Dealing With Water Damage

Dealing With Water Damage

We purchased our travel trailer in Eugene, Oregon from the same dealership that we had bought our motorhome from 3 years prior. The trailer is a 2003 and Oregon is obviously known as being a wet and rainy place, so when we went to see it for the first time I took a deep breath to see if it smelled musty at all, it did not. We were so excited to find the make and model we had our heart set on that we probably didn’t give it the thorough pre-purchase inpsection that we will do from now on!

After moving on board and getting a closer look at things, I thought that some areas of the wall and ceiling looked like they had a small amount of water damage so I peeled back a little wallpaper and sent a spore sample to a local lab to see if there was mold present in the wall. It turned out that yes, there were mold spores on the sample I sent (I pressed a piece of clear tape against the discolored wall) – the man I spoke to let me know it wasn’t toxic mold, but it was definitely something that should be addressed and just because one area wasn’t toxic mold didn’t mean other water damaged areas might not be. This helped solidify our plan to head to Utah where we could park the trailer in Brad’s dad’s shop, air it out in that low humidity, and if needed, be able to open up the walls in a protected environment.

peeling back wallpaper in a trailer
In the shop investgating some soft spots in the wall. We learned that wood that's holding more water was much cooler to the touch!

Amazingly, the shop had an attached apartment so we were able to move everything out of the trailer and have a space for ourselves and the dogs while we worked on the trailer.

Brad actually took a week off work so that we could dive into the project and with the goal of wrapping it up within a couple weeks. Oh how naive we were!

trailer is a shop being worked on
We were so thankful to have access to this amazing workspace with every tool we could imagine

That first week was spent discovering and uncovering more and more areas with pretty severe water damage. Every corner of the roof was problematic and two opposing corners of the body were also pretty bad with interior and exterior damage. Underneath the rig, water had collected in the underbelly fabric, then the fiberglass insulation soaked it up and held moisture against the wood so there were a few section of really rotten wood (and mold growth) on the bottom as well.

There was definitely some initial shock and despair when we learned just how bad the damage was – it far more than we ever expected. Luckily we had access to an incredible shop, all the tools, and ultimately we felt like it was within our abilities to make the needed repairs.

trailer with water damage on roof
This is the roof peeled back to check out the punky wood beneath it

We ended up having to remove all the aluminum siding. We also removed the rubber roof and we got to work replacing the damaged wood. We bought this moisture meter off Amazon and found that to be incredibly helpful to identify areas with high moisture. Sometimes all that was needed was to open the area up and expose it to air so it could dry out. Pro tip – we will never go RV shopping again without one!

We purchased Minwax wood hardener and Woody Wood Epoxy for wood that was compromised still good overall. We dug out any soft parts, applied the wood hardener and then filled in the missing area with the epoxy – which it claims to be as strong as real wood once it cures.

I make it sound straightforward but of course there were lots of little snags, surprises, and difficulties with removing the siding, pulling out hundreds of stubborn rusty staples, and digging out rotten wood and deciding what was salvageable.

While Brad focused on removing and replacing the rotten wood, I spent several weeks cleaning each and every aluminum panel. There was butyl tape and residue to be removed and cleaned (I cleaned with mineral spirits), and there was sometimes silicone caulk to remove which was more time consuming. Sometimes I scratched the paint trying to get all the gunk off, and there were rusty spots that also needed paint to prevent further corrosion – so after cleaning the panels I painted the compromised spots. There were even a few panels where rust had eaten all the way through the aluminum so I used a patch to fill that in before sanding and painting.

trailer siding being cleaned
This process took so much longer than I ever expected

While we had the siding off Brad used his electrical skills to install new outlets, lights, fans, and outdoor speakers. With the roof off, we used the opportunity to put a skylight over the shower to give Brad more headroom…without it, he would have had to crouch a little to shower! We also hard-wired in a backup camera on the rear of the trailer and replaced all the running lights. We put on a brand new EPDM roof (that was a scary project!) and replaced the old ceiling vents with Maxx Air fans. And of course anywhere there was wet or compromised fiberglass insultion, we replaced that.

trailer with all it's siding off
Here she is with much of the rotten wood replaced

There were so many other side projects going on as well: fixing our front window cover, installing a TV mount, dealing with wiring issues, building the bed frame, installing laminate over our countertop, upgrading the kitchen faucet, closing up the underbelly with repair tape, cleaning the awning, and then my big project of prepping and painting all the interior walls and cabinets.

painting trailer walls
So much painting!

Having access to the air tools in the shop made reinstalling the aluminum panels so much easier than it would have been. And after that, we installed butyl tape around all the windows, doors, bay covers, exterior lights, roof components, and trim pieces. And then of course applied lots and lots of caulk.

Overall, it took us 8 weeks of non-stop work (well, Brad was working his 8-5, M-F job as well!) but we finally got it all put back together…and just in time to hit the road to make it to two weddings.

laminate over the old counter
We love the ease and look of this new laminate

It was incredibly satisfying to finally bring this project to a close and drive away in water tight, renewly remodeled and upgraded rig – dang near a dream home for us.

Use the slider in the middle of the photos below to see the trailer transformation!

renovated trailer
renovated trailer
renovated trailer
renovated trailer

Maggie Pitcher

Hi, I’m Maggie! I enjoy exploring new cities but my real passion is spending time in nature. Hiking, kayaking, and photography all fill my cup to the brim, as does spending time with my sweet little family. We’ve been living and traveling in our motorhome since 2016 and it’s one of the best decisions we ever made. When I’m not scrambling up waterfalls or researching our next stop, I spend my time video editing for our YouTube channel, blogging and taking pictures – we love this way of life and have no plans to stop anytime soon!