It took us a pretty long time to wrap our heads around how we were going to build our solar racks, but after looking at a few example racks in person and spending a few hours in Lowe's looking at different parts, it all eventually clicked. In the end, it looks SOOO simple - and it was probably our fastest project from start to end. We're still deciding on what to use to prop up the panels once they are tilted. We've got a few ideas. We just need to test them out.
There were a few things we really wanted/needed from our racking system:
We used a combination of unistrut and galvanized steel pipes to build our racks. After staring at the pipe fittings section at Lowe's for a bit, we found our perfect piece to hinge our rack. Here's what we used.
We also used:
Connecting the Rails
We wanted a 15' rack. The unistrut only came in 10' lengths so we got 3, cut one in half and then attached the shorter pieces to the 10' pieces with the straight bracket.
Connecting the Pipes to the Rails
The pipes are mounted on the bottom side of the rack. We attached them to the rails using pipe clamps. These slide right into the tracks of the unistrut and you stick the bolt and nut in and tighten them down. They're really easy to adjust.
Once we got all the pipes attached, properly spaced, and tightened, we used ropes to pull the rack up onto the roof of the bus. We lined up our hinge legs and snapped a line across the bus. We marked the holes for each leg and drilled through the roof.
We cut out wood blocks and lined them up with our holes. We cut out the foam around the block. One person stood inside the bus holding up the wood and the other on the roof. We drilled holes through the wood to line up with the holes in the roof.
We use 3/8" 3" galvanized steel bolts. We cut rubber to fit under the hinge leg and then put butyl tape between the bus and the rubber. We put neoprene washers between the top of the bolt and the hinge foot.
Galvanized Bolts + Galvanized Nuts = Success
Attaching the Top of the Rack to the Top of the Bus
We wanted a quick release, yet secure, way to attach the top of the rack to the bus. We attached L feet to the roof. Then, we attached a pipe fitting to the pipe that has a hole that lines up with the L foot. We'll insert a locking pin through both holds and this will secure the rack to the roof. Right now, we only have 2 installed. We might install 2 more. We need to take it out for a test drive.
We found an awesome solar consultant who is going to help us with the actual install of our panels and solar equipment. We'll run all our wires so that FINALLY we can install our ceiling.
This week I'll also be working on rebuilding our couch. The first two tries haven't been totally successful. I'm feeling great about all the progress we've made this Summer and excited to move on to the next stages.
It took us 4 full days to paint the bus. We used a HVLP air spray gun from Harbor Freight. They're only $15 - I think a pretty good investment (especially if you already own an air compressor)!
I used wire wheels to clean the rust off the wheels. I didn't spend too long on it and wasn't looking for perfection. I really just wanted to get off the loose rust. I cleaned them off with water and then mineral spirits. First, I used a self etching spray primer for metal. Then I painted them shiny black with an automotive spray paint. They came out pretty great. This was an easy - can do in an afternoon kind of project.
Taping off the bus
I had a whole team of people helping to get the bus taped off. My dad came and stayed the week to help. Craig's parents also joined in on the efforts. We started early in the morning. I set up a table with all the supplies we would need including tape, plastic, and scissors. Craig and his Dad set up a system for covering the windows. Our windows are two different sizes, so they marked a piece of wood with the two measurements. Then, they unrolled a sheet of plastic and cut a bunch of pieces to size. They laid out tape on the table, attached the plastic to it, and then brought it over to the window and taped the other 3 slides. They were super fast! Taping the whole bus took about 3 hours.
We wanted to keep the bluebird and stripe. To tape over the bluebird we just laid blue tape over the entire bird and used a utility knife to cut out the shape of the bird. You could see through the tape pretty well. This was a really easy fast way to get all the curves of the bird cut in.
When we were finally ready to paint we realized we didn't have the right connector from the spray gun to the compressor. They sell them separately from the gun - so make sure you have this part. Luckily, Pete had a whole can of spare parts and after digging around for a good 20 minutes, we found 2 parts that fit together.
Type of Paint
We started with the roof and worked our way down the bus. It was really helpful to have somebody on the ground holding up the weight of the hose to the paint gun.
After 4 full days of taping and painting, we finally got to unveil our new white dream bus!
I was not planning on painting the bus myself when I first bought it. The company I was working for was planning on paying for the exterior work. When I quit my job in May 2016 I also gave up the financial support for completing the exterior of the bus. It took me a year to regain my motivation and figure out a plan for how I was going to complete this task. It was daunting. It was a huge undertaking to paint the bus ourselves, but looking back, I'm so glad we did. I learned a ton in the process and I'm glad I can now share that knowledge with you!
