A healthy roof is key to keeping your RV on the road. Aside from your routine roof maintenance, the secret to keeping your roof in good shape is understanding the material it’s made of. This knowledge can also come in handy if you’re looking to replace your RV roof with something a little different.
Different types of RV roofs have different advantages and drawbacks, so we’ll walk you through the different options on the market. Namely, we’ll be looking at EPDM rubber, TPO rubber, fiberglass, and aluminum so that you can see which one is best for your RV.
Ethylene propylene diene monomer, or EPDM rubber for short, is a stretchy, membrane material with many applications in commercial roofing. If you’ve ever looked down and seen an office building from the top and it was flat and coated in black sheets, that was probably EPDM rubber. Though it's native color is black, it can come in other colors, like white, which is what you’ll want to purchase for your RV if you can find it.
What makes it so great for RV roofing is its ease of use and durability. It is an easy material to install, so with a little bit of DIY know-how and a can-do attitude, you can replace this on your own RV. But you likely won’t have to worry about replacing an EPDM rubber roof any time soon, as it is incredibly durable. It is fairly resistant to scratches, bumps, and dents since the rubber is soft and elastic, allowing any debris that hits it to bounce off easily. On top of that, it is a very lightweight material, which can be very useful if you’re taking your RV on road trips often, as it will not only save gas, but also give you just a little bit more cargo capacity to work with.
Unfortunately, this roof is not for you if you live or travel in hot environments. Even if you get it in a lighter color, this rubber still absorbs quite a lot of heat. Also, while good for preventing dents and scrapes, EPDM is vulnerable to punctures.
EPDM roofs are best for RVers who like to take maintenance into their own hands and have some DIY skills, but don’t want to use them too often. They are also much more practical for those who live and want to go RVing up north where they can avoid the intense heat.
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Thermal polyolefin rubber is similar to EPDM in some ways, but different enough that you need to consider them as distinct options. TPO typically comes in a white finish, which makes this type of rubber much more practical for a “four seasons” RV or one that will stay in the hot weather. It reflects heat similarly to fiberglass or aluminum roofing, but comes at a fraction of the cost. The installation is also similar to EPDM rubber. You’ll simply apply an adhesive to the plywood of the roof and roll the sheet of rubber out over it, removing air bubbles to create a nice seal to protect against the elements.
The first drawback that you should know about TPO roofing is that you will need to seal it with a waterproof and UV resistant coating. And even with a sealant, the rubber will wear down faster than fiberglass or aluminum roofing, and weathering will degrade it over time. That won’t necessarily happen quickly, but bear in mind that you’ll likely have to replace it eventually.
Another big drawback to TPO is that different manufacturers have different processes for making the product, leading to a variety in the quality of material. So if you do opt for TPO, look for only the most reputable manufacturers. Also be on the lookout for the widest possible sheets you can get to minimize the number of seams you have.
TPO roofs are for people who want a less expensive, easy-to-install roof material that is more suitable for different climates than EPDM. You just have to be sure you find a good manufacturer and are prepared to replace it down the line.
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This is a less common type of roofing, and it is usually put on RVs that have the same material for their walls. The roofs are made from incredibly thin fibers of glass woven and layered together and set in a resin or epoxy to make a smooth, strong material that is still light and flexible. As an RV roof material, it is extremely durable, and very unlikely to crack or get dented. It is also waterproof, it won’t rust, and it won’t break down nearly as quickly as a rubber roof. Its light weight is also great for RVers on the move who want to get the best mileage they can.
As you might imagine, a light, flexible, durable material does not come cheap. Fiberglass roofing can be expensive to install, and if it gets damaged it can be quite expensive to repair or replacement. Unlike the rubber roofs, there is very little that you can do on your own. It is also not heat resistant, so it can make for a poorly insulated roof. You’ll have to make up for this with great insulation in the structure beneath the roof. Even when insulated though, fiberglass is not the ideal roof material for hot weather, as the heat can cause it to expand, warp, and form thermal splits. This can lead to those costly replacements if repairs aren’t an option.
Fiberglass roofing is best for those who are willing to spend more money for a very durable roofing material, so long as you don’t plan on RVing in hot climates.
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Aluminum roofing is very rare in RVs, but it is incredibly durable. It has the strength to survive damage that other roof materials could not, including punctures. However, it is the most susceptible to dents. It is also the heaviest roofing material, and it lacks the heat resistance that rubber roofs offer since metals are very strong conductors. Additionally, it is not the most DIY-friendly option if you need to repair it or install a new one. But as vintage Airstreams can show you, aluminum roofing has incredible longevity, and you will likely never need a new one.
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