How to Fix a Pop-Up Camper Roof
Many older tent trailers suffer from roof rot, particularly in the chipboard sides that support the canvas walls. Moisture is the enemy of any camper, and a ruined roof is not what anyone wants to find when they purchase a used trailer! Fortunately, the damage is repairable using basic home tools and materials found at a local DIY store.
We purchased our 2003 tent trailer used from a private seller. We were ecstatic to get home and open the trailer up. The first thing I did when we got home was to pull off the old green valances along the roof sideboards. As soon as I pulled the valances down, we had a nasty surprise: the original sideboards were so rotted the posts weren’t attached on one side and the roof was sitting directly on top of one of the posts!
Table Saw (if you have one - it is possible to do this task without a table saw).
Two 14’ boards of the right thickness (we needed 3/4" to 1" thickness).
Side rails, unless you can reuse your rails. These can be purchased from an RV store.
RV camper vinyl 3/4" insert flexible trim mold (goes over the side rails).
Butyl seal tape (we bought 1/8" x 1" in a 30' length), used under the trim in lieu of caulk.
Self-leveling lap sealant for caulking around the fan or A/C unit.
White RV Flexible sealant for caulking the other joints (do not use self-leveling for caulking anything other than the ceiling fan).
Paper for creating templates, such as X-board.
Aluminum sheeting, such as Spectra Metals 24" x 50' rolls.
Contact cement to attach the aluminum to the wood.
Primer to seal the wood sideboards.
Step 1: Remove Awning and Canvas
Remove the awning (if you have one) from the side of the roof. The awning rail is held on by a few screws and should be simple to remove.
You will need to crank up the roof and detach the entire canvas from the roof. Remove the tensioner (used to limit how high the roof will crank up). This is not a very difficult step and simply requires unscrewing the canvas rail where it is attached to the sideboards. We removed our canvas and folded it back into the body of the tent trailer.
If the roof repair will take a long time, protect the canvas from mice or other rodents that might chew through the material.
Step 2: Detach Wiring
Cut the wiring from the ceiling fan/air conditioner, ceiling lights, or any other electrical units installed in the roof. The wiring will be reattached at the end of the repair, once the roof is reinstalled. Remove the tensioner (used to limit how high the roof will crank up).
Step 3: Remove the Upper Door
Unbolt/unscrew the door from the roof. Removing the door is easy, but mark where the door was attached (if possible) on your sideboards. This will make an easy template for locating the position of the door on your new sideboards. Reinstalling the door is a little tricky, ensuring it is in the right position to securely seat into the bottom half.
Step 4: Remove the Roof
Crank the roof down to a height that is manageable for lifting it off of the support posts. Unbolt the roof and lift it onto support sawhorses or flip it upside down onto the lawn. More than one person will be required for this step, as the roof is a little heavy and very awkward in size.
Step 5: Remove the Rotten Wood Sideboards
Remove the rotted sideboards. These may be used as a template for cutting the new boards, but our sideboards were too rotted to use for templates. We used template paper inserted into the sides of our roof, then transferred the paper onto our wood boards to cut the new sideboards.
Our boards were so rotted they crumbled to pieces once removed.
The roof with all rotted components removed. The endcap boards did have some damage, but we repaired this with Abatron's Liquid Wood/Wood Epoxy (sold as a kit). This product will work well on plywood or solid wood, but was not sufficient for the completely rotted chipboard.
Step 6: Remove Old Caulk
We had to replace our rails along the top of the sideboards, so removing all of the old caulk was necessary. This is the hardest part of replacing the sideboards, as the scraping takes time and effort. Remove caulk from the roof of the tent trailer and also from any rails that will be reused.
Since we intended on reusing our rails, we had to scrape the old caulk out of each crevice. This was time consuming, but we were glad to be able to reuse them!
Step 7: Replacement Sideboards
Use the template to cut new sideboards for your tent trailer roof. Test fit the new boards several times before installing. Paint the new boards in your desired color. We painted our sideboards white to match the overall color scheme of our trailer. Securely screw in the sideboards.
X-board or other stiff paper is excellent for creating a new template. We originally tried to create a template from the old alumimum siding, but the old aluminum was actually shorter in length than the actual board. Creating a paper template was the most accurate for getting a good fit.
We used a sharpie marker to create a good line for the size and shape of the new board onto the paper, then cut out the shape. We then traced the template onto the new wood sideboard and made our cuts.
The cut wood was sanded and smoothed, then test fitted.
We painted the wood with Kilz primer in white, ensuring the porous wood surface was sealed.
Step 8: Reattach the Door
Use the template from the old sideboards or carefully measure to install your door back into the correct position. This took some trial and error when we did it, as it was too high at first and we had to lower it. Ensure your screws are not too long for the sideboards, so you don’t pierce through the other side.
The door was a bit of a trial and error process for us, despite having a template created prior to beginning our roof-restoration project. Fortunately, we did finally get it seated in teh correct position!
Step 9: Reclad with Aluminum Sheeting
Strips of aluminum sheeting may be purchased at local home improvement stores. We purchased white aluminum to match our color scheme. The sheeting may be cut with alumimum shears, usually sold next to the sheeting. Make a template using paper and trace this onto the sheeting. Cut the sheeting carefully and test fit it onto the new sideboards.
Apply cement to the back of the aluminum sheeting and secure it with clamps until the cement is cured.
The sides must be adhered to the trailer sides shortly after the cement is applied. We rolled the contact cement onto both the aluminum and onto the boards, then used a roller to remove any air bubbles. We securely clamped the aluminum to the sides until the cement was completely cured.
Reattach the rails and bottom gaskets/seals to the sideboards. We reused our rails and seals, but did replace our flexible trim mold.
The flexible trim mold was torn and had to be replaced.
We used butyl seal tape to help seal the rails where they attach to the sides of the roof and clamped the rails while screwing them into the sides. We attached the new flexible trim mold once this step was completed.
Step 10: Reattach Canvas and Awning
Collect your canvas from inside the trailer and reattach it to the sideboards. This is a simple task, but usually requires two people. One person can hold up the canvas while the other person screws the plastic rail back into place.
While bulky, this step is not very difficult and the task is rewarding.
Step 11: Reattach the Wiring and Tensioner
Reconnect the electrical connections to the ceiling fan/air conditioner and lights. Reattach the tensioner that limits the height of the roof when the trailer is being cranked open.
Step 12: Re-caulk the Exterior
We used the self-leveling sealant around our fan unit, and the non-self leveling RV flexible sealant for caulking all of the remaining trim around the sideboards. If desired, RV paint can be used to repaint the top of the roof.
Once your tent trailer is put back together, enjoy the solid roof on your new adventures! We are looking forward to an exciting trip to Yellowstone and the Badlands with our new (and improved) pop-up roof!