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Long Term RV Living – Your Roof!

July 18, 2010

The integrity of your roof, just like in any dwelling, is VERY important. Whether you are driving or parked, eventually the weather will break down your roof and it is bound to develop leaks. This is one reason why you see many parked RV’s with covers over them. But those are not being lived in!

When a leak develops, there are things you can do. There are sealants that can be used. I have to say, though, that they are a hassle. The conditions have to be just right. The roof has to be clean and the temperatures and humidity have to be within a certain range. And, of course, it can’t rain. Ideally, you need to pull your RV inside of a garage or under a covered place. That is pretty hard to do when you are living in it.

You can put a tarp over a leaky roof, but that presents a whole other set of difficulties. For one thing, tarps break down. They also rip in high wind storms. Even the best ones eventually will break down…so they are only a temporary solution. Although…with a solid cover, you had better make sure it is anchored well. Otherwise, high winds may mess that up, too.

The other problem is that a tarp will cover your vents. You do NOT want that. If you run your refrigerator on propane, you need to have the vent open to the air. If you want to catch breezes and let the heat out of the top of your RV…you need your roof vents open to the air. It is also not a good idea to run your roof AC if it is covered with a tarp.

Last, but not least…your black water tank has a roof vent. If it is covered…you are a whole lot more likely to have smells emitting from the tank and into the RV. Trust me on this…it is not very pleasant! We did the tarp thing because we were never able to get a cover built…nor did we ever expect to live this long in the RV.

The best thing to do, we believe, is to build a solid covering over your RV…regardless of the condition of your roof. If your roof is in good shape…then it will simply last longer. A covering will keep the rain off and the snow…if you live where it snows.We never got one built and we did not expect to live this long in the RV.

The covering should allow enough space for you to get onto your roof if need be. It should allow for a little bit of airflow so that the vents can work correctly and you can run your AC. The vents are often designed to catch the breezes which will help suck the “black water” air, or the heated air from the fridge, up and out. The roof vents that run down the middle for ventilation are also better able to catch the breezes if the breezes can flow over them.

Now…having said that…there is also something else you want to do. You want to insulate the roof if you can. This is another nice thing about having a cover…it protects your insulation. We rolled out plastic backed insulation on our roof and it made a HUGE difference in our heat loss in the winter and our cool air loss in the summer. We did not cover the air vents or the A/C. We handled that differently.

Roll out the insulation and then tape the edges of one roll to the roll next to it. The outer edges you tape directly to the clean roof or sides. The reason you want to tape is to keep the fiberglass particles from getting caught in the wind and blowing into your roof vents. We recommend using a weather proof tape. There is one that looks like clear packing tape except it is a little cloudy in appearance and it is made to handle the weather. This is called all-weather Duck tape and is put out by Duck brand tapes.

It is important to note here that, if you do not have a solid roof cover, then you MUST put a good tarp over your roof. Otherwise the rain will flow into the air vents where you have taped the edges of the insulation down. Water getting inside the insulation will cause mold and algae to grow.

You want to seal the insulation to the roof…all around the outer edges and between the rolls. Do NOT cover any of the vents. In the winter, you can either get covers or use small tarps or something like that to cover the air vents. you always want the other vents to be free and clear.

There is something else you will want to do in the winter with the air vents. We cut out foam and placed it inside the air vents from inside the RV. See below. If you cannot get the foam to stay in place, you might have to tape them in.The foam makes a huge difference in temperature loss.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Joelle permalink
    July 18, 2010 5:07 PM

    Instead of taping the insulation together would it work to lay plastic over the insulation and just tape the edge of the plastic to the trailer? And I like how you cut the foam for the vents. That is a lot cheaper than the vent plugs they sell.

    • July 18, 2010 6:41 PM

      Joelle, I don’t see why that would not work…so long as you tape all the external edges. You want it sealed. Plus, you need to have something over the top…preferably a solid cover.

      A lot of “RV” things are expensive. If you can find your own way to do things it can be a lot cheaper. 🙂

  2. Joelle permalink
    July 18, 2010 5:08 PM

    Oh yeah, one more question, how thick was the insulation that you laid on your roof?

    • July 18, 2010 6:43 PM

      Ours was about 4″. We used the type that is used in a pole barns. It has a vinyl backing. You could probably use any kind, but it is good to try and keep the moisture out.

  3. July 22, 2010 1:23 PM

    Great idea witht the foam for extra insulation in the winter.

  4. christine turner permalink
    March 1, 2017 11:54 AM

    I am trying to prepare the trailer I live in for the summer as it does not belong to me and it is a miserable place in the summer months here in dallas. I have bought a blue tarp and wondering the best outside insulation to use for under it. What is this plastic backed insulation you spoke of and what is the cost as I live on a fixed income and am not willing to spend a bunch of money to this trailer except to make it comfortable for me.

    • March 2, 2017 11:28 AM

      Hi, Christine! I do not know the cost of the insulation as it has been years since we got it. Plus, it was donated to us. It is the fiberglass insulation used for metal buildings. That is why it has a plastic backing instead of the typical paper backing you would see for houses. In a house, it would be enclosed with sheet rock, etc. In a metal building, it is exposed, so they put a plastic backing on it. It is well worth if you can get it. You might try a hardware supply store like Lowe’s or Home Depot. I do believe, though, that it comes in a huge roll. Depending on the size of your trailer, though, 1 roll may be all you need. But you will really want help in rolling, cutting and getting it up there.

      It is imperative that you tape it together and then tarp it to keep water out. Rain may not be much of an issue where you live, but the sun breaking down the tarp will, so keep an eye on the condition of the tarp. Remember to cut holes for vents in the insulation and in the tarp, too, which you seal with weatherproof taping. Or, if you can find a way to suspend the tarp so that breezes can blow over the vents, you can leave the tarp whole. However, there is a good likelikhood that your tarp may get ripped or blown off in the wind.

      I hope this helps. Feel free to ask any more questions.


  5. Tim permalink
    October 26, 2017 6:16 PM

    What type of tape did you use

    • October 26, 2017 6:25 PM

      We recommend using a weather proof tape. There is one that looks like clear packing tape except it is a little cloudy in appearance and it is made to handle the weather. This is called all-weather Duck tape and is put out by Duck brand tapes.

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