Winter - Spring 2008

Repairing the rotted floor in my "new" 1991 Jayco 220 travel trailer

I really looked the trailer over carefully before we bought it.  Really.  I'd looked at enough beaters with hidden problems to know that I'd best be on my toes.  Sadly, I was lulled into a bit of complacency by the otherwise very clean appearance, inside and out, of the Jayco and the fact that everything actually worked.  Not even any mildew stains on the awning!  The price was within our budget so we plunked down our cash and away we went with our new prize.

Caveat:  I am most decidedly NOT and "RV enthusiast," RV expert, or anything of that sort.  The trailer is my wife's, I'm just the truck driver and maintenance man.

WARNING! Some of the things I write about here are toxic to humans and animals. Other chemicals are a fire hazard.   Read and follow manufacturer's directions, wear safety goggles, a protective mask and gloves when using these chemicals.

WARNING AGAIN!  I'm providing this page as an encouragement to those who find some rot in their RV and don't want to spend big bucks having a pro fix it.  Do your own research too, and if you don't feel comfortable working with strong chemicals and epoxy resins then leave it to a pro.

The first trip with our new toy went fine.  We headed off to Flagstaff, AZ to ride our ATV and despite the cold and windy weather the trailer towed nicely in the mountains, everything continued to work, our new Honda EU2000i generator worked like a charm, and the excellent forced air heating in the Jayco was especially appreciated in the Fall night at 7,000 feet.

        

(Cue ominous music)

Fast forward to getting ready for our Christmas 2007 trip to California.  I was loading stuff up the afternoon before we left.  Placing some items in the forward left outside storage compartment I notice something...a soft spot in the vinyl floor.  Hmmm....   I pulled up a bit of the vinyl and the more I pulled up the worse it all looked.  The plywood floor was seriously rotted and crumbling and obviously had been for quite a while.  There was no moisture, no obvious recent leakage, just crumbling and blackened wood.  How did I miss the clues before??  I was not a happy camper.  I pulled up floor, vinyl, and insulation to determine the general extent of the damage to make sure the trailer would be safe to tow to CA.  The floor damage was severe but it did not appear that the floor joists had been significantly compromised.  I made a hasty repair to the storage compartment floor and off we went to CA.

I spent the next week in California visiting family and pondering my stupidity at missing the soft spot in the floor when I inspected the trailer before we bought it and and also trying to figure out how much it was going to cost me to have someone fix things properly and make it all right again.

When we returned home after Christmas it became apparent that getting someone to fix the floor for a reasonable price was going to be a problem.  The more I studied the damage (which extended into the dinette area floor) the more I realized it was just 2x4s and plywood.  I have tools.  I can sort of build things, kind of.

I'd give a run at fixing it myself.

I was especially concerned about the rotted wood and how extensive that might be and what it would take to fix it.  I poked around www.rv.net for tips and read around the web on techniques for fixing rotted wood properly.  The basic concept is to dry out the wood and then saturate it with thinned epoxy resin and where possible, replace with new wood.

There are some companies that specialize in resins for renewing rotted wood and if you have a serious rot problem as with an old boat hull the various "special" resins being sold are probably the way to go, maybe.  I know even less about boats than RVs though, so do your own research.

Reading the website for West System Epoxy it was clear that many of the claims for permeating rotted wood with special epoxy resins were subject to dispute or at least not applicable to a mild rot problem in an RV.  The solution recommend by West System was to simply heat the resin slightly to thin it or if need be thin it with an appropriate thinner like alcohol, acetone, or xylene.  No other fancy additives needed.  As I had a gallon of xylene in the garage that was my choice.

I took some wood pieces and tested my thinned resin for penetration and cure time.  Thinned resin at a lower temperature can take a while to cure and can cure pretty quickly if it's hot outside.  If it cures too fast it won't have time to soak into the wood.  If it cures too slow it might not cure at all and you'll have a sticky mess. I recommend doing a test or two before you apply resin to your own repair efforts.

Here's where we started:

I probed around with an awl to find the extent of the damage. Inside the trailer I removed the dinette bench, marked out lines from my awl probing, set my electric saw for the thickness of the existing flooring and started cutting.  All the obviously rotted wood was cut away. Getting the damaged wood from under the wall between the storage compartment and dinette area was actually the most work and took some hammer and chisel cutting.  In general, doing the repair work inside the storage compartment and under the floor was a real pain, messy, slightly dangerous (power tools and chemicals in a confined space), and did I mention, a real pain?  I spent a fair amount of time with my head and one arm in the storage compartment chipping away at wood and other fun tasks.

