Our Unexpected Roof Repair Adventure

So we’ve been having a ton of fun working on our reno series posts, and showing you guys all the work we did on our Rambler. Having finished most of it, we were SUPER excited to post our final reveal this week … but apparently that was not meant to be.

Our Unexpected Roof Repair Adventure

Our camper weathered some crazy thunderstorms in Virginia this summer, and kept us completely dry. However, apparently the mix of traveling and Louisiana rain storms — which, to be fair, are nuts — finally pushed the Rambler past capacity, and last week, we woke up to the sound of water dripping on the floor. Virginia gets seriously humid, and we’d had some condensation come in when we first moved into the camper in July, but I’d been able to bandaid that with some shims and a good cleaning of the drain holes.

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The face of a man thrilled to have water dripping from his ceiling on his first day in his new home.

However, it seemed the bandaid’s warranty had expired. Since water was only coming in through the air conditioning unit, I was pretty sure the problem was the rubber foam gasket the AC sits on top of. It’s designed to keep water out and also to let water drain out of the AC. The reason I’d had to shim the AC up in the summer was because that gasket was very compressed, so I already had a clue it was time for a replacement. I did some googling, watched some videos, and read some helpful articles, and came up with a plan of attack.

Now, overall, our roof is in pretty good shape. It’s an aluminum roof with no cracks or significant dents, and the seals on the seams were in mostly good shape. However, since I was going to be spending time on the roof anyway, I wanted to go ahead and do some preventative measure work, and hopefully save myself some pain down the road.

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Dirty, but not too bad for 25 years old!

During my research I came across into a very cool, extremely highly-recommended product called Liquid Roof used to coat camper roofs. Basically it’s a two-part rubberized self-leveling paint that you mix and apply to your roof. It’s thin enough that it gets into and seals small cracks, but heavy enough that it dries level and clean and provides strong, durable, waterproof protection for your roof. It’s also pretty expensive. I wanted to coat my entire roof, but the 5-gallon bucket I needed was about $350, and I didn’t want to spend that much on preventative measures at this point.

After a lot of deliberation, I decided to not coat the entire roof, but instead to use Dicor Lap Sealant around the edges of the seams and seam tape, as well as in any visible sealant cracks. Then, after pulling up the AC and old gasket, I would lay down a bed of the Liquid Roof around the AC, coat all the seams/seam tape, and also coat around the skylights and vents to reinforce them.  I went over to Baton Rouge’s RV Shop and found what I needed. They were very friendly and helpful, and even gave me a great discount without me even asking! If you’re ever in the Baton Rouge area and need some help, make sure to give them a call. I ordered my new gasket from Amazon, and got ready to get to work.

Roof Repair Collage 1

This was basically what I was starting with: some cracked lap sealant, peeling edges on the seam tape, and a good bit of dirt. Nothing too unmanageable. With some scrubbing, some new lap sealant, and a heavy coat of Liquid Roof, we’d be good to go — and probably (hopefully) for a good long time!

Now on to the source of the problem: the AC. The unit is in pretty good shape, especially for being 25-years-old. It ran great for us through a very hot and humid summer, kept our camper nice and cool, and never even threatened to give up. In the top right picture below you can see the shims I had put under the frame to keep the unit off the roof and draining properly. But in the bottom picture you can see how the front of the unit is sitting on the roof ridge. As the shims degraded, the AC had sunk back down and settled on the roof, blocking it from draining properly.

Roof Repair Collage 2 - updated

The gasket arrived in the mail, so after checking to make sure I had a good weather forecast for a few days, I went ahead and pulled up the AC to see what was going on underneath. I was a bit nervous to pull it apart — I’m no electrician, and was worried I’d have to unwire (dewire?) something, but it turned out that after pulling off the plastic shroud on the roof, and the plastic shroud inside the camper, there were only four bolts and a simple plug wiring harness to remove. No problem! Roof Repair Collage 3

And here’s what I found inside: one gross, dirty, compressed, messed-up looking gasket. Which I was actually happy about! I could see almost immediately where most of the water was coming in, which meant the new gasket would most likely completely fix the leak. Hooray for simplicity!

With the AC out of the way, I got to scrubbing. I cleaned all the seams, all the seam tape, and all the existing lap sealant that was on the vents and skylights using soapy water and a kitchen scrubby. I also cleaned the roof about a foot out in every direction from the seals using Windex, and did the same in a large area around the AC hole.

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so fresh so clean.

While cleaning this area, I ran into a problem I hadn’t expected — some rust, and rust holes, in the roof. Part of the AC had been sitting directly on the roof for so long that it had been able to rust, and that rust had spread to the roof itself.

Roof Repair Collage 4

Fixing that was going to take something I didn’t have — rubber roofing tape. I was hoping to use a product I’d read a lot about, but unfortunately the RV Shop didn’t have it. However, I found a 6” x 24” rubber roof patch made by another company, and went with that. I cleaned the whole area really well, let it dry, then applied the adhesive patch, and rolled it down with a wallpaper roller. And voila! A watertight patch that would also protect the area from that same kind of contact. 2015-12-18 09.55.22 (2)

While the patch set up, I went ahead and applied the lap sealant. It comes in a caulk tube, and went on like a very heavy caulk. I used one tube to cover any cracked lap sealant, and to coat the edges of the seam tape. The next morning, when that had dried, I taped off all the areas I wanted to cover with the Liquid Roof. I try to avoid doing messy work, so the tape gave me some nice clean edges, and also helped me avoid drips down the sides and front of the camper where I rolled over the seam tape.

