Any van owner knows that RV roofs are often damaged by moisture and condensation from breathing, cooking, and rainfall, amongst other sources. There are various materials RV roofs are made of and it is important to decide on which material you will select to replace a damaged RV roof.
We shall explain in detail the different RV roof options which are available to you and how to enjoy maximum value on your RV roofs.
- Types of RV roofs
- Advantages and Disadvantages of the different types of RV roofs
- General maintenance of rv roofs
- Repair of RV roofs
- Replacing your rv roofs
Types of RV roofs
The first point of call in understanding RV roofs and how to fix or replace them is to know the different types of RV roofs which exist. There are four major types of RV roofs and each type has various qualities and appeals.
Rubber roofs are the most commonly used roofs for RVs because they are cheaper ane easier to install. Rubber is a synthetic material hence why it is highly resilient. There are three different types of rubber roofs and each type is slightly different from the other.
EPDM Rubber roof: EPDM stands for Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer. This is a membranous type of rubber used for covering flat surfaces such as roofs. EPDM rubber roofs can be identified by checking the inner side of the rubber for a different color from the outer side. It has been used for RV roofing since the 1980s; hence, it is tested and trusted over time.
Today, over 50% of RV’s have EPDM roofs because they are easy to maintain and repair. Additionally, their mostly white surface is energy efficient as they reflect radiant heat keeping the RV cool. They are also commonly available as they are now used in many materials and different applications.
It is about 0.40 inches thick, fits snuggly, and bonds tightly with bonding agents. EPDM rubber roofs give you an affordable, comfortable RV space and protect you from water and other climatic conditions. Averagely, EPDM roofs last for over 10 years and can last for as much as 20 years if they get routine maintenance.
After a few years, it will be necessary to carry out complete maintenance to ensure they retain their resilience.
TPO Rubber roofs: TPO stands for Thermoplastic PolyOlefin. It consists of a layer of single-ply membrane that is laminated with a fabric reinforcing scrim that strengthens the membrane giving it improved performance and tear resistance. TPO rubber roofs were introduced after EPDM roofs, but they have gained traction due to their increased resilience.
They have a uniform color on the inside and outside, making them easily identifiable. The top surface is usually laminated due to the fiber reinforcement added to the TPO membrane to make it stronger and more durable. Their color is mostly white and gray, making them good reflectors of radiant heat and highly energy efficient.
Over time, there have been several revisions to TPO rubber roofs to ensure they are more durable and resistant to puncture. They can last between 10-20 years, depending on the conditions of use, the elements faced in its use, and the level of maintenance. Damage to TPO roofs can be caused by chemicals or a tear to the lamination on the surface of the rubber.
A TPO roof offers roughly three times more protection against punctures than the EPDM roof, which translates to fewer chances of leaks during rain events. The roof can be screwed to a wood board or glued, but it is easier to carry out maintenance or repairs when it is screwed.
PVC stands for Poly Vinyl Chloride, and there are several PVC materials such as drainage pipes, etc. However, PVC rubber roofs have plasticizers added to them, making them more pliable than other PVC materials. This type of rubber roofing is the strongest rubber membrane for roofing, with the highest toughness and the greatest resistance to tears.
They are also more strongly bonded than other rubber types since they are seamed in place using heat and pressure. They can withstand strong rainstorms and winds and require less maintenance. It is also more reflective than other rubber roofs meaning it will leave the RV cooler and require less energy for cooling.
PVC rubber roofs are resistant to bird droppings and animal fat, and other such materials that can damage or stain TPO and EPDM rubber roofs. It is also resistant to mold and algae, and your roof remains free from the growth of organisms. Using PVC rubber roofs, while initially costly, enables you to save much money in the long run due to reduced costs of maintenance and professional repairs.
Fiberglass RV roofs are a highly durable RV roofing option that is lightweight and easy to work on, and won’t dent easily. They are not as common as the RV rubber roofs, but they are much tougher. It is made with molded fiberglass and other artificial materials arranged in large panels.
They are coated with a layer of wax which gives them a glossy surface and ensures that water and other debris dropping to their surface do not stay but slide down. Fiberglass roofs are thick and have high impact resistance, meaning they are more resistant to heavy rain, hail, and other impacting materials.
Also, it is costlier than all three types of RV rubber roofs but a lot more durable with branches or hail. However, fiberglass roofs last around the same duration as RV rubber roofs.
