How to paint a skoolie roof…it’s an important thing to get right.
Building inside a skoolie is like playing three-dimensional tetris, and once things are built in…there’s no going back. You do not want water leaking into your roof, into your ceiling, and down your walls. You would have to demo a lot of your build just to get to the damage. No bueno.
So yes, painting the roof of your skoolie is a crucially important step! Painting with silicone paint creates a water-tight “cap” completely sealing off your roof, preventing water from leaking in through all the rivets and seams up there. The way we sealed the roof and the way we sealed the windows has provided us with a huge peace of mind.
So let’s dive in!
Tools & Materials Required for Painting & Sealing a Skoolie Roof:
- A pair of 6-in-1 Painter’s Tools – you will use this tool a million times during your conversion!!
- A drill wire brush attachment
- A pressure washer (or some serious muscle!)
- A degreaser (we used Simple Green)
- 100% silicone caulking (buy this in bulk because you will use it over and over in your conversion)
- Masking tape (also a smart idea to buy in bulk)
- A ladder
- Large and small paint rollers with a tray
- 2 gallons of Henry’s Tropicool (WELL worth the investment, believe us!)
Full disclosure guys, some of these are affiliate links, so we get a commission if you buy something from the list. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Not much, but something. This is really important: we only link to tools and materials we actually used and highly recommend. We do these guides completely for free, so these links are the only way we get a little something back (except for the satisfaction of knowing we helped you build your dream skoolie, of course!)
Don’t have Amazon Prime yet? Here’s a link for 30 days free.
Step 1 – Remove the old caulking
- Use the painter’s tool to remove as much of the old caulking sealant as possible.
- You’ll see in the video that we also used a caulk-remover power tool, but eventually just shifted to using two of the painter’s tools because it worked a lot better.
- Use the wire brush attachment to scrap away the stubborn bits of caulking. This also helps to get wear the seams down to a smooth, clean surface.
Step 2 – Pressure wash
- Use a pressure washer to clean the roof completely. If you don’t have a pressure washer, go to town with a degreaser and a washcloth.
- You may think it dumb that we removed the caulking before the pressure wash. Water is going right into the bus, guys!! Yes, true. BUT, the inside ceiling panels had already been removed from the bus, and inside was basically still an empty shell with a subfloor (which we protected) and nothing more. It was more important that every square inch of the roof be completely cleaned, ESPECIALLY the areas that were going to be re-caulked. If we power-washed, then removed the old caulking, then those seams would be dirty still and would require some serious time cleaning by hand. And actually, not a lot of water came into the bus when we pressure washed the roof. I (Cora) stayed inside while Jose washed, and we only had a little seep through the roof vent. The seams actually stayed very dry!
Step 3 – Prep and re-seal the seams
- Use Prep-All along the seams to degrease and completely prep each area that is going to be re-sealed with 100% silicone
- Re-seal every single seam (ANYWHERE where there is a joint between metal pieces) with a solid bead of 100% silicone
- A WORD TO THE WISE. If you plan to paint your roof with something other than 100% silicone paint (like Henry’s Tropicool), do NOT caulk with 100% silicone! Instead use a paintable silicone or a different caulking of your choosing). The reason is that NOTHING sticks to 100% silicone except silicone. If you use 100% silicone to seal the seams and then attempt to paint with a latex, water, or oil-based paint…..it will NEVER stick to that 100% silicone caulking you used.
- Allow the silicone to completely cure before proceeding (check the time given on the tube).
Step 4 – Tape off the roof
- Decide how far down the roof paint is going to go, and then tape off that barrier. The tape will allow the boundary between roof paint and your exterior paint to form a CLEAN line.
- You’ll notice that we painted the roof before priming and painting the rest of the bus. That was dumb. Don’t do that. Prime and paint your bus, and THEN paint the roof. It’s just easier. Trying to protect the roof from overspray during priming was a paint in the a$$. Also, you know how we mentioned NOTHING sticks to silicone but silicone itself? This includes tape. Tape won’t stick to silicone. So this meant that when we were painting the bus exterior and had to paint right next to the silicone roof paint….we couldn’t use tape to make painting a straight line easy. We had to very carefully hand paint along the barrier with the roof paint. It was a time consuming pain-in-the-butt.
Step 5 – Paint!
- Position the bus in a shaded area if possible. Painting with this stuff in full sun would be like painting with marshmallow goo.
- You’ll see that we painted the roof in three stages: side, side, top.
- Have one person on the roof and one person on a ladder next to the bus. Have a large roller and a small roller ready to go. Have the tray and Tropicool up on top of the bus.
- You’ll notice in the video that we started off with a paintbrush on the seams. We quickly found that using the small roller worked much better.
- Poor a small amount of Tropicool into the tray, then quickly re-cap the can. Coordinate together to paint the section you are working on, using the big roller for large areas and the little roller for the seams. Don’t be skimpy with the paint. Lay it on nice and thick. Make sure the paint form a complete seal along every seam and over every single rivet. When you have that section finished, move down the bus together and complete another section. If you’re in the shade, it won’t dry as quickly and you’ll be able to smooth out the overlap between each section. Each time you need more Tropicool, poor a little into the tray.
- Repeat this process on the other side of the bus.
- One person paint the very top of the bus starting from back to front.
- Allow the paint to cure completely, then do a second coat. We were able to do two full coats with 1.5 cans of Tropicool, so we did NOT need to splurge for the 5-gallon bucket.
Is Henry’s Tropicool really worth it?
YES. No one is paying us to say this. Really, honestly, we are SO grateful we used this stuff. Here’s why:
- The day after completing the second coat we IMMEDIATELY noticed a difference in temperature inside the bus. You put one hand on the metal that was painted over and the metal still exposed to the sun and the temperature difference was incredible. We are traveling to mostly hot areas, so this means a lot to us. You may be thinking….yep…that’s ’cause the paint is white. Why not just use a cheaper white paint then? Here’s why..
- It’s not just about temperature control. It’s also about leak control. The 100% silicone causes a consistent seal across every nook and cranny and rivet in your roof. We have been in probably 30 torrential rain storms (we were in Florida when Dorian passed by). TORRENTIAL rain. We haven’t had a single leak. Not from the roof. Not from the windows (we also spent a lot of energy sealing them up RIGHT).
For us, protecting the build from mold and water damage was WELL worth the $120 for two cans of Tropicool!
Next up, priming the exterior! (As we said before, PLEASE do this before painting the roof.)
<< Back to the Skoolie Conversion Ultimate Guide Homepage
So you’re building a skoolie, huh?
We feel your pain, my friend! We also know how good it feels to finally make a dream reality.
We spent a crap ton of time figuring out how to do this and that. We also could have saved a few bucks along the way. We hope our tutorials help save you some time and money!
Our TOP 5 Bus Conversion Tools & Materials:
- 5-in-1 Painters Tool (you will use this a MILLION times)
- Impact Driver & Drill Combo Kit (there won’t be a day you won’t use this)
- 100% Silicone (buy in bulk to save a LOT of money!)
- Angle Grinder (get used to using this ALL the time!)
- Table Saw (it will be nearly impossible to complete your conversion without this. It’s WORTH the investment!)