Whether you use your RV for recreation, work, long-term travel, or residence, the vehicle can be one of the most important items in your life. Keeping it maintained and in good working order is the top priority for ensuring you get the absolute most out of the money you’ve already invested in the RV. That being said, periodically replacing your roof can be a daunting task, both materially and financially, and it’s not always clear how best to approach this problem.
You should expect your RV roof to wear out and become damaged over time, even if no specific events cause significant damage to the roof all at once. Every so often, you must take the time to inspect your roof and gauge its current level of wear. When the outer material begins flaking off, you must repair or replace it right away to ensure you prevent more significant damage down the road.
In this article, we’ll discuss many of the questions you’ll want to answer before you begin this process. We’ll give you an overview of what a replacement might look like if you do it yourself. After reading, you’ll be able to decide for yourself whether you’d like to take this project on, or if you’re better off hiring a professional to handle the task.
RV Roof Replacement Materials
Before we go any further, let’s establish exactly which roofs we’re talking about. Today we’ll be looking at options concerning rubber roof systems. This includes both TPO and EPDM systems, as well as any vinyl system you might be working with.
Your roof could be covered in aluminum or fiberglass. If that’s the case, congratulations! These materials wear out much less quickly than the more common rubber roofs. However, just because they’re more durable does not mean these roofs never have damage or need repair. It’s still important that you inspect your roof frequently and that you be ready to repair or replace any damage you notice.
For those who do have rubber roofs, keep reading and we’ll dive into all your options when it comes to replacement, including the best roof coatings.
When you notice there’s damage to your roof, whether it’s routine degeneration or acute damage, you’ll first need to decide whether you’re going to do a full replacement or a simple repair job. The financial implications here are significant, with repairs obviously being much less expensive than the replacement.
If you’re confident that damage is limited to one small part of your roof, repair kits can be purchased for as little as $20 which will do a pretty good job of patching up the roof. RVpartscountry.com has a wide selection of repair membranes that come with their own sealants and are easy to install on your own. You, of course, have the option of enlisting a professional for this small job, and in that case, you’ll be paying for labor in addition to the parts, significantly increasing the cost.
When it comes to a replacement, you’re looking at a much greater total cost, to be sure. Quotes among professionals in your area will vary, of course, but generally, you’ll be looking at $3,000 to $6,000 in total cost if you’re hiring someone else to replace your roof. This number will change to account for the size of your roof, it’s exact material, any special considerations like any additional damage that may have occurred before the replacement.
That number might seem steep, and it’s worth considering that the single biggest line item on your bill will be the labor of the professional you hire. That means taking on this project yourself could save you a significant amount of money. We’ll get deeper into the tools and materials you’ll need very shortly, but generally speaking, we’d expect folks who already have a well-stocked toolkit to spend about $1,000 to $1,500 on parts if they look to do this project on their own.
Before you decide to go down the DIY route, though, know that this is not a project for beginners. The tasks to complete a replacement are challenging and some are dangerous, given that you’ll be up on the roof of your vehicle while working. If this work is done poorly, you can cause more damage to your roof quite easily, and that’s nothing to sniff at.
Working with a professional can save time and quite a bit of hassle, but at significant expense to you. Let’s explore deeper what this project will entail if you decide to go ahead on your own.
If you have a well-stocked toolkit already, you probably have most of what you need for this project. But let’s take a look at exactly what we’ll need. Generally speaking, you’ll want to have:
- Power drill
- Putty knife
- Utility knife
- Screws or bolts for replacing every part holding your roof down
- A push broom or other implement for smoothing bubbles out of your roof material
- Foam gun
- Caulking gun
- Paint roller (to be used for rolling on adhesive)
I mentioned here that you’ll want to have replacement fasteners for anything you pull out of your roof during this process. This is a very important item to remember. You’ll end up unscrewing quite a bit of stuff from your roof as you replace it, and you should always check to see how much rust has accumulated on the screws you pull out. Anything that’s gotten too damaged should itself be replaced.
One other tool that may come in handy is a friend to help out. Depending on the exact size and shape of your roof, some tasks in this process will be impossible to complete on your own. If you don’t have reliable access to a second pair of hands, this might not be the best task for you.
Finally, as you look over this list please bear in mind that we’re talking about the general outline of how this project usually goes. During the course of your repair you can easily uncover significant damage that was not apparent before, and repairing that damage may require specialized tools and equipment.