What does it cost to get a bus professionally painted?
I got quotes from about 5 different places that could handle a job as big as a bus. The consensus? The cheapest quote I got came in at $2400 and the most expensive was $3700. This included all the prep, paint, and materials to paint the bus. This quote was to paint the bus one solid color. Keep in mind, the bus only cost $3,000 - so paying close to that for a paint job was out of reach for me. Considering the time and effort it took us to do the prep work, I think this price is fair. Most places quoted it would take 2-3 weeks to complete the job. It took me about 3 months to get it done. If you have the money to spare, get it professionally done. Even better advice - FIND A BUS THAT IS ALREADY PAINTED! I did know this going in, but I couldn't find one the size I wanted that wasn't school bus yellow. If I had been more patient I definitely could have found one - I've seen plenty come up since my purchase. Don't underestimate the value of a prepainted bus.
Prepping the bus for paint
We're extremely lucky that we have an automotive paint store right here in Ithaca about 5 minutes from my house. The owner, Kevin, was extremely knowledgeable and generous with his time. He helped me through every stage of the bus prep and paint. I'll share his advice with you.
Our bus had the school name written down the side along with other stickers and labels. Removing these was a quick satisfying task. I borrowed Craig's mom's hair dryer and got to it. I held the hair dryer over the decals and with a flat razor lifted the edge. Then, I grabbed on and slowly peeled it back. This is a job you can do in an afternoon. Finally, an easy victory!
Reflector Tape Removal
I didn't realize how much of a pain in the ass this job would be. I don't even think I realized that this was a step in the process. There was reflector tape all over our bus. It ran down the sides and framed the windows and emergency exits. Removing this tape was not nearly as easy as the decals. I'd strongly recommend having two people to do this job. It went so much faster once Craig was around. Once we got down our rhythm it wasn't bad. Another recommendation - something I didn't do - invest in a rubber eraser wheel tool. They cost about $20 and will probably save you a few hours.
I was stubborn and decided to do it my own way. I don't know how long it's going to take me to learn that there is a right tool for every job and it's not worth it to waste hours of your time when you could just buy something for $20. Oh well. I used a hair dryer and a flat bar to remove the reflective tape. I'd hold the hair dryer over the tape for about 10 seconds and then slide the flat bar under and slowly push. Craig would grab the tape and fold it back on itself and pull slowly to remove it. It left behind a nasty residue we had to remove with goo-gone - another long arduous gross task. It probably took an extra 4-6 hours to remove all the goo. Here's my video cry for help after my first try removing the tape with a razor blade. I almost lost all my fingers doing it this way. Learn from my mistakes. Buy a rubber eraser. Doing it this way, I was getting about an inch of tape every 2 minutes. It would have taken a week to remove it all. Once I got the flat bar and Craig, we were removing about a foot every 2 minutes.
After reading a bunch of other blogs, I decided we didn't need to prime the bus. The existing paint would act as our primer. Kevin from the paint store seemed to agree that this was ok. In order to paint the bus, he advised sanding the whole bus with scotch-brite pads. The scotch-brite would rough up the existing paint enough so that a new layer would stick. We needed to get the shine off the bus and get down to the chalky paint. Basically, once our hands started turning yellow we could stop sanding. The hood of the bus is fiberglass. He said we could use the scotch-brite pads for this as well. The hood had a clear coat on it that I removed with a razor before we sanded. I ended up using a higher grit sand paper on parts of the hood that I couldn't get to with the razor.
We mostly sanded by hand since most of the bus has ribs and weird curves an orbital sander could not reach. For the flat spots and the roof we did buy an orbital sander from Harbor Freight for $25. We also used a sanding block.
We started sanding at the end of May and finished at the beginning of August. It's hard to say how many man hours we put into this, but I'd say anywhere between 60-80 hours.
My advice for this step? Make a lot of friends. Then, buy said friends beer and pizza. Then give them a scotch brite pad and put them to work. This is the first step I felt I could have used a lot of help with. Unfortunately it is summer and people are busy and weekends are precious. Sanding is a hot, boring, tedious task and getting help is hard. If you can schedule a weekend far in advance and invite people and make sure to feed them, this step will go a lot faster. Another option is to buckle down with your favorite podcast (I recommend My Favorite Murder) and be kind to yourself. Learn to be patient and get to work!
