Adding interior wall panels for your recreational vehicle (RV) or trailer can be an overwhelming task with so many options to choose from. Most RVs and trailers traditionally used luan plywood panels which were inexpensive but lacked durability. Azdel composite panels have gained popularity over the last decade as a lightweight, moisture-resistant alternative promising increased strength and easier maintenance. But are they worth it?
In short, Azdel panels can be worth the investment for RVs and trailers depending on your needs and budget. While more expensive upfront than traditional materials, they offer unbeatable waterproof properties, prevent mold/mildew growth, insulate better, stand up to wear and tear, and never rot or delaminate – potentially saving thousands in repairs down the road. As full-time or extreme weather RVers, the benefits likely justify the initial splurge on Azdel.
In this guide, you will explore all factors to consider regarding the value and benefits of Azdel over other common RV interior wall choices. Weighing upfront costs against expected durability and ease of repair, we’ll cover material qualities, insulation, moisture protection, wear and tear resistance, installation challenges, maintenance, warranties, and total cost of ownership estimations. To decide if paying extra for Azdel panels makes financial sense for your next RV, trailer, or fiberglass camper build – read on!
What Are Azdel Panels?
For those unfamiliar, Azdel panels are a proprietary thermoplastic composite wall sheeting made by combining polypropylene plastic resins with long-strand fiberglass reinforcements. Manufactured through a pultrusion process melting base materials and pulling them through shaping dies under tension, sheets harden into a durable unified structure upon cooling.
First developed in the 1980s by Azdel Inc. through partnerships with Georgia Tech research, panels were conceived to meet emerging industrial market needs for lightweight plastic composites combining strength, customization, and corrosion proofing in ways fiberglass alone couldn’t achieve.
Adoption spread into transportation sectors like trucking and RVs – leveraging robust material properties in vertical applications and seeing significant vibrations, impacts, and moisture exposure over decades of use. Diverse fabrication abilities enabled the creation of not just flat panels but molded three-dimensional shapes like automotive body panels and boat hull liners.
Why Should You Choose Azdel Panels for Your RV or Trailer?
When it comes to choosing the best interior wall covering for your RV or trailer, there are a lot of factors to consider. Here are the reasons that make Azdel panels the best option for your next RV build:
1. Lightweight Durable Alternative to Wood/Aluminum
Azdel panels offer a lightweight and resilient substrate option well-suited to the unique demands of life on the road without the pitfalls of more traditional wall choices:
Avoiding Delamination Issues with Luan Plywood
Luan plywood panels have been popular RV wall material for decades given the low cost and easy application. However, constant vibration coupled with moisture exposure from leaks and condensation frequently allows exterior glue layers holding plies together to fail – resulting in interior delamination. This leads to surface bubbles under wallpaper/paneling which worsen over time. An estimated 50% of RVs over 5 years old exhibit some interior delamination, necessitating expensive wall replacement.
Preventing Corrosion with Aluminum
Aluminum sheeting resists delamination and withstands moisture better than wood products, but has its own Achilles heel – corrosion. After 5-7 years, exterior aluminum skins often develop cracks, pop rivets fail, and wall framing beneath corrodes. Unchecked, heavy oxidation spread can lead to complete structural deterioration.
Resilient Composite Construction
Made from thermoplastic resin reinforced by fiberglass strands, Azdel panels are impervious to moisture, preventing delamination or corrosion entirely. They maintain their integrity through extreme temperature fluctuations (-40°F to 275°F) plus repeated freezing and thawing. Unaffected by insects, mold, or mildew, Azdel won’t feed microbial growth. These qualities lend Azdel to both RV interiors and exteriors in all climates.
With a similar weight to luan plywood (0.3 to 0.8 lbs/square foot depending on panel thickness) but greater strength, Azdel panels increase structural integrity without overloading RV frameworks. Let’s analyze durability and technical performance further.
