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Fixing a delaminated recreational vehicle is a major repair that usually requires the services of a professional. That being said, if the damaged area is limited and the cause of the delamination is clear and easily fixed, you may be able to tackle it as a DIY project. The tools and skills you'll need are much the same as those you'd draw on to repair your home's walls, so you should only undertake a project like this if you'd be confident doing similar work on your house.
Identifying and Understanding Delamination
The shell of your RV consists of the finished inner wall, plywood sheathing and the vehicle's outer fiberglass skin. They're normally held together by a strong adhesive, which provides much of the RV's structural strength. When that adhesive fails – usually because of water seepage, or temperature extremes – the fiberglass skin of your RV will loosen and show rippled areas or large bubbles where the skin is visibly disconnected from the underlying wall. This isn't just a cosmetic issue; delamination weakens the RV's structure and leaves it vulnerable to damage.
Find and Fix the Root Problem
Your first step must always be to find and fix the underlying problem, otherwise your repaired area will simply delaminate again. Water is the most likely culprit, so check your RV for potential entry points within or near the damaged area. Seams along your roofline, around doors and mirrors and at your windows and awnings are all important places to check. If you find an entry point, sealing it against further damage is your first priority. You might simply need to reseal an area with a suitable caulking compound, or remove and reinstall a window or door. Heat can also cause the adhesive to fail, either in a large area affected by extreme weather or in a small area in the path of a vent from your heater or appliances.
A DIY Candidate
If your inspection shows damage involving a whole wall or a significant portion of it, it's probably best to leave the repair to a professional with suitable shop space and all the necessary tools. However, small areas of a relatively few square feet – under a window, for example, or around a vent – can be successfully repaired by a diligent handyperson.
Making a Small Repair
- The process is much the same as it would be for fixing a water-damaged section of wall in your home, with an extra step or two to reattach the plexiglass skin.
- Cut away a section of your interior wall's paneling to expose the damaged area underneath. Remove the insulation so you can see the frame and plywood, and cut out any damaged or rotted wood you find. If you need to cut a section from the plywood sheathing, make your cuts as neat and square as possible. That makes it easier to fit your patch into the space.
- Fit your replacement piece of plywood into place, if you need one, and screw it to the good framing timbers that remain on either side of the hole. Next replace the missing timbers, securing them to the good portions of the frame remaining on either side as well as the plywood patch.
- Next, drill small holes through the plywood in a grid pattern. Apply the new adhesive through these holes, so it runs down into the bubble where the plexiglass skin has separated from the plywood. Press a sheet of plywood to the exterior wall, so it applies even pressure to the plexiglass, then clamp it in place.
If you've had to remove a window or other fixture to repair the wall, this makes clamping easy: You can simply use large C clamps. If the wall is intact, park the RV alongside a sturdy wall and apply pressure by pounding blocks or wedges between the sheet of plywood and the opposing wall. Alternatively, place jacks horizontally between the wall and your RV and extend them to provide pressure and "clamp" the plexiglass in place while the adhesive dries.
- Remove the clamps once your adhesive has cured. The bubble on the exterior should now be largely gone, though a few irregularities might still be visible.
- Cut insulation to fit into the repaired section of wall, and tape any seams where air might enter. Finally, finish the repair by finding a section of paneling that closely matches the original and fitting it over the repair.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. He grew up in rural Nova Scotia, and had learned to skin a rabbit with his pocketknife by the age of seven (whenever the pocketknife wasn't lost). He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, and seldom loses a pocketknife anymore. You'll find his articles on game, foraged foods and other outdoor topics at major sites including eHow, Leaf.TV, Livestrong, OurEverydayLife and many others.