In retrospect, I should have had a big party for myself when I was done with sanding. Maybe I still will.
When we sanded over the rivets a lot of them went to bare metal very quickly. We grabbed some metal primer spray paint and painted over them to protect them from rusting.
Filling in holes
We had a large hole from removing our stop sign - about a 2 inch diameter. I grabbed some scrap metal and riveted it from inside the bus to cover the hole. I used bondo to fill the hole from the outside. We sanded it flat. It came out pretty neat. We used the bondo to fill in some rusted out spots on the body of the bus as well.
I feel like this post should be 5 pages long, because that is how long it took to do this task. It took us about 3 months, but we worked mostly weekends and took a good few off to have summer fun. It felt like paint prep would never be done, but now that it is behind us I'm so proud of myself for sticking with it. Just keep sanding people! Don't forget to take a break and enjoy life in the meantime.
I'd like to thank summer cherries after a thunderstorm, Gabby Stein and magical foggy mountain days, Craig and Dad impossible bike rides, Ursula Smores, Rose in a tube, and Colorado snowy short sleeve tshirt mountain days for keeping me sane and happy throughout all this. I need to remember this project is taking a long time because I'm living life at the same time, taking time to enjoy friends and family and the short magical summer Ithaca has to offer.
Every bus will come with it's own unique set of problems. My bus was from Buffalo, NY and went through winters with kids wearing boots covered in salt. When I inspected my bus on the lot, the staircase seemed solid, but when I got it home, it became apparent that it was crumbling. Replacing the stairs was a daunting project for me from the start. Welding was not one of the skills on my list to learn. The equipment is expensive and it can be pretty dangerous. I decided that it was worth it to hire somebody to complete to stair build task. I wanted to make his job as easy as possible to try to bring the price down. Silly me - the price did not change after hours of extra work on my part. I was a bit shocked at the price to rebuild the stairs, but I got a few quotes, and they were all about the same. I also got some advice from people in my skoolie networks and most of them seemed to agree that the price was fair. The final price tag was $800 to fix the steps. It was a lot, but I could not have completed the job on my own. Once I considered the price of buying the equipment and the time investment to learn to weld, I did feel that it was a fair price.
Here is what my stairs looked like when we revealed what was under the layer of rubber when I first bought the bus. A rusty, crumbling mess. The door is supposed to be connected to the stairs, but the frame was all rusted out so our door was unattached from the bus and totally dysfunctional.
Removing the stairs
I didn't know where to start with the stair project. The bus is no longer insured, so I couldn't really drive the bus anywhere (at least not far) to get the stairs rebuilt. I reached out to the bus dealer to ask them if they had replacement stairs in one of their scrap buses. They responded that it was possible to remove the stairs from the bus. DUH! I didn't even realize but as you can see in the picture above there are bolts all the way around the top of the stair case. Mine were so rusted it didn't even cross my mind that they could be removed - but they can!
First, I worked to remove the top layer of rubber and metal from the stairs. I tried prying them, but they were really stuck on there. I noticed that under all that rust and dirt there were some screws keeping them attached to the steel base. I cut through them with an angle grinder and pried the rubber off.
Once I removed the rubber, I worked on removing the bolts all the way around the stairs. I sprayed the bolts with PB Blaster Spray to remove the rust and loosen them up. Craig insisted that we use brute strength and a socket wrench to take off the bolts. He got about 20/100 of them off in an hour as I watched him struggle insisting we get the electric impact wrench from his dad. The next day I came back to the bus on my own and grabbed the impact wrench. It made for a quick job. A bunch of the bolts did snap, but they are not too expensive to replace. Once I released the final bolt, the stairs fell to the ground!
I grabbed the grinder with a wire brush and went after the rust removing as much as I could. We found a fabricator less than 5 miles away from our build, so one day after work, Craig's parents and I caravanned over to his shop with the bus and the stairs.
After looking at the stairs our fabricator said he could either fully rebuild them or work off of the existing steps. He said it wouldn't cost much more to totally rebuild, but every dollar counts here and an extra $100 or $200 in my pocket is going to come in handy down the road. I told him to rebuild using the existing stairs. It took about a week to complete the job. I think they came out fantastic! He also fixed our door.
