Last month we explained the woes of dealing with a “dead on arrival” RV rubber roof, and began outlining our experience with replacing a blown camper roof with a whole new material called Peel and Seal. Having pulled off the old exhausted EPDM rubber and peeled back the rotted sheeting, we’re now ready to walk you through the completion of the new roof, and our observations on this product.
We mentioned earlier how we’d shored up the roof from inside, particularly in the area of our sagging air conditioning unit. With all the plywood roof sheeting removed, we now knew the real reason for the sag: One of the a/c unit’s main support framing pieces had started to rot, then broken, presumably under the weight of the a/c unit. Perhaps in this rig’s sad previous life it had been exposed to a heavy winter snow. We’ll never know; if only the walls (or the roof) could talk.
In any event, a survey of the roof framing, just a series of 1×2 lumber, proved we needed a bit more reinforcement than was present. Using contractor’s adhesive and appropriately sized “L” brackets, we installed replacement framing for the damaged stuff, and a few new pieces where we felt that the builder had simply undersized the work. We had to carefully remove the rigid roof insulation to do this, and as we worked, we noted on our carefully drawn roof plan where electrical wiring ran so we’d be careful to avoid hitting it with fasteners later. The insulation itself had been glued to the inside ceiling headliner, so in some cases new insulation had to be put back in, as getting it out intact wasn’t always possible.
As Peel and Seal requires a half-inch slope for each foot of roof, and our camper manufacturer had ingeniously built the rig with zero slope over the largest area of the roof, we had to build in a slope. We decided quarter-inch plywood strips, cut to the width of the framing members, would be the answer. A long strip that ran from the midpoint of the roof out to a point four inches from the side of the rig was the first strip, laid on one of the existing rafters. Next, another strip, four inches shorter than the first, was laid on top of the first strip, beginning at the center point. We repeated this to form a stair-step arrangement of strips, allowing our new quarter-inch plywood roof sheathing to form a curved surface down from the midpoint to the edge of the rig.
As we stair-stepped the strips together, we put a layer of contractor’s adhesive between the strips, and between the first strip and its mating rafter. We also used screws to keep the whole works together, forming a sort of stepped “glulam beam.” We built these new stair-steps into the existing rafters two feet from the end of the rig, and then forward every two feet, allowing us to tie the new roof sheathing plywood in at both ends, and in the center of each sheet, ensuring that the new roof wouldn’t be able to flap in the wind. We used similar buildups around roof vents and the a/c unit port, adjusting the height to match the needs, based on the location on the roof.
We could have probably cut the new glulam beam strips ourselves, but it was far more timesaving to hire the guy at the small-town lumberyard to buzz them up for us between customers while we concentrated on the bigger picture. You probably won’t get that kind of service at a big box store!
Roof Sheeting and Cabinetry
We cut our roof sheeting down at ground level, carefully measuring the layout twice for where cutouts were to go. Happily, the extra effort paid off; every piece of plywood fit without argument and fuss. Screwing down the sheeting seemed a much better arrangement than the original staple-on method used by the manufacturer. Once the plywood was in place, following the instructions of the Peel and Seal folks, we used heavy Gorilla Tape (best stuff we could find in town) to tape off every joint.
Another peculiarity we tried to take into account when we drew our roof diagram was the way in which the camper builder had hung cabinets. We would have thought that if you’d use the ceiling to hang a cabinet, you’d at least make an attempt to screw it into a rafter. Not so with ours. Cabinets were hung willy-nilly from the original one-eighth-inch luan roof deck with no apparent regard for rafters. You can imagine that when moisture infiltrated that old roof, the cabinets did a good job of sagging. So when putting in cabinet support, we used lag bolts as opposed to wood screws, and set them with good-sized fender washers. We then covered these over with a couple of layers of EternaBond tape to protect the new Peel and Seal from any cutting edges of this hardware.
