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New floor in Safari Sahara

by forum member bigskytct

I was looking for someone in the Maryland area to redo the floors in my Safari Sahara (1997 model 3506 class A Diesel Pusher). This turned out to be more of an ordeal than I anticipated. It was also a learning experience – so I though I would share it with you all.

Flooring dealers and installers in this area were more than happy to do the job and quote me a low price. None of them had ever done an RV but they were sure it would not be a problem. They had not taken out an RV toilet, were not sure about the seals, were not sure about moisture issues which might arise, sealing the edges, the bathroom, or specific issues of floating click flooring in an RV - but they were sure they could do it. I was not convinced. RV dealers were not overly excited about doing it either, had a significant backlog – and I had no confidence in the quality of the outcome or that they would work with me to achieve my desired result. Preliminary cost estimates were also very expensive.

I did a little research and found out enough about “doing RV flooring right” to know that it was not a task to be taken lightly. We wanted wood (to match our cabinets up front, (and on driver pedestal, entry stairs), slate tile “look” click flooring in the kitchen and bath, and plush carpet in the bedroom (rear) and in the slide area (under the sofa/bed).

Doing RV flooring right means:
  • Floating the floor (maintains the warranties and prevents warping due to expansion)
  • Insure you start with a quality material that is moisture resistant
  • Special care to insure that no RV systems will be damaged (wiring, plumbing, tanks, etc.)
  • Care to insure that all maintenance areas are still accessible
  • Taking out all captains chairs, furniture & slide-out couch, etc.
  • Excellent transitions from wood to tile to carpet
  • Double underlayment (reduces noise transmission, stops click of shoes, helps with insulation). Use Silent Step – I wasn’t sure it was worth the price, but I am very glad I did. Its density will avoid the double underlayment edge breaking issue
    a.Noise was better than when we had carpet
    b.No obnoxious noise/clicking of shoes as on most laminate floors
  • Build-up for toilet - new toilet seal
  • Matching trim to cabinetry
  • ¼ round around all flooring edges to allow for expansion and contraction. Trim all edges with matching quarter round
  • Seal the flooring edges with silicone – expands yet seals laminate for moisture
  • Special care in the bathrooms
    - Seal every edge that may come in contact with water
    - Special attention around the shower/path where water is sure to pool
    - Build new boxes over plumbing accesses
  • Do the entry steps in the same material (sides, risers, and slide cover)
  • Use commercial rubber material on the steps.
  • Work around the steering and pedals
  • Get under the slide-out area
  • Some of the flooring ran under the walls (bathroom) – flush cut to fit
  • Trim around the shower
  • Commercial edging materials and finishing (corners, steps, edges, trim, etc.)
  • Trim-in the washer/dryer and other special features under cabinets
  • Align transitions with pocket doors
  • Insure the patterns (tile) line up with features
  • Insure tat the flooring center line runs down the middle of the coach and aligns with coach features and hallways.
  • Carpet slide-out bay and roll-over leading edge of slideout – trim with commercial edging

We ended up communicating with a person in Indiana who had his flooring done by an Amish gentleman named Merle Smith in Napanee Indiana. Merle works at the Newmar RV factory doing their flooring and is very experienced with RV’s. He has a friend who works with him named Paul Borkholder who did the laminate flooring. They are a great pair. These are the gentlemen we picked to do our flooring when we were on the way back from the west. We couldn’t be happier about it. Not only did they do exceptional work, and were very flexible about what we wanted (we did not skimp on quality – or work). They did it graciously, and were a pleasure to work with.

We arrived on a Wednesday night – the goal being to give them 3 days to work. To be clear: this was a partnership – I helped them by running for parts and the occasional tool. And they gave me exceptional work at a good price. I paid about $900 for materials (picked the best I could get). And paid Merle and Paul about $1500 for their labor (about 75 labor hours of hard work over 3 days). They do not work on Sundays. I could not be happier with the work or the experience. As expected, during the install we ran into several RV specific issues. I was very happy to have people working on my unit who understood the implications of how the unit would be used, what it would be subject to, and how to do it properly.

While in Napanee Indiana we ran errands for Merle and Paul. We also spent about half of the time exploring the area. Tthey cannot make quick trips to Lowes, Menards, Ace, and the Elkhart Flooring Mart – carpet remnant headquarters. I did it for them. We had Towed my wifes mini-van on a Demco SS car dolly. The van came in very handy. The only thing I had to have delivered was the carpet which was a 15’ by 15’ remnant. I had it delivered the morning after I bought it.

We learned that every coach has unique challenges and the key to a successful installation is to be flexible. Don’t adhere to tightly to your ideals, because it is likely there will be two or three which become excessively difficult and for which there is a much better solution.