2. Enhanced Strength & Impact Resistance
Key stats to consider from manufacturer testing:
- 5 x stronger than typical wood/aluminum substrates
- 30 times tougher than ABS plastics
- Ability to flex over 1 million times without failure
- Withstands 1800 psi before exhibiting damage
- 16 times more impact resistant than fiberglass
These remarkable material properties stem from long fiber reinforcement running the length of panels bonded with thermoplastic resin into a tight matrix. Load-sharing between thousands of fibers gives Azdel high burst strength and stiffness-to-weight ratio unmatched by solid plastics.
The fiber-reinforced construction acts like a guardrail for cracks – limiting fracture progression and avoiding material separation under stress. Enabling Azdel panels to bounce back from impacts, flexing, or accidental drilled screw points without jeopardizing structural integrity.
For comparison, most RV exterior walls made from 1/8 inch thick aluminum can only withstand an estimated 400 psi before buckling and tearing. And interior luan plywood paneling fails under 0.5 psi sharp contacts like swinging cabinet doors.
Upgrading to Azdel Superlite panels measuring just 0.09 inches thick equates to over 4 times greater pressure endurance versus aluminum and 20 x versus Luan plywood. Conferring superb resilience against dents and punctures all RVs inevitably suffer in storage or transport.
3. Unmatched Moisture & Thermal Protection
A major attraction of Azdel over wood substrates comes from inherent waterproofing properties:
- Impervious to any water exposure
- Preventing leaks, condensation, or external humidity from penetrating walls
- Maintaining complete dimensional stability irrespective of environmental moisture levels
- Allowing easy wiping down and cleaning without moisture damage
Coupled with increased thermal resistance from 0.36 – 0.53 R-value across panel thickness options, Azdel delivers superior insulation for energy efficiency and condensation control.
Luan plywood soaks up any humidity like a sponge – promoting mold, warping, and delamination damage. Aluminum conducts heat transfer through walls readily, dropping surface temperatures. Most RVs require additional insulation batting and extensive ventilation systems to offset these shortcomings.
Meanwhile, Azdel panels effectively act as their own vapor barriers – blocking moisture at the source while restricting thermal transfer 37% better than the same thickness exterior-grade plywood sheeting. Allowing simplified insulation and HVAC requirements for improved cost and fuel efficiency.
4. Lightweight Walls = Better Gas Mileage
Given fuel economy weighs as a top factor for RV owners, Azdel can assist by enabling 10-15% lighter builds than traditional wall assemblies meeting equal structural soundness tests. Weighing motorhomes down less directly converts into better MPG, savings on gas costs through ownership, and expanded towing capacity margins.
These weight savings stem from two areas:
Requiring thinner Azdel sheets to achieve set strength targets permits lighter framing. 1⁄4 inch plywood walls need added structural members to provide equal burst resistance of 1⁄8 inch Azdel panels alone. Multiplied throughout entire motorhomes and trailers, such thickness reductions significantly cut weight.
With inherent insulation and vapor proofing, Azdel omits the need for moisture barriers, shielding, and rain protection – avoiding this secondary weight. More comfortably tolerating temperature extremes further limits separate insulation weights.
Calculating exact fuel economy improvements depends on the RV model and use case. Yet for larger Class A motorhomes where 1 extra pound can decrease mileage by 0.05%, a 1000 lb Azdel weight reduction nets a notable 8% MPG boost.
5. Easy Maintenance & Cleaning
Azdel’s slick thermoplastic surface makes cleaning simple by resisting dirt adhesion and enabling soap and water washing without absorption or swelling. Panels tolerate all typical RV interior cleaners, bleach products, and solvents like mineral spirits without damage. Actively inhibiting microbial growth further limits cleaning needs versus natural wood.
For superficial surface scratches or damage, Azdel can be refreshed with sanding and refinishing same as traditional RV wall boards. But fiber-reinforced composition prevents scratches from expanding into major cracks or holes through the full thickness. Greatly reducing long-term maintenance issues relative to moisture-exposed luan plywood prone to bubbling laminate and framing rust.
