How to Repair the Floor of a Camper

by John Cagney Nash

Campers, whether recreational vehicles, travel trailers or truck bed units, are seldom manufactured using stout lumber for flooring. The trade-off between rigidity, weight and cost mandates that most campers have floors made of particle board. Particle board is very vulnerable to water damage, and will disintegrate after one soaking that isn't immediately mopped up and dehumidified. Particle board floors seldom rot from repeated wetting over a period of years; instead they disintegrate following one roof or plumbing leak, which leads to a "soft" feeling underfoot. Repairing a soft camper floor is an urgent job, because rot will spread and disintegration makes protected underfloor components vulnerable to accidental damage.

Test the flooring all through your camper by putting your weight on every square foot and bouncing gently at the knee. Make a rough plan of the camper, and note down any soft-feeling areas, because it is better to deal with all the problem areas in a single project than to be lifting floor coverings piecemeal. Unless your floor needs to be repaired due to a leak, the most likely places to find particleboard disintegration are around the 12-volt water pump and the tank it feeds from, in the bathroom and in the galley.

Remove the floor covering from the camper floor areas you have mapped out as in need of repair. Carpet is often quite easy to lift after a flood because the glue will have been broken down by the moisture. Pick at a corner until it lifts, then slip a wide pry bar underneath. Wriggle the pry bar in a broad side-to-side motion as you pull on the loose part with a constant pressure, and you should be able to roll the carpet away from the project site. Sheet linoleum and floor tiles are unlikely to come away in a reusable state.

Take a permanent marker pen and scribe a line around the outside of each area of soft floor on your map. A good way to double-check you have marked every area that needs attention is to look for an uneven surface, because separated particleboard usually swells. Once you have all the locations marked out, use a stud locator to find the joists that support the floor in that area. Mark the line of each underfloor support you find until you have drawn a square box around every damaged area, then mark another box one inch outside the first one. The lines forming this second box will be where you cut.

Inspect the cut line and one inch either side of it, looking for nails, screws and anything else metal that has been driven in. Every foreign item must be removed before cutting because metal objects can be flicked into the air by a saw blade and become very dangerous. Even if they remain anchored in place, they will probably ruin your cutting blade.

Use an electric drill with a half-inch wood bit to make a hole in a piece of sound floor inside the cutting line, where there is no underfloor support. Use the hole to measure the thickness of the floor where the particleboard is not swollen, then set your cutting tool to this depth. Follow the instructions supplied with your power tool to adjust a circular saw's blade shroud, a jigsaw's head depth or a reciprocating saw's blade guard.

Use your cutting tool to separate the damaged area from the rest of the floor. Ensure your blade follows the lines of your outer box exactly, because straight lines and square right-angles make the replacement panel much easier to fit in. Once all four sides of a box have been cut, put a hook made from a bent metal coat-hanger into the half-inch hole you drilled and lift out the panel. If you see that the insulation beneath the damaged area of floor has gotten wet and is no longer springy, or has remained damp and is likely to mold, replace the damaged insulation.

Double-check your measurement of the particleboard's depth, because your replacement material must be precisely the same thickness. Buy marine grade plywood to use as the replacement panel. Using a better grade of material will mean that, if you have another leak in the future, less damage will be done to the floor. Transfer the size of your hole to the marine plywood and cut out a replacement panel, being careful again to cut straight lines and sharp right-angle corners.

Put your new marine plywood panel in the hole. It will seat neatly on the one-inch lip of underfloor support beam left by your cut, and there should be no play once it is seated. Go around the outside edge and make a mark every six inches, half an inch in from the join between the new panel and the old surrounding floor. Countersink and then pilot drill every mark, then drive in exterior-grade deck screws. Either replace your carpet when it is thoroughly dried out, or buy new floor covering and install it in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

Screw a carpet threshold bar into place to bridge the join (if one must be made) between the new floor covering and the original.

Warning

  • close Proper protective eyewear and clothing is essential when using power cutting tools.

Items you will need

About the Author

John Cagney Nash began composing press releases and event reviews for British nightclubs in 1982. His material was first published in the "Eastern Daily Press." Nash's work focuses on American life, travel and the music industry. In 1998 he earned an OxBridge doctorate in philosophy and immediately emigrated to America.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera rv image by Greg Pickens from Fotolia.com