The single biggest cost when it comes to materials will be the replacement roofing material itself. This will cost $250 or more, depending on the type you go with and the size of your roof. Keep in mind that you can use any of the rubber material options, TPO, EPDM, or a vinyl sheet, on your roof. Make a decision based on cost and what you think will work out best.
These replacement sheets will usually come in rolls that need to be wide and long enough to cover your roof and hang all the way past your end caps/retaining bars. Keep that overhang in mind when picking one out – if it only barely covers the top surface of the roof, it’s not actually going to do the trick.
You can usually buy this material in a kit that will come with a compatible adhesive to use during the installation process. Make sure you understand what comes with the product you buy. If this adhesive is not included then obviously you’ll have to purchase that separately.
Beyond this key piece, you’ll also want to have on hand:
- Seam tape
- Mineral Spirits
- Sealing putty or caulk for all roof fixtures
- Replacement retaining bars or caps, if desired
- Sealing tape for your retaining bars
All of this can be purchased from any online RV parts retailer you like.
When considering materials, again you’ll want to consider that the replacement process might uncover additional damage which will also then need to be repaired. Most commonly, this will entail replacing the plywood and Styrofoam which make up the inside of your roof. Keep those potential costs in mind before embarking on this project.
If you’re able to procure these materials and tools, then you’re ready to begin the replacement process. Let’s take a look at exactly what that process entails.
General safety tips
As we proceed, please take care to ensure your safety while working on your roof. While it’s not as high up as most building roofs, your work here will still take you high enough into the air to cause some damage if you fall. Be careful and take your time. While your roof should be strong enough to hold your weight, a significantly damaged roof might not hold up as well as expected.
One major hazard will be the holes in your roof for ducts and other fixtures. Be sure you know exactly where these are before you get started and be careful not to accidentally step in them.
Once you have all your tools and materials gathered, you’ll begin the replacement process by clearing out any hoods, racks, or other fixtures currently attached to the top of your roof. Even if you suspect you can work around a certain fixture, it’s best to get it removed before taking any other steps.
Most of the fixtures on your roof should simply screw on and off. Remember to inspect each screw or bolt to see if it needs to be replaced with a new one at the end of the process. If any items are riveted onto your roof, then you’ll need to drill out those rivets and remove the item that way.
Once the roof is clear of all fixtures, you can release the roofing material itself by unscrewing and removing the retaining bar and any caps on the other sides. These materials should also be inspected as they are being removed to decide which, if any, will need to be replaced. With all these items, including the roof fixtures, you may need to scrape away the old RV caulk previously used to seal their seams in order to locate all the screws holding them in place.
Once the roof is free from everything that had been screwed in place previously, you’ll need to first scrape off all the caulk that had been placed on there during the last installation. After that’s all clear, you’ll be ready to remove the old roof itself.
This process is quite simple. You’re going to use a putty knife or other thin instrument to slowly pry the old rubber off the plywood or other material beneath it. You will be removing the entire sheet of rubber, so be sure to scrape off every little piece. You’ll want to have a bin or other receptacle ready on the ground level to accept these discarded pieces as you pull them up.
When you’re done removing the old roof, you should see only the underlying material exposed. (As mentioned, that material will likely be plywood but could be some sort of manufactured material as well.)
Assessing roof integrity
Now that the inside of your roof is exposed, it’s time to look for any further damage and determine what exactly your next steps will be. Start by taking a look at all the exposed plywood you can see. If there are any areas where the wood is crumbling or otherwise falling off, that section will have to be removed.
Your roof is likely constructed using the sandwich method, with two layers of wood surrounding a Styrofoam core. These instructions assume that or similar construction. It’s worth it to check your owner’s manual beforehand if you’re not sure of the construction.
Replacing damaged plywood is not a difficult process. You’ll simply use a jigsaw to cut out any damaged areas and expose the foam below. Inspect this foam as well. Some scraping or damage from your work is acceptable, but if the foam itself has deteriorated significantly then you may need to work on replacing it as well, which will, unfortunately, be a much bigger project.
As long as everything is structurally sound, though, you’ll be able to replace the plywood by simply cutting yourself a new piece of identical size to the one removed. Apply the patch by first using a strong wood adhesive between the foam and the new piece, and then by screwing the board in place.
If you replace any sections of this surface, be sure to place seam tape over any new seams formed to ensure your final roof will be nice and smooth.
Cleaning and preparing for the new roof
Before proceeding any further, it’s critical that you thoroughly clean the roof surface to ensure strong bonding for the adhesive you’ll use next. First, go through several preliminary passes with just rags and water to remove any large pieces of debris still on there. Then take your mineral spirits and use those for a final, deep clean to make sure everything is nice and smooth.
