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Old 05-09-2017, 05:24 AM   #1
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Fiberglass vs Al Siding wall contsruction

HI John, I found this really helpful post from a while back and I'm wondering if you find one design better than the other (Fiberglass vs Al Siding) for durability, leaks, weight, insulation, aerodynamics? Any thoughts or suggestions would be welcome.

Thanks Mark

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Originally Posted by JohnB View Post
The intent here is to provide friendly help on the education that roof care along with siding joint care is a must if you want to keep your camper a good long time, rot free. The roof is worse then the siding joints but as the camper gets older, widows, doors and cargo door seals can be a problem too.

Some RV owners never realized what it takes to care for an RV roof until it sadly showed up as a water infection problem. The premise that, since there are no leaks seen in the camper, all must be just fine right? They intuitively think the camper is built like their home roof and that the roof does not need regular maintenance only gets replaced every 25 to 30 years. Well, no a camper that tows down the highway and built with materials that are a lot less costly then how a house roof is built. The is very different as the house that stands still and is built to last a real long time with time proven materials and methods.

The camper water problem by the nature of a slow leak, is a water infection that can be festering for 1 or 2 years in the walls, ceiling or floor rotting the camper away before the leak can be seen inside. And by then, the damage is done. The leak left a trail on the outside, but only if you know where to look for it and how to protect against it. It is all fixable if you have the problem, but can be very costly if it has to be hired out at a large dealership because it can be labor intensive to repair.

Water issues can also happen to folks who know and do roof maintenance but the leak sometimes comes about mid winter and is not discovered until spring if the camper lives outside exposed. However, the folks doing the roof maintenance regularly have much lower odds of water infection.

Point being, when you get the camper and have a little time in the first month or so, check the sealants at all roof penetrations and all door, window and cargo doors. On the roof, look at the sealants at any pipe, vent, edging etc. where the rubber part touches some object, and that goes for the entire perimeter of the rubber where it is attached to the siding of any wall. Don't think that since the dealer prepped the camper for you, that unless you had a specific agreement with them on roof care and water infection, that they did any roof maintenance before delivering a used camper.

On the roof, a special caulk is used that over time the caulk can develop splits that start out as a hair line crack. That hair line crack can be tolerable at the early stages. As time goes on left untouched, that tiny split can turn into a crater and hole to the inside of the camper. The roof also needs to be washed regularly to keep stuff from growing up there pending where it camps and is stored. Your camper by now is old enough it should of had many touch ups in the caulking. Some may be tiny, others larger. If there has been no touche ups, that means the prior owner never knew they where supposed to do roof care and did not do anything. That can be a problem.

See this post for more help and ask away on anything that does not make sense or how to do it. Rubber Roof Caulk - Inspect and repair 101 That post also talks about that your camper most likely does not have the special order direct walk on roof. To service the roof, you have to take precautions with a tarp or something to protect the rubber from abrasion and to use small sheets of plywood to spread out your weight.

I didn't mean to scare you to death on your camper you don't even have yet.... just to give you a heads up on this topic since you are into the details. Here recently we keep bumping into situations that the original owner or the past owner did nothing on roof maintenance and the new owner finds this out after the fact with a leak inside.

Hope this helps.

John
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Old 05-09-2017, 07:25 PM   #2
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Hi Mark,

I am behind on my post reading but I see your question here which is a better place for this verses the other thread. I will give you my comments here.

On the Sunlines, (with exception to the Que and maybe the year 2000 ish time frame, Advancer which both have aluminum wall studs) the campers made with aluminum siding and the smooth surface fiberglass are of the same high quality in the way they are built. The only difference is the siding. Having the smooth sides was an option called the (SE package) if you ordered one from Sunline and they would just build it with the fiberglass exterior. I "think" SE meant, Smooth Exterior. Sunline Fan can confirm this.