Sealing the steps
WOW - holy smokes. It's been over a year since I last wrote on here. When I started my bus conversion, I had a plan. I thought I'd be done in a year and get on the road. Well - no matter what, life happens and you don't have control - a very long and hard lesson I have learned this year. There were times this winter I thought about selling the bus. It felt like a project that I could never complete and people started leaving notes in our mailbox offering to buy it. I decided to wait until the weather got better to see if my motivation returned, and it has, slowly but surely. I'm glad I did not sell the bus and we have continued working hard on it. I've been following along with other projects out there and watch as they buy, convert, and sell their buses all within 12 months and it's very discouraging. They make it all look so easy. I am trying to remember that everybody has a different journey and different skills and am learning to enjoy the process of converting. When I got the bus, all I did was fantasize about the amazing adventures that await us. Now, I am trying my best to focus on learning the skills that I set out to acquire and am finding I am feeling much more confident around tools and knowing what I need to accomplish a job. Ok - enough reflection. Let me tell you what we've been up to. This might have to be done in 2-3 posts, I guess we've done a lot!
We had a local guy do our spray foam job back in March 2016. It was quite the adventure. We decided last minute at night we would drop the bus off at his shop. My boyfriend followed me in his car and we hit the road. About 10 minutes into the drive, lightening and thunder started. Then, a torrential downpour, and finally hail. I had never driven the bus at night before and couldn't locate my high beams or my windshield wipers. We were on a road with no shoulder and a steep cliff down to the lake on one side. I slowed wayyyyyy down and we pulled into the only restaurant on the road that overlooked the lake to wait out the storm. It was so beautiful! Our first rainstorm with the tin roof in the bus. I was a bit panicked, but the rain calmed me down. The storm passed and we got back on the road.
We pulled into the shop and pulled up to an outdoor light. Craig got out of his car and started walking toward me and then we saw a pit bull on a chain start barking and running at him. I started screaming "GET BACK IN YOUR CAR!!!" Luckily, the chain wasn't long enough for the dog to get a hold of him and Craig scurried into his car. We backed up a bit and he got on the bus. In the dark, we did our best to quickly cover the windows with paper and duct tape to keep the spray foam off the windows. We did a pretty lousy job :-\ UGH - There is a good amount of scraping in our future. We were quoted $0.90 per sq ft to do the ceiling. We ended up paying $300 to do the whole thing. This is cheaper than a spray foam kit from Lowes and we didn't have to do any of the messy shaving ourselves, so I feel like it was a good deal.
A word of advice if you are spray foaming - Be very thorough in covering your windows, your fans and anything else you don't want covered in foam! Don't do a half ass job like we did. You'll regret it later when you're spending hours with a razor scraper cursing!
Our emergency exit was really busted and we wanted to replace it with a skylight. We checked at Lowes on how much it would be for a skylight and I think it came out to around $600 - NO WAY - way out of our budget. We persistently go to our local reuse center looking for useful materials for our bus and one day we found a skylight. Not just any skylight! The perfect size, perfect shape, perfect price skylight. ALSO --- IT OPENS! $80 and this baby was ours. Talk about scoring gold. I felt on top of the world from this find!
Our first try at installing the skylight was an epic fail, mostly due to our own laziness. You know when you look at something and think "That's not going to work - oh well - let's try and do it anyway!" Don't do that. When you hear that voice - listen to it. We removed the emergency exit pretty easily. Under it was a black tar goop that needed to be removed. That process took a while and was pretty disgusting. We mostly used goo gone, rags, and a razor scraper to get it all off. We made sure the surface was perfectly clean before trying to install the new skylight. We did this on a hot day, which made it even messier and grosser. We tried to use butyl tape and self tapping screws to attach the skylight, thinking the butyl tape would take up the space in the curve of the bus --- I'm not explaining this well --- just know -- IT DID NOT WORK. I then had to spend another hour cleaning off all the butyl tape we just destroyed. Very frustrating. I should have listened to the voice in my head. Just don't try this at home. Ok - so we were defeated by this and it took us a pretty long time to get back to doing it the right way - but we did it, so here's how.
Step 1: Make a Stencil
After you remove the emergency exit, use cardboard or a thin piece of wood to make a stencil of the curve of the roof of the bus. Hold the wood/cardboard on the inside of the emergency exit hole. Put your pencil on the roof of the bus and trace the curve onto the wood.
Cut the line using a jigsaw so that your stencil is cut to a curve. Ours wasn't perfectly straight, but it worked fine.
Step 2: Make a frame
We had some scrap wood around to make a frame. We measured the perimeter of our skylight and made a frame to fit it. First, we traced the curve onto the front and back pieces of the frame. Then we cut out the curve. It is important that this is flat and accurate. We clamped the piece to a table and then cut carefully with a jigsaw.
