Our life has been turned upside down. It was just under two weeks ago that we filmed a video update about how this winter in Vermont in our RV is going. Everything was great - the RV was doing well and we were enjoying skiing.
Then everything changed.
Mold in the Ceiling
Just 3 days after filming that video, we discovered a problem. A big problem.
I was sitting on the bed, and out of the corner of my eye, saw a drop of water fall from one of the light fittings in the ceiling above the bed. I watched carefully, and a few minutes later, another drop fell. Uh oh.
We removed the glass lens from the front of the light and found a small pool of water, less than a teaspoon, had accumulated on top of the lens. Not a good sign.
To investigate further, we removed the plastic shroud around the ceiling vent above the bed, allowing us to see into the ceiling cavity. I will never forget what I saw.
In every direction, the plywood that forms the top part of the roof was glistening with moisture. Worse, there was mold, black mold, everywhere.
Diana and I just looked at each other in disbelief. How did this happen? What do we do? We felt physically sick with shock.
We opened up the shroud on the ceiling vent in the bathroom at the other end of the trailer - more moisture, mold and even ice on the plywood. Looking behind the ceiling speaker in the center of the trailer was a similar story - more wet plywood.
Not knowing what else to do, we called our RV manufacturer, Outdoors RV and were immediately connected to their Service Manager. We explained the situation and what we had found, and after emailing him some photos he confirmed our fears - our roof is ruined and needs replacing.
Knowing the roof is damp and moldy, our first question was: how?! Did we have a leak?!
The staff at Outdoors RV have decades of experience in the RV industry, and they say that this doesn't look like a leak. Apparently a leak will usually manifest more locally - the water dripping down onto the ceiling panels, causing visible discoloration and dampness. We've had no such issues, and the roof damage seems to span the entire length of the trailer.
Based on the photos we sent to Outdoors RV, the prevailing theory at the moment is that the root cause is moisture from the RV living areas entering the ceiling cavity and not being able to escape. Mold like this doesn't just form overnight - they think this could have started months ago, maybe even a year or more.
If you've been following our blog or YouTube channel for any length of time, you'll know we've gone above and beyond this winter to control humidity in our RV. We've had a 35-pint residential dehumidifier running almost 24/7, keeping the humidity as low as possible, down to around 10% at times. In fact, it's been so dry in the RV that Diana and I have had to be diligent about staying hydrated.
And before this winter, we've always been diligent about keeping the RV well ventilated - upgrading to a MaxxFan, always using the extractor fans during and after cooking and showering, keeping windows open, and even installing a door latch to keep the door open when it's windy outside.
We checked all the sealant on the roof as part of our regular maintenance in August before our big coast-to-coast drive, and then again in November when we arrived in Vermont - no signs of issues. To be doubly sure, we checked again last week - after clearing the snow! No damage that we could see, and the mushroom vent for the ceiling cavity appears to be undamaged.
So really, we're a little confused right now as to what the root cause is. Although it doesn't appear to be a leak, we won't know for sure until the RV roof is removed during the repair work. Whatever the cause is, we'll be sure to share - whether it has been caused by something we did (e.g. installing the solar panels) or not.
Sharing the News
Last Thursday, when we sent out our weekly email newsletter, that's where we were up to. It had been just 2 days since we discovered the mold in the ceiling, and we were in shock.
We debated how much to share, and when to share. It felt so raw, and sharing the news would make us feel very vulnerable. Worse, last week's video was all about how great things were going in winter - and they had been when we filmed it, just 5 days earlier!
But this is an important chapter in our story. We love sharing the highlights of our adventures, but we also feel strongly about being open and honest when things go wrong as well. So we nervously sent out our newsletter last week, and explained the situation.
The response was overwhelming!
Within minutes, a flood of emails started coming in. We had dozens and dozens of people contacting us with kind words of encouragement and positivity - some even offering accommodation and financial support!
We have tried to respond to as many of those emails as possible, but in case we didn't manage to respond to yours, please know that we read every single one and are incredibly appreciative of the support and encouragement you gave us. Thank you!
Leaving the RV
Our attitude in situations like this is to stay calm and make a plan. It can feel overwhelming, but we like to break things down and focus on things one step at a time.
And our next step was to get out of the RV.
The mold in the ceiling was black, and while toxic black mold is one of the most dangerous species, we don't know at this stage whether that's what's in our ceiling - other types of mold can be black too. Regardless though, living and sleeping around mold, especially in a small enclosed space like our RV, is not healthy. We had to leave.
We didn't know was going to happen, but we knew we needed some space to breathe - literally! We have an emergency fund set aside precisely for situations like this.
In ordinary times, we have friends who would have welcomed us to stay with them. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there was some pretty tight restrictions around travel at the moment - if we leave Vermont, even for the day, we would have to quarantine for 14 days when we re-enter the state. Not ideal when we have ski passes for Vermont ski resorts, and are trying to shop for land in the state!
We decided to find somewhere in Vermont to stay for a month, and spent all day last Wednesday looking at our options. There were very few properties available on Airbnb, VRBO, etc - most were rented out at weekends, preventing long-term bookings, and the few that were available were pricey and didn't look all that good. We even tried Craigslist, but had a woefully low hit rate on genuine properties - most of the responses we received were obviously scams.
In the end, we checked into a hotel. It's nothing fancy, but it's clean and spacious - exactly what we need. Better yet, it has a full kitchen complete with a dishwasher and residential fridge / freezer - perfect considering we had just done a HUGE Costco shop the day before we discovered the mold...
We're leaving the RV where it is at the RV park. It's safe and secure, and having full hookups means we can leave the heating turned down to 45°F and the dehumidifier running 24/7. Moving the RV now would be a pain given the skirting and 8" of snow surrounding it, so this is one less thing to deal with! We have cameras in and around the RV, and our home automation system is still running so we can keep an eye on things remotely.
It took us 3 trips to move most of our stuff out of the RV and into the hotel - we had to explain the situation to the hotel staff who I'm pretty sure thought we were crazy when they saw us wheeling in cart loads of possessions! Who else checks into a hotel with an Instant Pot?!
Throughout the situation, we've been in close contact with Outdoors RV - they've been fantastic, and with their help, we've figured out a plan.
Replacing an RV roof is a big deal, and finding a local, reputable RV repair shop to do the work as quickly as possible could be very hard - especially since we don't know the area.
Outdoors RV are keen to understand what caused this issue, and there's nobody we'd trust more than them to do a great job. So, we've decided to take our trailer to the Outdoors RV factory.
There's just one snag. The factory is in La Grande, OR - 2,700 miles away from us! I guess it's time for another road trip!
Well, not quite yet. We're checked into this hotel for almost a month, and we're going to stick with that. Waiting a month or so makes things a little easier.
First, the weather will only improve as time passes. In a month, it should be easier to remove the skirting and free our trailer and hopefully road conditions will be a little better. Plus, we don't want to be arriving back in Vermont in snow - I have no intention of re-installing the skirting!
Second, we want to make the most of our ski passes. The passes were expensive, and we're in the peak of the season right now - we want to get our money's worth and have some fun skiing!
There's nothing else we can do with the RV for the next 3 weeks, so instead we're just focusing on the positives. We're safe and healthy, the RV is secure, and our hotel room is about 4 times the size of our RV! We're going to be enjoying long, hot showers and luxuries like a dishwasher!
We don't have all the answers. We still have a lot of moving parts, questions and decisions to make.
This is another adventure and as always, we'll be sure to share it with you - the highs and the lows. Fingers crossed we can get everything fixed and get back to normal in a month or two!