The differences are more in personal wants. Here are some of the pro's and differences of the 2 options that I know of. I will try and only (if I can) do the physical differences between the two. This is really a personal choice in the case of Sunline. Club members can add to this list to help as these are only my thoughts.

Aluminum:
  • On the newer campers, Krystal Kote was added to the siding to help protect from dents. This has been proven on my camper to resist hail damage.
  • The standard aluminum siding is lighter weight the the SE option allowing more cargo capacity on the standard siding.
  • At the time Sunline was in business, I believe the SE option was an up charge. I do not know how much.

SE Option:
  • Can be easier to clean and keep clean in some cases.
  • The SE option is more dent resistant in many cases even with Krystal Kote added to the standard siding.
  • The rigidity of the camper may be higher due to the need to have luan plywood on the outside of the camper for the fiberglass to adhere to.

A cut from the 2002 Brochure on what Sunline stated as benifits


As you can see, the physical differences are not that many. There is an appearance difference, however this is back to the personal choice. Many people who have the SE options like the looks of it better then the standard siding. In the RV industry, it is perceived that the SE option is only on the higher end models. Again in Sunline world, the SE option does not change the quality of the camper, it is only a siding option.

You asked about
Quote:
durability, leaks, weight, insulation, aerodynamics
As far as durability, I'm not seeing that one option will make the camper last longer in that one method makes the camper more durable. The underlying camper build is the same between the two options. It is only the siding that is different.

Leaks, I see not real difference in the ability of either siding option to be better or worse for leaks. They use the same roof, sealants, gutter system and methods.

Weight, as I said, the SE option is heavier due to need to have a sub-straight attached to the camper outside walls to glue the fiberglass siding too. I thought they used 1/8" luan but maybe not. I really do not know what they mean by "1/4" offset layered luan".

Insulation, there might be a slight advantage here to the SE option. However this may be in theory only. From a wind resistance stand point, I'm not seeing a difference. From a temperature transmission rate, here the SE package may have an advantage as the luan backer board is made from wood which transmits heat less then the aluminium. While by theory it is there, I do not know if it will shift the R value of the walls much. I really do not know on if it changed the wall R value.

Aerodynamics, this again may be in theory verses practical. The 8 foot wide brick we tow behind us, just plain uses power to tow it. We are not changing the width or the height by the siding option. There my be a slight wind drag difference between the 2 options, I just do not think you will find it on your fuel consumption at the pump.

There is one area that was not yet mentioned, repair of the camper when you get a leak. Here there is a definite difference. When water gets into either options, it is a bad thing. But the standard aluminum siding here does shine better. Aluminum is not affected by water in the sense of camper damage from a roof leak. The SE option uses glue to bond the fiberglass to the luan sub-straight. That glue is under attack when a leak occurs. So not only do you have all the same damage in the camper walls, you have a fiberglass bonding issue to deal with. They call this, delamination when the fiberglass separates from the backer board.

The cost to repair a water leaked SE package camper will be more then the standard aluminum siding keeping all the other damage the same. The aluminum can be easily removed, cleaned up and put back on without special fiberglass repair skills. Both are repairable, just the aluminum can be easier to do and less to repair.

As to leaks, the siding is not the problem. Education about how to care for the camper is first, then comes the constant needs to keep after the roof and sealants.

Does this address what you quest was after? This is a good topic as the answers here apply to Sunlines. This is not the same for all other brands.

Hope this helps

John
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Old 05-10-2017, 06:25 AM   #3
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I have seen delamination issues on some campers and to me, that is probably the main drawback to a fiberglass sided camper. I do like the smooth look (when they're not delaminated of course), and with the swoosh style graphics used today, a flat surface seems to provide a better surface for display of lines that would cut across the straight horizontal corrugations of aluminum.
One thing I've wondered about is why I've not seen delamination of any RV doors, but John, your explanation of the fiberglass pulling away from the backer board from a water leak makes sense. The doors are probably less prone to water intrusion than the walls.
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Old 05-10-2017, 05:10 PM   #4
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While the smooth fiberglass sides do look nice I'm with JohnB and vcrt.

