bing tracking image

Pictured: RV Rooftop

RV Roof Types: What Type of Roof Does My RV Have?

(What the Heck is Up There & Why It Matters)
If you're trying to determine how to repair, replace, or maintain your RV's roof, the type of roof you have matters. Maybe your camper is getting on in years and it's time to replace the roof, or maybe your camper is brand new (or new to you) and you just need to know what's up there and how to care for it. Either way, we'll go over what you need to know about RV roof types below, including how to tell what you have, what type you should get, and what products you should use on each.
RV roofs are generally made from the following materials:
  • Rubber (EPDM or TPO) - Most Common
  • PVC (not your pipes)
  • Fiberglass
  • Aluminum
Multiple Trailer Rooftops
Image Credit: Alpha Systems

Rubber RV Roofs: EPDM & TPO

Rubber is the most popular RV roof material due to it being lightweight and economical to repair/replace (compared to aluminum or fiberglass).RV rubber roofs come in two types: EPDM and TPO. These stand for Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer and Thermoplastic Polyolefin, respectively (if you want to sound fancy at the RV park, you can boast about your Thermoplastic Polyolefin roof). Rubber roofs have a long lifespan: about 15 - 30 years, depending on the thickness of the material, installation quality, and maintenance. They've been around for decades and stood the test of time.
How to Tell If You Have a Rubber RV RoofIf you have your owner's manual handy, you can often find this info in there. If not, however, it's not usually difficult to find out. Aluminum and fiberglass both have hard surfaces, and unlike PVC material, rubber will be textured. The main issue people run into is distinguishing between EPDM and TPO rubber roofs, but there are a few easy ways to check what you have.
  • Unscrew your roof vent inside your RV. There is likely a section of roof membrane stapled to the inside of the RV. Remove a couple of staples, just enough to fold back the roof section, and determine if the material is one color on both sides or not. If it's all one solid color, it's a TPO roof. If it's two different colors (such as white on one side and black on the other), it's EPDM. EPDM is also generally chalky, while TPO is glossy.
  • You can also unscrew a short section of your roof's trim piece and fold back a small section of the roof material there. Again, if it's one solid color, it's TPO. If it's different colors on either side, it's EPDM.
RV roof membrane stapled to inside of vent space
RV roof membrane stapled to inside of vent space
Here's a little breakdown of EPDM vs TPO:
EPDMTPO
Used in roofing applications for 60+ years Used in roofing applications for 20+ years
Heavier and harder to installLighter and easier to install
Less energy efficient Reflects heat better/more energy efficient
Weaker seams (held with tape) Stronger seams (heat welded)
Prone to leaving streaks on sides Doesn't streak
Average lifespan: 20+ yearsAverage lifespan: 10-20 years

Cleaning & Maintaining a Rubber RV Roof

You should clean your rubber RV roof at least 4 times per year and treat it with a protective coating at least every two years. Proper maintenance will not only extend the life of your roof membrane but will also help keep your warranty active — not properly maintaining your roof can actually void your warranty early!To clean your roof, it's best to use non-abrasive cleaning products designed specifically for rubber roofs. You can also use certain home cleaning agents like Dawn liquid soap or Murphy's Oil soap. Just be sure to avoid abrasive cleaning agents and NEVER use products with petroleum distillates, since these can and will damage your roof (which is made of petroleum products).When you clean your roof, climb up and remove any branches or other large or sharp objects first, then sweep the roof with a broom to clear most of the debris. Then, use a hose to spray everything down (careful not to slip!). Use a medium-bristle brush and your cleaner to scrub 3-4 sq ft at a time. You may be able to do this from your ladder; otherwise, you'll have to carefully climb on the roof and scrub. Once your roof is clean and dry, inspect it for any signs of damage, holes in the seals around your vents, or peeling sealant. Add sealant where necessary, then complete the job with a protective coating for best results, if you wish.
PVC RV Roof

PVC RV Roofs

Another common roof type is PVC. No, this isn't exactly like your PVC pipes; it's actually quite similar to an inground pool liner. Think about everything a pool liner has to put up with: thousands of gallons of water, UV exposure, chemicals, major temperature fluctuations. PVC holds up under it all, which is why it also makes a great roof material. PVC membranes are constructed with a plasticizer that keeps the membrane flexible rather than stiff. For the most durable PVC roof, we recommend using one made with solid plasticizer rather than liquid plasticizer (those made with the solid type cost more but won't become brittle over time). A good example of a PVC roof material constructed with a solid plasticizer is LaSalle Bristol's XTRM-PVC membranes. PVC roofs have a lot going for them. They cost more, but they do a better job when it comes to resisting tears, dirt, and sunlight. PVC membranes (particularly XTRM PVC) are usually thicker and stronger than rubber ones. In fact, if you tried pushing a screw through both PVC and rubber roofs, XTRMPly PVC Roofing would be considerably harder to puncture. Because PVC is smooth rather than textured, it prevents dirt from settling into the material and creating those unsightly streaks down the sides of your RV. Its smooth, white surface also reflects sunlight and helps keep your RV cooler. Plus, its integrated anti-microbial properties resist mold, moss, and algae, keeping your roof free of a garden you never wanted.
Typical Roof Material Thickness
XTRM PVCTPOEPDM
27 Mil thickUsually 25 Mil thickUsually 30 Mil thick
It's also worth noting that PVC roofs are less likely to have the prorated warranties you'll often see with rubber roofs. With prorated warranties, the replacement cost provided by the manufacturer decreases with time until the warranty finally runs out. With a non-prorated warranty, your RV roof is covered for the entire warranty duration (usually about 20 years).

