How to Maintain Your RV’s Rubber Roof
By Warren Petkovsek
Have you ever thought about cleaning and maintaining the rubber roof on your RV? That’s what I thought. An RV roof is one of those things that is sort of “out of sight, out of mind”. When everything is rocking along just fine we seldom if ever tend to think about the roof over our heads in our rolling home. The fact that the roof just isn’t normally visible to us as we stand on the ground or sit around in camp also keeps this important component of the RV somewhere in the seldom used depths of our consciousness. Also, roof maintenance is never adequately explained to us when we get our walk through at delivery or when we buy a used unit. We may be told that there is a twelve year warranty on the roof so we think that we are good to go for that long, but that is for defects in material and workmanship. All warranties state that they do not cover damage due to neglect and that, my friends, is why we must maintain our roofs. The sad fact is that when you see water damage inside your RV from a leaking roof then the damage is already done, it will be much more expensive to repair than you think and just fixing the leaking roof won’t begin to take care of the extensive damage that you have now. Do I have your attention yet? Rubber roof maintenance is another one of those “pay me now or pay me later” sort of things. We don’t want to think about cleaning and maintaining our RV roof, but we really don’t want to pay for repairs down the road. Have I got you ready to grab a mop and some cleaning supplies and head up the ladder to start inspecting and cleaning? No? Well listen to this. Do you think that damage due to a leaking roof will be covered by insurance? I know someone whose insurance company totaled their trailer due to water damage. They got a reasonable settlement, but we all know that they were probably very lucky. Besides, nobody ever gets what their RV is really worth to them. In most cases an insurance adjuster will also claim that the roof damage was due to owner neglect and you won’t get a dime. Well, we can’t have that now can we so, like it or not, let’s get up on that roof and check things out. Here we go.
Make yourself a schedule for roof inspection. Every three months is a good idea, but also get up there and check things out if you feel like you may have gotten a little close to a low hanging tree branch or if there was a bad thunderstorm that may have generated some hail. If your roof has become damaged you must file your insurance claim immediately before any water damage can occur. OK, back to your roof inspection. You will, obviously, look for physical damage as well as loose sealant along edges, seams and openings for vents, air conditioners and antennas. That’s easy to fix. Just spot clean with non petroleum based, non acetone household cleaner so that that the sealer will adhere to the roof and reapply a high quality non-silicone EPDM approved rubber roof sealer such as Dicor Lap Sealant. This sealant is applied with a caulking gun and is very easy to apply. If you should find some damage you can temporarily repair it with a product like Alpha Seal Self Adhesive Rubber Roof Repair Tape or Eterna-Bond Tape. This will do until you can have your roof checked by a professional.
OK, now that you are going up on your roof for inspection and resealing (if needed) you also need to develop a schedule for roof cleaning and treatment. This needs to happen every six months or every other time you climb up there for inspection. If you have read any of my previous articles then you know that I am a fundamentally lazy person and I am always looking for the easy way to do things like this. So pay attention, read on and save yourself some work. Some roof manufacturers say that you can use any non petroleum based household cleaner like Comet, Spic & Span or Ajax on their rubber roof membranes, but I really don’t like that idea. If something were to go wrong I want receipts to prove that I purchased maintenance supplies that are specific to RV rubber roofs. It also gives me more peace of mind. There are several good, high quality products out there for cleaning and sealing your roof and I’m sure that any RV specific product will be fine for the job. However, I use Protect All Rubber Roof Cleaner and Protect All Rubber Roof Treatment. This isn’t to say that these products are any better than other products, but I have had great results with them and they were easy to use. They are also available at any RV dealer, Camping World and Wal Mart (enough said). Let’s get into how to clean and seal that big old roof. Here we go.
Please play it safe when climbing on your roof. Safety is the most important factor in this job. That nice rig won’t be much fun if you are injured and can’t use it. If you don’t feel like you can safely do this above ground job yourself then take the rig to the shop and leave it to the professionals. If you are like me and want to tackle the job yourself then have someone on the ground to help out and keep you from climbing up and down the ladder so often. ‘More on that later.
Obviously, you will want to be sure that the roof can handle your weight. All but the lightest weight RVs built in the last ten years or so should accommodate three hundred pounds with no problem but check with your dealer or the manufacturer to be sure. If you learn that the roof can’t hold your weight then you will work on a ladder from the sides or on a padded piece of plywood that will span the roof trusses on top. If the roof will hold your weight then you get a five gallon bucket of water and tie a rope to the handle so you can hoist it up to the roof with you. You will also bring up a sponge mop, a broom and the pump spray bottle of rubber roof cleaner. First you will sweep loose dirt and debris from the roof with the broom and toss it to the ground (trying to miss your assistant). Then start at the front of the roof and spray the cleaner on a two to three foot square area and scrub it a little with the sponge mop rinsing the mop frequently in your bucket of water. Move on to the next two to three foot square area and work your way toward the rear of the roof and the ladder. When the water in the bucket gets dirty then lower it to the ground so that your assistant can dump it out and get you some clean water to hoist back up to the job. When you get to the ladder you’re finished. You may have to repeat the process if you’ve let the roof go for a long time and it is especially dirty. You may have noticed that nothing was said about rinsing with a water hose. You don’t want to do that because all of the nasty stuff that came off of the roof will wash down the sides of the rig and leave a big mess. That’s why you rinse the mop in the bucket of water. After the roof is completely dry it’s time to apply the sealer. This job is much easier than washing the roof because there is no rinsing required. Climb up to the roof after it is dry, apply the sealer like the cleaner from front to back in two to three square foot areas and spread it evenly with a sponge mop. I use a different mop for sealing, but you can use the same one as long as you know that it clean and dry.
That’s it. ‘Simple wasn’t it? It’s an easy “stand up” job that even I can do. One more thing – whether you do the job yourself or have it done by a shop or dealership, be sure to keep a record of it in a maintenance log along with all of your receipts for labor and cleaning supplies. You may, someday have to file a claim for roof damage and you will be asked to prove that the roof was properly maintained.
Also, remember to be safe if you do this job yourself. These roofs can get slippery and none of us are getting any younger. You need an assistant anyway to help with the rinse water, but have them stick around for the entire job for moral support and to call 911 (after they have finished pointing and laughing at you) in case you fall off the roof.