Van roof waterproof

Tips for waterproofing your van in short form:

  • Try and do it under cover, if not, not in the heat of summer
  • Take the time to figure out exactly how much sealer to apply before squeezing down your extrusion, because its hard to clean up.
  • Consider the windows and door too

The first down pour reviled a drip coming from the center hatch in the caravan’s roof. I know the tricky thing about leaks is that they don’t always start where they end. The water can travel internally for a long time before turning up in your house. Add to that my fear of being stuck in a small leaky box while the world out side is getting drenched, being forced to watch the particle board that makes up my furniture, dissolve like weet-bix. I looked up on the roof of the van and it told a history of someone madly sikaflexing, gutter sealing and wet-edging up the whole roof in between downpours. The interior roof looks fine, so their messy system worked.

I couldn’t bring myself to add another layer of goop to the patchwork, so I said “Right. I’m resealing the whole van. Then I’ll paint a waterproof membrane over the whole lot and sleep with a smile through the rain.

Long story short: after a month of stripping, sealing and painting (in the peak of summer with 47 degree Celsius days), I discovered a crack in the skylight, the source of the drip.

On the plus side, my van is sealed up tighter than a fishes a-hole and has an extra insulated roof! Here’s how I did it.

This is what it looked like to start with. There is one aluminium extrusion on each side of the van that runs from the front bottom corner, up the front edge across the roof and down the back edge.

I scraped all the layers of sealer off with a paint scraper. Then unscrewed and lifted the rails and wire-brushed the soft sealer back to bare metal.

Someone had gone nuts with this weird beige stuff that didn’t seem to be mixed properly and had a lot of bubbles. The wire brush just melted and spread it, so I just did my best to get rid of the bubbles.

The cracked vent needed to be replaced, it was cracked at every screw hole and missing a handle. The new one is aluminium.

There were a lot of opinions about what to seal a caravan with. The camps seem to be: something that will never come off, or something that can come off when it inevitably has to come off (they remain soft in the center – mastics).

There is a product called caravan sealer which I found out later is 50% cheaper than Butyl-Mastic – what I used. I unloaded at least 6 tubes.

Don’t go to fucking Bunnings if you can help it. When they say “lowest prices are just the beginning” what they mean is that they will have low prices until there aren’t any more other hardware stores around. Then they jack the prices up and lay off half the staff.

My idea was to paint the van sealer from one raised edge of the aluminum to the other. There is a rubber strip that covers the screws – purely cosmetic- I was surprised to be able to select my 40yo caravan model from a drop-down box and have it arrive at my doorstep for about $2 per meter.

Theoretically I shouldn’t have had to put the membrane on top after resealing, but I like the idea of redundancy… and insulation, let me tell you about insulation:
On those hot days if you touched the metal roof vents from inside, you would have burned your hand off. After the white rubber paint, they were merely warm to touch- a huge difference that you could feel inside the van. Highly recommended.



Tiny house, large caravan

Lynda has joined Stardust Circus, so I am happily taking on the project of renovating a caravan for us to live in.

I started looking online first to get a feel for what is available. There are some really cute vans from around the 60’s, but they tend to be around the 14 foot length. I looked inside some 16 – 18 foot vans and decided that even they were a bit on the small side for 2 people to be living in full time. After seeing a 22 foot van with a bathroom installed in place of one of the bunks, we decided on that size.

Watching the online ads, started to give me a good feel for the price range:

  • < $4000 would get a renovated shell and floor, with no interior- someones project they had given up on. This is a pretty good option in retrospect because caravans in their original condition tend to have crappy insulation. Trying to go energy independent with bad insulation will be expensive and stupid!
  • approx. $8000 a van in reasonable condition with well worn interior, likely water damage.
  • > $12000 a nicely renovated van (not that common though)

I set up saved searches on all the van sales sites which allowed it and used 3rd party website monitors to watch the local dealers. This helped me find a van with a surprisingly good original interior, at a good price ($7500) which included checks and registration.
The van had surprisingly little water damage for its age.

When I went to pick it up I was advised that I couldn’t pull it with my car, since I don’t have a break controller. The dealer delivered it for me. Towing and breaking remains one of the tasks for the future.

After the first rainy day test, it seems that there was a minor drip coming from the vent in the roof. I figured my first job was to re-seal the roof. A job, I was to learn, that should not be started before going overseas for a month.

Next: Waterproofing the roof