Roof Repair Collage 5
Nice and straight and ready to roll!

Finally, I could go ahead and mix up my paint — and this is where things got tricky. The directions say to mix it in weather between 70 and 90 degrees. You’d think that’d be perfect for Louisiana in the winter, but the rain that had blown through a few nights earlier had also brought in a cool front, and even around noon, the temps were in the mid 50s. It was nice and sunny, but the lower temps meant that the Liquid Roof was very, VERY thick — and a complete bear to apply. I had a roller and a heavy brush, and both, plus the paint tray liner, were pretty much destroyed within 10 minutes. To make up for how heavy it was, I would slop on a whole puddle of it, then roll it out as best I could.

I was very worried, given how thick I was putting it on, and the fact that I’d only bought a gallon, that it wouldn’t go far enough, but by some miracle, after one coat, I’d only gone through maybe a quarter of the can! I still can’t figure out how that happened. But since I knew it was kind of thin in some spots, and I didn’t want any more of this $100 can of rubber to go to waste than was necessary, I got a new roller, jumped back up on the roof, and went over everything again, really laying it on heavily, and making sure it completely filled any sealant cracks or raised edges.

Despite how poorly it was applying, the self-leveling part of the product worked like a champ, and it all settled and smoothed down beautifully. I gave it a few hours to start setting up, then went back up and pulled off all the tape. The paint didn’t even budge, and my lines are straight and clean.

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While that finished setting up,  I took advantage of the time to scrub down the rooftop AC shroud, which was covered with 25 years of dirt and mold. It looked so much better when I was done that I got inspired, and I went ahead and cleaned and spray painted the inside AC cover, to make it match our new clean white interior.

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I didn’t remember to get a good picture of this, but the underside of the AC unit had some rust on it from sitting in water for extended periods of time. To deal with that, I went over the rusty areas a few times with a wire brush, then wiped them down with WD-40, which destroys rust. Once those areas were clean and dry, I taped off the rest of the AC unit and hit the rust spots with a few coats of Rustoleum’s Rust Inhibitor Spray. Rust handled!

Now I could start reassembling everything. I had thoroughly cleaned the area where the old gasket and spacers had been with mineral spirits, so I had a surface ready for the new gasket. I applied the new one exactly where the old one had been, and put the spacer at the back of the unit, also where the old one had been. I also took the extra spacers they gave me, and applied them on each front corner of the unit (where it had been sitting flush on the roof) to help keep too much weight from sitting on the gasket. It was nice seeing the clean new gaskets and spacers on the cleaned up AC, ready to go back on the clean new rubber roof!

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With that done, it was just a matter of getting my brother to help me lay the AC back in hole, and center it squarely on the gasket. He held the control panel up to the ceiling while I put the bolts back in, and I cranked those bolts down to compress the new gasket flat to the surface of the roof. After plugging the unit in and screwing that newly-white cover into place (complete with brand new air filters!), we were back in business! To be honest, I was a little nervous turning it back on, but it started up immediately, blowing nice and cold.

Roof Repair Collage 6
And looking a lot better, too!

Now we just had to wait for some rain. Being in Louisiana, we didn’t have to wait very long — the next night, a storm blew through. I hung out in the camper, waiting to see what happened, and was thrilled when the first hour passed with not even a drop inside!

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The AC sitting nice and high off the roof on that new gasket.

However — and you knew it was coming — soon that hour passed, and I heard a drip. And a minute later, another one. There was still water coming in, and it looked like it was coming in through the AC unit itself, not the roof. This was actually something of a relief, since after patching the roof, putting down a rubber roof, and replacing the gasket, I had no idea what else we could to waterproof it. But once the rain passed (two days later, we’re still in Louisiana), and I did a ton of googling, I had a pretty good idea how the water was getting in, and why.

I got up there, and it turned out I was right — the drain hole that tended to get the most use was blocked up, which had caused the drain pan to fill and overrun. The reason it was even filling up in the first place, though, was that the last time I had pulled the AC unit apart, I had put the casing back together wrong, and water was able to get in from the top. So I cleaned out the drain holes, made sure nothing else was in there that could gum them up, and then carefully replaced the lid, making sure the lip was secure all the way around. Just to be sure, I grabbed some duct tape and covered the entire joint with a strip of tape.

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And when the inevitable storm came in a day later, it all worked beautifully! No dripping, a dry celing, and nothing coming through the unit. So for now, when it rains, we’re enjoying the sound of it — and how good it sounds on the outside of the camper ;-D

Author
I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Virginia, and married a girl from New Hampshire, so I can drive the East Coast in my sleep. I love exploring, jumping out of airplanes, whitewater rafting, fast cars, comic books, and generally refusing to act my age. More practically, I love budgeting and financial planning, renovating and updating older homes (and now campers), and learning to make our family as self-sustaining as possible.

2 comments

  1. Hey Ryan, nice share. You guys really made the unexpected roof repair into a huge adventure. I like the overall processing you guys have done. I like the new AC system you’ve setup.

  2. Thanks Ryan for your valuable info.You’re sharing is just outstanding and truly useful to comprehend the damaged roof repairing.A damaged roof repairing needs to require some genuine endeavors and thought to decide the best result. I was essentially puzzled on picking the best roof repairing methodology which could work viable for me.I discovered your article all the more fascinating and valuable as an instrument which could enable me to investigate my damaged roof repairing thoughts in this area.

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