I wrote a blog post about Candice Here. She is currently in the initial design stages of her own Skoolie. She has found a place to work on her future Bus, as she doesn't have her own personal space to work on the conversion. Not having a place to work is one of the main problems for most people who want to commit to this lifestyle. Second is having the mechanical know how to work on something like this. It is definitely not a light undertaking. In this blog article, I will talk about why we chose to put interior pieces where we did, and why we did it that way.
Candice is currently looking online for a bus to purchase, but it's not an easy task. With so many buses available, all in varying conditions, sizes, configurations, mileage, and so forth, finding the right bus can be quite the undertaking. I always say that my bus found me, and have seen similar things happen with other Skoolies, where the right Bus finds you just at the right time. Anyhow, here are some of the questions that Candice had. She is thinking about putting the bathroom in the back of the bus, then the bedroom, and then the kitchen.
How did you decide your set up? (placement of toilet/shower/kitchen)What was your decision based on?
Big Blue is about 35 feet long. From the drivers seat back, I had about 189 sq. ft. to work with. Once we ripped out all the seats, we realized just how much space was inside this bus. I didn't know this fact, but the roof on this 1990 International 3800 actually is a bit raised. Being 6'2" is not a problem what-so-ever in this bus. A gentleman that was 6'5" had to tilt his head a little bit. Most other school buses don't have as much headroom as mine as, as far as I know.
I knew that I wanted to have the entire back area be the bedroom, with a queen size mattress. There was enough space, side to side, to build a headboard/storage compartment. The mattress sits on a custom built frame/base, which doubles as a large storage area, and where the 40 gallon fresh water tank sits. The fresh water is inside the cabin, so there is less likelihood of it freezing. The black water tank is underneath the bus.
With the rest of the design, I knew that I wanted to have a long couch, so that I could sleep on it. I wanted to have a dining area (and as per the Nevada DMV, we needed to have a place to eat in order to be titled as a motor home, each state varies in what they require). If someone was to ever drive with me, they would surely want to sit up front, so putting the couch closest to the driver made the most sense. Right in the entrance, I have the little bookshelf, I knew that I wanted to sell things from the bus, so that's where that idea came from. If I ever entertained, I would need a place for people to sit, so it only made sense to have the dining area across from the couch.
Let me step back a little bit. Big Blue has 11 windows, the one in the front, and the one in the back is a bit larger than the other 9. The way we designed the bus interior, is along the window panels. To give you an idea of what I mean. The couch with the shelf in the front is 3 windows wide. The kitchen and the fridge is 3 windows wide. The closet area has 3 windows, and the bedroom has 2 windows. On the other side. The fireplace, cooler is one window. The dining area is 3 windows. Then I have the pantry along with the emergency exit. And so forth. The reason for this, is that we could attach the walls, right where the two windows come together and mount to the bus. We also did not want to block out any windows, and did not want to see lines of the wall from the outside of the window when looking in.
The kitchen and the bathroom were a bit more complicated. I wanted to have as open of a feel in here as possible. That was the whole point of living in a bus, the window real estate. So I wanted to put up as little walls as possible, and mostly have a white interior, with color accents. It was also a matter of how tall to make the counters. I definitely wanted them high enough, so that I dont have to change my posture or body position at all. I wanted it to be high enough to be comfortable for my height. That meant that standard cabinets would not work, we had to build it all from scratch. We also had to black out the bottom part of the windows so that you would not see the back of the higher counter tops. The frigde made the most sense beside the kitchen, in the middle of the couch and dining room. I have found this to be one of the most amazing aspects of living in this tiny bus home. I can grab a soda while sitting in my dining room chair, as well as from the couch. Its very efficient.
Bathroom was the most difficult. Where it sits now, is basically the only place on the bus it could have gone. One thing we did not take into account was that the wheel well is in the cabin of the bus. In the front engine buses, you might only have 2 wheel wells to work around, where as in the flat nose buses, you might have to design your interior around 4 wheel well humps.
