Okay people. Let’s get serious. I know most of my posts are lighthearted and fun. Heck, some would venture to say they’re humorous. Today’s post is not that. Today I weave you a tale of tragic revelations and relentless storms. Grab your tissue box and blankie. It’s about to get scary up in here as I unfold this dirty tale of RV water damage repair.

It started on what seemed like a regular day…

Isn’t that how it always goes? You’re enjoying the lovely Fall weather in your new-to-you RV and you decide to pull up the carpet. Sure, it was in your long-term plans to rid yourself of that disgusting beige textile, but today is just so perfect you want to get started right away.

liz wilcox happy marriage
The Wilcoxes smiling brilliantly, completely ignorant of the tragedy about to strike their household.

Let me preface this real quick.

If you read our RV story, you know we decided to live in an RV then 8 days later moved into an RV. We did very little research and bought our fifth wheel quicker than any smart person should. What little research I had done warned me buying a used rig may result in us having to complete RV water damage repair but we were in a pinch! There was no time to inspect. We had to buy and get out of that hotel room we were living in!

And so we did buy. And the unit was amazing and solid and we just absolutely loved it.

Alright, let’s get this story going.

So like I said, we were having a lovely afternoon and my husband suggested we redo the floor before we head up to Connecticut the next month to visit family.

“We’ll get it all done this month and when we get home from vacation, it’ll be Christmas and we’ll have a new floor. The weather is still nice and we have the money so no point in waiting.”

Here’s a 30 second video of us starting the process.

Oh, how naive we were.

We start pulling up the carpet on the kitchen slide and holy mackerel! It looks phenomenal. The wood is really wood. My husband and I pat each other on the back, celebrating our decision making with buying such an amazingly solid rig. Then it happens.

My husband pulls the last piece of the carpet up. Uh oh…

“Uh honey, that looks like-”

“Don’t say it, Liz.”

rv water damage 5th wheel
Is it water damage Paw?

And so the RV water damage repair begins…

Of course, it is immediately obvious the dark stream-like streak on the wood floor is from water. Also, the wood is slightly wet. I can see my husband’s head start spinning as he starts spouting off.

“Where is this coming from? It hasn’t rained in MONTHS. Is something leaking? What? The sink isn’t on this counter. Oh no. The ice maker! The shower? Lawd give me strength. I’m gonna have to pull all this out JUST to find the source. How am I going to put it all back together? Ohmygosh I live in this thing. What am I doing with my life? I’m a grown man living in an RV!”

Yes, the struggle became quite real, quite fast.

Close your eyes, little ones. This is the scary part.

The next few days were terrible. You see, my husband still works outside the home 8+ hours a day, and me? I have a 2 year old constantly trying to climb back in the womb, a jealous dog, and a complete lack of fine motor skills. In other words, the burden of this whole RV water damage repair rested solely on my husband’s shoulders.

He worked tirelessly for days. He’d work in the mornings before his job, come home on his lunch break, and work hours and hours at night, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s a breakdown of what happened to just  figure out what was causing water damage in the RV. I’ll just bullet point it to keep this story PG-13.

  • Take out
    • stove
    • countertop
    • BOTH refrigerators
    • all cabinets and drawers
      • AND ALL THE CRAP IN THEM! (Seriously, I thought I downsized! Why do I have so many bowls?)
  • Take apart the framework of all the above
  • Find a place to put all this stuff
  • Move all our food to the clubhouse kitchen (the hero of this story)
  • Unhook the propane
    • shut off the tanks at the source, went back inside and ran all burners until all the gas was out of the lines, then unhooked the tanks

All this breakdown took about a day and a half to complete.

rv water damage repair liz wilcox
To the left you’ll see all our kitchen, to the right you’ll see where the kitchen should be.

We found the leak

So in our fifth wheel, we have this seemingly amazing countertop feature; a built-in compartment that you can just dump your trash in from the countertop and then later access outside. Isn’t that great?

This fricken’ thing!

Except it’s not.

The dang seal for the door to the outside had started to leak and that is where all the water damage was coming from in our RV.

We were immediately relieved when we found the source. For over 24 hours our brains had been pushing out worst case scenarios like a shower leak from 20 feet away or something! I mean, it was like we lost our kid at Disney World and then she suddenly appeared. Phew.

Unfortunately, finding the source of your water damage is just one battle you must fight in the War of RV Water Damage Repair.

Sealing the leak!

We (Ed) pressed on with our mission.

