Dear RV Doctor:
I have a 2004 RV with a wood frame. Last summer I noticed what I believe you call “delaminating” on the front section. The camper’s exterior fiberglass appeared to be rippling. I suspected this was related to a leak so I resealed the entire front of the RV. Recently, during a heavy rainstorm, I found some water in a closet which verified there was in fact a leak and also that I didn’t catch it when I resealed the RV. If I can get the leak to stop will the “delaminating” continue? Can you repair “delaminating” without peeling back the entire exterior? If I get the leak to stop, will problems continue (dry rot, etc.)? Am I in deep trouble or what? —Dennis D.
In many cases, wood frame construction is relatively easy to fix in the event that there is any damage to the structure. You are correct in that the leak source must be identified and stopped before repairing the damage. If you are having a problem finding the leak, carefully and thoroughly inspect all moldings, fixtures, window frames and lights. Reseal any areas that look questionable, even if you do not find any breaks or voids. To be 100 percent sure where the leaks are located, check out this short video.
Stopping the leak is the important first step, but delamination usually occurs only after the underlying wood and framework have become saturated with moisture. Even after stopping the leak, the wood can stay wet due to the absence of airflow and further damage could result. Some people proclaim you can inject glue behind the delamination and stick it back down. Typically this is a waste of time and effort, as you cannot get glue to stick to old adhesive and wet wood for very long no matter what you use. Also, there is no opportunity to repair any underlying damage or even time to dry the wood effectively.
If delamination occurs and the area of the damage is small compared to the size of that section, a good body expert can repair the damage with a patch. In your case of delamination on the front of an RV, I would recommend replacing the entire front, as it is a relatively small area and the cost to replace versus repair (if the damaged area is small) is insignificant, especially when you consider the integrity of the repair. Replacing the entire front is guaranteed to be a more robust repair than a patch. A patch is also not an option if the damaged region spans a significant area. The repair process involves stripping the moldings and other fixtures, and removing the fiberglass panel from the wood frame. The insulation is removed in order to dry the wood frame and interior wall panel. This drying stage is very important for proper repair. Any water-damaged wood framing is replaced, new insulation installed, and the wall material replaced with new, including any backing that was used on the original.
In the case of a patch, it is done the same way except only the damaged portion of the fiberglass is simply cut out. Then the framing is dried, repaired and a new section of fiberglass is inserted into the cutout and the joints finished with fiberglass cloth and painted. This is a relatively complex repair job and I don’t recommend you attempt it yourself. Seek out an RV repair facility experienced in collision repairs. The job should not be overly cost prohibitive, since a front wall is not a large area to repair; however, such things are subjective!