Motorhomes have come a long way since the days of clunky metal construction and laborious maintenance. Today’s RV is sleek, stylish, and typically much lighter and easier to maintain than older versions. One of the most significant advances in motorhome design and ease of care has been the roof – and that’s a good thing because it’s the most important barrier between the weather and your family.
Pros and Cons
Rather than aluminum or fiberglass, most exterior RV roof membranes today are made of EPDM (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer) or TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin). EPDM is a synthetic rubber material which is typically more flexible and less plastic-like than TPO, although TPO is lighter by about half (which translates into fuel savings). One of the main advantages of EPDM, however, is that it can be resurfaced with liquid rubber coatings.
TPO is fairly new technology, while EPDM first hit the RV roofing scene in the 1970s. Therefore, more is known about the latter’s ability to withstand the test of time, and even though it may need repair somewhat more often than TPO, liquid rubber coatings make this job easier for the RV owner. A TPO roof should generally be replaced by a professional, and that can be very costly.
When it comes to color, both types are comparable. The outer layer needs to be a light color to reflect heat, and both surfaces are available in a very limited selection – white, beige, and sometimes light gray. Liquid rubber coatings are made to match, typically in white although some are available in gray as well.
Maintaining Your Roof
When motorhomes are manufactured and sent to the dealership, they’re typically made with the type of roof membrane that best suits the design. This means that buyers generally don’t get to choose whether they get a TPO or EPDM roof membrane. But either way, whichever kind you have, the care requirements are similar.
RV experts recommend getting up on the roof at least a couple of times per year to make sure there aren’t any obvious issues like cracking, bad caulking around openings, or worn spots around seams which could lead to leaks. If you’ve made repairs to the surface with liquid rubber coatings, these areas should be inspected as well to make sure they’re holding up. Both types of membranes should be cleaned as needed with plain, non-abrasive soap and water.
If you do notice any problem areas when inspecting your EPDM roof membrane, these can usually be addressed by applying one of the several available brands of liquid rubber coatings. Signs of wear include cracking, areas where the black underlayment layer shows through, peeling away at seams, and of course, water leaking into the interior of the motorhome. It’s best to treat your roof sooner rather than later, as neglecting roof problems can lead to serious – and expensive – interior damage.
Once you’ve made the necessary repairs, your new surface should offer at least 5 – 10 years of waterproof service, and sometimes up to 20 years.