By Daniel Motz
One thing that most people who have ever lived in a mobile home can agree on is that their roofs just don’t work. Trailer roofs are made out of long sheets of steel that are grooved to keep water out. While this building method works on the showroom floor, it doesn’t work very well when the trailors start their trips to wherever they are being delivered. While traveling, these sheets of steel shift and move with the uneven roadways. This shifting creates leaks in what was once a well-sealed roof.
When traveling, mobile home roofs shift and move.
A leaking roof causes more problems than just a wet spot on the carpet. Leaks can happen behind walls, rotting out support studs, or even getting into electrical outlets and shorting them out. This is one of the reasons that trailers are considered fire hazards. As if that wasn’t enough, an uncaught leak can cause troubles for the particle board flooring of a trailer house.
This article will assume that the mobile home whose roof needs repairing is used, and quite possibly at least 20 years old, if not older. So, it has been around for a while, and it may have even been moved a few times, to make it even more troublesome. This is okay, and it’s easy enough to repair damage to the roof; they are designed in a way that makes them easy to work on.
The first thing that most people don’t realize is that they are supposed to get up on the roof and seal it once every two or three years. This doesn’t just stop leaks — it helps provide a shield to reflect some sunlight and keeps the roof from rusting.
Removing old sealant
A vital step to sealing the roof that a lot of people skip is to take off the old coats of sealant. This can be done with a wire brush or a wire wheel drill attachment. This process might take a while, depending on how many generations of compound are on the roof. It is also vital to do, because it will allow for better seals. Make sure you pay special attention to plumbing vents and chimney fittings — a lot of leaks happen around these fittings. The best way to seal vents is with a neoprene caulking compound. This compound has more give for the swelling and shifting that a trailer house roof tends to do. The vents are one of the biggest causes of leaks in mobile homes, so make sure that you treat them with extra finesse so you don’t have to go on the roof again just to reseal them.
Before you start to apply the seal, it is important that you look for smaller leaks and try to fix them first. This means looking for areas that have obvious holes or defects. Generally, a rule of thumb is to add a bead of caulking to the seams of the roof before you apply a sealant. This will help the sealant do its job, and hopefully will keep you off the roof for a while longer.
When you go to the store to find the coating, there are a lot of things that you need to consider. The first one is the color of the roofing. Darker colors are not suggested, because they absorb the heat of the sun. Most people think of this as passive solar heat during the winter, but the trade-off might not be worth the trouble. During the summer, the heat that is absorbed turns an average trailer house into a hot house. There are white or even reflective aluminum finishes that work much better at keeping the sunlight from turning your home into an Easy Bake Oven.
Tar is the only roofing option that is dark in color, but it is also the cheapest. There is a reason for this, and that is because it is the hardest to work with and doesn’t last very well. Tar for roofing has pretty much been replaced with other types of sealant. One of the biggest problems with tarring a roof is the way it tends to get soft when it is warmed up. This makes it work its way out of the places that the homeowner needs it to stay. During the cold of winter, tar doesn’t last. It tends to get brittle and crack, giving moisture new places to hide out.
Silver coating, or fiber aluminum coating, is better than tar. It is slightly more expensive, but the added expense is worth it. The aluminum fibers suspended in a petroleum compound are more durable and able to stretch with the home. This is vital when you live in an area with extreme climate changes. The sealant will wear out with time, and there is a good chance that it will start to get brittle in sub-zero temperatures.
Both of these products can be cold-rolled on with a brush, a roller with a thick nap, or even a mop. Start with an even coating and from the edges out. Don’t do like the writer of this article did, and put yourself in a spot where you are going to be stuck for a couple of hours while you wait for the product to dry enough to walk across it. My wife still talks about the day I was stuck on the roof, and it has been two years.
Sealing the roof
Before you start, sweep the cleared-off old roofing material to make the coat as nice as possible. For aluminum coating, be sure to read the manufacturer’s suggested dry time and suggested temperatures for it to cure. There will also be suggested times that it needs to stay dry. Usually this is a day or overnight, but double-checking the weather will save a lot of frustration later.
When the time is right, the weather is right, and you are ready to get up there and slap that stuff on, don’t expect this to be a clean process. Shoes need to be old, or at least nothing you want to wear off the homestead. The same goes for everything worn during the project. I don’t suggest wearing shorts either, or else there is a loss of leg hair just like some ladies spend a lot of money for.
Start to apply the coat. Some people only seal the seams, but for the best results, you should seal the entire roof. There are special roofing mops that can be bought at any hardware store, but sometimes a good old-fashioned rag mop can fill the need.
The most important thing is to try to keep the coating uniform. The evenness of the coat will help keep water from creating puddles on the roof. These puddles are leaks waiting to happen. After cleaning and prepping the roof, the application of the finish is actually the easiest part of the job.
Other roofing options
There are newer and more expensive roofing choices out there as well. These include rubber roofing rolls. The application of this type of roof is direct and easy. It gets even easier if you can get your roof done in one seamless piece. You will still have to prepare the roof by clearing any of the old coatings off the roof and then sweeping it clean. Measure for where the holes are going to need to go for the vents and cut them into place.
The next step is to apply the adhesive to the rolls. Some rolls start with adhesive on them, and that should be enough. The biggest problem with the pre-glued strips is that they try to stick before you want them to stick. Either way, this job is going to take some time. When rolling on the roofing, try to avoid any air bubbles or areas where leaks can become a problem later. This can be done with a 2×4 or any scrap piece of wood, much like adding window tint to a car.
There is also another option: rubberized coating. Much like tar or aluminum fiber, this is rolled on with a brush, but you will have to be extra careful to make sure that the roof is clean. This includes washing the roof with a grease-breaker dish soap. Some coatings come with a liquid hardener that you add before you work. One tip with working with this kind of roofing is to work in smaller batches. If you buy a five-gallon bucket, try to work it a gallon at a time, so you’re not playing “beat the clock” with the entire batch. Otherwise, the same rules stand for this coating as any other: Even coats and a lot of set up. This coating also comes in white to help reflect the sun’s rays on hot summer days.
Remember to try to use old tools and old clothes. With some heavy cleaning, you can get the items you bring onto the roof clean, but not always. It might be better to not risk your favorite tools for this project. For clean up, mineral spirits are the best way to go, according to manufacturer’s suggestions.
While working on the roof of a trailer house is one of the least glamorous jobs of owning a mobile home, it is also one of the most vital.