We primed the wood so it wouldn't rot and assembled the frame using pocket screws.
Step 3: Attached the frame
We used bolts, nuts, and washers to attach the frame to the bus. We also used butyl tape to seal the space between the metal and the frame. The bolts had to be inset with a chisel so that the window could sit flat ontop of the frame. We drilled through the wood and through the roof of the bus.
Step 4: Prepare the window for install
We attached angle iron to the base of our window so that we could attach it to our frame. We had to pre-drill holes around the angle iron and then screw it to the window and the frame to attach it to the bus. We put butyl tape again between the angle iron and the frame. after we screwed it down we caulked around the edges and over each of the screw holes. We also caulked around where the frame attaches to the bus. Finally, we used Grace Vycor tape that Craig had left over from another job to seal the window to the bus. Maybe this is all a lot, but we really really really don't want it to leak. The window has been installed for about a year now and so far so good!
Hope you found this helpful! Next up is our stair rebuild.
It's been a long time since we last posted! JEEZ! Time flies! We've been working our butts off over here, but nothing is really "done" of the many projects we've been working on. We have made a ton of progress, so I wanted to share some of it with you!
My parents made a trip all the way to Ithaca to help us out with the bus. We put them to work as soon as they got here priming, sanding, painting, and sanding again to refinish our cabinets. Craig ever so kindly gave my dad a t-shirt to wear that said "Got wood?" When I told my dad he couldn't wear his new shirt out to dinner, he didn't quite understand why... See below...
Before and After of the Cabinets
Mistakes, soooo many mistakes, but hey! We're learning!
The Couch: Craig told me as soon as I cut the slats for the couch that they were too thin. I didn't listen, spent a week painting them, and Craig ever so patiently taught me how to use the nail gun to attach them. The minute we sat down, I looked at him and said it hurts my butt! I was telling him something he told me a week ago. "We're going to have to take it all apart," I said. He refrained from saying "I told you so," and I love him for that. Back to the drawing board. We're getting thicker material and we'll route the edges to make them curved so they don't stick up your butt.
The under bed storage: We built and tried to install the storage for under our bed. We were so close to being able to fit it under the bed but we were off by about 1/16 of an inch. We forgot to factor in the porch supports we used to secure the bed frame and when we went to push the unit in under the bed, it got stuck. There's no taking it apart because it is glued and nailed together. So, I spent over 5 hours trying to fix the issue. Some chiseling and Sawzall action got it under. It's not pretty, I can tell you that, but luckily, nobody will ever see it.
Building drawers: Drawers are simple, right?! WRONG! I couldn't believe how much time and effort went into building our drawers. They seem like such a simple thing. After building them, I read somewhere you should estimate about 8 hours per drawer to build. I wish I had read that before we started. I think that estimate was pretty accurate. We built 6 drawers and worked on them every weekend for about a month. From measuring, designing, shopping, cutting, polying (I think I made that word up), nailing, glueing, and finishing it's a LONGGGG and tedious process. Luckily, our friend Rachel came out to help us. She's meticulous, so this was a perfect job for her. Three drawers are for under the bed and 3 for the couch. We still need to finish installing them.
Our friend Hank, who owns Ithaca Ice Co. and a few trucks with the same engine came over and did an oil change for us. We've been so focused on building and have been ignoring caring for the engine which is of course, the most important part of the bus. 19 quarts of oil went in! WHEW - THANKS HANK!
Restoring Barn Wood
By far, the most fun and satisfying thing we've done yet was restoring this 100 year old barn wood. My friend Ellie and her husband Tyler bought an old farmhouse a few years ago. It came with a dilapidated barn full of treasures. She let us pick through and take what we wanted and we found some amazing stuff. We'll be using the wood as siding for walls and maybe some shelving pieces. A lot of people like the grey patina aged wood has, but I like the wood for the character and lines and wanted to restore it to it's natural color so it has a warmer feel. We rented a pressure washer from Home Depot to clean the wood (it was covered in raccoon poop) and from what we can tell, it came out beautifully. It's still out drying in the garage, but we're excited to see the final result. Talk about instant gratification, this stuff was gorgeous!
I just got back from a 2 week vacation with my family in Hawaii. It was an incredible and exhausting trip, but I'm ready to get back to work. We're hoping to hit the road by the end of July, so we have a lot ahead of us.
