RV repairs and RV delamination repair can sometimes scare people away from older RV models. We understand that it can be daunting, and it is not for everyone. But, you know that we always advise buying an RV you can afford to purchase outright, rather than have to finance it. And if you are interested in doing that, then you may also have to get used to the idea of facing RV repairs. The truth is, even if you buy a brand new RV off the lot, repairs are going to be something you need to get comfortable with. Chris likes to say that no home is really built to travel consistently on the road. The travel will take its toll one way or another. He also believes that RVs are just not manufactured very well – meaning that cheaper/lighter materials are used and corners are often cut.
So, let’s just get used to the idea that RV repairs are a part of this lifestyle.
By far the biggest, and most daunting, repair that we have taken on is repairing the delamination on the nose of our 5th wheel. When it comes to nose delamination, the easiest choice would be to go back to the dealership and have them install a molded cap. Since we are always up for a good project, we decided to try the repair ourselves and see if we could do it cheaper.
The route we decided to go with our RV delamination repair involved removing the existing, damaged front panel, and replacing it with new aluminum sheets with no substrate (plywood or similar) behind the sheets.
We purchased our RV from a smaller operation called Bonner Sports & RV. One of the many benefits for going with a smaller dealer is that you will have a much better relationship with them. In our case, when we decided to do our project, we visited our dealer and literally went over our RV delamination repair plans step-by-step with them. They provided invaluable information for us to make sure we were a success and then ordered the items we needed to see the project through.
Materials for RV Delamination Repair (& where we got them):
- Two 5’-0” wide x 9’-0” long .040 aluminum sheets, prefinished white. (local metal fabrication shop)
- Liquid nails (Lowes)
- One roll of butyl tape (RV dealer)
- Flat seam trim (RV dealer)
- Edge trim (RV dealer)
- Self-drilling lathe screws (Lowes)
- Self-drilling hex-head screws (Lowes)
- One roll of trim weatherstripping (RV dealer)
- Dicor self-leveling roof sealant (RV dealer)
- Dicor non self-leveling roof sealant (RV dealer)
- 100% silicone caulk (Lowes)
Tools we used:
- Cordless drill/driver
- Chisel/flat bar
- Rubber mallet
- Tin snips
Steps for Fifthwheel RV Delamination Repair:
#1 Remove the old paneling. This can be the worst part, because you won’t really know what kind of damage you have behind the paneling until you open it up. Before starting, we removed all hard wired trailer lights, etc. from the front panel that will be affected by the panel removal. We started at the top seam where the front panel meets the roof. Remove the weatherstripping (if applicable) or cut away existing caulk/sealant to expose screws. Remove all screws. Use flat bar or chisel to pry up existing flat seam trim. We found it easier to pry from the front panel side and not the roof membrane side. If we scratch the panel that we are removing…no big deal. If we tear the roof membrane that is supposed to remain…we just created another project for ourselves! After the top trim piece was removed, we did the bottom trim next and then the side trim pieces in the same manner. Even after all of the trim was removed the front panel still stuck in place until we pulled it away, so the sequence in which the trim is removed may not matter that much. It might make even more sense to start at the bottom, do the sides and then the top (then we could be sure the weight of the panel is supported until we removed that last top screw).
#2 Inspect what is left. Now that the old paneling had been removed, we took a close look at all framing, insulation, and sheathing/paneling that is supposed to remain. We were fortunate, there was no water damage to any of these items on Aunt Glady. All of the water damage was limited to the front panel. We also looked closely at the structural framing. Our nose framing was primarily wood 2×2’s spanning the full 8’-0” width of the front nose which isn’t great but that is RV construction. One of the existing framing members was split and had pushed in causing one of the depressions that used to be visible from the exterior. We replaced this piece and added two other 2×2’s to fill in some of the gaps and provide more support for our new aluminum sheets. We also added blocking behind a couple of the 2×2’s at their midspan to help stiffen things up even more.
