Chasing the elusive leak - Fiberglass RV


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Old 11-19-2005, 07:31 PM   #1
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Pardon me if this goes on a little too long, but the process I'm describing has also gone on too long.

We all know that leaks can cause major problems in the eggs, especially when undiscovered for long periods. After having gone through a torrential downpour prior to cresting the Siskiyou pass into California I realized that I had a careful moisture check in my future. (But, but, there are no rivets in the Burro, we are proud of the double shell, etc. etc.).

The first sign, aside from the water dripping in through somewhere in the vicinity of the front window, was a small wet spot on the carpet in front of the sink area. It was probably from the shower door having dripped or whatever, me thought. When I lifted the carpet I started to get the picture: about half of the carpet area had moisture under it, actually under the Pergo-style padding supporting it. No problem with the carpet, but when the underlayment came off I first had to let it dry while I traced the path of the water.

Fortunately the fiberglass covering on the plywood floor has remained quite intact, so the drying process was very quick. The upshot was that the water had migrated from the "outside" part of the refrigerator floor and sloshed and oozed to whatever area it pleased.

So, I sealed off the refrigerator area from the rest of the trailer as the Dometic instructions said (had been left undone with no regard for logic) and provided a couple of drains through the floor in what has become a drip pan for water which can blow sideways in through the vents. At the same time I installed aluminum baffles to redirect the heat which pooled on top of the refrigerator and reduced its efficiency.

During the next downpour water pooled on the fiberglass ledge below the front window. I was able to see where it entered the interior, but there was no sign of damaged sealant around the outside of the front window (Hehr product). So I took the interior trim frame (basically a U-shaped extrusion) off since it was just screwed on. What I found was that the water had entered at a completely different place, pooled inside the extrusion and finally dripped down on the ends. That explained the lack of leakage when I hosed the exterior down: it took quite a while to pool sufficiently to drip around the frame.

I still could not spot a damaged leak around the exterior of the window, so nearing desperation I unscrewed the hinge rail above the window for the gravel shield. Voila. The installers had goobered on a thick layer of silicone and screwed the rail on above the window, not bothering to tighten the screws very much. The thick layer of silicone told the story in dirty water path marks and lack of adhesion. I doubled the number of screws, cleaned it up, and used a different sealant (Flexible Seal by AC products) to remount, screwing it tight to compress the seal. Incidentally I recommend this product: stays somewhat flexible but sticks like it is possessed, cleans up reluctantly with paint thinner, and will even tolerate being applied to slightly moist surfaces.

It was pretty obvious also that the thick silicone layer enabled the rail to flex up and down, pivoting the screws in the holes in the fiberglass and make them loose and leaky. Poor workmanship. Bad, bad silicone.

When I replaced the bathroom vent and installed wiring for the fan I unscrewed part of the vinyl-covered strip which goes across the centerline of the Burro roof and found a slight bit of moisture where the shell becomes single layer in the middle. Because of the outside cold and the inside warmth I thought it could be condensation as I opened it up. But why just a small section? So the next day I took a closer look at the area from the outside and found a hairline crack caused by an errant hole probably drilled by an enthusiastic installer. It had been resealed with construction adhesive, but something caused the adhesive to expand (moisture?) and caused a hairline crack. I have temporarily sealed it (I hope) with epoxy and Capt'n Tolley's so we'll see. The moral here is that a hairline crack does not necessarily tell you whether it is superficially on the surface or all the way through.

I will spare you the other water sleuthing I am up to. Suffice it to say that it has become a strange obsession for an Oregonian who knows that water is our friend and that one should become "one" with the water. My motto is: long live my (dry) Burro!
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Old 11-19-2005, 07:50 PM   #2
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Good luck!

I have the same elusive leak near my front wondow. Sealing the entire perimiter of the mount for the gravel guard did most of the trick.. BUT, today when I removing the cushions, I discovered some rot on the center cushion support.

I think it may very well be BLOWING in from the tiny little gap at the top of the sliding window pane, but I haven't come up with a good idea on how to seal that without making the window un movable.
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Old 11-19-2005, 09:04 PM   #3
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Gina,

When the suspicion is that it is BLOWING in it probably makes it more difficult, since a garden hose may not be enough to duplicate the problem.

I didn't even mention another leak I fixed, but because of the location of yours I'll do so: There was a leak right where the two parts of the front window meet and I could not duplicate it with water from outside. On a hunch I unscrewed the front portion of the vinyl center strip and found the leak.

The TV antenna on mine is the ever-present Winegard crank-up, located right over the front table. The coax from it was not sealed where it came through the roof, and the rubber boot on the outside had become dislodged. The water entered and used the inside of the vinyl strip as a conduit to lead it to right above the center of the window. The vinyl strip is on a thin plywood backing, and the story of this leak was dramatically told by the stains (it must have been going on for years).
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Old 11-19-2005, 10:40 PM   #4
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I removed the leaky front window on my Burro, cleaned out all original sealant and resealed it back using a ribbon of very expensive ($26) black automobile windshield sealant. That stuff is not to be trifled with. After 3 weeks and no leaks felt very smug. Then one day we had a driving 4 inches of rain come down. I had a leak.

Very down, I read a thread warning to clean out the drain vents under the outside trim. Drain vents? But I also noticed gaps in verticle plastic window pane where sideways rain could enter, and have begun to wonder if maybe it is time to replace that old front window with a newer (better) designed one? However, the walls are not flat, I see. They meet at the center Trim Lok line at a slight angle. So if I special order a replacement window I got to explain that to them, right? Oh, the steps we must take to take out a leak.