I left the bus with a friend to get it spray foamed while we were gone. I'll be picking it up and then it's time to get back to building. We'll be finishing all of the projects above we are working on and then moving on to installing solar and plumbing. I'm really nervous for these projects. They are entirely out of my comfort zone, but I've been reading and researching for months now and I feel like I have a better grasp on it. Wish us luck!
It's been a month since my last post already! JEEZ! Time flys! We moved into Craig's parents house, where the bus is parked, to housesit while they are away for a month. Now that the bus is right outside our front door, we can work on little projects all the time and are making good progress. We've been really busy this month building. With the floor plans complete, we got building. Building in a vehicle comes with a lot of on your feet problem solving. The bus has lots of quirks like the chair rail, emergency exit handles, and metal beams that you want to line up with. It also is not parked perfectly level so there's no use in using a level to check if things are straight. No matter how much we plan and design before we start building, the process is slow and there is a lot of figuring it out as we go. We now have our bathroom framed, our bed framed, our couch framed, and we have CABINETS!
With the new floor plans, we really only had 2 walls to build for the bathroom. The rest of the bus is pretty much open floor plan. We thought the walls would go up in about 2 hours, but it ended up taking a full day of work. The biggest challenges with putting up walls is cutting notches into the 2x4's so they can fit over the chair rail. We researched removing the chair rail. Apparently it is important to the structure of the bus and it should not be removed, so you just build around it. Every bus is different so it's not really about following instructions to do this. You just have to get in your bus and see what kinds of quirks it has and build around it.
Lot's of strange notching going on to fit the bus structure.
Zeek was on his supervision game
We are going to have a full size mattress in the back with storage underneath. The bed will come right up to the bathroom. The storage under will be accessible from built in drawers and cabinets from the front as well as from the emergency exits from the outside. We're planning on building a headboard that will act as a laundry shoot. We thought the bed was pretty straight forward, but as usual, we ran into some obstacles. We measured enough space from the back of the bus for the space of a mattress, but didn't account for the emergency exit handle. We ended up having to cut it out and are going to need a solution (other than a rope - which is the temporary solution) to keep the back door closed.
The started the bed by screwing the legs into the floor. The frame was then built around those. We used deck hangers to install the 3 middle pieces and used nails for sheer strength. The deck hangers are what is usually used to connect a deck to a house, so we feel that they will be extremely strong holding our bed frame together! We finished the bed by laying down plywood on top. Next we'll build the under storage and headboard.
This was a fun one! I spent a month researching and designing our couch. I took bits and pieces of a lot of people's designs to come up with ours, and I'm really happy with it. The couch will fit a full mattress and pull out into a bed. It will have 3 drawers underneath to pull out for storage. We spoke Alyssa at Outside Found and she said her biggest regret for their build was making a couch that you had to stand up to lift to get into the storage and she strongly recommended drawers. We listened. I designed the whole couch in sketch-up, wrote down a cut list, cut the pieces, and built it. It was like building blocks and went together super quick. This is the first thing I've ever fully designed and built by myself! Starting to feel like a pro!
The couch is basically two pieces. One is secured to the bus and the other piece moves. The moving part will slide in and out to create the platform for the guest bed. You can download the Sketchup plan here:
We've gone back and forth a lot on what to do about building the cabinets. They aren't the easiest thing to build and they are expensive to build with the proper materials and hardware. We have a lot to do and really wanted to buy cabinets. We were worried Ikea particle board cabinets would not hold up in a bus. We think that the bus is going to be a moist/humid environment and don't think that the particle board would stand up to it. Most cabinets from Home Depot or Lowes are also particle board or MDF and they aren't that cheap. I'm sure these cabinets could hold up in a bus, but we really wanted plywood. I contacted a local cabinet builder and sent him our plans and told him we were on a tight budget. He came back to me with a quote of $1500 for the cabinets. My heart sunk. I cannot afford to pay that much. I went back to thinking that we were for sure going to have to build our own, and then... CRAIGSLIST SCORE.
I've been scouring Craigslist since October for cabinets. Our needs were very specific. We needed about 7.5'-8' of cabinets as 24" depth. Most cabinets selling on Craigslist are selling as a whole kitchen set and people aren't willing to split them up. After hours of Craigslist searches every evening, I finally came across this PERFECT set. The guy was selling 8' of plywood cabinets for $140. You can't even build them that cheap. I saw the post 15 minutes after it went up and called the guy... 3 times until he answered. He must think I'm nuts. I told him we wanted them and Craig and I took the truck to Binghamton - an hour away - to pick them up. The guy had bought them in a construction material auction where he got a bunch of stuff and didn't need them.
