When you bought your RV, you got it used for a great deal. At the time, it was already quite a few years old, and you’ve since added several more years to it. Lately, you’ve started to wonder if it’s a good idea to begin budgeting for a new roof. How long should you expect the roof of your RV to last?
On average, an RV roof should last for 10 to 20 years. About five to 10 years in, you might experience issues with leaks, but this doesn’t always mean you need a new roof, just repairs. Misuse or neglect of the roof will slash its overall lifespan.
In this article, we’ll talk more about RV roof materials, including a handy table of the different roof styles. We’ll also discuss the signs that you need a new roof and share some tips for prolonging the life of your roof. You won’t want to miss it!
What Are RV Roofs Made of? (With an RV Roof Styles Table)
Let’s start by discussing roof styles or materials. You have four options here, two of which are rubber. These are rubber TPO and rubber EPDM. The other two materials are fiberglass and aluminum.
You won’t get to choose the material of the roof unless you buy the RV brand new, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth climbing up on a ladder to scope out your RV roof style.
Here’s an explanation of all four styles or materials as well as a table handily summarizing this section.
Older RVs are likely to have an aluminum roof, which gives the exterior of the motorhome a shiny finish. If that’s the sort of thing you like, then more power to you, but aluminum can admittedly look outdated.
Beyond its looks, aluminum seams tend to break quicker than other roof materials. If you decide to repair the seams yourself or go to a professional, they’ll have to fasten the seams instead of gluing them. Why? Well, glue doesn’t stick to aluminum. Fastening the seams creates durability, but it’s also more expensive.
If you ever drive through an overhang of trees that are lower than you thought, the branches shouldn’t pierce through your aluminum roof. That’s not an assurance you get with every RV roof style.
Heat resistance is not a strong suit of aluminum, which is problematic. That said, the holes that an RV roof can sometimes develop from years of motion-induced friction affect aluminum far less. That ought to give you the max lifespan of an aluminum roof or close to it.
The biggest and most detrimental downside of aluminum is how it takes a lot for an aluminum roof leak to become apparent. You’d need to apply direct pressure to the roof to see water spurt from your roof, and by then, the damage the water has caused is often very significant.
The second roof style is fiberglass. The glass fibers and synthetic materials that go into fiberglass are produced in sheets and panels. Your RV roof then might be one single piece or several pieces of fiberglass glued together.
An RV with a fiberglass roof is likely to be more expensive than one with aluminum. That means it’s best to take care of your fiberglass roof well, as paying to replace it won’t be very light on your wallet. That’s doubly true if your fiberglass roof is one piece.
If you’d rather get a customized RV roof, you’d need one made of fiberglass. You can decorate your fiberglass with various patterns or colors. Fiberglass also won’t rust. Like aluminum, a fiberglass roof will not crack or puncture if you drive under low tree cover either.
However, despite having some measure of fire resistance, fiberglass lacks heat resistance. So sure, while it won’t burn outright, it will split thermally to the point where you can’t use the roof.
Now let’s get into the two types of rubber, the first being rubber TPO. You’re probably wondering, what is TPO? The abbreviation stands for thermoplastic polyolefin, which refers to how many plies the rubber has. In this case, it’s only one.
Some rubber TPO is thinner and other roofs thicker, which creates disparities between products. No matter how thick, your RV roof with rubber TPO should come outfitted with a layer of laminate. Without the laminate, the rubber will begin cracking, and fast. This happens due to the short width of the seams, as your roof needs more of them. The more seams, the more weaknesses across the roof.
You have a few options for installing new rubber TPO roofing. Some RV owners glue the rubber on directly while others use welding and more still will fasten the rubber. No matter how you do it, rubber TPO remains one of the cheaper RV roofing styles.
Sadly, you’ll have to replace it often, as the rubber begins breaking down quick. While you have your rubber TPO roof, since it’s often white, it’s heat-reflective. This can keep you cooler in your RV, which is always nice.
The last RV roof style we want to discuss is rubber EPDM. The whole name for this material is ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber, which is a mouthful.
Rubber EPDM is pretty resistant to scratching, scuffing, and denting. If your roof needs repairs, you can add adhesives, latex tape, or rubber shingles to patch it up.
Of all the RV roof styles, rubber EPDM is the most likely to puncture, so you’ll have to watch where you’re driving. Although it’s not hard or expensive to replace rubber EPDM, it’s still a pain to do.
The lightweight quality of this rubber is a standout quality. That said, unlike rubber TPO, rubber EPDM will trap in heat. Also–and it has to be said–it’s kind of ugly.
|RV Roof Material||Pros||Cons|
|Aluminum||Hard to pierce through, less movement-related friction damage||Looks outdated, seams can split, lack of heat resistance, hides leaks|
|Fiberglass||Very customizable, durable against fire (to a degree) and punctures||Expensive, prone to heat damage|
|Rubber TPO||Installation versatility, quite inexpensive, reflects heat||Can be thinner or thicker depending on where you buy it, must have laminate surface, wears down fast|
|Rubber EPDM||Durable, easily repaired, lighter-weight material||Punctures easily, quick heat absorption, ugly|
How Long Does an RV Roof Last?
