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Bubbling on camper roofs is not uncommon, but it can become a serious problem if not addressed. If your RV is still under warranty, ask the dealer to do the repairs for you. If it’s not, or if the dealer won’t do the job, you can do it yourself with the proper materials.
What is bubbling and why does it happen?
Rubber camper roofs are most commonly made from EPDM (an elastomeric compound made from ethylene, propylene and diene monomer) or TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin). These products, also used on some homes, are tough; they weather well, reflect UV light, can withstand low temperatures and are very durable. Durability has never been put to the test, since the product has been around for only about 40 years, but estimates are that a rubber roof will last as long as 50 years.
Roof bubbling is just what it sounds like – spots where the rubber has lifted off the surface of the roof and formed a bubble or blister. The most common cause of roof bubbling is poor installation of the roof. The RV manufacturer simply didn’t apply the adhesive evenly or left some dirt on the roof that the adhesive couldn’t stick to. Bubbles can also be caused by water getting under the membrane, which shouldn’t happen with a good installation, but may happen if any of the seams develop holes.
How to fix bubbling
The simplest way to fix bubbling is to buy a repair kit and follow the instructions. Typically, the repair entails using a hypodermic needle to release the air from the bubble and then pressing it flat, or cutting away the bubble and applying a patch. The kit is probably the most economical choice for a small repair, but you can do the job yourself with adhesive sealant, primer and a piece of EPDM or TPO. It’s critical to thoroughly clean the area you're patching so the adhesive will bond with the roof. After you’ve cleaned it, apply the primer, let it dry and then use the adhesive sealant to attach the patch to the roof. Use a roller to smooth the surface and remove any new air bubbles. Weight the patch until it’s dry.
What happens if I don’t fix it?
Small bubbles that don’t get larger generally won’t cause any problems. Keep an eye on them, and if they start to get larger, either repair them or take the RV back to the dealer and request a repair. Don’t be surprised if the dealer tells you bubbling is normal. Document the bubbling with photographs and dates in case you need to go back to the dealer for a repair. Trace the outline of the bubble or blister so you’ll know if it’s increasing in size. Sometimes, when the rig is new, bubbles may appear and disappear as the adhesive cures.
Unrepaired bubbles may get larger to the point that the roof’s integrity is compromised. When you’re on the move, the air flowing over them may exacerbate the problem, and in the worst case scenario, the roof may shred.
Keep your roof clean and free of debris to protect against bubble formation. If you accidentally drive under anything that might scratch the roof, like a branch or a roof overhang, check the roof as soon as you can for damage.
Native New Yorker Meg Jernigan stayed in Washington, D.C. after attending the George Washington University, and worked in the tourism industry with the National Park Service for many years. She has extensive experience in tent and RV camping, hiking, backcountry exploration and cycling.