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Rubber Roofs Continue to Gain Popularity

December 6, 2019

Extracted from RV Business, Coleen Perez, author

Ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubber roofing, which was first introduced to the RV market in 1983m is continuing to make gains against the traditional one-piece aluminum roof, according to EPDM suppliers and RV makers.

For example, Brian Gettys at Protective Coatings Inc. a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based EPDM supplier, observed that the major RV trade shows “which only had a few units with EPDM on display at first, now have 60% to 70% EPDM-equipped units.” Gordon Bradford, product manager for another EPDM supplier, Alumax Building Products, Riverside, Calif., agreed, citing “progressively strong growth in EPDM to replace aluminum” in the last three years.

Rubber roofing, which was initially concentrated in motorized units, seems to be expanding into almost every RV sector. Gregg Fore, director of sales at Dicor Corp., Elkhart, Ind., said his company sees a definite move to increased EPDM use in truck campers and lower-priced travel trailers and fifth wheels.

Trends at major RV-manufacturing firms tend to support those supplier readings. For example, Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind., now offers EPDM roofing as an option in nearly all of its lines and price ranges, according to Wayne Miller, Jayco director of engineering. (Only tent campers have no rubber-roof option.) EPDM use has also increased at Coachmen Recreational Vehicle Co., Middlebury, Ind., where approximately 60% of units are equipped with EPDM roofs, according to Joe Kalil, Coachmen RV product designer. Jim Richardson, Coachmen RV senior engineer for Class A motorhomes, said the company began using EPDM on its motorized line in 1989 and then expanded EPDM use to the travel-trailer line.

It was escalating aluminum costs in 1988 that first prompted many of these RV manufactures to consider the EPDM-roofing alternative. “Everyone was skeptical at fist, but, when aluminum roof price went up too quickly, it caused a lot of the bigger RV manufactures to look at us,” explained John Krzyzewski, salesman at EPDM supplier Alpha Tool Inc., Elkhart, Ind.
While the cost savings has since dissipated, Fore at Dicor noted that EPDM’s features have allowed it to continue to increase market share. In today’s maker, EPDM costs more, but we don’t foresee people switching back,” Fore asserted. And manufacturer experience backs up that claim. Richardson said that the RV maker has since enjoyed such “excellent feedback from the field” on its EPDM-equipped units that it is currently considering expansion of EPDM use.

A major reason EPDM has been able to retain customers is the product’s impressive list of advantages. EPDM suppliers point out that the rubber roofing offers a clean appearance (avoiding the streaking of aging aluminum roofs), noise reduction, better interior cooling, low maintenance, and ease of installation and repair. All of the EPDM manufacturers also offer a standard 10-year warranty.

But perhaps the most important EPDM characteristic is the products ability to shed surface water and protect the substructure. Describing an EPDM roof as a type of giant gasket, Krzyzewski explained, “With EPDM you can cover the entire coach so there is less possibility of leaks.”

EPDM suppliers admit there are a few negative aspects of EPDM. One concern is the product’s initial tendency to chalk, which is caused by a talc used in the manufacturing process to keep the EPDM membrane from sticking together before application. (Proper washing can eliminate this problem.) EPDM also is easily torn if, for example, the consumer slides a sharp-edged metal trunk toward a roof rack. But, EPDM is also easily repaired, add rubber advocates.

Overall, EPDM advantages seems to outweigh problems, and several developments should further boost its appeal:

  • More color selections, such as beige and gray, are being added to the standard white. Protective Coatings and Alumax even offer customized color choices now.
  • More environment-friendly, water-based adhesives are being introduced.
  • Several product changes are in the works. Ken Long, director of sales, testing and application at Kingstree Building Products Inc., Elkhart, Ind., an EPDM supplier since 1986, said his company plans offering seamless-sheet EPDM in early April.

Another new EPDM feature at Kingstree is a cleaner sheet that eliminates the talc powder problem and offers resistance to fungus and mildew. In addition, Dicor has introduced a new, thinner membrane reinforced polyester, that it says costs less for the same performance as regular EPDM.

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