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Rialta Wood Floor Modification with Tile Entryway

October 6, 2012

NOTE:  If you aren’t putting wood floors in an RV you probably won’t care to read this article.  It’s quite tedious.  But you should definitely scroll down and check out the photos!  (DN, November 2012)

Easily the biggest project I’ve undertaken on my 2000 Winnebago Rialta has been replacing the carpet with wood floors, and putting tile in the entryway.  In preparation for the project I scoured the internet and found only modest descriptions of what would be involved with this project.  And while those were very helpful, I wanted to be able to give a more complete report after my job for future Rialta wood-floor modifiers.  So if you are a novice – as I am – and thinking of undertaking this project, you should find this information very helpful.  I’m not going to assume you are a contractor and able to figure it out.  Instead I’m going to assume you know nothing and need to be prepared for what you’re getting into.  And if you ARE a contractor you will be able to shoot my information full of big, nasty holes so feel free to add your thoughts, but go easy on me.  I’m admitting up front that I’m a rank amateur just trying to help some other folks out who undertake the same thing.  So here we go.  Rialta wood floor/tile mod for dummies!

The first job is to acquire the materials, and that means determining exactly what areas you’re going to replace.  The obvious “cut off” point is right behind the two captain’s chairs, where the floor sinks down about 6 inches.  My floor plan is the QD, so there are two more captain’s chairs behind the front two, and I determined to put the wood floors starting at that sunken spot all the way to the rear, with the exception of the entry way, which I’ll come to later.  I calculated that I could do the whole thing with about 40 square feet of flooring, and I dang near did.  But it caused me some trouble here and there because I had to piece things together with less-than-ideal cuts which didn’t include the proper tongue and groove.  So I’d recommend getting several feet more than you actually need so you have plenty to make the proper cuts, and of course allow for some inevitable mistakes along the way.  Like most folks, I decided to go with high quality product since I was doing such a small space, and was able to find two boxes (40 ft) of beautiful maple laminate which normally sold for about $8/foot as remnants at a flooring store.  My price?  $1/sf, or $40.

Next I had to decide what I was going to floor around and what I was going to cover with wood.  I decided to pull the two rear captain’s chairs, lay down the flooring, then screw the chairs back on through the wood.  I would recommend this strategy, but it should be noted that you’ll be using a lot of wood underneath those chairs which will basically never be seen.  You could possibly get away with just doing the walkway, but I think it would end up looking pretty tacky, and would not be as cohesive a project, making it easier to come apart.  Once I decided on flooring beneath the chairs I was able to completely pull the chairs out, including all of the hardware for the seat belts, leaving me one huge easy-to-floor area.  Sort of.

Next, I started ripping out carpet, which was pretty easy.  But then I discovered what is beneath that carpet, which was my next big puzzle.  The actual floor of the RV is metal with ridges in it about a half inch or so high.  Since you can’t carpet ridges, they put pieces of plywood down with glue in between the ridges to make a more-or-less level surface.  Over that they glued down the carpet pad, and then carpeted that.  So once the carpet is out, you have this big padded surface which I basically just scraped to death to get it out using screwdrivers and a pry bar.  This is a great job for kids if they wanna get in on the action!

The next part of the puzzle was to figure out how to lay the floor and leave a surface suitable for bolting those chairs back down.  This is a big deal because in case of a wreck you’re going to want them bolted down properly along with all the seat belts.  This means that wherever a bolt goes through what used to be carpet you’ll need a longer bolt, PLUS you’ll need to put a shim piece of wood between the wood flooring and the metal floor of the RV so that as you bolt the seat down it won’t push the flooring beneath the surface of those ridges.  For me, the solution was to use the plywood pieces that I had just pulled from the floor to create these shims, and once the flooring was laid I crawled under the RV and drilled up through the holes underneath, which was far easier than somehow marking exactly where the holes should be drilled from the top.  You’ll run into some issues with angles under there, and you should absolutely get your hands on some car ramps to get the RV up far enough to crawl under it.  I also ended up stripping some threads on the original holes due to drilling at an angle, which I solved by just putting nuts on the bolts and ignored the existing now-stripped threads.  But all in all, this strategy worked OK, and I was able to start laying the floor through this section.  I watched a few youtube videos to get the basic idea, and off I went.  Part of the puzzle at this point, however, was related to how I wanted the edge to come out so I could create a seam for the shower floor panel.  I decided I wanted a whole board tongue side out for this seam, and measured what I’d need as a spacer at the beginning of this section, working from the front to the middle.  I then ripped that piece, discarding the groove side, and using the tongue side, which allowed me to insert the first full board into a tongue and carry on with the tongue and groove process.  On the drivers side there was the issue of the wires, but it seems obvious to just pull those out of the way and floor beneath them, and then when you get to the sliding shower door it’s another puzzle, but I just made sure to get as far up in there as I could while the door still slides, and that ended up working fine.  Here’s a shot where I laid the boards out just to get a feel for how they were going to go together.  Once the project is really started of course you’ll do a whole length before beginning the next row.