Finally, before putting down the Peel and Seal, we followed directions and primer painted the whole new roof structure. This assures a good, solid surface for the Peel and Seal to tie into.
Laying Down Peel and Seal
Putting down Peel and Seal sounded so easy, but it was a new experience. Russ called on Rocky, our spry octogenarian neighbor, to play “straight man,” for the roofing layout. Because dirt or hand oil will contaminate the stuff, they both donned work gloves and took to the roof with a roll of the new stuff.
On a limited slope as was available on the RV roof, we were to install the roofing perpendicular to the slope, starting at the low edge and working up, allowing a 3-inch overlap. Happily the company preprints overlap marks on the roofing to make it easy to line up. “Place the sheet in the desired position and unroll about 10 feet to check alignment. Reroll to within 3 feet of the end.” So says the directions. We unrolled about eight feet—the width of the cab-over portion of the camper—, whacked off the end allowing overlap at each end, and eyeballed it. The alignment looked good to us, so we re-rolled to within the two feet. Now what?
“Peel off the first two feet of release paper and adhere sheet to the substrate being careful to maintain proper alignment. Reroll onto the adhered portion so that free release paper can be reached. Slowly and carefully unroll the sheet, peeling the release paper and pressing into place as you go.” Sounded easy, and it was, with Russ peeling back paper and Rocky holding the roll, until we noticed we were “going off to Joneses.” The stuff was already stuck thoroughly to the roof deck. While “slight adjustments are possible” while unrolling, “if a major change in direction is necessary, cut the sheet with a razor knife, overlap the sheet 6 inches realign and start again.” So we did. Make a note! Be REALLY careful on that alignment part. We started the next run by striking a chalk line to follow.
As you go, you’ll work meticulously to eliminate any air pockets between the roofing and the sheeting. And as you overlap the three-inch sections where the sheets mate, you’ll need to use a hand roller to apply plenty of firm, even pressure to the lap. Where do you find a hand roller in Smalltown, USA? In a thrift store, in the form of a granite rolling pin for ten bucks. It was the envy of all the baking men and women of the neighborhood. We successfully laid the cab-over portion of the roof with only that one goof, and decided to take on the balance of the roof—the big section—the next day. Maybe that was a mistake, as it allowed too much time for fertile minds to think there had to be an easier way.
The next day we set off to lay the roof, and Rocky had a brilliant idea. Since manipulating the roofing and peeling was taking a toll on him, he suggested we reverse the direction of the roofing peel-back paper. Russ, to this day, isn’t quite sure how this all transpired, but both remember the outcome. We wish we had photos, but we were too busy reenacting a Wile E. Coyote v Roadrunner episode. We learned in a hurry that the “release paper” is NOT nonstick on both sides. The edge of the roofing stuck to the deck, then to the backside of the release paper, then to the right and left gloves of one of the installers, and not necessarily in that order. It also stuck to a knee and a foot, and in the end, several feet of the precious roofing material had to be cut loose, pulled loose, and cast into the outer darkness forever. Always follow the instructions!
We finally got all the new roofing in place. From there we applied a light bead of acrylic caulk along each seam to ensure no water migration in an errant wind. The J-metal along the edge of the roof was put back in place, and excess roofing cut off. Roof vents and other roofing hardware were reinstalled, and everything went right back in place with one exception. We hadn’t quite considered the length of the shaft for the TV antenna. Since the roof now had additional height, the shaft no longer reached as far into the RV as needed. We’ll need to install a new drive shaft to correct that little boo-boo. OK, two things: We’ll also have to install a deeper inside trim ring around a roof vent as well.
The final check was mandated by the distaff side: Check for leaks. A garden hose dispensed a great flow of water with no apparent leakage. Still, we couldn’t help but hold a collective breath for several more weeks when we finally got to the rain country. As the precipitation pounded above our heads, we sat smiling. Nary a drop inside. n
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 icanrv.com for more information.