While fiberglass roofs are heavier than rubber roofs, they are generally easier to maintain. Over time, they are susceptible to damage from hairline cracks that develop and expand progressively. They can also get oxidized, causing them to lose shine and release a chalky, white powder if not waxed from time to time.
This oxidation leaves the roof vulnerable to the water and the elements. Overall, fiberglass roofs are great if you are in search of a sturdy roof with low maintenance and can afford to spend a little extra for your needs.
Aluminum roofs are a little heavier than fiberglass, but they are more durable and perfect if you have no problems with their heavier weight on your van. It is a type of metal but is different from Iron and other metals, which corrode easily. Aluminum is widely used for roofing different building types and similar purposes, but it is not as popular with RVs.
Roofs made with aluminum are easy to install and replace as they are available in custom aluminum sheets. Repairs can be carried out on localized sections without changing the entire roof member. They are widely available and have remained popular for their resistance to the elements and energy efficiency.
Their maintenance requires little effort, and they can last for well over 20 years depending on the operating conditions.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the different types of RV roofs
Advantages of Rubber Roofs
Several reasons abound for the continued popularity of rubber roofs, and they include:
Rubber roofs are lightweight. This reduces the overall weight of the RV and makes it more economical on fuel.
Most rubber roof surfaces are white, especially TPO, making them good heat reflectors, particularly in hot regions and during warm and hot weather.
You can easily fix damages to the rubber roof by covering up the damaged portions with cut sections of new rubber roof and fastened with glue or an adhesive.
Rubber is a good insulative material by its nature. This insulative property makes it a good reducer of noise and heat. Rubber RV roofs make it silent in the rain and hail and add an extra cooling feature to the roof.
While an EPDM rubber roof is easier to install than a TPO roof, all types of rubber roofs are relatively easy to install. They require no special equipment for installation except TPO roofs which may be welded to make them stronger and last longer.
Rubber roofs do not require much maintenance early on if properly installed. Over the years, as the adhesive grows weaker, they will need to be maintained to keep them water-resistant. Simple cleaning agents can also be used for them, unlike other RV roofs.
Disadvantages of Rubber Roofs
Although several reasons abound for the continued dominance of rubber in the RV roof industry, a few demerits are still inherent in its use. Depending on the RV’s purposed use and operating conditions, it will be smart to run through the following disadvantages. These disadvantages include:
The biggest disadvantage of rubber is that it wears out faster than the other RV roofs. Irrespective of the rubber type, it weakens, sags, and requires replacement after years of exposure to sunlight, water, and air. This weakness leads to cracks forming, which cause the roof to leak.
Also, EPDM’s absorb heat quickly, even if they are bright colors. Also, there is a variance in the quality of rubber roofs, and energy efficiency varies among the same type.
While rubber roofs are easy to install and are economical, they are susceptible to tears and puncture more than others. This can make them require recurrent repairs in the course of service. This is undesired for your RV that you intend to use and park at your convenience.
Advantages of Fiberglass Roofs
Although fiberglass roofs are not as widely used as rubber roofs, they are still a roofing solution for some RVs today. Some of the reasons for their use include:
In addition to being lightweight, they are durable and resist climatic conditions that affect other types of roofs. They have good tensile strength and do not sag with consistent exposure to sunlight. They are resistant to water leaks and rotting even if exposed to water.
Due to their sturdiness, they are dent-proof, unlike aluminum, and flexible enough to bend without breaking due to their sturdiness. The impact from tree branches and hail does not damage fiberglass roofs or cause cracks.
Fiberglass is an excellent insulator of electricity and heat. For this reason, it is good for use in regions with extreme temperatures and climatic conditions. It also has low combustibility and is thus very fire resistant. Overall, fiberglass roofs can last for over three decades if they are properly maintained.
Disadvantages of Fiberglass Roofs
The disadvantages of fiberglass roofs are very few. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, but it is worth noting the demerits to guide your choice of roof. The disadvantages are:
By its nature, fiberglass tends to develop small hairline cracks that add up over time. They oxidize if not properly maintained, losing shine and releasing a chalky, white powder. This leaves the roof vulnerable to the elements.
In the event of damage to fiberglass, it is expensive to repair. Most often than not, it is better and cheaper to replace the damaged section than repair it.