First he covered the leak source with a rubberized sheeting. This is a type of underlayment that looks like a big thick trash bag. Ed describes the experience:

“It was annoying because it was floppy, like stapling a thick trash bag to the wall. I got the job done, but it wasn’t pretty. It didn’t have to be. All of my work was going to be behind the refrigerators and cabinets so it could look like crap. No worries.”

After the sheeting was stapled, he used silicone to seal all the opening as an extra measure to combat against ever having to repeat the process of RV water damage repair.

He did this for all the areas that had seals, you know, since ya know, we already had everything apart anyway.

rv water damage repair
Taking out the vents to reseal everything

Removing the water damaged wall

For two days Ed ripped out the wall. I tried to help as best I could but if we’re being honest, it was just too fricken hard!

You see, the wall (plywood) was GLUED to styrofoam (the real wall, honestly). No hands were going to pry the two materials apart, but we had to remove the plywood somehow. But how?

Eureka! I had a solution!

I pulled our giant Cutco bread knife from the woodblock and Ed rolled his eyes.

“Liz that is so ghetto,” he mocked.

“Says the man living in an RV full of water damage? Desperate times call for creative solutions. Do you have a better idea?”

Of course, he didn’t and spent the next day literally squeezing the foot-long knife in between the two materials, using it like a saw to remove plywood from styrofoam. (And if you’re wondering, that Cutco knife is still as sharp as the day we bought it.)

Use the bread knife, baby!

We’re going to build a wall. It’s going to be a good wall, no water damage.

So Ed pried/sawed off all the damaged wood and the styrofoam was still good to go. We (Ed) started to rebuild the wall.

He used 3/16 plywood and bought a coping saw and oscillating tool to cut it. Boy was that dumb!

DO NOT BUY A COPING SAW AND OSCILLATING TOOL. On a scale of 1 to 10, Ed says recommendation is a ZERO. Hands down, get a circular saw. I mean, unless you’re going the cheapy route like us, get a circular saw.

To explain this in simplest terms, Ed used a small stepping stool as his work bench and began cutting pieces of the plywood to fit the wall. He used some sort of spray adhesive to glue the plywood onto the styrofoam, and boy was that a mistake! It started eating up all our good styrofoam!!

He made his way to Lowe’s and bought an aluminum metal tape, put that on the foam, then sprayed the tape with the adhesive and glued the plywood.

rv water damage repair
Liz poses to show off the fancy tools and tape used for the RV water damage repair job


He now says that spray foam is the best “glue” for the job. Just spray it on, stick the plywood to it and pull it off a few times. When the foam is ready to stick properly, it won’t want to come back off. (Now who’s ghetto, Ed?)
Even I got in on the action one morning when Chelsea was at a babysitter’s house. Okay, so I cut one small piece for the wall, but dang this RV water damage repair thing was hard!
Look! I’m helping. I better get a picture for visual evidence.
What made all this difficult was the wall had holes (Ed says the term is “openings”) in it to the outside. In an RV, there are “openings” in your wall, big holes, covered by vents for the refrigerator. One by the top of the fridge, one on the bottom. And these holes are rectangular-like with ROUND edges. Our fifth wheel has 2 refrigerators. You see now why we are recommending a circular saw? This could have saved us (Ed) a ton of time and energy.
outside rv kitchen vents
All the curved edge “openings” aka holes in the wall

But Liz, you haven’t mentioned the floor yet!

Okay, so we put a fan and heater on the floor to dry it and it turns out, it really wasn’t damaged. There was never any mold to be found and the wood floor was just as hard as ever. Can you believe it? We were over the moon.

So instead of replacing it, Ed bought some sort of mold killing primer and painted it. This was a precautionary measure in case something else starts leaking years down the road.

Just when you thought the water damage nightmare was over!

So now that we (Ed) took everything apart, pried wood from styrofoam, rebuilt a wall with round-edged openings/holes all over it using only the cheapest of tools, it was time to relax and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Eh, wrong!

Now it was time to put everything back together! Remember people, this is where we live. This is not our little camper we tote behind our Ford Explorer on the weekends to go enjoy campfires and s’mores. This is where we eat, sleep, and well, you know!

Yes, we were extremely blessed to have a clubhouse at the park to put all our food and cook our meals. Yes, we were extremely blessed to have such a large RV that we could quite literally PUT OUR KITCHEN on the other side of it while we (Ed) did repairs. But dang!