Kevlar-fiber-enhanced Azdel Pro panels further build on these benefits by improving scratch, scuff, and burnishing resistance across panel lifetimes even under heavy use.
Easy soap and water maintenance plus wear and tear durability lends Azdel to succeed even in tough marine environments.
6. Marine Grade Performance
Sharing composite technology roots with marine-grade fiberglass, Azdel demonstrates similar seaworthy strengths:
- Impervious bonding resins keep moisture fully out – preventing soggy walls and rot
- Eliminating cold spots that promote condensation, mold, or freezing rupture
- Withstanding constant vibration, flexing and jostling from road travel or sea motions without compromise
- Resilient to sustain years of sun exposure without UV damage or material degradation
These attributes enable Azdel applications from high-end boat hulls to docks, ensuring decades of reliable performance in wet environments.
So whether building out a new RV, refurbishing an existing camper, or protecting prized boat interiors – Azdel furnishes rugged dependability to handle marine life.
7. Installation & Build Considerations
While offering many upside benefits, Azdel panels have some fabrication considerations to weigh:
- Require carefully sealed installation to prevent water ingress behind sheets
- Limit conventional mechanical fastener usage without proper edge preparation
- Restrict on-site alterations like sawing or routing after assembly
- Emits low formaldehyde yet requires PPE when extensively cutting
- Costs 4-6x more upfront than Luan plywood sheeting
Installing Azdel panels takes added care and planning for success. Construction depends on bonding panels to wall structures using strong adhesives in conjunction with mechanical fasteners only along reinforced edges. Limiting areas available for anchor points or running added conduits/wiring.
Upgrading to aluminum or composite mounting frames adds cost yet enables easier sawing, improved shear strength and freely using screws anywhere.
So while boosting durability and performance long-term, Azdel does demand more skillful design and workmanship to leverage fully. Enough to deter some RV owner-builders from attempting DIY projects without experience.
8. Cost Considerations & ROI
Azdel commands premium pricing over traditional RV wall materials, begging the question – when does added durability recoup extra costs?
Comparing per square foot rates of common RV interior wall options:
- Luan Plywood – $2.50-$5
- Aluminum – $6-$8
- Azdel panels – $15-$30+
Plywood promotes issues yet stays inexpensive to swap. Aluminum withstands better but requires heavy maintenance down the road. Over 2x thicker 0.25 inch Azdel costs 6x more than 1/8 inch luan ply upfront.
Crunching the numbers further across say a 400 sq ft RV wall section:
- Luan plywood = $1000-$2000
- Aluminum skin = $2400-$3200
- Azdel panels = $6000-$12,000+
But replacement and repair costs tell the full story.
Assuming minor leaks or delamination after 4 years, plywood necessitates ~$2500 wall repairs. Aluminum corrosion after 6-7 years means ~$3500 of work. Azdel easily sustains 12+ years before major servicing – largely thanks to the waterproof design.
Amortizing purchase and mid-life refresh costs over ownership cycles:
- Plywood = $2250 per year
- Aluminum = $2000 per year
- Azdel = $1667 per year
Accounting for avoided maintenance labor too, Azdel economically matches aluminum around the 6-7 year mark if replacing plywood. And breaks even against plywood within 3 years – paying back higher initial investment faster than financing terms. Plus fuel savings from lighter builds sweeten Azdel TCO further for regular travelers.
So while still commanding premium pricing, Azdel presents solid ROI – paying for themselves in avoided repairs quicker the more extreme RVing adventures you tackle!
Based on all points covered, here are the key situations where paying extra for Azdel composite sheeting can be well worth it:
- Full-time RV living exposes walls to more extreme moisture and impacts
- Marine environments like boats or seaside fifth wheels seeing saltwater
- Multi-season use with high humidity plus freezing cold risks
- Trailer builds lacking controlled climate systems
- DIY / custom projects where insulation and weight matter
- Frequent RVers putting many miles annually on units
Conversely, Azdel yields lower value investing for:
- Ultra-budget builds where upfront cost proves prohibitive
- Weekender use or smaller travel trailers not living in units full-time
- New OEM models with multi-year structural warranties
Review the aspects above like climate, mileage, costs, and planned ownership duration. Gauge if added resilience balances added costs within intended application. And importantly – consult experienced builders able to properly handle Azdel panels for superior fabrication.