Once everything was cleaned out I was concerned about killing any mold or whatever.  You can buy various commercial products but some reading around indicated that a Borax solution or good 'ol anti-freeze will kill stuff too.  WARNING:  Anti-freeze will kill you or your pets if it is ingested!!  It doesn't take much at all to kill Fluffy or Fido or even YOU.  Since my repair site was at a storage yard and free of domestic critters I went with the anti-freeze method.  It doesn't take that much fluid anyway so there should not be big puddles of the stuff on the ground.  If you're working on dirt or grass you might consider putting down a plastic ground cloth to keep the contaminants out of the soil or from killing your lawn.

After the disinfecting treatment was allowed to dry for a week or so I mixed up my  epoxy resin thinned 50% with xylene and soaked all the exposed wood and every where the sprayer would reach with the resin.  Note: a cheap-o $2 spray bottle from the bargain store worked fine.  According to what I read on-line, besides sealing up the wood from any future moisture the uncured resin is toxic and will kill any hidden mold or mildew, hence the thorough soaking.

After the resin cured (about 2 days because it was cool out) I framed in supporting wood on each side of the damaged wood plus it extends slightly under the floor. Cross-pieces were put in to properly support the floor where it had been cut and the new section would be spliced in. Another note: The floor joists are not standard 2x4 lumber. I wound up taking 2x6 and splitting it to 2x3.  I also had to notch the wood slightly to fit up against or over some bits of the steel frame of the trailer.  I also found that two of bolts for the box / frame connection were rusted.  These were removed and replaced.  After all the wood was in place I re-coated everything with more sprayed epoxy resin.  I even added some Simpson Strong-Ties here and there just to be sure. I've come to realize a couple of things: 1. trailers are built pretty flimsy. 2. 1,000 years from now when some archeologist is digging in Arizona he will probably find the left front corner of a 1991 Jayco trailer mostly intact.  That would be the part I repaired.

 

More curing time for the resin and then new insulation put in place:

New wood flooring was put in place.  I even went so far as to coat the new pieces of flooring with resin. In the storage compartment I coated the flooring, the walls, and everything I could get to.  Overkill?  Probably, but I wasn't taking any chances with future water damage.  By the way, I never found a source for the leak that did the damage to the wood.  I even when so far as to stick my digital camera into dark areas and take flash pictures to see what I could find.  There were no signs of leaks in the exterior wall or the "ceiling" of the storage compartment or any signs of previous repairs.  I came to the conclusion that some previous owner(s) had been tossing the fresh water hose in there without draining the left over water from it and joining the two ends.  I don't think lots of water leaked but over a period years the damage was done.  There you have one of the hazards of buying a used trailer.

New plywood fitted and screwed down in the dinette area and storage compartment:

 

Below: The dinette bench back in place and new, self-stick-vinyl tiles put down.  All seams were sealed with silicone caulk.

Outside storage compartment with vinyl tile, some paint-over-resin even on the good wood, and then lots of caulking:

The metal trim was left over from the carpet trim in the dinette area.  It covers (with caulk under it) the seam between two vinyl tiles.

Everything back together again.  I put down some "new" carpet instead of vinyl. I hate cold floors plus I figured the chance of matching 17 year old vinyl floor was zilch.  I was looking at various sorts of inexpensive carpeting at the hardware place but couldn't make up my mind.  Back home in the garage I opened my eyes and realized that I had a nice sized remnant of carpet from the house stored away.  Bingo!

Final thoughts: It was and wasn't as hard as I thought it would be but it was frequently frustrating for an assortment of reasons.  I probably spent about 24 hours on the repair spread over 3 months of spare time.  It's easier if you eat the elephant in little bites.

I was unsure about how much resin to buy.  I bought 1 gallon; 1 quart would have been plenty.  If you need a whole gallon you probably need a new trailer.

I still need to put a cover of some sort over the exposed wire connections under the bench.  Jayco had simply screwed a piece of sheet paneling down with a single screw.  Very shabby.  The wires were much too vulnerable to casual damage:

I also need to reset the carpet trim a little and replace a screw or two that I used because I didn't have just the right one at the time. 

Total cost for the repair: About $200 and most of that for the resin.  The stuff's not cheap. Had I bought a quart I might have gotten the whole thing done for $125.

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