Have you ever lived in less than 400 square feet before? Even a shirt draped over a chair for more than 2 hours makes you think the whole place is a pig sty. Can you imagine what it’s like to have YOUR ENTIRE KITCHEN taking up your ENTIRE living room, dining room, and child’s room? Just try to envision it. Go on!

water damage rv
A little visual of our refrigerators in the dining room to help you envision our nightmare.

Okay, sorry. Writing this is making me relive this terrible nightmare and I apologize for yelling.

The point is ohmygosh, this whole RV water damage repair was so stressful. We had only lived in the RV for 2 short months when this happened and it was only 5 months after Ed got back from his 12 month deployment. We were all just  trying to survive and the water damage was not helping.

Restoring peace to a broken land

We (Ed) spent a whole Saturday putting everything back together.

He started with the fridge cabinet. He put the drawers that sit on the floor down first and worked his way up to put the refrigerators back in. I had to help him with this and let me just say one thing: Those refrigerators are heavy! You’d think they’d be lighter since they are smaller than a standard fridge but ohmyword y’all. I ’bout gave myself a hernia… and I lift weights at the gym!

Anyway, then he was able to start the “jigsaw puzzle.” You see, the compartment where the oven and stove are housed is full of drawers and cabinets and Ed says it was put together by a bunch of sickies. It took him almost two days to get it apart because there were all these hidden screws and connected pieces that made no sense.

Putting it back together was a bit less stressful than taking it apart, he says. He remembered where most of the screws went and was able to get it back to its original state…about 90% anyway. One drawer was a little off (Ed was too frustrated to put the tracks back in) but structurally, it was all good.

after rv water damage
It’s all good under the (kitchen) hood!

Avoiding Explosion

So we are finally to the end of our story and here is where Ed had to do the perfect job. Literal lives were on the line here!

Ed had to finally hook the propane back up to the stove and oven. If not done properly, the propane could and would leak and kill us all in this little box we call home! But no pressure, Ed.

The fittings were under the fridge and I know I haven’t mentioned this yet but Ed was hit his head like crazy throughout this RV water damage repair job. He got to them despite adversity and was MVP of the tight seal. Go Ed!

Reflections on repairing water damage in your RV

When asked, Ed rates this project a 7 or 8 on the Average Man’s Ability Scale.

He quotes “If you have a clue about construction, go for it. If you have no mechanical ability, pay someone else or burn your rig to the ground, whichever’s cheaper. RV water damage repair ain’t nothin’ to mess with.”

Overall, this was an obnoxious experience. I can’t really say “it taught us to be patient” or some other Disney Princess moral. Yes, my husband learned a lot but honestly, just ugh. This story is definitely one for that group on Facebook,  FULL-TIME RV HELL!!!!!

chelsea wilcox
RV water damage repair is a family affair

Did you make it to the end? Have you ever had to conduct RV water damage repair? Or anything like it? Let me know. Let’s cry together.

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12 thoughts on “RV Water Damage Repair: Part One

  1. You survived! Awesome job. Unfortunately, hubby & I are in the middle of repairs for our little class C camper. (that we’re moving into in a month after just selling our house …) OMG – we’re down to bare fiberglass in the overhead bunk floor & wall bottoms. Today is the cutting out new bits & glue them back together stage. This is going to be interesting…
    Stories like yours give us hope 🙂

    1. Wow Laurie! That sounds terrible. I’m so sorry and hope guys are getting it done as easily as possible!!!! Sending you all the good juju, love, and prayers my friend. Do keep me updated on the progress!

  2. We just found mold under our slide carpet, and the wood is like jell-o. No! Boo! Getting it inspected tomorrow to see if insurance covers repairs. Luckily my husband is handy and possesses many tools. My newest recommendation for full time RV living is BUY NEW!

    1. Uh oh! Buying new I think would definitely be good for “no water damage” but I’ve heard of some other crazy things that can go wrong. I hope insurance turns out okay, but who ever knows with RVs. Keep me updated!

    1. bahahaha I don’t think he did, either! This is only the beginning of him learning to be handy. Stay tuned!

  3. Pretty sure our new rig will be worse than yours once we open her up… still waiting for the Safety Inspection report so we can put plates on it. Will be following your stuff very closely so tick tock with putting it out 😉

  4. Glad the floor turned out to be OK. I thought those garbage doors were a great idea. Never thought about a leak. What a huge pain in the butt!!!

    Do you guys have everything put back together?

    1. For the most part, yes. We still need to paint a few drawers and do some trim, but I’ll be posting more of this insane saga next week!

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