Building it right above the wheel well was really our only option. The bathroom is two windows wide. One window is no longer visible from the inside, in order for the shower to be completely water proof. The other window in the bathroom, above the toilet, has blinds installed. Building the toilet over the wheel well allowed us to have it sit higher, making it more comfortable to use. Because realistically, who likes a shitty toilet? I don't. However, it left us having to put bends into the plumbing dump pipe, so I have had to unclog it twice. (Trashbag over arm, and go digging.) Not really anymore of an issue that a regular toilet. Putting it here, put the toilet closest to the back of the bus, which is the only place that had enough room underneath the chassis to mount the black/waste water tank. I did not want the sink in the bathroom, because I also wanted it to function as the sink for the kitchen. So the sink is built right outside of the bathroom, over the rest of the wheel well.
So we figured out that we wanted the back area to be the bedroom. Along one side of the bus is the 2 window bathroom. 1 window sink and counter-space, the emergency exit and then the dining area. We had a pit of space left over behind the drivers seat, so we decided to put the little fake wood stove electric heater there, as well as the Primo water dispenser. My parents no longer needed it, and it's perfect for the bus. It has a 5 gallon jug capacity, as well as the option to cool and heat your water. On the other side of the bus, we have the shelf, couch, fridge, kitchen, and then we had a lot of open space. 3 windows were available for whatever. I've seen buses that utilize this area for bunk beds, if they have their family living on the bus. One family has made space for their sons hospital bed, and all his medical devices and medicine in the area that we utilized as closet space. One bus has an office in this area. Since it was originally going to be my girlfriend and I, we needed to have some storage space to separate our things a bit. It is a lot of storage! It also worked out that we were able to build the closet right over the wheel well, so that was no issue. I really wanted the bedroom to be the most comfortable place on the bus. I can be parked anywhere, but feel right at home. Safe. Comfortable. And I have that. With the walls of the closet on one side, the wall of the bathroom on the other, drawing the curtain closed over the wide walkway, makes me feel that I'm in my own little cocoon, my own bubble. It is the most wonderful feeling.
All that designing was not easy. Working with the curves of the bus, figuring out how and where to run the electric and the plumbing. Figuring out how tall and wide the couch or the chairs would be. What kind of cushions are we able to buy and make for these custom chairs? How do we make use of every inch in the bus, so that we can maximize livability and have more than enough storage? There were times when I would sit in the empty bus, on the last school bus seat that we left inside, and I just looked around and visualized what it might look like. I let the bus tell me what it wants. Then discussed it with everyone, and we worked and struggled together to make the final design come to life. We basically built it according to the initial design that we laid out with the blue tape.
Is there anything you would've done differently in your design knowing how its set up now?
Like I mentioned, I am so happy that we ended up placing the pantry and the fridge where we did. From my dining chair, I am able to grab a drink or food from the fridge, and right behind me I can grab something from the pantry. The way we designed the dining area, with the table that comes apart and makes the whole section into a bed, was taken right from what RV's use in their design for an extra bed. There is storage underneath the seats, and I can put my feet up on the opposite dining chair. All that was not done intentionally. Originally we thought about putting a real wood stove where the fridge is. That meant we would have to built a small, and put in heat shields and make the area safe for the intents heat. Since I would be spending the winter in Florida, we decided to scrap the wood burning stove. After having a few cold nights in Florida, and even colder nights in New Jersey, a wood stove might definitely be in order. Quite a few Skoolies and Tiny Homes have those. Even with the insulation in the walls, floor and ceiling, it definitely still gets really hot, and really cold in here.
We installed an energy efficient A/C unit in the back of the bus, which claims its good enough for 250sq ft. It makes the bedroom very comfortable, but really does nothing for the rest of the bus. Driving through California, with it being 120 degrees inside the bus, definitely makes me think about installing an RV type rooftop mounted AC unit near the driver and living area. It gets too hot in here in the summer.
