How To: Houseboat Roof Repair

April 2014 Feature Michael Duelley

Over numerous years of UV exposure, variable weather conditions and the degrading effects of time, the roof of that once-beautiful houseboat becomes brittle, unsightly and even dangerous. When repairs become a necessity, there are several important things to consider before attempting a do-it-yourself repair job. While it may seem elementary to the untrained eye, there are procedures that could not only save you time and money on an already labor intensive roof project, but add years to the life of the houseboat.

Mike Nitsche, a sales representative at Best Materials, LLC., dug into his wealth of knowledge on houseboat roof repair and gave some important tips for a top-of-the-line repair that will work for any style of houseboat.

Getting Prepped

A well-seasoned houseboat has undoubtedly seen its share of weather. Years of rain have pelted the roof, leaving pools of stagnant water that slowly eat away at the protective finish, the brutal heat from the summer sun has dried the waterproof seals, leaving them cracked and brittle and drastic temperature changes have strained the integrity of the fittings, framing and seaming. Anything that spends the majority of its time outside undoubtedly has to contend with the forces of nature. Unfortunately, nature will at some point prevail, ultimately tarnishing any former beauty and appeal, especially for a houseboat. Although houseboats have been designed to be weather-resistant, that doesn't make them weatherproof and at some point, maintenance and repair are necessary to ensure a long life.

Unlike repairing a house, a houseboat takes a little more in-depth work to ensure proper security and weather resistance. Many walk-deck roofs use a series of chemicals, such as urethane coatings, primer sealers and glues that, when applied correctly, give a houseboat its resilience to any array of environmental conditions. But when those materials have lost their integrity, replacing them can be tricky. Here are some great tips that Nitsche has provided to help any DIY project along.

Tip 1

Never use Isopropyl Alcohol as a cleaning product. According to Nitsche, the urethane coating, glues and primers used on a houseboat are sensitive materials that can easily be removed with the use of alcohol as a cleaning agent. The coatings used on houseboats are used for waterproofing, adhesion and UV protection. When exposed to alcohol, especially on older and more sensitive coatings, they can be removed. This will only lead to more time spent on the roof reapplying what may have been acceptable coatings.

Tip 2

Apply a primer sealer to older decks. Primer sealers do just as the name implies. A waterproof roof is a happy roof. Rain water that pools will, over time, destroy the integrity of the roof, especially roofs comprised of plywood.

“Adding a new layer of primer is the safest bet,” says Nitsche. “After you add the layer, be sure to give it time to cure and dry. If you can't guarantee it's clean, prime it.”

The repairs are already underway, so why not ensure that they're done right? In this case, if you're going to do it, you may as well overdo it, just to be sure.

Tip 3

Remove old glues before applying new glue. The glue used on a houseboat is strong and durable for a time, but when it begins to erode away, nothing will stick to it, not even more glue. For the most part, the glue will already begin to pull away from the surfaces it was meant to hold together, so removing it shouldn't be too difficult. Removing and discarding of old glue is necessary before applying a fresh dose. Remember that the desired area of application should also be thoroughly cleaned and dried before throwing a glob of glue on.

Tip 4

Update the top coat. Just like anything else, preventative maintenance is key to prolonging the life of a houseboat roof. Updating the top coat gives the roof the best protection from the elements.

“A lot of people put their top coat on and figure that the roof is fine the way it is,” adds Nitsche. “The top coat should be updated every couple of years. Otherwise, owners could be replacing their roof more often than they would like.”

Applying a conformed layer of protective top coat can be done in a short time, but can armor the roof from the elements and save owners from the hassle of doing major repairs due to severe sun or weather conditions.

Tip 5

Know your water. Everyone knows that saltwater is more abusive to a boat than freshwater. So understanding the potential for greater damage in saltwater makes owners more aware and equally more defensive about their house on the sea. More preventative maintenance and frequent checks may be necessary, but it's a small and acceptable price to pay to keep that houseboat looking its best.

Tip 6

Check the deck. Along with the preventative maintenance, giving the houseboat the "once-over" is a great tip for catching repairs early on. Houseboat roofs are built with a slight slope to help water run off. Pooling water is a tell-tale sign of necessary repair. If there's pooled water on the surface, there's a good chance water is soaked into the sagging portion of the roof. Repairs are going to be needed, which could mean a sectional replacement. While checking the deck, also look at fittings and seals. Cracks in the glue, surface rust on fittings, chips and dents are signs of a spot in need of some TLC. Staying on top of the fine details could be the difference between a small, quick fix and a gigantic maintenance endeavor.

Now You’re Ready

There's a lot to cover on houseboat roof repair, and this list is simply the surface of a much larger iceberg. There are a lot of great materials that have been designed to aid in roof repair, but the key to a successful repair job is following the basics and staying on top of the preventative maintenance. Taking care of the small issues as they arise can stave off the bigger, money-hungry repairs down the road, and keep you on the water longer, which is where houseboaters belong.

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