Overall Azdel materials bring immense physical benefits, yet remain premium investments best targeting extreme RVs. But for applications aligning with strengths, composite technology delivers lasting value and peace of mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do Azdel Panels Off-Gas Or Release Formaldehyde Over Time?
Azdel products utilize greener chemistry with no urea or phenol formaldehyde adhesives involved. During the fabrication of dust particles, some organic emissions like trace xylenes or formaldehyde can pose safety risks. Though once fully cured through manufacturer processes, panels stop outgassing completely – making ventilation unnecessary in living spaces. As a further benefit, the glues used won’t degrade or delaminate from sunlight or heat exposure as with wood products.
Q: Can I Extend Electrical Wiring Or Plumbing Through Azdel Panels?
Running services directly behind Azdel requires planning beforehand. Without wood’s natural fastener-holding ability, wires/pipes must pass through specifically molded channels or structural framing supporting dedicated anchor points. Trying to drill new holes on site risks cracking damage, though face-fastening switches/outlets directly against panels remains an option. Professional installers have techniques to integrate Azdel into conduit/service routing, so partnering with an expert builder for refits proves vital.
Q: How Easily Can Azdel Panels Be Cleaned Or Refinished Over Time?
Thermoplastic surface means Azdel wipes down easily without absorption using typical cleaners, or sands smooth for paint touch-ups. Mild solutions remove most dirt buildup, mold, or scuffs – simply avoid harsh solvents weakening glued edges when cleaning. Light 600 grit sanding opens bonding for new wallpaper or vinyl wraps restoring appearance after years of wear. Just take proper safety precautions when extensively sanding and avoid flooding sheet cores with liquid.
Q: Can Azdel Panels Be Used Outdoors As Well As Interior RV walls?
Yes, Azdel’s moisture and temperature resilience lends well to exterior uses from motorhome sidewalls to trailer roofs. Though UV radiation eventually degrades plastics, additional resins/sealants help prolong outdoor exposure. Support framing may need heavier-duty construction to match exterior structural codes. Ultimately fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) panels offer longer-lasting outdoor performance but with slightly more weight.
Q: Do I Need To Seal Azdel Edges To Prevent Delamination Or Water Damage?
Properly sealing perimeters remains a must when bonding into wall assemblies, using thick flexible adhesives allowing panel movement without failure. Without enough edge sealing during installation, leaks through fastener points or framing joints risk wicking sideways between panel skins – compromising adhesion over time. So correctly sizing initial joints and then resealing every few years protects structural integrity. Consider secondary mechanical tracks too for extra delamination insurance.
Q: Which RV Manufacturers Use Azdel Panels?
There are over 35 manufacturers that use Azdel panels. Here is the list –
- Braxton Creek
- DRV (Luxury Suites)
- East To West
- Forest River (Motorized)
- Kingdom Camping
- Lance Camper
- Leisure Travel Vans
- No Boundaries (NOBO)
- Phoenix USA
- Travel Lite
- Work and Play
- Xtreme Outdoors
Azdel composite panels deliver substantial benefits for RV owners seeking to enhance interior durability, longevity, and road performance through advanced materials. Yet quality comes at a price – costing far more upfront than common plywood or aluminum sheeting per square foot. Carefully weighing build needs against multi-year budgets helps determine suitable applications. Conservative or short-term owners may stick with cheaper plywood replacements.
While still a premium wall investment, fiber-reinforced Azdel makes for serious RV builds ready to log endless all-weather miles. Baking in added resilience where it counts – backing adventurous wanderlust spirit with technology to go distance safely and sustainably.
What interior wall solutions have you relied on for RV travels – and how has durability held up? Share thoughts or questions on RV construction alternatives below!