Cracks, Tears, or Holes
If your RV roof is walkable, walk it carefully to closely check for damage. On a no-walk roof, safely inspect the roof from a sturdy ladder. Look for any cracks, tears, or holes in the roof material. Obvious signs of damage can cause issues very quickly. If you notice anything at all, you need to:
1. Take steps to fix it on your own (as suggested below)
2. Get to a service center as soon as possible. Camping World locations nationwide offer free RV roof inspections!
These types of damage can be caused by a variety of factors. One of the big ones is the weather. If your RV just went through a serious storm where debris, sticks, branches, or other items had a chance to damage your RV’s roof, then you need to inspect it. Assess the general cleanliness of both the lap sealants and the roof membrane. If the RV roof membrane is covered with dirt, dust, leaves, or mold, a quality inspection can’t be performed.
Look Closely at the Seams and Seals
Physical inspection begins with the general condition of the roof membrane. It’s worth noting that the lap sealant on the roof membrane never turns solid. It will maintain a degree of flexibility that varies by brand. Rub your hand over the membrane surface to see if it feels chalky. If so, new lap sealant may not adhere.
The next step in a proper roof inspection is to inspect the lap sealant for cracks, voids, and adhesions. When inspecting for cracks know that surface cracks in the sealant crust are not uncommon and aren’t an issue. Cracks that are of concern are ones that penetrate deep into the lap sealant. Luckily, if you find deep penetrating cracks in the lap sealant, these can be repaired with a little touch-up work.
When inspecting for voids, you’re essentially looking for missing lap sealant. This would include voids along transition moldings, around roof vents, and other roof attachments. Voids in the lap sealant could allow water into the roof cavity which can be the start of a very costly repair.
While you’re up on the roof looking for obvious signs of damage, you should also make a point of looking at any seams or seals on the roof. While many RVs have single-piece roofs today to eliminate issues that can occur at seals or seams, that’s not true of all of them.
Closely Inspect Around Vents, Racks, and Appliances
Also, just because the roof is one piece doesn’t mean it’s absent of seams and seals. Anywhere the roof connects to the RV or another part or component is a potential entry point for a leak. Look closely at these areas. If you see cracked, damaged, or worn-out-looking materials, then you should have a professional take a closer look, or repair the area yourself if you’re comfortable doing so.
Many RVs have roof racks, vents, and appliances like A/C units or solar panels on their roof. These things can be extremely nice to have, but they’re attached to the roof and can be the culprit behind a leaking roof in some cases. When performing an inspection on your RV’s roof, you should pay close attention to these particular spots.
How Often Should I Inspect My RV Roof?
For planning purposes, manufacturers recommend roof inspection twice a year for seasonal RVers who store their RV when not in use. Once at the beginning of the RVing season and once again at the end of the season before winterizing. For full-timers, routine roof cleaning is recommended three to four times a year. As a general rule of thumb, RVers should combine roof cleaning with inspecting their RV roof for maintenance to catch any issues as early as possible.
Don’t forget, nationwide Camping World Service Centers offer free roof inspections.
How often do you inspect your roof? Leave a comment below.