I've seen many campers with delaminated walls and, from best I can tell, it's almost impossible to repair and look like new.
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Old 05-10-2017, 05:56 PM   #5
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Thanks guys for the great info. It seems to me that the differences are in a few areas and I tried to digest and summarize some of the more important ones (important to me) in my words:

1) Style- if you like the smooth flat look the fiberglass would have the edge. It's totally subjective though.
2) Weight- perhaps the fiberglass weighs a bit more, although I can't imagine they wouldn't list the extra weight since it's a critical safety decision while towing. I haven't seen any mention of additional trailer weight or reduced CC based on the SE option in the literature.?
3) Robustness to water damage- it seems that Fiberglass may show water damage earlier through de-lamination and the repairs are more expensive and complex. My thoughts are that if my trailer has water damage to the point that it de-laminates, I have really big problems. Buying a rig based on this seems like buying a car based on how easy it would be to fix it if you crashed it.
4) Resistance to surface damage- it sounds like the Fiberglass has a slight edge here but with the updated coatings, siding holds up well too.
5) Clean-ability- It sounds like the fiberglass wins this one outright. I've seen some pretty sad fiberglass trailers but that is probably due to neglect. And the interiors look just as bad as the exteriors. It's probably harder to keep debris and those darned black stains from ruining the first impression on an otherwise mint Al sided trailer.

If anybody else has other items they think are important differences I'd love to hear your thoughts. And please feel free to chime in if you feel any different for the ones i summarized already. It's just my opinion and I'd also like to hear yours too, even if it's different.

JohnB, Rich and Johnny- as always, thanks for the wealth of information and your time to answer all my questions. You're an amazing group and it's wonderful that you're so giving of your time.
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Old 05-10-2017, 08:57 PM   #6
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Mark,

Your summarized list is good.

A point that came to my mind I thought I would mention. If your shopping for a smooth sided camper and you go outside the Sunline brand, heads up on a few things. In the early days of creating fiberglass siding campers, the manufactures did not have all the kinks worked out. The siding has to be able to flex when the camper flexes, it if does not, then over time the siding can crack. We had one camped next to us a few years ago. It had a crack in the middle of the long side wall from top to bottom. This was an older camper and what I had heard and read about was in this camper and I saw it with my own eyes. The crack was jagged like a lighting bolt.

Again this is the older campers. Most manufactures now a days have figured this out as I have not seen it on newer ones myself.

The aluminum sided campers have a great ability to flex since each sheet of siding is only approx 10 to 12" wide verses a sheet 6 to 7 feet tall and 20 feet long. You can see the longer campers flexing in the wind so to speak when towing over a bump. That said, we have had an aluminum sided camper where the top aluminum siding parts would pucker out in warmer weather and then later go away. I do not recall ever getting a final verdict on the cause but it was in a approx 2004 to 2007 model and I think a T-1950 which is a small length camper.

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Old 05-11-2017, 06:10 AM   #7
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I actually had a crack in the aluminum siding on our 92 T-2470 that went from the top right corner of the entry door to the gutter rail. I never figured out why it happened, but I sealed it to keep water out.

Another thought on the fiberglass vs. aluminum, our 2007 2499 has aluminum siding with fiberglass on the entry doors. The Krystal Koat siding and the painted (stripe section) siding looks to be about as white as when new, but you can see the contrast of the yellowing fiberglass on the doors. So, fiberglass can look more aged over time it seems, than aluminum.

The storage compartment doors are also fiberglass, but they have not yellowed as much as the doors, so it probably depends on who made the fiberglass, something you wouldn't know when purchasing a camper.

