RV Rubber Roof Repair
10-27-04 (with updates December 2005, March 2009, March 2010)
Refurbishing the Motorhome Rubber Roof
Many RV manufacturers use rubber roofs, not only on motor homes, but also on 5th wheels and travel trailers. If you ask motorhome owners what they think of rubber roofs you'll hear a variety of opinions ranging from swearing by them, to swearing at them. Fleetwood, maker of my Southwind, uses rubber roofs on entry-level RV's and on top end models as well, and many other manufacturers do likewise. Visit any Camping World and you'll be amazed at how many products are manufactured for the care and maintenance of these roofs.
I would personally rather have aluminum of fiber glass, but I have what I have so I must make the best of it.
After several weeks of planning, and after giving the roof a really good cleaning, I finally did the roof coating today. Our rubber roof was in bad shape. It was damaged in several small places, had shrunk, and the caulking had pulled away at the edges. When we gave it a good cleaning several areas were so worn that all the white washed away and the black rubber base showed through! Not good.
Several weeks ago during the hurricanes we experienced leaks in several places and when I looked at the roof I was surprised how bad it was. To patch the obvious leak spots and get a good seal around the edges I used Eternabond tape. I also used Dicor lap sealant. FYI, if you have a rubber roof you should never use Silicone sealant. Dicor (and a few others) are made specifically for the EPDM rubber roof. However, it still leaked, and it looked bad.
Replacing the roof was out of the question. No way was I going to spend several thousand dollars to have it done professionally, and I didn't feel competent to do it myself -- not to mention that the FamCamp at MacDill AFB might not approve of such an major refurbishing operation on-site.
I had researched various products to renew a rubber roof and found a lot of positive comments about a product called Liquid Roof. The Pro Guard company makes this product and sells to the RV consumer market. In Camping World it's about $90 a gallon, and $332 for a 4 gallon can. It covers 49sq ft per gallon, so I would need about 5 gallons to do our roof and that would cost $422 plus about $29 tax for a total of $451.
That was a lot more than I wanted to spend, so I searched further and discovered that the same company (ProGuard) makes a product called Liquid Rubber, and sells to roofing contractors. Guess what, it's the exact same product, just packaged and marketed differently. I purchased a 5 gallon can from their web site for $203 including shipping. Saved $248, WOW do I like that!
I read about Liquid Rubber in several online forums, so I had some idea of what kind of effort this project would take. First, I used masking tape and masked off the gutters all around. I used 2 inch tape and formed a little added gutter with it over the RV gutter to catch any big runs. Next, Chris helped me mix the product.
Liquid Rubber is a two part product including the base and a catalyst. To mix it, you need a large mixing wand and a fairly powerful 3/8 or 1/2 inch drill. The material is thick, MUCH thicker than paint. I used my 3/8 inch Dewalt cordless, and it went through both battery packs in the 10 minutes of mixing! So if you do this project, be prepared with batteries charged or better yet, use a plug-in drill.
After mixing with the catalyst, the product can be worked for about 4 to 5 hours before it sets up, so we needed to get it all done at once. I used a combination of 5 inch putty knife, paintbrush, and paint roller to apply the material. Chris was a huge help by being my "gofer". I don't recommend trying this project without a helper! You'll get all messy with the product. I got it on my hands, knees, elbows, and shoes. If you need to go get a drink, or some supplies, etc. you'll make a mess in the coach, and you'll be up and down the ladder too often. It went on fairly easily, but it was hard work with all the bending, climbing, kneeling, etc. By the time it was complete I was worn out! They say you can walk on it in 7 days. I'm giving it 10 to be safe, then we'll inspect and do touchup. Oh, almost forgot, the product can be saved after mixing by freezing. We put about 1/2 gallon that was left over in a plastic ziplock bag.
In hindsight, if I had this to do again I would wear thin disposable rubber gloves, like surgical gloves. I could have taken them off during breaks and whenever they got too messy. That would have prevented some of the mess, especially the tools covered in the product. Also, I should have bought the proper solvent for cleanup. I used go-jo orange with pumice for my hands and it only did a marginal job.
10/29/04 Update on Rubber Roof
Rubber roof is looking good. I've seen a couple of spots that will need touchup, but we can take care of that next week. We have about 1.5 quarts of the product stored in the freezer for that purpose. It won't set up if it's cold. But man does it make your freezer smell! We have it double bagged in ziplocks and still stinks. Note that the product also smells on the roof. It gave off a pretty strong odor for the first 2 days especially. Glad there was nobody parked in the space right next to us to complain!
The rubber roof is holding up good 14 months later. Several times we've driven under some too-low limbs and heard them scrape across. I climbed up and inspected and there was no damage visible. I've done nothing else to the roof but wash it with mild soap, same as used for the whole RV. It's staying very clean and white looking, and isn't causing any streaking on the sides. So I still recommend Liquid Roof, Liquid Rubber, Eternabond tape, and Dicor lap sealer.
3/29/2009 Time to re-do the roof
It's been more than 4 years since we did the initial roof resurfacing with Liquid Rubber. The other day I was on the roof tilting the solar panels and I saw cracking in the roof surface. It looks like the old damaged area "showing through" and cracks reappearing in the surface of the new material. I plan to do the job again, as before with Liquid Rubber and I'll post here when I do.
So for those of you who have emailed me over the years asking how long you can expect this repair to last here's your answer! I'm happy to have gotten 4+ years, and if my next repair lasts that long I imagine we'll have a new RV by then.
I used a quart can of Liquid Roof in February to seal around several areas that had been leaking. Since then we've been in several rain storms without any leaks.