Other than that, for this being the first ever complete thing I built with my dad, I cannot believe how well the bus is put together. The only thing that have occurred is that I had some leaks in the roof, the LED's went out because of a bad ground cable, some of the doors need a bit more attention as far as how they stay closed, the little latches that are on it come apart when I run over hard bumps. The main other big big issue is the solar power. 200 watts is simply not enough to run all the appliances. It was all I could afford when I started on the trip, but most buses of this size and with having a water heater, cook top, heater and so forth, are running upwards of 1,000/1,200 watts of solar power. That is something that I will need to upgrade in the future, as well as adding more batteries.
The bathroom is very small. There are times when its easier to stand in the shower to wipe after going to the bathroom. That's just something that showed itself after living in it. The shower head is tall enough, but I definitely have to bend and crouch a bit to be able to wash my hair. Not really an issue, it is a shower inside of a school bus.
What would you change if you started from scratch again? (I guess its pretty much the same question as last)
I would definitely make sure that the foundation, the bus, is in as best shape as possible. I was lucky to have gotten this 1990 California bus with only 68,000 miles on it. However, with it never raining in California, and then during the build in Vegas it only rained mildly twice, I didn't realize that the ceiling was full of leaks. I highly recommend to silicone all the cracks, overlaps of the body panels, rivets, etc etc that are on the ceiling. Before you paint it, make sure that you clean it, and silicone it all. The windows as well. I have quite a bit of discoloration along the wood near the windows. I have small leaks on almost every single window. I've tried silicone along the frames, with but the age of the windows, the weather sealant strips are cracked and worn out. It would mean replacing all the windows. If I put too much silicone in the areas, it would mean that the top part of the window will not be able to open anymore. That is still something that needs figuring out. I didn't have any issue with rust, but make sure to fix any of that while you can.
Many people have come to me and asked why I didn't put in propane for the heater, fridge, and stove top. I am not comfortable in our ability to hook up propane tanks and run those lines. I have no intention to include worrying about deathly odorless gas in my home. I could surely benefit from it, but having such a time bomb in my home is not something I'm comfortable with.
Another little thing that I need to do to winterize the bus, is to get some of that foam insulation from a hardware store, and wrap my water lines with it. To make sure that if it gets too cold, that my water lines do not freeze. I also have to fill the curtains that I have with some sort of insulation, perhaps the silver reflective stuff as well as some quilt stuffing. The windows get really cold, so even with the insulation everywhere else, it gets cold. Thick curtains should do the trick. In that case, humidity and condensation might become an issue.
Here are some things that I HIGHLY recommend.
- Paint your roof white. Even better if its with a Silicone Polymer based paint. You can get those in the roofing section of your local hardware store, or RV stores. It blocks UV rays, and lowers the temperature of your room dramatically. Where as before the metal was hot to the touch, after painting it, its simply warm. It also helps with leaks and cracks.
- Leave your stock heating unit inside the bus. During the build, I came across an article about a gentleman who converted a bus, and he advised to leave the heater. So I did. And I am glad I did. Its free heat while driving. It warms up the bus plenty.
- Take lots of pictures. I know it can be a hassle when you are in the moment, working on something, but trust me, document the whole process. I cannot tell you how many times I had to look through my photos to figure something out. The LED lights stopped working, and I forgot how exactly we wired them. Looking through pictures from the build have helped me out so many times. And now, they are allowing me to share the process clearly with others. Memories and information :)
- Enjoy the process. It takes a lot of time, effort and determination. There were times when I looked at the bus and I just thought horrible disaster. Here I am with a really expensive, gutted piece of metal in my parents yard. I couldn't sell it to anyone, because it no longer had the seats, nor was it a full conversion. I was asking myself what I was doing. But I kept at it. I trusted the process. And here I am, not even a year after I bought it, living comfortably in my custom built bus home, in my friends driveway for the winter in Florida. Your dreams and your goals will come true. But you have to work hard at it, every single day.
- I highly recommend a roof rack. The church that I bought the bus from had already attached the metal frame that's on the bus. My dad and I attached the wood paneling right onto the frame. Within the next week I am hoping to have a detailed blog article posted, all about the roof deck. While on the road, I store my kayak and bike up there. It holds my solar panels, and is a great place to hang out and stargaze.
Thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say,