We brought them back in the bus and it was a perfect fit.
What's next? OH SO MANY THINGS (this list could be 100 things but I'll just list the next 5)
We were really happy with the first floor plan. It included everything on my wish list, including a sliding barn door and a large sink! We went to the bus to lay it out in blue tape to make sure everything would work how we planned. We ran into several major issues that had us back to the drawing board on the design.
What didn't work?
The Pull Out Couch
We got a free full size futon mattress from my neighbor and designed the couch around the idea that it would pull out into a second full size bed for visitors. I really want my friends to join me for adventures, so it is important to me to have a space they can sleep. I know that they can always bring a tent, but it would be nice to have a space in the bus just in case.
With the old design, if we were to pull out the bed, it would not be able to fully extend because it would hit the bathroom wall and there would be no room between the bed and the kitchen cabinets so it would be hard to pull out.
The Bedroom -- TOO BIG
Craig pointed out that the bedroom was far too big. He was right. I put the barn door as a divider to leave space for somebody to be able to pull out drawers under the bed. It was too much space that at other times would become totally useless. We had to find another solution to narrow the space and make it more actively used.
With these two major issues in mind, we asked my architect genius lovely friend to take a look at our plans (THANKS VARYA). It literally took her 2 minutes to re-arrange everything and fix all our problems and we are THRILLED with the new design. When we got back to the bus we laid it out and couldn't believe how the little changes doubled our space for seating and kitchen! YAHOO! LET THE BUILDING COMMENCE.
I kinda want to make this a guessing game like Highlights magazine to make you guys point out the differences between the photos... but... maybe I should just tell you:
My attempt at a video tour through the bus to show you some of the moveable elements!
We had to take a few weeks off for vacation and holidays, but we're back! This week was all about the floors! We painted the floors with Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer to neutralize the rust. Once dry, we laid our flooring structure and insulation and put a fresh layer of OSB board on top. We used 3/4" furring strips for the floor structure and 3/4" rigid foam for the insulation. Our friends Danica and Willy came over to hunt while the paint dried. Willy got his first deer ever! We worked on processing the meat while the paint dried and Willy cooked up the heart - something I never would have eaten as a child. It was surprisingly delicious! It was a recipe he learned from his sister called Venison Anticuchos.
Laying the floor structure
I decided to put down a vapor barrier. Probably totally unnecessary, but it was $15 and I am paranoid, so I did it. This was just a heavy duty plastic you can get near laminate flooring. Extra caution hopefully will prevent the insulation or wood from getting wet/moldy. We used furring strips and self tapping wood to metal screws to create our subfloor. We chose the furring strips over 2x4s because every inch of head space is crucial to us. The furring strips were the thinnest we could go and still have a substantial structure and room for insulation.
Leather, Purple, TOOL BELT
My friends Crystal and Scott came by to check out the bus. I've known Crystal since freshman year of college. She's now a leather maker/farmer extroardinaire! Crystal has always been a dreamer and a get shit doner, but she takes it to a whole other level. This year she and Scott have built a greenhouse, a barn, and have planted 1000s of new tree's in their orchard. Scott makes gorgeous stonewear and Crystal makes leather goods to sell at market. Crystal told me she had a surprise for me. She brought out a large paper bag and what was inside is my new favorite possession - a PURPLE BRASS STUDED LEATHER TOOL BELT! Honestly, I can now throw out everything I own and just wear this belt. It is unbelievably beautiful. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU CRYSTAL. I LOVE IT! I will cherish this belt for the rest of my life <3
You can shop Crystal and Scott's store online!
Back to work...
When I finally calmed down from the excitement of the tool belt, we got back to work laying the floors. We ran out of screws so we decided it might be a good time to cut a hole in the ceiling for one of our Fantastic Vents. We were going to caulk it, but realized we should get some butyl tape to help with the waterproof seal. For now, it's just resting on the roof.
Laying in the OSB subfloor
Sunday we returned to the bus with more screws to install the OSB on top of our finished frame. We went piece by piece, caulking, then laying the board, and screwing. We got three pieces in successfully, and then screwed up a bit on the 4th! It was so freakin close, but not close enough. We had to unscrew the 3rd board, scooch it a millimeter and then the 4th board laid in.
