For the overwhelming majority of us, cold weather has set in and with it comes some unwelcome concerns. In this issue I want to address a few problems and make some suggestions for dealing with them.
Let's start with existing exterior caulking and areas where there most likely isn't any. Your houseboat's exterior walls are constructed of FRP (fiberglass reinforced panels); these permanently finished panels are very durable and should last a very long time. Because our houseboat cabins are built and pieced together with these, it is necessary for the houseboat manufacturer to join or butt these together. You can easily see these joints by looking for the vertical moldings that are cut to fit and screwed to the side of the cabin.
Don't be surprised if you don't see any caulk here, but there certainly needs to be.
Here is a potential place for water invasion that can cause serious issues, either by wicking water into the interior and rotting the wood structure, or in the cold weather months, the water seeping in, freezing and expanding, causing the panels and inner structure to separate. When this happens and warm weather comes around, it doesn't shrink back into place. Now the crack is wider and the issues start to escalate with time.
We can do some maintenance here to keep this from happening or stop it from continuing. At the very least you should cut away any caulk that appears to be separated from the moldings and re-caulk using a good exterior mold and mildew resistant silicone caulk. The best way is to remove the screws securing the moldings to the wall and remove it. Now caulk the space between the two joined pieces, making certain no more moisture can penetrate between them. Give the caulk ample time to dry or cure before reinstalling the molding. When you do screw it back on you might at this time consider replacing the screws with stainless steel ones if yours are rusting.
Once the molding is reinstalled you will need to caulk it to the panel as well.
Now that's done, a close inspection of the rear rounded corners needs to be completed. These don't need to be removed, but certainly need to be caulked as well. Next we need to inspect the window caulk as well as the front and rear doors and repair as needed. We need to go top side for some inspections as well. All of your railing top side is simply attached to the floor using wood screws. All of these attaching points should have been drilled and filled with caulk prior to the screws being installed. I'm not suggesting that all these be removed and re-caulked, but they should be checked to assure they are still snug. If a loose one is found, remove it and fill the hole with 3M Marine sealer and reset the screw. This applies to the screws holding the flybridge down as well.
Now for a more common issue-those beautiful magnificent arches. They support the party top and on some houseboats an upper deck. The issue here is they-like the railing-are screwed to the upper deck. These support a lot of weight and are prone to shaking and moving. This causes the attaching screws to work loose and or wallow out. This allows water to seep into the roof structure and like in the before-mentioned example, freeze in cold weather causing expansion and rot.
This is a more involved inspection, but worth a look by a trained eye due to the major damage it can cause. If repairs are needed here, you need a skilled professional.
Now we've covered the outside, let's talk about the inside. Most houseboats built are not insulated. This means the windows are single pane and the walls and floor are not insulated. There is little you can do about the walls and windows, but you can certainly address the floor. Your houseboat hull is most likely made from aluminum and is 3/16 of an inch thick. Aluminum is an excellent thermal conductor. At the time of this article the surface temperature of our lake was 55 degrees and will drop to the 30's. The hull of the boat transfers that temperature to the crawl space beneath your floor.
In the summer months you have the same issue, but reverse. Our lake temperature In July will be 95 degrees as will the crawl space beneath the floor. My wife Merri and I chose to insulate the floor to reduce the cold from radiating through the floor in the winter and the heat in the summer. We used plastic wrapped R13 insulation purchased from our local home improvement center. We simply rolled it out and stapled it up between the floor joists and we also stapled it on the vertical lower cuddy walls. This made it instantly easier to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the boat.
The cost of materials was approx. $300 and it took about eight hours to complete.
"Ask Uncle Ricky" was a recurring column in Houseboat magazine. For other houseboat maintenance tips please visit www.houseboatsAtoZ.com.