We get a lot of questions about the bus – both its construction and our experience living on it – and want to take time address many of the ones we hear most often.
What type of bus do you have?
We have a 1991 International School Bus, model 3700. She’s old, but still sassy.
Who Drives the Bus?
We both do. As part of the conversion process we each upgraded our licenses from a class C to a class B license. To do so, we both had to take written & practical exams demonstrating we could safely drive the bus. We typically take shifts behind the wheel and swap out whenever the driver becomes tired.
How long did the conversion process take?
It took us just under 2 years to fully convert the bus. Why did it take so long? Well, there are a few reasons.
First, we were both working demanding full-time jobs throughout most of the process (often clocking in at well over 40 hours a week) which meant we worked on the bus whenever we could. This usually meant weekends or evenings as we had time and energy.
Second, we paid as we went. Throughout the construction process we each had expenses to cover such as student loans, rent & utilities, groceries, car insurance, out-of-pocket medical bills, pet care, family members’ weddings, etc., etc. We were also trying to save as much as money as we could in preparation for eventually leaving our jobs. All in all, we often made progress on the bus as our finances permitted.
Third, we’re not experts. The conversion was a DIY project, which often meant that we had to spend a lot of time researching how to do things. We became regulars with the staff at home depot. After stripping the seats out, we spent the better part of 2-3 months just figuring out many of the steps we’d need to do next.
How much did the conversion cost?
We didn’t keep a strict tab on every single expense, but our estimate is between $13,000 – $15,000. ($5,000 of this went to purchasing the bus and initial engine repairs.) As mentioned above, both of us were working throughout the process and we wouldn’t have been able to afford the cost of conversion without each earning money along the way.
Did you have building/ construction experience when you started?
Some. Ryan grew up in the country and spent many years learning to build and fix things with his Dad. (Cars, houses, appliances, plumbing, really anything that could and would break.) He knew how to use, and owned, a decent collection of power tools when we started. For my part, I didn’t have previous construction experience, but I was ready to roll up my sleeves and learn some new skills.
do you have power on the bus?
Yes! We’re equipped for both on-grid & off-grid power sources. The longer we travel though, the more we find ourselves staying off-grid.
On-grid: We have a 30 amp AC power inlet that allows us to plug-into a standard RV power station (or a regular 15 amp house circuit if we use an adapter) and get electricity straight from the grid. We can then plug anything we want into our outlets, just like you would in a brick & mortar house. We typically only opt for an AC electrical hook-up if we want to run our air conditioner or electric space heaters for a longer period of time.
Off-grid: We also have two 6-volt deep-cycle batteries on board that provide an alternative source of DC power. These run our interior lights and water pump. We have 12v outlets installed in the front and back of the bus that enable us to plug-in our phones, kindle, and fans directly into these batteries when needed. There is also a 1500w inverter installed that enables us to plug-in and charge our laptops.
To keep these batteries charged, we have a few different options:
Converter Charger: We have a converter charger installed that specifically converts AC current to DC current allowing us to recharge our deep-cycle batteries when we’re plugged into an electrical outlet. Because we spend so much time off-grid now, we rarely make use of this anymore, but it is nice to have when we need it.
Solar Panels: We installed solar panels on the roof of our bus in December of 2016. As we don’t have many electric appliances, we opted for just a 300w solar system. So far this has been more than ample in keeping our batteries charged and meeting our daily power needs. If we decide we need to upgrade, there’s room to add more panels.
Generators: We did also purchase two gasoline-powered Honda generators as back-up power sources. We rarely use these, but they are there if we do ever need an emergency power supply. (Side note: Our generators also have enough capacity to run our fridge & air conditioner if we need to use them while off-grid.)
Is your bus insulated?
When we bought the bus, the ceiling and the walls already had about 2 inches of fiberglass insulation in place. In converting it, we did add foam insulation to the lower walls below the windows. Though we did also add some foam board insulation to the floor, it is admittedly not that effective. We kept the original windows and resealed the frames to prevent drafts. The question of how much insulation to add was one that we had to address during construction and we consciously chose not to outfit the bus for cold-weather climates. Instead we opted to make use of our wheels to avoid extreme temperatures.
do you have Heat & Air Conditioning?