Now we all know that there is more than one way to skin a cat.  And I imagine there’s good arguments for approaching this project from different ways, but whatever way you end up going, you want to allow for your biggest challenge, which is the removable panel that covers up the shower drain.  It is right in the middle, and has the highest traffic of any point in the RV.  And it can’t be tongue and groove or it won’t be removable anymore.  Further complicating the area is that the whole bathroom pulls out, which means the floor surface can’t be too high.  Sheesh!

What I ended up doing was meeting the front side of that panel with a full board by putting a ripped board down in the beginning (see above).  But on the back side of the panel I decided to put my partial board next to the panel because this is where the bathroom walls pulled out and it needed to angle down a bit right at the panel.  So I started with a full board at the back, and ended up with about a 2 inch partial board at the spot where it meets the panel, and I took a layer of the plywood spacers off beneath this board, then sanded down a good bit, in order to create clearance for the sliding wall action.  This is all pretty subtle, and ended up working OK, but like I say, I’m not sure it was the best way to approach the problem.  Maybe someone else could address that in the comments if you’ve found a better solution.

Now to further complicate things, the entire floor drain area kind of moves around a bit.  On my Rialta, it actually sinks down a bit when you step on it.  To help compensate for this, as well as the difference in the height of the carpet and the wood, I had to shore up the wood spacers on the backside of the panel.  I did this by cutting little shims to put at the end closest to the door (and no, the shims aren’t all the same height because on mine there is a frustrating gradient from one side to the other), and then I had to rebuild the entire main spacer underneath.  Oh and one more thing, after considering a variety of ways to attach the tongue and groove boards to that panel (remember, they aren’t going to be t & g at the seam) I decided to nail them down with a nail gun and tiny nails.  The other option I considered was glue but in the end I just nailed it.

Other problems include flooring beneath the bench seats in the back, which includes a breaker box, and the strip in front of the refrigerator which I did cover with wood but it tends to come loose and has to be nailed back in from time to time.  These issues and most of the others just require getting in there and figuring out a way to go at it and it will work out.  But I can tell you that if you don’t keep the ends of your boards snug against the walls, they will slide apart.  So figure a way to keep them in place.  This can get a little tricky in there next to the fresh water tank, and each board has to be considered uniquely.  But rest assured, it is doable!

The final challenge, of course, is what to do with that entryway.  Since I ran out of wood on the floor project, I decided to do what I had seen some others do, and that is go with tile.  As with most things, this turned out to be a bigger hassle than I imagined.  The problem I had was that once the carpet was out, there was a sheet of plywood screwed to the metal floor of the RV.  And the problem with this is an uneven surface.  So I screwed it down the best I could and went forward.  You can get tile remnants pretty cheap, and I had a buddy with a tile cutter so off I went.  Doing the floor was fairly easy, and then I cut the spare pieces in strips to do the walls.  A particular challenge was the little drop down lip where the door closes.  I finally decided to cut tiny strips and tile this area too, which seemed to work pretty well.  If you do the bottom part first you can tuck the tiles under the lip where that used to cover up the carpet you ripped out, then cut another tiny strip for the “wall”.  I glued these all into place with liquid nails, which is what I used to hold the little “walls” (or floor trim, if you will) in place.  Then I grouted the whole thing and it looks pretty good, I think.  I am concerned that the uneven floor surface will not allow the grouting to hold, but I’ll just have to let you know on that.  For now, it looks pretty good.

The one thing I haven’t done yet is figured out whether I want some sort of trim piece where the wood meets the tile.  It doesn’t look too bad now, but trim would definitely set it off.  I’m just concerned that it would get kicked off constantly so until I find the right material I’m not going to do it.

So that’s where it’s at right now.  I would sure love to hear feedback from folks who have done this project to create a better online reference for other folks, OR if my whole project comes apart some time and I have to redo it!  I think there’s a few things I’d do different if I had it to do again, but I guess that’s the nature of things.  For now, I really love the look and function of our floors, and am definitely glad I did the project.  Especially since the whole thing cost less than $100 by using remnants, borrowing tools, and doing the work myself.

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12 Comments
  1. Hi guys,
    just stumbled upon your blog and would love to exchange a few emails with you.
    The girlfriend and I recently purchased a 2000 Rialta QD (small world, eh?) and plan on living full time in it rather soon.
    I’d like to pick your brain on some of the mods as well as life on the road if you don’t mind.

