There’s nothing like a rainy winter in the Northwest to reveal previously unheard of leaks. That constant, soaking yuck just naturally reveals problems you wished you’d never heard of. But now with the downpour, what’s to be done?
The BEST (and least likely for a lot of us) temporary fix is to roll the RV into covered storage and work on the problem at your leisure. Got a buddy with an empty hay barn? A business acquaintance with a corner of a warehouse unused? Great stuff if you do! But other alternatives exist: The FEMA answer to missing shingles—the Big Blue Tarp.
Tarping your rig until spring—or summer, depending on the vagaries of nature—is a possibility. However, if there’s a chance your roof has a bit of a malformation leading to water puddles forming (a common issue for older rigs), just tossing on a tarp may not solve the problem. A simple malformation in the tarp or a bit of wind-driven weathering can render the blue tarp useless if left down in the hole. At that rate, you might consider using 2 x 4 lumber (or larger) to form up a frame to support the blue tarp and assure good runoff. Notwithstanding, just laying a tarp on the roof doesn’t allow for air movement, and can lead to its own set of problems. We’ve found the tarp solution to be best only for a short term, a couple of weeks maybe.
If tarps and storage are out, how might you deal with a leak issue? A true-life experience may assist. A couple we know who spend their winters in the dry country came “home” in December to find water in their Northwest-based fifth wheel bedroom. A previously repaired corner seam at the front of the rig had sprung a leak, and the owner pumped nearly two gallons of rainwater out of an area of the bedroom carpet. For them, there was no saving angel with a high-roofed storage area, and their plans were to be out of the rain country within a few days, and not back until springtime.
To add insult to injury, the Northwest rains last December were unending. There was no way to properly take apart the leaking seam and do repair work. As long as the rains continued to roll down the front edge of their rig, working its way inside, serious damage was going to happen. At first the “duct tape solution” came to mind—and in the short term might have worked. But you can’t ask even the highest quality duct tape to hold the fort for several months.
There is a phenomenal repair tape on the RV market. Called EternaBond, this stuff is really great. Its parent company bills it as a “miracle repair tape,” and it really does do an amazing job. While it is not sold for use in making wet repairs, many RVers have successfully used it in just such a situation and had it work. In the case of the leaking fifth wheel seam, the thought was to run a length of EternaBond over the damaged area and let it keep the rain out until time could be found for making a real repair.
A short break in the rain was just what the RVer was looking for, and to ensure success, he thoroughly wiped the area to be taped with dry rags. Peeling the backing off the EternaBond, he applied the tape and thoroughly rubbed it down to engage the sticky part of the tape onto the side of the RV. Despite his best efforts, the tape wouldn’t stick. What happened? Sometime in the past a silicone-containing caulk had been used on the trim over the corner, and the excess was now firmly stuck on the siding. The EternaBond couldn’t come to grips with the silicone, and it was back to square one.
Enter ProSeal, a construction industry caulking compound. This stuff is really sticky—it will bond to surfaces inundated with water, even oil. Would it work on the silicone issue? ProSeal comes in a caulking gun tube. Unlike ordinary caulks, the tube is closed not with a “puncturable” seal somewhere down in the snout, but rather, a threaded plastic stub that you slice open, and then thread the snout onto. Don’t cut off too much of the stub, or what happened to our guy can happen to you: The moment you pull the caulking gun handle the dispensing snout blows off the end of the tube, and you’re left applying this very sticky (messy) substance as best you’re able.
The end result, even utilizing the “clear” ProSeal wasn’t real pretty, but it was DRY. Next summer it will be interesting to see what it takes to get the ProSeal off the side of the trailer and new repairs made, but in the interim, it appears that leak has been banished. We’ve heard that ProSeal works well in stopping leaks around roof vents when there’s no time to wait for a dry day for repairs. At least up at roof level, the only ones who’ll have their aesthetic feelings damaged are birds and squirrels.
We DON’T suggest you use ProSeal on an EPDM rubber roof, as just how that rubber material would react over the long-term with ProSeal isn’t clear. It could damage the rubber, leaving you in a real fix. However, for older metal-roofed rigs, ProSeal could be the answer to wet repairs.
So what if you’re stuck with a roof leak at a bad time with an EPDM roof? We had that issue turn up not long ago. On a field trip with our truck camper, a wonderful blue-sky day suddenly got ugly when a squall line broke overhead. A sudden waterfall came roaring down through our galley light fixture, ruining an otherwise relaxing time.
Our immediate action—knowing we had a ponding zone above the galley—was to drop the rear of the camper down from level and try and get the rain to roll off the rig, rather than come in. That worked for a while, but we still had the problem of what caused the leak—and how to stop it.
Between showers, an inspection revealed a 20-inch tear in the rubber roof, thanks to a low-hanging tree branch on a narrow road. Happily we had some EternaBond tape with us. Making a repair is easy: Prep the surface to be repaired by wiping it down with mineral spirits. Cut the tape to overlap the damaged area by a half-inch. Peel back the protective plastic wrap from the “business side” of the tape and lay it down on the area to be repaired. Once in place, apply pressure—preferably with a roller, but strong hands, or any other tool that will firmly press the tape into place will ensure a swift, and lasting, repair.
As mentioned, while the company doesn’t warrant that the tape will stick on wet surfaces, many times it will. Here the trick is to peel back only about half the backing, stick down the tape, and really apply the pressure hard. Then slowly peel back the remainder of the backing tape, applying pressure as you go, working the water out from under the repair tape. DON’T yank on the tape once it’s in place—it will take more time for the adhesion to take place, if it works.
EternaBond isn’t cheap: We paid over $100 for a 4-inch by 37-foot roll, but that’s a lot of repair material. You can find it for less money on the Internet, and you may be able to find an RV repairman who’ll sell you the length you need from a roll he’s already started using.
We’ll report back in a few months on how well the ProSeal repair work on that leaky corner seam went, and provide some suggestions on how to get sticky stuff off.
Stay dry out there!
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit www.icanrv.com for more information.