Yes. We have a 15,000 BTU Dometic air conditioner that is specifically designed for RV’s and mounts to the roof of our bus. It’s proven to be effective at keeping the inside of the bus cool and comfortable in high summer temperatures. For heating, we have two small electric space heaters that keep the bus very toasty (think comfortably wearing a t-shirt when it’s 35 outside) as well as a propane space heater for when we need heat off-grid. (More about propane further down.)
Despite these systems, we’ve found that the best way to regulate the temperature inside our bus is to use its wheels. To avoid extreme summer temperatures, head north, or barring that as an option, head for higher elevation. (We spent all of August in Colorado at 8,000 feet elevation where the daily temperatures averaged 10-15 degrees less than the 90+ degree temps experienced by Denver.) Likewise, when it gets cold, head south.
How do you keep & prepare food?
We have a standard mini-fridge that we purchased from Home Depot. We looked at buying a propane-powered RV fridge, but couldn’t afford the accompanying price tag (the Home Depot version was less than $100). We can run the fridge via a standard A/C outlet when we’re staying somewhere with an electrical hook-up. Whenever we’re off-grid, we use our inverter in conjunction with our solar panel/battery set-up to power the fridge. When we first started traveling we hadn’t yet invested in solar panels, and used a pretty low-tech solution of buying a 10lb bag of ice for our cooler every few days. We also use a lot of dry and canned goods in preparing meals in order to cut-down on the amount of perishable food items we need to keep fresh.
We cook our meals on a propane camp-stove & oven that seems to be a pretty popular model for many vehicle conversions.
What about Hot Water?
We have an in-line water heater installed on the bus. This is different from the type of water heater you might find inside a brick & mortar home that would hold a large amount of water at a consistently hot temperature. Instead, the in-line water heater uses propane to heat the water as it flows through the unit itself. It provides hot water on-demand whenever we turn-on the hot water taps in the sink or shower. When we installed our water heater, we had to be conscientious of the amount of air-intake that it needs to safely operate as well as run a ventilation pipe to direct the exhaust outside of the bus. (Ours is vented out through the roof.)
Is it safe to use Propane on the bus?
Yes. In fact most commercially manufactured RV’s come equipped with propane stoves/ovens, heaters, water-heaters, and fridges. That being said, we do understand the risks associated with using propane inside an enclosed space and take several precautions to ensure our safety. We have both carbon monoxide & propane detectors installed on the bus, which sound an alarm should there ever be an unsafe build up either gas inside. We also make sure that we adequately ventilate the interior whenever there is propane in use. This means we open the kitchen window several inches when the oven is in use (it’s directly behind the oven) and leave other windows cracked when we use our propane space-heater.
How do you get water on the bus?
In thinking about the water system we wanted to install on the bus, we opted to follow the tried-and-true holding tank method that typical RV’s employ.
Fresh-Water: We have a 40 gallon fresh-water tank that holds the water that we use for drinking, showering, cooking, and flushing the toilet. Our water-intake port has a built-in pressure regulator and there is a ShurFlo water pump installed to draw water from the tank and into our plumbing lines. We also have the option of bypassing our holding tank altogether and connecting directly to an external water tap with a hose. (Many campsites will have water hook-ups for this purpose.)
Grey Water: Grey water is any water that goes down your sink or shower drain. We have a 20 gallon holding tank for this.
Black Water: This is anything that goes down the toilet. We have a 20 gallon holding tank for this.
Does your toilet smell?
No! We’re happy to report that we haven’t experienced any unpleasant smells from our toilet set-up. To prevent poo and other smells we made sure to properly vent both our grey & black water tanks during installation. You can read a lot more about how we decided on our bathroom set-up in this blog post.
Have another Question? Ask it in the comments section and we’ll do our best to answer it.