    Really excited about the lifestyle change although still a little overwhelmed.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Robert, I’d love to exchange some emails and stay in touch. I imagine we can be a decent resource for one another given the similarity in our adventures. I checked out your site and a couple of your videos. Exciting times! Email any time at coffeemaxpdx@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

  2. Cool blog. Thanks for your insights. I’m wondering how you find the power of the 140 HP motor. We’re considering buying a Rialta (my wife and I). The fuel economy is very attractive, but the power of the pre-2002 models concerns me a little.

    • Thanks Steve! As for power, we have been quite impressed. Around town there’s plenty of zip, and on the highway we haven’t been in any situation where we felt a lack for power. We haven’t been across any major mountains yet, but in situations with large hills it downshifts and does great. I believe in ’95 and earlier this vehicle had a 5 cylinder and we were spooked by that. This engine is the 6 cylinder and does an admirable job. No problems at all.

      • Thanks for the reply. By the way, on the wood floor mod, the holes in the shims and flooring for the seat-mount bolts could have been oversize. That would have made their precise location less critical, allowing you to locate them by measurement instead of by drilling up through the tapped holes. It’s pretty typical in situations like that one for the holes to be 3/4″ or larger to allow a 1/4″x20 bolt to pass. Once a shim was drilled and tested, you would have a pattern to use for the other holes, which you could duplicate or modify in cardboard if you chose so as not to tie up your shim or to make a large pattern for the bolt pattern of complete seat.

        Good luck with the rainy season. Over here in New England we’re dealing with snow and frigid temps. Spring is on the way!

  3. Al Henry permalink

    Hi, I have a 2004 rialta HD bought in 2010 and am in the process of replacing my carpet with a wood floor. I saw your article on how you did yours and I liked it. It has a lot of good info for me as I am a novice. I do need to ask how did you anchor the wood down and did you put anything between the wood and rv metal floor . Thanks again

    • Thanks Al! Well I assure you no one is more novice than me. But I’ll try to answer your questions based on my experience. When using the interlocking pieces no “anchoring” is required, as such. In a typical setting it’s just a matter of laying it right up to the wall, leaving a bit of space (like a quarter inch) for the inevitable expansion due to moisture fluctuation, settling of the house, etc., then covering up the point where the floor meets the wall with a piece of trim. They use the term “floating” to describe how the floor just kind of lays there and moves as it needs to. So I took this same basic approach with a couple of caveats. Namely, that pesky removable panel in the floor where the shower is. That thing pretty much gave me fits. At the end of the day, I pulled the carpet off the old one and pieced together a topping for that panel then secured it with finishing nails. I did that mostly because that’s what I had available, and I had a friend with a nail gun that made it easy work. A year and a half later it’s still in place, so I guess it’s OK. But I’ve always had the sense that there was probably a better way to do it. As for the rest of the rig, it works pretty good in the back (although yours is an HD so it’s going to be different than my QD) because the wood sticks under the seats and looks nice. Around the kitchen is another problem but I kind of pieced that in there and it works okay, but never has looked perfect or stayed in place real well. The area where I have 2 seats and you probably have 1 was pretty easy once you get the seats out. The wood lays down real nice, but I had to do some math to start towards the front of the RV and make it come out just right on the entryway. And then of course on the entry way I used tile, which I would absolutely recommend. When it’s rainy or muddy we use that tile area as a mud room and it cleans right up without having to worry about scratching or destroying that wood. If you do go with tile, make sure you get a SOLID piece of plywood as a bottom layer, then put your tile board (I forget what they call that) on top of that, then tile on the tile board. I didn’t do this the first time and it came apart immediately. Once I got a half inch sheet of plywood on the bottom and secured it well that problem went away. Again, a year and half later and the tile still looks awesome.

      As to your final question, I didn’t put anything between the metal floor and the wood. It’s worked fine. In the winter we use rugs to keep it warmer, but for the most part it hasn’t been any problem that way.

      Hope that helps! Post up some pics when you get done, I’d love to see ’em!

  4. Steve Gutman permalink

    Thank you for the excellent detailed description of your floor replacement. I have been telling my wife that it is not a trivial job and I am concerned about increased road noise as well as additional weight. Comment? My wife and I appreciate your informative and well-written essays.

    • Thanks for the kind words! No, it is not a trivial job to replace floors, but it is certainly manageable. To this day it has been one of my best modifications. It has held up nicely and we enjoy it FAR better than the 15 yr old carpet. Road noise has been unnoticeable and weight is a non issue also. The whole project took 2 boxes which is inconsequential. I highly recommend the upgrade!

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