How to Tell If You Have a PVC RV Roof

Like TPO, PVC is all one color. Unlike TPO, PVC is smooth rather than textured to prevent dirt from settling in. (It also smells a bit like a pool liner, although we understand if you don't want to sniff your RV roof.)

Cleaning & Maintaining a PVC Roof

PVC roofs are quite low maintenance compared to rubber roofs, since they don't require any special reconditioning or UV treatment.To maintain your PVC roof's bright white appearance, clean it 2-3 times a year with a household cleaner like Dawn or Murphy Oil soap (no specialty RV roof cleaners necessary) and a medium-bristled scrub brush. Climb up there and remove any large or sharp objects. Then, wet the surface of the roof with soapy water. Use your brush to scrub away any dirt, then rinse the roof with clean water. You should also check the seals around your accessories and roof edges and apply more sealant if necessary. Repairing PVC roofs is also relatively easy, and even better — repairs are permanent. Although it's relatively difficult to tear a PVC roof, if the material does rip, you can spread PVC cement on an excess piece of PVC material and place it over the tear. The cement chemically welds the new patch to the old material and provides a permanent repair. If you install a new PVC roof, we recommend holding on to the excess in case you ever need a patch.
RV Fiberglass Roof
RV Fiberglass Roof with Textured Surface
Pictured: RV fiberglass roof (note the texture in the bottom photo)

Fiberglass RV Roofs

Fiberglass RV roofs are relatively rare, but you'll see them from time to time. They don't require as much maintenance as rubber roofs do, but they do cost more and are heavier. Like other roof types, they have an average lifespan of around 10-20 years.

How to Tell If You Have a Fiberglass RV Roof

Fiberglass doesn't feel like rubber or PVC. It's hard with a solid shell (and possibly texturized) but not metallic like aluminum.

Cleaning & Maintaining a Fiberglass Roof

As is the case with other RV types, you should clean your fiberglass roof regularly (about 2-3 times per year). You can use Dawn dish soap or a soap/bleach/water mixture, or you can use a designated RV fiberglass cleaner. After a number of years, your fiberglass roof might begin to chalk. This chalk can run down the sides of the RV and create unsightly streaks. The best solution is to clean, buff, and coat your roof with a floor wax like Mop & Go.
Airstream Camper

Aluminum RV Roofs

Aluminum RV roofs are rare, but you'll see them on some popular RVs (Airstreams, anyone?). They're relatively low maintenance, but like fiberglass, they do cost more and add weight to the RV. Aluminum is also relatively easy to install, and it's eco-friendly since it's non-toxic and can be recycled.How to Tell If You Have an Aluminum RV Roof If you have an Airstream, you have an aluminum roof. It's also the only metallic RV roof material, so if yours is made of metal, it's safe to assume it's aluminum.

Cleaning & Maintaining an Aluminum RV Roof

Clean your aluminum roof regularly (about 2-3 times per year). You can use Dawn dish soap or a soap/bleach/water mixture, or you can use a designated RV aluminum cleaner.

Replacing an RV Roof: What's the Best Roof Material to Use?

If it's time to replace your roof, you have the option of keeping the same roof type or installing something different. Most of the time, you'll replace your roof with the same material that's currently on it. On the other hand, maybe you want something easier to maintain or something more resistant to punctures and tears, in which case it's a good time to switch things up.
Chart Comparing RV Roof Types
Checkmark

For Tear/Puncture Resistance

PVC or FiberglassHaving a bad experience with roof damage is probably the main reason RVers switch roof types in search of something better. Specifically, many make the jump from rubber to fiberglass. If you're okay with the extra cost and weight, this can be a good move. Fiberglass is more resistant to damage from stray tree branches.However, if the cost and/or weight of fiberglass is a turnoff, another great option is PVC. PVC offers greater tear and puncture resistance but is still lightweight, affordable, and relatively easy to install.
Star Icon

For Heat Resistance

TPO or PVCGo with a white TPO or PVC membrane for superior heat resistance and energy savings.
Money Icon

For a Budget Pick

Rubber or PVC Stick with rubber or PVC if cost is the main concern. Fiberglass in particular costs more upfront and is more expensive to repair.
Scale Icon

If Weight is an Issue

Rubber or PVC We all know that weight matters when it comes to campers. If you're pushing the limits on your rig as it is, you probably don't want to switch from a lightweight TPO roof to a heavy fiberglass one. Fiberglass and aluminum are both heavier than their rubber and PVC counterparts, so keep this in mind if you want to make the switch.
Wrench Icon

For Easy Maintenance and Repair

PVCAlthough all roof types will require a bit of maintenance, PVC is particularly easy to care for. Unlike rubber, it doesn't require specialty cleaners or UV treatment, and it doesn't leave streaks down the sides. Fiberglass is also notably low maintenance, but it's harder to install and repair than PVC.
Amber S.
About Amber S.As a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training class for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article. At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated On: 5/3/2021


Departments

Towing

Sports and Recreation

Trailer Parts

Vehicle

What our customers are saying:

"In these days of customer "no service" I am usually disapointed when doing business with people I don't know. It was refreshing doing business with you. I'm impressed!"

Randy
Watkinsville, GA

Popular Vehicles