An added benefit that I had not anticipated:
We had heard of Napanee Indiana and the Amish community there over the years and were looking forward to experiencing it first hand. The Amish experience in Nappanee for the tourists is just that – for the tourists. It is fun to see how they lived in the past but we found most of the Amish stores and restaurants staffed by regular people from the areas and in many cases there was nothing exceptional about it. I did not realize that working with Merle and Paul would give me a much better insight to current Amish living – than I ever could have received from tours. Meeting their families, running errands for them, our kids playing together, and seeing first hand how they lived while watching them interact with there families – was a benefit that I enjoyed more than the “amish experience” offered elsewhere. And it was real. Merle and Pauls familys (wifes and children) were wonderful, warm and gracious.

RV & supply stores we visited:

  • RV Surplus and Salvage – Elkhart – broad collection of new and used parts & furniture
  • RV New Surplus – Elkhart – broad collection of new surplus
  • Goshen Floor Mart – wide collection of overstock carpet, tile & click flooring at discount prices
  • Nappanee ACE hardware – great selection of screws (stainless, brass, specialty), switches, Senco nails, Sawzall blades, dusters, etc.
  • Lowes Elkhart – bought the Pergo flooring here – it was tough to find the perfect match elsewhere and we needed all the matching trim pieces and quarter round.
  • Menards Goshen – the local Lowes – had some products that Lowes did not – Aluminum and brass trim pieces, blue memory foam underlayment/moisture barrier

Materials Needed

  • Pergo with underlayment attached – selected Pergo Durant Beech - Embossed
  • Flooring transition pieces & trim pieces (bull-nose, transition, etc.)
  • Slate tile look – with underlayment attached - click flooring (not sure of brand) – Merle/Paul already had it
  • Dupont Stainmaster remnant – Ultra Plush – from Goshen Floor Mart
  • Premium Carpet Pad
  • 3M Automotive Trim Adhesive spray – used to adhere carpet to engine box (under bed)
  • 3M automotive underseal - for respraying under steps after removing sensors, lights, etc.
  • PL Construction Adhesive (for non floated areas) – bathroom shower surround, steps, trim, etc.
  • Sound Solution – underlayment – blue, dense foam pad – excellent noise reduction
  • GE Silicone II sealant - sealed all edges
  • Stainless screws and
  • Brass 3/8” tile edging & trim pieces for shower edge (to trim flooring material edges over plumbing covers)
  • Commercial vinyl flooring L edging – to edge top steps, etc.
  • RV Toilet seal
  • Paper towels
  • Clear drop cloth (to seal off work areas)
  • Non-slip pads for the furniture so it did not slip after the laminate installation
  • A 2x4 to frame the plumbing covers
  • White silicone caulk

Equipment I brought with me (that I was glad I did)

  • Bosch 18V drill driver with batteries and charger – an extra for the guys to use
  • Bosch Impactor 10v lithium/ion that I bought on sale on the way (very useful)
  • Assortment of screws (stainless, brass, self-tapping, drywall, etc.)
  • Caulk and adhesives (GE silicone)
  • Permatex clear RTV silicone adhesive (for my sealing on the outside)
  • 3M marine adhesive (seal bolts, etc on outside)
  • Flashlights (head lamps)
  • Lots of hand tools for doing little fix-ups during the process

Equipment I wish I had brought that would have saved them substantial time

Fein Multimaster – saw system. I had ordered it before I left (probably wouldn’t have brought it anyway). After using it – it would have been incredibly helpful for them (removing glued down wood flooring, undercutting walls, etc.) though they did excellent work without it

Using Merle and Paul's Services

If you intend to use Merle and Paul - It would be good to arrive at Merles with a full load of propane and/or Diesel so you can run your generator and refrigerator for the three days it will take – for lights, tools, etc. They only have a generator to power their tools and they will need the lights, etc. in your unit and AC availability in the RV is helpful. Also empty your black tank because the toilet will be out for a while.

We were happy with the process. It is a great way to learn a lot about your motorhome/RV and clean it out in the process. As an example, Merle and Paul told us that our Safari Sahara was very well built, they were impressed with the 2” of foam insulation between the flooring and subflooring. They were also impressed with the quality of materials used and how well put together the Safari Sahara was. It was good to hear.

They showed me things about the motorhome that I did not know and I fixed some things and did preventive maintenance on others while they worked. They discovered and corrected a few other issues along the way simply as a matter of course. Because Newmar has cut back on some hours – it has given them increased flexibility for these side jobs. Merle Miller can be reached at 574-773-7320 x3. This is a party line that Merle shares. Leave him a message and he will get back with you. Communications is a little difficult and pictures, etc. will need to be sent with traditional mail (not email). We did not have a lot of communications before we arrived – just show up a day early to pick out materials, and we will handle the rest. It all came together well though.

A side note on Amish Furniture for RV’s

Carlyle Lehman of Focal Wood Products is another Amish gentleman who makes beautifully crafted yet contemporary furniture and does refitting of motorhomes/RV’s. He is only a few block’s around the corner from Merle and definitely work a visit. We bought a great little cherry table while we were there.

Furniture in Nappanee

Great Amish furniture can be seen at Liz’s in downtown Nappanee, many of the sets there were 50% off the Amish makers regular list prices. So save space to bring some furniture home. P.S. if you need a table for 20 this is the place.

If you use Merle & Paul tell them we said hello.