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Ask Dave: Can I install a roof ladder on my RV? Where and how?

Dear Dave,
Our RV didn’t come with a factory-installed roof ladder. I’d like to install one to be able to see and clean off the tops of the slideouts before closing them, and also to clean the roof. Heartland says they didn’t provide a ladder as the roof isn’t walkable. However, two men weighing about 200 lbs. each were on the roof at the same time installing a SoftStart on one of the A/C units, and it was very sturdy. How can I tell where to drill in the rear wall to hit at least a couple of solid anchor points? Heartland doesn’t have (or won’t provide) a build sheet showing the wall construction and layout. —Mike, 2021 Heartland Milestone M-1 28RL 5th wheel

Dear Mike,
Most RV manufacturers don’t recommend anyone getting on top of the rig mostly for liability reasons as well as structural issues around any opening such as vents, skylights, and air conditioners. Rigs with rubber roof membranes have less structural integrity than those with fiberglass and if the insulation is loose fill, even less. I have noticed more rigs are showing up without ladders on the back. I would imagine it’s not only a liability issue but also cost.

Since you saw two 200-lb. guys walking on the top of your rig, it probably has the structural integrity to get up there and walk around if you stay clear of the weak areas such as anything that cut an opening as stated before. When we work on anything that looks to be weak, I’ll bring up a 2’-wide piece of 3/4” plywood that is 8’ long to span the weight.

The risks of installing a ladder on the back of your RV

Let’s look at the back of your rig. Another reason the manufacturer might not put a ladder on the back is that the back window typically is an emergency escape or egress window. Putting a ladder back there would block the ability to get the window out. In your case, find which window has the red handle or tape of the lower two and you might be able to put a ladder over the other side.

As you found out, most RV manufacturers do not have specific diagrams of where the framework is located. You will need to get creative to find what is sandwiched inside that wall. I would recommend getting a ladder that goes up over the back wall and attaches to the roof, like this one pictured.

This type of RV roof ladder puts most of the weight pushing down on the top of the roof rather than pulling from the back wall. The bottom is secured to the back wall and also distributes the weight against the wall rather than needing framework to secure a downward pull.

I have installed ladders on units that had very little structure at the base and used a metal plate inside spanned across the width of the ladder to help sandwich it. Sometimes it was hidden by the bed pedestal or dresser, other times I covered it with a piece of vinyl or fabric that matched the wallpaper.

Locating the framework for installation

One trick I have discovered for finding where the framework is in sidewalls is getting up early on cool weather days. You can see condensation on the sidewall where there is framework. Take a picture and it will help identify solid points.

Another option: Telescoping ladder

Another option would be to purchase a telescoping ladder like the one I used at the Winnebago Rally this year to retrofit a Winegard Traveler Satellite Dish for Dish Network. This ladder retracts down to about 30” to fit in most storage compartments and extends to 10’ – 18’ so you can get to just about any RV roof.

What I liked about this ladder is I could place it where I needed it such as on the side to get up to the Traveler, in my situation, or on the side like this to clean off the slide room. If you have a ladder on the back side you will always need to get on the roof to inspect or maintain things that might not need to be accessed there.

(Read Tony Barthel’s review of his favorite telescoping ladder.)


 You might also enjoy this from Dave 

How do I clean my RV’s slideout top without getting on the roof?

Dear Dave,
How do I clean the top of the slideout without getting on the roof? —Deborah, 2022 Sunseeker

Read Dave’s response


Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

Read more from Dave here

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Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

These telescoping ladders are cool but the two I’ve seen are also very heavy. The last thing I need is MORE weight in my truck.

Dave
1 month ago

Buy a telescoping ladder. No drilling, no leaks, no mold.
I have used one for the past several years and don’t ever use the back ladder.

Snayte
1 month ago

One trick that will sometimes work to see where the framing is. Go out on a cool humid morning and look at where the moisture is or rather isn’t. That is where the framing is.