#3 Measure…and measure again…then cut. The new aluminum sheets needed to be cut to size now that we had the framing exposed and we knew exactly where the aluminum will need to extend to. We took overall dimensions during the planning stages so that we could order the aluminum (and added 12” of fluff in the long dimension to be covered) but now it was time to take exact measurements and make the cuts. We found where we wanted the horizontal seam in the paneling to be located and also checked the width of the front nose framing in various locations. Don’t assume the width at the top of the nose is the same as the width at the bottom or even in the middle. It should be, but it isn’t always the case. With measurements taken and double checked, we used tin snips to cut the aluminum sheets to size.
#4 Install the top sheet. Prior to installing the aluminum sheet, we applied liquid nails to all wood framing members that would come in contact with the aluminum sheet. We lined up the bottom of the top sheet (location of seam) exactly where we wanted it and used self-drilling metal lathe screws to fasten it to the wood framing. We started the screws in the middle of the sheet and worked our way out to the edges to eliminate “bunching” of the sheet. The top seam was next, the aluminum sheet extends over the existing membrane roof, we were careful to install the flat seam trim exactly where the old seam was so we would fasten to the existing roof framing below. Different from the seam joint, the top joint got a strip of butyl tape applied to the aluminum sheet, the flat seam trim goes on top of the tape and then we used self-drilling hex head screws through everything. The side trim is going to extend over both top and bottom aluminum sheets so we held off on installing that until the bottom sheet was in place.
#5 Install the bottom sheet. The bottom edge of the top aluminum sheet was fabricated with a prepped edge that we referred to as an “S-bend”. This creates a pocket for the bottom sheet to slide up into while still providing a flange to screw the top sheet into the nose framing. We used a flat bar to pry that S-bend open just a little bit to allow the bottom sheet to slide into it, and then used a rubber mallet to gently tap that paneling down and make the seam as flat as possible. The top edge of the bottom sheet nests in that S-bend and doesn’t receive any screws. At this point we applied liquid nails to all applicable wood framing members. From there we attached the bottom edge of the aluminum sheet to the nose framing, tucking the sheet behind the existing panel on the bottom of the nose. This bottom seam got the butyl tape, flat seam trim, and self-drilling hex head screws.
#6 Install side trim. Now that the top and bottom sheets were in place, with top and bottom edges secured, we moved onto installing the side trim pieces that would extend continuously from the top most edge to the bottom most edge. We used butyl tape on the edge of the aluminum, bended the side trim to fit (a rubber mallet helped with this), and self-drilling hex head screws to secure.
#7 Install weatherstripping. The flat seam trim and side trim pieces all got weatherstripping to protect and hide the screws. The horizontal trim obviously goes from one side to the other. The vertical trim starts at the top and then goes to the next termination point. On our camper we replaced the weatherstripping at least 8’-0” beyond the limit of our rework. If we would’ve stopped at our new aluminum sheets we would’ve created a new joint in the weatherstripping which we didn’t want to do.
#8 Caulk and seal. We spent the better part of a day on the caulking and sealing. I caulked more than I had to but that is just the way I roll. We used one of the dicor products (self-leveling or non self-leveling) for any of the seams that touch the roof membrane. These products are specially formulated to work with and adhere to the roof membrane. Silicone won’t stick to the roof membrane. I used the self-leveling product everywhere I could and then switched to the non self-leveling when I got close to the side edge of the roof (didn’t want the self-leveling product oozing down the side of the camper because it didn’t set up in time!). I used silicone for the aluminum to aluminum horizontal seam, at all aluminum to trim locations, and at all weatherstripping locations. Caulking the weatherstripping may have been overkill, but I went for it. The weatherstripping is a VERY snug fit, and any water that gets in behind it should be kept out of the screw holes by the butyl tape underneath. That’s fine in theory, but I’d just as soon keep the water from ever getting down into the trim in the first place. We then reinstalled hard wired trailer lights and caulked around those as well.
All said and done the project came out to $900 in materials. We spent $500 on the aluminum and $400 on all of the accessory stuff. We have some leftovers of the accessory stuff which will certainly not go to waste.
You can see the whole process here:
We hope that seeing this project gives you a better understanding of what RV delamination repair is all about!
Questions??? Leave a comment.