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Before you can repair the roof to your RV, you will need to know the materials used in its construction. What type of roof does your RV have?

Every day, the top of your RV is exposed to the elements that can affect its ability to resist moisture. The damaging effects of UV rays and wind-forced rain, not to mention the forces that are absorbed by the road, can produce cracks in seams and gaps in the joints that require repair. If you do not know what type of roof you have, how can you ever be sure you purchase the correct caulking to seal damaged areas?

There are various types of roofs on RVs, depending on the manufacturer. Some of the most common roofs are aluminum, wood, fiberglass, vinyl, or rubber compounds. Consult with your manufacturer or owner's manual to determine your roof type.

There is more to maintaining an RV than just keeping it clean. You should regularly inspect all areas for weakness, deterioration, or cracks. Moisture gets into the inner structure of your camper, turning a small leak into a major headache. Mold and mildew can accelerate the rotting of internal components or make your family sick.

This article will explore the differences between RV roofs and how to spot which one you have.



Are RV Roof Types Different?

Yes, RV roofs are different. Throughout the years, manufacturers have experimented with various compounds and materials to try and find a roof that would look attractive, be durable and stand the test of time and use. From wooden roofs to more contemporary rubber, fiberglass, and aluminum, the science behind roofing has become more and more complex with every passing year.

There are three primary roofs used on campers and RVs today, rubber (both EPDM and TPO), fiberglass, and aluminum. Wooden roofs were used in the earliest models of campers or in home-built units but are now virtually nonexistent.

What Kind of Roofs Do Old RVs Have?

From the earliest days of the automobile, owners have sought ways of converting their electric carriages into temporary sleeping quarters. According to Smithsonian magazine, a couple named Roland and Mary Conklin launched the Gypsy Van in 1915. The wealthy couple converted a bus into a full-fledged motorhome and then traveled around the country, showing it off.

Then, in the 1930s, camping trailers were beginning to be sold and used by an American public recovering from the effects of the Great Depression. For almost thirty years, RVs had wooden roofs as the base component - (plywood covered by aluminum or vinyl out coatings). Some RV makers still incorporate treated lumber for trusses and frames and then cover the structure with other coating materials.

What Kind of Roofs Do New RVs Have?

Newer RVs have rubber roofs made of synthetic compounds from Ethyl Propylene Diene Monomer (EPDM) or Thermal Poly Olefin (TPO). Rubber roofs are highly resistant to UV rays and temperature changes, have good elasticity and are waterproof. Rubber compounds have a longer shelf-life than wood or other materials and are less expensive to maintain. This quality means rubber synthetics make the perfect roof material for an RV or camper.

RV Roof Types And What They Look Like

How can you tell the difference between which rubber roof you have? Let’s explore that subject for a bit. Since there are two kinds of rubber roofs, there are some things to consider when determining which kind you have.

Rubber EPDM Roofs

The EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) is a synthetic rubber highly resistant to temperature, moisture, and external forces. The compound was created by DuPont and has been used in roofing applications since the mid-80s. In 1993, Firestone bough

  • EPDM roofs often produce a dull or chalky color in response to UV sunlight exposure.
  • The EPDM roof will be very slippery when wet. A TPO has a more rough feel like sandpaper.,
  • If the roof appears to be shedding in various places by showing grayish or white streaks down the side, this is the natural result of exposure to the sun by an EPDM roof. The roof is supposed to “shed” as it interacts with the sun, and these streaks result from this process.

Rubber TPO Roofs

Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) synthetic compound is found in many applications on RV roofs. It was formulated in the early 1990s and used as a roof covering for moderately priced campers and RVs. Manufacturers attracted the polymer because it was cheap and could be made in larger sheets.

  • TPO roofs are not as slippery when wet
  • TPO roofs tend to be more glossy and shine in the sun.

Fiberglass Roofs

A fiberglass roof is an auxiliary roof made of synthetic plastic and glass fibers. It is highly durable and can cover a wide area. Manufacturers were attracted to fiberglass due to its hardness and ability to resist rot or deterioration. You can tell a fiberglass roof is hard to the touch, like firm plastic, and has no give when you press it. Fiberglass tends to be slippery when wet, so exercise extreme caution if you haul a hose and scrub brush up to the roof.

Aluminum Roofs

Aluminum is a metal roof that is attached to a bare frame. It is often corrugated, is very lightweight, and because it is metal, it is effective against deterioration, reflecting sunlight. Metal roofing uses support beams, so you must be careful when stepping on top of your RV or camper. If you own an Airstream, not only is the roof made of aluminum, but the whole trailer is. Even though aluminum roofs are metal and puncture resistant, they may show dents, particularly after a severe hailstorm.

Wood Roofs

Wood roofs are generally used as sub-framing on campers that still use them. While early and many DIY trailers have wooden structures, it is rare to find a modern trailer roof made exclusively from processed plywood. The biggest issue with roofs with wooden substructures is keeping the seals near joints and connections from separating due to moisture and neglect.

RV Roof Durability

According to RV magazine, most rubber roofs last 10 - 12 years, but with proper maintenance and upkeep, that time frame can be extended significantly to 20 to 30 years. Fiberglass roofs have about the same durability but can develop hairline cracks that allow moisture to creep in. This condition is caused because fiberglass is not heat resistant, so if your camper sits in the hot sun or is in a hotter climate, be aware of this issue. Fiberglass is much more expensive than rubber to replace, so this is an even better reason to be vigilant.

Regular maintenance and cleaning can help keep a roof’s appearance looking good and keep things like tree sap or grime from turning into mildew which is known to increase the deterioration of roofs. You should be cautious when standing on the roof of your camper, one slip, and you could be parking that RV for quite a while.

Regular inspections for cracks or gaps near antennas, vents, and around windows or skylights will ensure that water does not have an opportunity to reach critical areas that could decrease a roof's longevity.

Most Energy-Efficient RV Roof

Rubber roofs are the most energy-efficient material on top of your RV. They are lightweight, do not absorb heat, and are the least expensive to repair and maintain. With a rubber roof, your RV will stay calm when you want it to and warm inside when you need it to be due to the rubber's insulating ability. Due to TPO rubber roofing being able to reflect sunlight, it is probably the better choice between the two synthetics, but it is also more expensive to install than the EPDM option.