Advantages of Aluminum Roofs
Aluminum roofs for RV provide an efficient and cost-effective option. Some of the advantages of aluminum roofs are:
Like other metals, aluminum is an eco-friendly option. It can be recycled after its operative lifespan and remade into other material. The recycling process also requires little energy, making it highly energy efficient.
RV roofs made of aluminum roofs are lighter than other roofs. This makes the van move freely and consume lesser fuel than other types.
Aluminum roofs are resistant to adverse weather and do not rust. In the event of damage, replacement sections can be procured and used to patch up the damage easily. Due to its malleability, it can be fitted, cut or, sized into different shapes as desired.
Also, they are easy to maintain, and the maintenance is cheap and does not require any professional expertise. They can last for over 40 years if they are properly maintained.
Disadvantages of Aluminum Roofs
The disadvantages of aluminum roofs are attributable to the material’s inherent properties. They include:
Although aluminum is durable and lasts longer than most other roofs, it loses its attractiveness after constant exposure to air and sunlight. Additionally, it tends to give up at the seams because it does not stick well with adhesives except if bolted or welded.
It is susceptible to dents from impacting objects which can progressively cause the roof to develop leaks over time.
General maintenance of RV roofs
As you continue to use your RV, the roof’s condition will deteriorate. However, with the right maintenance, it is possible to slow down the rate of its deterioration.
Recoating and Resealing
It is recommended that a fresh coat be is added to your RV roof yearly. The protective top surface of an RV roof becomes chalky and wears off progressively over time due to air and water. Adding a fresh coat helps to keep the roof looking premium and free from damage.
Additionally, the coating can also be considered with resealing of exposed and open seams. You should check the seams and apply sealant if necessary to keep the van waterproof and free from other organic matter. Liquid roof coating is commonly used for recoating RV roofs.
Irrespective of the type of RV roof, it is necessary that you clean it regularly. Remove stagnant debris that can cause organic matter to grow in the presence of water to keep it looking fresh and new. General washing your RV exterior and cleaning the interior is a good practice that will significantly prolong your RV’s lifespan. To clean the roof, use mild soap and water just as you do the entire exterior.
Invest in Roof Covers
Whenever your van is not going to be used for a significant length of time, it is best to cover it with a roof cover if it won’t be parked indoors. Roof covers protect your roof from UV rays which can damage it. However, it is important to ensure the roof cover is breathable and allows for air circulation to remove damp air, supporting the growth of molds and mildew.
Repair of RV roofs
RV roofs tend to get damaged over time, even with the best possible care provision. It is not impossible that a leak developed from a weak seam or you got a crack from a tree branch that fell onto your roof. Repairs of RV is a relatively simple task, and with a ladder and the appropriate materials, you can complete it in no time.
There are RV roof patches that you can use to seal up a rip or tear to your roof. Their application is rather straightforward and requires you to clean the damaged area and leave it to dry first. After that, you then lay the patch over the damaged portion. If the damage is extensive or recurring, it may be best to have it checked by a professional.
Replacing your RV roofs
If, after having your roof checked by a professional and the issues still occur, it may be better to change the roof of your RV rig.
Replacing an RV roof requires you to remove the total top cover and other equipment such as air conditioner vents attached to it. After detaching and disassembling the roof, you need to replace the roof with any RV roof material options discussed and the plywood underneath the old roof membrane serving as the ceiling.
Ensure you select suitable sealants and adhesives for whichever roof type you are selecting and seal the edges properly. After this, return the attached equipment to the sealing and use a sealant to seal the joints and crevices as they may be entry points for moisture. If you are not confident you can change your RV’s roof successfully, it may be better to employ the services of a professional RV roof company to assist you.
RVs are mobile homes for many travelers and people vacationing. It is important to ensure you are comfortable and convenient while in your RV, like a fixed house. This page provides you with a wealth of knowledge about the type of RV roof options available to you and how to maintain and ultimately replace them if desired.
Olaseeni Ogunniyi is a professional technical writer with over 5 years of experience curating content in the engineering niche.
Thanks to his background in Civil Engineering, he has worked as a project manager and a consultant on several roofing projects, from simple hip and gable roofs to more complex combination roofs.
Additionally, he has written several projects on aluminum and metallic roofing sheets and has developed expertise on such topics.