I am adding a walnut shelf under the front window but before doing that first I made sure the tongue and rear bumper were level. And the seating below was level. I put that shelf in place, snugging it over the fiberglassed support shelf meant to be used for an upper bunk. It was level. But the window is NOT! Looking up, I could see about a half-inch difference at the inner shell molded curvature. Yet on the outside of the coach, the window top molding was looking right.

Go figure.
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Old 11-20-2005, 01:37 AM   #5
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On the subject of leaks, everyone with sliding windows should be in the habit of routinely cleaning the weep/drain slots in the bottom part of the frame (sometimes they have little hoods over them; the hoods snap off for ease of cleaning) -- An excellent tool for cleaning the passages is a piece of semi-stiff weed-whacker monofilament with one end ruffed up and a few barbs cut into it with a razor or sharp knife -- Compressed air is not a good solution because there are too many alternative passages around the debris.

As far as actually finding leaks, try the reverse method -- Set a vacuum cleaner to blow instead of suck, tape the hose to the electical hatch, close doors windows etc., and maybe add so tape there (use caution as you really don't want to build up a lot of pressure inside) -- After you get the blowing going, travel slowly around the outside brushing on soapy water at suspicious places, looking for bubbles -- These should reveal the entry point of outside water, regardless of where it eventually settles inside.

The original idea for this technique can be found at:

http://www.rverscorner.com/info/raintest/raintest.html

Donna, do you think it is possible to add this as a Tutorial?
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Old 11-20-2005, 02:08 AM   #6
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Pete - i vote with you - 'leaks' should be a tutorial. i had no clue -prior this site - that wherever the water came in, it would wind up in the driver's side wheel well. luckily for us, the '77 trill has jalousie (?sp.) windows. they do not leak but frames may do so. i really think a distillation of the archives (no - i do not know enough to volunteer) would be quite helpfu.
thanks for more info - irene
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Old 11-20-2005, 02:20 AM   #7
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This is slightly off the topic of leaks, but there are two basic ways to post help on forums like this -- The first is Links, where the help topic is already covered somewhere out on the internet and a link to it can be posted (drawback is that if the other site disappears, so does the info); the second is to create a local file or tutorial that can be stored with the site and modified to suit (strength here is that it is under the group's control and can be modified, updated or deleted as is fitting. weakness is that a site hack could trash it all, but tutorials/files/FAQs take up relatively little space and can easily be backup for restoration). In some cases, (Dan&Dawns Scamp Site withthe Scamp manual and wiring diagrams), the link is to a member's web site.

Many of our newbie questions can easily be contained in a tutorial aka FAQ.
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Old 11-20-2005, 08:55 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by irene nelson@Nov 20 2005, 02:08 AM
i really think a distillation of the archives (no - i do not know enough to volunteer) would be quite helpfu.
Irene, I think you may have missed this: Sorry for the loss.

We are upgrading security and have begun working on rebuilding the "archive." Discussions like this will help us do that.
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Old 11-20-2005, 10:15 AM   #9
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Most of the leaks I have had were the result of bad or dry caulk around the upper clearance lights which ended up at a window.
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Old 11-20-2005, 10:25 AM   #10
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Leaks happen, like taxes and death................
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Old 11-20-2005, 11:44 AM   #11
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Pete and Gary,

Thanks for the link. Death, taxes, and now water leaks! Oh, the horror.

Has anyone done that pressurizing process just using a FanTastic fan in the ceiling, or is that not enough (maybe applying 220v? No, wait, that is too extreme)?
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Old 11-20-2005, 12:13 PM   #12
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Per, I suspect that if you took one of those 5 ft. diameter belt-driven barn fans, and attached a 10hp unlimited rpm gas-powered engine with a 10" pulley on the crank... then built a funnel that necked down to 6" or so on the exhaust side of the fan to speed up the volume, and then ran a 6" black pipe through the floor of the trailer that you'd probably get enough pressure to test for leaks...

Frankly, I'd think that your Fanatical Fan on the "high" air-intake setting would be more than sufficient to pressurize the cabin for the purposes described. I know that when I set my FF to vent on the lowest setting, merely opening the small window over the sink and the small window in the shower in the front of my Scamp don't have enough surface area to let in enough air to satisfy the fan. I have to open one of the larger windows as well before the fan motor will spin at it's set RPM without 'lugging'. I can actually hear the difference when the fan can move it's maximum cfm's.

Reversing the fan, and putting on it's highest setting ought to move plenty of air into the trailer.

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Old 11-20-2005, 05:55 PM   #13
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Roger:

I like your thinking, at least in your opening paragraph. Some of those tiny leaks will only be found by blowing the trailer up until it is perfectly spherical.

I am disappointed by the pedestrian suggestions found in your second paragraph. I had expected better from you.

On the other hand, they will probably work, and with a minimum of fuss and bother. Entirely alien to my way of thinking (but you already knew that).

I'm already in my room.
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Old 11-20-2005, 07:21 PM   #14
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I'm sorry, Per, that I disappointed you. After re-reading my sad post, I realized that I'm only capable of one cogent thought a day, and I used it in the first paragraph. My second paragraph was obviously the afterthought of a pedestrian mind.

Had my mind been fully functioning at the time of writing the first paragraph, I obviously would have suggested, rather than cutting a hole in the trailer for a 6" line that you merely rig a quick-disconnect coupler into your air-conditioning system. That would have been the appropriate suggestion for your case in particular.

So, that said, I shall take my pedestrian mind and shuffle off to bed!

Roger
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