Your RV's roof is a key part of the structure of your RV and is arguably the most important part. It protects the interior of the RV from weather elements like rain, snow, and hail, preventing water damage to the interior and coach structure.
Having and maintaining a high-quality rubber roof on an RV will save a great deal of time and money. See our article "All About RV Roof Inspection and Maintenance" for tips on how to do regular inspection and maintenance.
For when it is time to do a complete RV roof replacement, we have put together a step-by-step list of the processes you will need to follow. A camper roof replacement is not a difficult process, most RV owner DIYers can complete the job in no more than a day.
What Tools and Materials do you need?
- Roofing Membrane: This can be one of the following types of material - EPDM Rubber, TPO Rubber, PVC, or Aluminum roof.
- RV Roofing adhesive, appropriate to EPDM, TPO or PVC
- Nails and Self-Tapping Screws (aluminum)
- Self-Leveling Lap sealant
- Paint roller
- Putty knife
- Metal shears or saw (If you are replacing a metal roof)
An electric sander is also recommended to save you time in removing old roofing material and adhesive.
Trailer Roof Replacement: Rubber or Metal Roofs
If your travel trailer, fifth wheel or motorhome has an EPDM or TPO rubber roof, here are the steps to follow
Step 1: Remove All Vent Covers, Vents, & Other installed items
To fully expose the existing roof membrane, remove any vents, vent covers, skylights, air conditioner rooftop units, antennas, satellite dishes, or other items from the roof's surface. It is important also that you do not forget to remove the plastic caps and any flanges around the plumbing vent(s).
Most of these items are easy to remove. You will have to remove any old lap sealant from the edges of the flange so you can get at the screws that will need to be removed. To remove the air conditioner, you will have to unscrew the four bolts holding them down.
These can be found inside the ceiling assembly on the interior of the RV. Once you have these out, you will be able to remove the rooftop unit. You will also have to disconnect any wiring between the top and bottom assemblies.
Be careful not to damage any of the items when removing them so they can be re-installed without an issue. When you have the components of the roof clean up all the edges, clean any remaining lap sealant from the flanges, and set everything aside.
Step 2: Remove Any Edge Molding and Side/End Caps
Next, unscrew any moldings, caps, or other material, if any from the edges of the roofing membrane.
Use the putty knife to scrape off all lap sealant covering the screws, then unscrew them to remove the trim/caps. You can use mineral spirits to soften up the lap sealant for removal. This will damage the rubber roof membrane if it sits on the surface too long. But, since you will be replacing the membrane, you do not have to be quite as careful about this.
At the completion of this step, there should be nothing coming in contact with the top of the roofing membrane.
*Tip: Rivets can be removed with a drill or chisel if any component has been fastened to the roof with them.
Step 3: Remove the Old Roof
Using a scraper or putty knife, remove the old roofing membrane down to the bare wood surface. EPDM Roofs will likely break apart and come up as chunks, especially if the roof is older.
If you have a metal roof, most common in motorhome roof installations, wear gloves and any appropriate protective gear. You can use your metal shears or a saw to remove sections of the metal roof one by one.
*Tip: As you are removing the roof, it is helpful to have a dumpster or pickup truck below so the discarded roofing material can go directly into it. It will save you handling it twice by picking it up off the ground.
Step 4: Clean Your Roof
When the old roof membrane has been removed, you will need to fully clean the wood surface. First, sweep the roof off to remove any metal or wood shavings or any remaining loose bits of roofing material.
Sand the roof deck to remove as much of the old adhesive as possible. You will also want to flatten out any uneven areas in the roof's surface and make it as flat and smooth as possible. This will both ensure that you will not have any areas for water to gather on the finishes installation and will allow the membrane to adhere better to the wood surface.
Look for any areas of discolored or rotted wood, and if there are any, these areas will need to be replaced with fresh material. Be sure that if you are only replacing a small section of substrate, that it remains flush with the rest of the wood surface.
Once you have completed the sanding and repair processes, wash the deck with soap and water. Take care not to have any more water than necessary flowing or standing on the roof. Remember that you just removed the only barrier to water getting inside the RV, so any standing water may seep down inside! But it is important to have the wood surface as clean as possible.
Make sure the roof is fully dry before proceeding to the next step.
Step 5: Fastening Down the New RV Roof
Next, you will be replacing the RV roof and it will be helpful to have a buddy during this process. Roofing membrane, especially EPDM, is heavy and might be difficult to move around and line up on your own.
Place the new roll of rubber roof membrane the front or rear of the roof. You will be gluing the roof down in four-foot sections, working down the length of the RV until it is finished.
With a paint roller and tray, roll the adhesive onto the wood deck, doing a section that is the full width of the coach and 3-4 feet from front to back. Let stand until tacky, then roll out the new membrane over the area where you have applied the glue.
As soon as possible, smooth out all air bubbles from under the membrane. Repeat this for every four-foot section until you have covered the entire roof.
At this point, you will have excess roofing material over the edges. Cut it back to the point where you want to seam it, but make sure you only remove as much as you need to and not more. This process is best done with a regular utility knife.
*Tip: A stiff broom or a squeegee is the best tool to get air bubbles out from under the surface of the membrane. Also, the membrane will be more malleable and easier to both places and remove bubbles if it has been warmed up by the sun.
Step 6: Cut Holes for Your installed items.
Next, use a utility knife to cut out the holes for your vents, skylights, and air conditioners on the camper roof
Cut the holes in an “X” shape, so you can fold each flap down into the hold, allowing you to screw the flaps down for a tighter fit. This may not be possible if the interior parts of these items need the full width of the opening. In this case, you will have to cut the membrane along the edge of the opening.
Step 7: Reinstall Roof Components
To finalize the camper roof installation, you will need to reinstall all of the vents, moldings, trims, air conditioners, skylights, and antennas. These are the items that you removed in steps 1 and 2. Apply butyl tape to the underside of any vent, skylight, or other flanges and moldings before you screw them down. Air conditioners use a square foam seal (with or without a wedge piece to take up gaps in uneven sides) around the opening under the rooftop unit for this purpose.
When you have completed these reinstallations, remove and final excess roofing material and cover all seams, screws, joints, and flanges with a quality lap roof sealant. It is a good idea to be liberal with this sealant and to make sure every area is well covered to keep the water out.
So you can see that it is very easy to replace an RV roof yourself and save thousands of dollars in dealer labor.
If you want to protect your new roof, even more, consider using an RV cover. This will protect not only your new roof from the elements but also the sidewalls of your coach and any installed elements.
How much does it cost to replace a roof on an RV?
This depends on several factors, the biggest one being the type of roofing material you want to use. Of the non-metal roofs, EPDM is the most expensive, and TPO and PVC (the newest type of RV roofing material) are about the same at 60% to 70% of EPDM.
Because it is so labor-intensive, there are estimates that a rubber roof replacement can cost over $400 per linear foot installed. The materials to do an EPDM rubber roof replacement cost only about $75 to $100 per linear foot.
So being able to replace your own roof can save you thousands of dollars.
What about RV Roof Coatings?
You can really add to the value and longevity of your camper's roof by applying a rubberized roof coating to the finished installation. Normally, a re-coating is advised every five years following the initial RV roof installation. But applying it to a new roof can protect the roof's surface from day one, especially in the case of an EPDM rubber roof.
RV Part Shop carries several roof coatings designed specifically for EPDM, TPO, metal, and fiberglass roof applications. Application is easy and involves painting the coating onto the full roofing membrane surface.
A motorhome roof replacement or trailer roof installation will add years of life to your RV and greatly increase its resale value. It will also prevent costly roof repairs.