Most RVers are pretty good about keeping an eye on their rig’s state of health. Many check the tire pressure regularly and peek inside their batteries for a glance at the electrolyte level. Sales of all sorts of “RV wash” compounds probably keep manufacturers grinning with delight. But one area that sometimes is neglected is out of sight: the roof.
Inspecting your roof is critical to maintaining your RV’s good health. If something goes wrong up there and is left unchecked, it can spell disaster over time. We’ve seen an otherwise excellent (and none-too-old) RV wind up on the “ICU list” due to water infiltration from a tear in the roof membrane. Regular inspection is a must. What do you look for?
Probing Your Roof
First, a couple of safety precautions: Make sure your access to the roof is safe and secure. If you use the rig’s roof access ladder, before you start climbing, give it a good look-see and a solid tug. If it is loose or looking frail, use a different route to the roof. If you use a freestanding ladder, ensure it’s in good condition and properly placed. Once you are on the roof, you may benefit from “walking boards,” which are stout boards that more evenly distribute your weight. They should run between roof rafters so the rafters, not the roof panels, take the weight. It’s best to have someone else around when you’re up there, so if something goes wrong, they can give you an assist.
We find it advantageous to start at one end of the rig and work toward the other when doing an inspection. Often at the ends you’ll find an end cap or other trim. Look closely at the sealant that protects the trim or cap from water intrusion. Using a plastic putty knife, you may even carefully poke at it to ensure it’s firmly in place, not weathering. As you work your way over the roof, carefully examine every place where sealant is used. This means around trim, roof and plumbing vents, antenna mounts, the refrigerator vent—any place where something penetrates the roof.
The roof itself needs a careful review. Many rigs are covered with EPDM rubber material. As highly touted as it is, EPDM doesn’t last forever, and by our experience, rarely the life of the RV. The older the rubber roof gets, the less resistant it is to the ravages of tree branches or other objects that your rig may come under. It only takes a small tear in a rubber roof for water to begin making its way through, and a small slit from the action of wind can get bigger in a hurry.
Plastic shrouds that protect air conditioning units can easily become compromised by UV radiation or the clobbering blow of a tree branch. While a crack or small hole in an a/c shroud isn’t as “life threatening” as a hole in your roof, water infiltration at the wrong point over an a/c unit can still cause problems.
You may have other accessory units on your roof. Luggage storage pods also need a checkup. Metal luggage-carrying racks are likewise a point of contact where the weather can gain access. Ensure that these too are properly sealed, and that they are firmly mounted to the roof. With the stress of the rig’s working action, and occasional impact with low objects, a loose roof rack or storage pod can be a real safety hazard.
If you have solar panels, they’ll likely enjoy a cleaning to rid them of dirt and bird splats. Once cleaned, they’ll produce more power for you. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, or if in doubt, use a good bath of water, flushing them thoroughly and then taking after them with a soft, wet rag.
Replacing a Refrigerator Vent
Should you find your RV refrigerator roof vent cover is in need of replacement, it’s a fairly easy, straightforward process. Many RVers choose a generic roof cover when replacement time comes. Camco produces a cover that fits both Norcold and Dometic vent bases, and should the base itself need replacing, their cover will also fit their own replacement base—at an additional charge, of course! We picked our vent cover up for about $15 at a discount RV parts retailer.
Removing the old cover may require a screwdriver or possibly pliers. Some metal vent hoods are crimped onto the base and a pair of needle-nose pliers can bring the old lid off in a hurry.
Not sure if your vent is a Dometic or Norcold? If you are using the Camco replacement, simply measure the distance between the screws at one end of the vent cover base, and the distance between the screws from end to end. You’ll find the cover is set up with two different pairs of screw pillars to make it (theoretically) fit all existing bases; a pair of accessory brackets is included for “older Dometic” base setups where the screw holes are wider than the current Dometic issue.
In our test case we found that the spacing for our Norcold base was too narrow from end to end by nearly 3/4 of an inch. We simply used two of the old mounting screws to screw the brackets down to the existing base holes at one end, extending the brackets the necessary space to line up with the screw pillars in the new cover.
If you have the “real” Dometic or Norcold base that actually fits the new cover without fussing, Camco handily prints a “D” or an “N” next to a dimple where the screws should be run through the cover and into the existing base screw holes. In practice you’ll probably find yourself grunting and stooping down over the lid, prying it up a bit, then running the screw into that first hole. After that, the screws should line themselves up fairly easily.
Run all four screws down through the lid snugly, and to complete the job add a touch of sealant to the tops of the screw holes if you’re worried that weather might migrate down the threads and into the rig.
Checking your RV roof is not too time consuming and can save you plenty of time and money in the long run. A roof inspection on a quarterly basis is good insurance for your RV’s health.
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. Visit icanrv.com for more information.