Now that we’ve examined RV roof styles, let’s get back to our main question about the longevity of the roof.
If your roof is made of rubber TPO or rubber EPDM, then you can expect it to last for upwards of 10 years, maybe 12 years. That’s just a baseline, by the way, as many a meticulous RV owner has stretched that time to 20 years with proper care of the roof.
Even if your rubber RV roof is only good for about 10 years, considering the low price of rubber, replacing it won’t put a hurting on your wallet.
Aluminum RV roofs, although not the most appealing option at all, are renowned for their long lifespan. Your aluminum roof may be good for 20 years, sometimes a little longer. Fiberglass roofs also regularly last 20 years.
As we discussed earlier in this guide, failing to take care of your RV roof can cause you to have to replace it sooner. We’ll provide tips later in this article for how to make your roof last longer, so make sure you check that out.
What Are the Signs You Need a New RV Roof?
It’s easy to miss your RV roof when doing regular maintenance because it’s so high up there. You probably can’t even see the top of your roof unless you climb a ladder, which is inconvenient, so you limit how often you’re up there.
Yes, it’s annoying to have to climb up to your RV roof, but the more infrequently you do it, the more of a horror show you’re going to see when you finally do get up there. If you spot any of the following signs, then your RV roof needs significant repairs if not an outright replacement.
There’s Water Under the Roof Seams
Aluminum roofs have this problem especially where water can get trapped underneath the seams and look invisible until you begin pressing on the roof.
Try applying some pressure on your roof near the seams. If you see water come out, that’s a really bad sign. Like we discussed before, depending on the severity of the water damage, you could be looking at seriously pricy repair or replacement costs.
Your Rubber Roof Has Bulges
Your rubber TPO or rubber EPDM roof may not hold water like aluminum, but rubber can have its set of problems. For instance, has your rubber roof started bulging lately? You don’t think it looked like that this time last year, as it’s very bulky in some areas and sagging in others.
This is again a sign of water damage. The water has gotten trapped beneath the rubber, degrading its quality. Since most rubber RV roofs can break down pretty fast on their own, giving them extra help like this means you’ll need to replace the rubber almost ASAP.
The Ceiling and/or Cabinets of Your RV Ceiling Are Discolored
The next time you’re in your RV, take a look at the ceilings. Are they the same color uniformly? What about your kitchen cabinets, especially the ones nearest the ceiling? If you answered no to one or both of those questions, you’ve got a problem. Excess moisture has built up and caused the material to become discolored. The roof is probably leaking somewhere.
Minor leaks are reparable, but bigger ones will require a whole new RV roof, sorry!
Your RV Siding Isn’t Straight
Your used RV wasn’t in perfect shape when you bought it, but you distinctly remember there was nothing wrong with the siding. Now the siding seems curvy or wavy. It’s not super noticeable, but still very strange nonetheless.
If this waviness is accompanied by bubbles underneath the siding, water damage has struck once again. This time, the water has gotten to the siding from the roof, which is faulty.
Your RV Floor Has Gone Soft
Here’s a very telling sign you need to get your RV repaired like yesterday. If the floor underneath you is soft, the leak has gone from the ceiling or roof to the floor. Besides just a new roof, you also need new RV flooring. We’d also suggest not using your RV for the time being, as its structural integrity is questionable.
What Can You Do to Make Your RV Roof Last Longer?
Okay, okay. You’ll definitely start checking your RV roof more often after having to pay an astronomical fee for a new roof and maybe new flooring or cabinetry as well. How do you take care of your roof so it lasts longer? Here are a few suggestions.
Cover Your RV When Not in Use
This is a very easy tip and hopefully one you’re already following. Since your roof is the highest point of your RV, it’s the one that absorbs the most environmental damage, be that the brunt of the sun, pelting rain, or snowfall accumulation.
By covering your RV in the off-season, you safeguard the roof from damage. Sure, snow can still settle atop the cover, so it’s not a bad idea to dust off your cover if you must leave your RV outside.
Keep It Clean
Cleaning your RV roof is a good time to inspect it for damage. Also, giving the roof a bath can maintain the quality of the seal or coating on the roof. This seal extends the roof’s lifespan, especially with rubber roofs.
Add Your Own Roof Coating
Since RV roof seals don’t last forever, by using a product like Proguard Liquid Roof, you can make your roof more durable. This EPDM rubber should last for five years according to the manufacturer. If temperatures dip as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit or reach ungodly highs of 300 degrees, Liquid Roof won’t break down.
Use a Protectant
If you have a fiberglass RV roof, it doesn’t hurt to apply a protectant such as 303. This aerospace protectant for recreational and marine use is applicable to finished leather, plastic, rubber, carbon fiber, plexiglass, and vinyl as well.
You spritz it on then wipe it away until your roof is dry. The 303 will dry matte. With UV blockers in the formula, your roof won’t age early, and it may be less likely to crack as well.
Your RV roof might last around 10 years, but you can double that time with the right care. Whether your roof is rubber, fiberglass, or aluminum, cleaning and inspecting the roof regularly will help you maintain its quality. Best of luck!