Applying your new roof
The application process is very difficult and will take a significant amount of time. Before beginning, make sure to read any materials provided with the specific roof you’re using to see if there are any unique steps the manufacturer wants you to take.
Generally speaking, you’re going to want to place your roll on the roof and then begin applying adhesive one section at a time before unrolling the roof over it. When you apply the adhesive, wait a few minutes until it starts to become tacky before unrolling the roof over it. This will prevent adhesive from pooling up and running places you don’t want it to go.
You’ll need to slowly cover the entire roof surface in this fashion, and then double back to spread adhesive under the section where the roll had been sitting originally.
This process is easiest to do in warm weather, as the roof material will be a bit more pliable and make for a smoother application. Make sure to square the roll as best you can before starting so you won’t find yourself rolling straight off the side as you go.
After each section of the roof is rolled on, take your broom and smooth out any air bubbles that have formed. You’ll do this a little bit each time you roll out some more cover, and then once it’s all out you’ll spend a good chunk of time going over your work and making sure no new bubbles form. This is an incredibly important step, so take your time and really look closely to catch even small bubbles before the adhesive sets.
Once everything has dried, you’ll be left with roof material covering your roof and hanging off of each side. Pull the roof taut and then re-install your retaining caps on each side. Make sure to add in sealing strips underneath these caps before applying, and to seal on top of the fixture if necessary as well. With the caps securely in place, you’ll be able to take your knife and carefully cut off any excess that hangs under the cap.
The last step will be to reinstall your roof hoods and fixtures. For any large holes, it’s best to take your time and carefully recreate the hole after the roof adhesive has dried.
I like to mark out the area above the hole and begin by drilling into the four corners where my gap will be. Then take your knife and make two cuts from corner to corner, crossing over the center point. You’ll be left with four flaps hanging down. Take each one and secure it by screwing it into the plywood underneath, then cutting off any excess. This will leave you a hole that does not compromise the integrity of the roof.
With everything in place, you can replace your hoods and other fixtures by simply putting them back on. Be sure to pre-drill any new screws in order to avoid splitting the plywood underneath.
Once all your items are back in place, you can apply the sealing caulk of your choice to any gaps between a fixture and the roof. This is an important step, so make sure that each and every gap is covered and left watertight.
Bringing it all together
If you feel confident taking all the steps required for a replacement, then doing this project on your own might be a good option for you. Doing so could save you hundreds of dollars in labor cost, and if your work is done properly you’ll be left with a roof that will last just as long.
That being said, don’t feel too bad if you don’t consider this project to be within your grasp currently. One option you have is to look around for a friend or acquaintance who has a bit more experience with this kind of project who might be willing to work with you to get it done. Even if you end up paying some money to get this kind of help, it’ll be well worth it to learn the process for your next replacement.
Keeping on top of the status of your roof is very important. Be sure to get up and check on the top of your RV often and don’t hesitate to repair small issues before they become big ones. If maintained well, your roof will serve you for years to come.
RV Roof Replacement FAQ
What is the best material to use for my roof?
There are three main options when it comes to rubber roofs, TPO, EPDM, and vinyl. The truth is that all three are quite viable, in general, you’ll find that TPO is a bit cheaper but doesn’t last as long. If you have the budget, EPDM or vinyl will give you the most staying power, provided they’re properly applied.
When should I replace my roof?
I wouldn’t keep a roof membrane around any more than two or three years even if you don’t notice any damage. If you do notice damage to the roof membrane itself, you’ll want to repair that right away and do a replacement if the damage is widespread. If your membrane becomes brittle and flaky, it’s well past time for a replacement.
Will replacing my roof affect my warranty
It’s entirely possible that replacing your roof yourself will affect any warranty over the rest of your vehicle. You should always consult your warranty before doing any major repairs to see if that’s the case.
What do I do about water damage to the inner layers of my roof?
If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to assess the damage and replace any layer that gets waterlogged or damaged. If water seeps as far as the interior cabin, you can do the repair from that side by simply removing and replacing the affected area.
How can I take care of my roof to make it last as long as possible?
There are several steps you can take to extend the life of your roof membrane. Most just take common sense: avoid situations where branches or other debris will fall and damage your roof, keep it under cover when not in use, etc. Beyond that, you can and should use a cover for your RV for an extended period when it’s not being driven. Keep the body clean and you’ll avoid any buildup that could cause problems later.