Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How to Save Thousands on RV Roof Repairs
A brief history of RV roofing
Original RV roof, looking at the front

This article is not written to be a complete history of RV roofing, but to give you an overview of what has happened over the last forty years. In the early 1960s, most of the RV roofs were using a metal product to make the roof water tight. Then, in the early 1980s, white EPDM roofing membrane was introduced to this market. At the time there were only two manufactures of this product in the U.S.: Carlisle and Colonial Rubber Works.  I was an employee of Colonial Rubber Works at that time, so I am more knowledgeable about their involvement in this market. Colonial was looking for another market to sell their EPDM sheeting into, so they started contacting RV manufactures about using their EPDM sheet on roofs of the RVs being produced in the factory. The ability of EPDM roofing to withstand outside weathering and UV light degradation made it one of the best roofs to put on a flat roof surface.

Original RV roof, on the back

With this information, Colonial then sent salesmen to the manufactures with the EPDM roofing product. The RV industry was very interested in this product and its longevity on the roof. Since RV’s are produced in a factory, the manufactures were very concerned about how quickly they could install this product on a new roof and the cost. They were convinced this was a superior product, but the determining factor would be how quickly it could be installed in the manufacturing environment. They found out that this product could be installed quickly and give the consumer a better product. At this time Colonial provided a ten-year warranty on their white EPDM roofing while the manufacturers usually gave a 5-year warranty to their customers. This EPDM product was .045 mil thick and white. It quickly became the dominate roof in the RV roofing industry. 

Damaged roof, front of RV

Colonial continued testing the white EPDM membrane to make sure the membrane would hold up long term on any flat roof. I worked in the research and development (R&D) lab and tech service with the roofing division. One of my jobs was to visit the job site when a customer had a complaint with Colonial’s EPDM roofing. We found that even though EPDM is one of the best rubbers for UV resistance, there were problems with the membrane after being exposed on a roof after eight to fifteen years; this only occurred on the White EPDM membrane. We found that white EPDM membrane would chalk and develop cracks in the membrane after direct exposure to the sun. We cut samples and examined them under a microscope and found out that some of these small cracks would go deep enough into the membrane it could fail and leak. At that time, Colonial was only giving a ten-year warranty. In 1993 or 1994, Firestone bought Colonial Rubber’s roofing plant in Kingstree, South Carolina.  Since then, manufacturers have started making their membrane half white and half black. This serves two purposes: if the white cracks, the black will still be water tight and it cuts the cost since white EPDM is more expensive.

Damaged roof, front of RV

EPDM white on black roofing dominated the market until a couple of years ago when RV manufacturers started looking at cheaper roofing products. Some of them replaced the .038 mil and .040 mil EPDM with a .030 mil thick TPO. This product is extremely thin and will not hold up as a long-term roof. This is not important to the RV manufacturers since they only warranty their product for a limited time and most of the roofing problems won’t occur until after the warranty period, so they are off the hook. This seems extremely short sighted on their part since RVs cost thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Applying the adhering membrane for the new roof, front of RV

You may wonder why I am writing this article or what is in it for me, and that’s a good question. Yes, I have been involved in the do it yourself (DIY) market for EPDM roofing and RV roofing since 1993.  At that time, I formed my own company, AKT Specialty. I do not sell any RV products direct to the manufacturers; I only supply homeowners and RV owners with products to do their own repairs or replacements. To be truthful, the moves that RV manufacturers made to be more efficient and cut cost has been great for my business, but bad for consumers. There are tens of thousands of RV roofs failing every year and we supply consumers with RV roofing products for those repairs. I have owned five RVs and I understand the frustration that comes when you pay $40,000+ for an RV and have a roof leak within the first six years.

Applying metal bar to the front of the RV roof, on top of the rubber

There are a couple of things that manufacturers of RVs can do that will save consumers millions of dollars and cost them only fifty to a hundred dollars per unit, but they are not willing to do it because roofing problems don’t show up big until the warranty is expired.  First, they can go to a thicker membrane which would only cost a few more cents per square foot. Secondly, they could add an eight-foot strip of EPDM cover tape on the front and back of the RV where the metal is pulled up over the roof and fastened down with screws and a metal bar. When this RV roof detail is installed at the factory, they use a thick bead of caulk.  In the roofing industry, caulking is a temporary solution and not permanent like cover tape. Almost all the leaks I have encountered with the RV roofs have been in this location. Be sure you use an EPDM tape that has been designed by the manufacturer and always prime the location where the tape is being applied; this will help it be a permanent solution rather than just temporary.  I would recommend taping these two areas before leaks ruin the roof and cost thousands of dollars. I did some research and found out that it costs from three to seven thousand dollars to replace your RV roof.

Applying 6" tape over the metal bar on the front of the roof

I would like to warn you to be careful when ordering replacement roofs for your RV. There are products out there that are only 8’6” wide that are cheaper because of their width and thickness. The factory does use this product, but their installation is done by professionals and they don’t make mistakes during installation. I have personally installed these membranes on damaged RV roofs and with this narrow 8’6” material, you have only an inch or two to play with and if you’re over an inch you could not get a good seal around your roof edge detail and that will result in a leak. If you have a mistake on the edge and you have glued the membrane down, you have a terrible mess to correct. I recommend that you always purchase a product at least a foot wider than you need, as this will save time and money. Just remember, if you purchased a bullet proof vest, would you want one that was thin or would you want the thicker one which would surely provide more protection? I hope this information is helpful and I will try to provide some videos and pictures that might help you. You can always contact Johnnie or Tim at and we will be glad to discuss your needs or questions.  Our toll free number is 1-866-630-7660.