4th piece not going down, Zeek not helping. Maybe if we hammer it it will slip in??? Nope.
It was so close! Craig and I argued over whether we should lift the screws on the 3rd board or cut the wood on the 4th board to fit. I had to convince him that unscrewing would be faster and challenged him that it would take 10 minutes. He said "BET I CAN DO IT IN LESS:... and wham, bam, 5 minutes later, our floor was done!
GETTING WEIRD ON THE NEW FLOORS!
DONE AND DONE!
Next we will finish installing the vent and install a 2nd vent in the front area. Then, it's on to wall building and spray foam for the ceiling! Stay tuned!
With the sun going down at five, it's hard to get work done on the bus during the week so we are trying to use our time after work for the research and planning stages. This week, we worked on design layouts. I already had a layout and I sat down with Craig to review it. As a disclosure, I've never designed anything in my life and have never used Sketchup (a free program that allows you to draw out designs). One look at my drawings and Craig had a lot of questions, pointing out my many design flaws. I was listening, but didn't want to hear what he had to say. I slept on it and woke up the next morning to do some research on tiny house design and see if I could get the design somewhere he would be happy with it. If Craig doesn't like the design, there's no way he's going to help me build it, so I had to find a better solution.
First (Failed) Design Attempt
What was wrong with it?
With the Tiny House movement taking off, there are thousands of genius ideas out there. Since I'm not a designer, I figured I'd borrow some ideas from people who have already built their tiny spaces. Many tiny homes have lofted beds. Since the ceilings of the bus aren't so high and I have a dog that I like to cuddle with, we didn't want a lofted bed. I searched for tiny homes with bedrooms on the first floor and found some great ideas!
Taking all my new inspiration into account (and Craig's feedback) I began to redesign the bus. The materials and colors are not final, but it's a general idea of what I want. I'm sure there will be many more changes to the design, but overall we are happy with this layout and think it really maximizes our space.
This is the overhead perspective. From left to right you have the front of the bus. Then the kitchen and living room, then the bathroom, and bedroom.
Hover over the dots to get more info!
I did a ton of research on RV refrigerators this week. I just cannot wrap my mind around spending $1000 for 1.7 cubic feet of fridge space. Basically, there are only 2 companies that make RV fridges - Norcold and Dometic. An RV fridge is a special fridge that can run off propane or electric.
On Saturday, our friends Molly and Hank came out to help on the bus. Hank owns Ithaca Ice Company and knows a lot about keeping things cold! We talked about my dilemma and he suggested building an ice box. Fridges for the home were not even invented until 1913! It seems ridiculous that people could live for so long without a fridge, and here I am considering how I can put one on a bus! The ice box idea is perfect. It's very simple - you have two compartments. The block of ice goes in the top compartment and the goods go below. We are thinking we will connect it to our grey water tank and let it drain itself there. We can probably build this for under $300 - a price tag I'm much more comfortable with.
Since the caulk was going to take 7-14 days to completely set, we had to hold off on painting with Rustoleum. I'll be away for two weeks and when I come back, it will be December and temperatures are dropping fast. We decided it'd be good to get some insulation in the walls so the bus isn't a complete ice box when I get back. We got 1 1/2" rigid foam board for the walls. We got 3 sheets to insulate the walls. They cost $30 usually, but one was 70% off because it wasn't in perfect shape. It was perfect for our needs though! We also signed up for a HomeDepot credit card which gave us $50 off. The purchase for insulation for the walls and floors, and some of the materials we need to start building up the floors was $150 total with the discounts! NOT BAD!
I can't believe how easy insulation is. You measure, cut, snap and slide it in. We were going for a really tight fit so it took a bit of hammering, but we got the walls all insulated in 2 hours of work. We probably could have done it in 45 minutes, but we were messin around!
Here I was thinking I'd have nothing to write about this week and this post is way too long. JEESH! Next steps -- I'll be going away for 2 weeks for vacation and Thanksgiving. We'll have a little break from the bus :( but when we return, it's time to get buildin! We'll be painting the floors with rust neutralizer, finalizing our floor plan, then insulating and laying down the flooring. I CAN'T FREAKIN WAIT!
Hey there! I'm Karli
I bought a bus in October 2015 and have been working on converting it since with the help of my boyfriend Craig. We don't have any timeline for the project. We are working on it when we can and hope to get on the road someday for a grand adventure! I'll be blogging about the process along the way and sharing the details of our successes and failures to help future skoolie builders!