Oh, one more thing, all of the above is meaningless if your buying a recently built camper as they have all abandoned white in favor of tans and grey. I've even seen Winnebagos in red and blue
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Old 05-11-2017, 07:17 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vcrt View Post
I actually had a crack in the aluminum siding on our 92 T-2470 that went from the top right corner of the entry door to the gutter rail. I never figured out why it happened, but I sealed it to keep water out.
Hi Rich,

This is a somewhat common issue at the top corners of the door. I had it too on the T310SR. When I pulled the door frame out to re square it a while ago, the crack starts right at a screw hole and then heads outward. As the camper and siding flexes, it seems to want to bend right at that hole and start a rip.

In my case, the rip was only 1.5 " long. I drilled a hole in the end of the rip, put a small piece of Eternabond over it and Dicor caulked it. The crack has not grown since.

Others here are the forum have reported the same issue. You are now added to the list...

I agree on the entry doors yellowing. Mine have advanced to this now too. But the cargo holes doors are white as can be. Your right, the additives in the fiberglass colorant is not as UV resistant it seems between the brands.
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Old 05-11-2017, 10:51 AM   #9
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Oddly enough, I've never had a Sunline that developed the crack above the doors (knock on wood). They've all had the aluminum siding seamed above the corner of the door. I don't think the 286 is this way, but I can't remember. The 2653 has a seam above both doors, and putty tape oozing out.
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Old 05-11-2017, 04:26 PM   #10
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My '96 T-1700 has a crack at the left top of the door up to the gutter.
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Old 05-11-2017, 09:59 PM   #11
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Here is some more on the aluminium siding door crack.

This post has a picture of Gene's crack. Hairline crack on siding above rear door?

And I hunted up mine. I never posted these yet, only talked about it. I had to pull the front door to re-square it as it would not close correctly. Once I had the door frame out, I found the crack. It took at least 10 years to show up, but I got one.

And overview of the door


The crack




The fix, Stop drill a hole at the end of the crack to help ward off cracking further.


Eternabonded it


I'm assuming towing mileage aggravates this. The more miles, the higher the odds of a crack from more flexing.
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Old 05-12-2017, 08:35 AM   #12
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Quote:
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I'm assuming towing mileage aggravates this. The more miles, the higher the odds of a crack from more flexing.
I know yours had minimal mileage before you, but how many do you think you've put on it so far?
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Old 05-12-2017, 08:47 AM   #13
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I think the crack in our 2470 started at the corner of the cut out since a 90* corner door was used back in 92, but I wonder how did a crack begin on a curved door cut out?
After all, the fix is to create a curve (hole) to stop it right?
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Old 05-12-2017, 02:06 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunline Fan View Post
I know yours had minimal mileage before you, but how many do you think you've put on it so far?
While I track every mile I tow, I am behind on adding up the years.... I would estimate I put on between 30,000 to 35,000 miles. Maybe a little more. It may of only had 3,000 to 5,000 when I got it.
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Old 05-12-2017, 02:15 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vcrt View Post
I think the crack in our 2470 started at the corner of the cut out since a 90* corner door was used back in 92, but I wonder how did a crack begin on a curved door cut out?
After all, the fix is to create a curve (hole) to stop it right?
Rich
Yes, the square corner door is even worse. The round corner is for sure better, but this siding is very thin. The metal is still flexing and the stress will end up in the weakest point. In this case, the middle of the curved cut out. Then the stress looks for a weak spot in that area. A nice gagged rough sheet metal screw hole makes a perfect stress riser to allow the crack to start. Once started, more flexing starts the ripping length part.

My camper has a 10" I beam frame and it is also longer. The flex of this frame is different then say, your T2499 on a 6" I beam. And the older 4" channel iron frames have a different flex to them too. And the 5" channel iron frames.

The longer the camper, generally the more flex. But the frame makes a difference too. Actually, the T-264SR may be the best for not flexing for this crack. It has the 10" frame but have very little rear overhand behind the axles and the length from the header to the axle is the shortest in any of the larger slide campers.

Oddly my crack was on the "front" door, and not the back door. Seeing as the header area does not flex as much, the front door may flex more then the back door close to the end of the frame.
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