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Old 06-12-2014, 12:14 PM   #1
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Potential bus converter, have some questions

My wife and I are heavily considering buying our first bus to convert into a permanent yet mobile living space.

In November of last year, we thought we finally succeeding in attaining what we always wanting, a family home. Instead, we attained the reality of owning home, crippling debt and to be honest, boredom. Due to the limitations of our budget, we can't afford to do anything fun. Vacations? Yea, maybe in 30 years after the mortgage is paid off. I'm done with that already. I've looked into tiny houses but land in our area is very pricey, around 40k for a paper street lot just large enough to build. It would cost us around 80-90k to build a tiny home because of the land situation (damn you new jersey!)

That's when we stumbled across bus, camper and RV living. Naturally I was skeptical at first but after looking at some of the projects... wow. You guys are seriously inspiring!

I do have some questions for those of you that have converted buses though.

We do have 2 kids (and a dog but she might go live with my parents for this adventure). One is 3 and the other is only 5 months old. Now, obviously we're not going to get a bus tomorrow and move right in. Work needs to be done. A realistic window is at least a year for the work that needs to be done. Either way, I do have a question because of this.

Has anyone here moved into the bus with small children? If so how did it go? Any suggestions for laying things out with small children? I was thinking we would lay it out so that it was essentially, kids bunks, bathroom, our bedroom, towards the back of the bus. This is a popular layout from the families I have seen living in a bus.

Outside of that, i have a few other questions and likely many more if this project does occur. I want to use solar panels for all electricity needs. We would have AC, fridge, microwave, coffee pot, a TV and a computer, plus various lights around the bus. What am I realistically looking at as far as setup for this? I already plan on outfitting the roof with a deck, so I could build the solar panels towards the front of the bus, with the deck towards the rear. How many panels would I likely need and what would the outright cost of something like this be? I don't need a true figure just an estimate of cost, at least in your experience. And once we outfit the bus with Solar and layout the interior, how mobile will this thing realistically be? I feel like its a lot of weight for the poor diesel engine. I want to be able to pick up and move at a moments notice. Am I crazy to think that is possible?

Can one tow a small car behind a bus? I would love to get a smart-car or something tiny so that when we pull up in a city, we don't HAVE to drive the bus everywhere. Obviously, driving the bus everywhere is part of the fun but there are just some places where it can be annoying, like major cities where parking is at a premium.

Lastly, money. Now, I know this number will swing greatly depending upon the condition/cost of the bus, type of bus, type of materials used, etc. We are simple people, we don't like fancy things, its part of the appeal to the bus living concept. How much in your experience, does retrofitting a bus cost? This can be an extreme range, showing us the bare minimum vs the high end. Thats okay, I know we'd likely fall somewhere towards the middle. And also, with that figure in mind, how do many of you go about with the finances of renovating/retrofitting, while still having a home? I want to sell our home but I cant put my family on the street and selling a home does take time. I know its generally considered, well, scumbaggy, but has anyone just stopped paying their mortgage knowing the hit to their credit wont matter once they are off the grid? This would obviously net huge savings. Or would it make more sense to borrow money from a family member that we could pay back over time. We do have some deep pocket family members that could likely write us a large check.

I know its a lot, but I have a lot to consider. Its not just me and my wife, but my 2 children and they are more important than anything else. I want this to work for all of us. In fact, they are really the inspiration for this whole thing. I want them to experience so much more than they can ever experience now. I would love my kids to graduate high school saying they've been to every continental US state, canada, mexico, etc. I feel as though it would really round them out for their future and give them an opportunity to really determine, what they want to do in life.
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Old 06-12-2014, 01:17 PM   #2
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

As a fellow New Jerseyian, welcome. Before you even start looking for a bus, start looking for insurance. Not every RV insurance company insures in New Jersey, and not every RV company that insures in New Jersey will underwrite a "non-professional" bus conversion. Progressive, for example, is throwing all their skoolie customers under the proverbial bus, and Foremost only covers professional conversions. I found my bus first, and I'm still looking for Insurance.

Here's what MVC will be wanting to flip the title over from "Bus" to "RV"-

Quote:
Bus – Motor Home (RV)
Foreign – Bus – Motor Home Page 1 of 3
Foreign Title Unit (R11/09)
General Information
1) Change vehicle type on Comp System : This Procedure will be followed when the MVC-Foreign Title Unit is notified that a bus was converted to a Recreational Vehicle (RV). The regulations concerning Certificate of ownership for used motor vehicles converted into motor homes is 13:21-20.5. This transaction can be handled through the mail or in-person at the MVC central office in Trenton. If approved, this transaction will be handled in 2 steps:
2) Issue a Replacement title on the Agency V3 System
* Motor Home Vehicle Type = 05 Required Modifications
? Remove most seats from the bus : In order for the bus to be converted to an RV, the customer must make the following modifications to the vehicle:
? Remove emergency lights including the side mounted stop sign
? Repaint the exterior of the vehicle (Cannot remain any shade of yellow)
? Install a permanent bed or sleep sofa
? Install a permanent sink or bar sink (Must be in working order)
? Install a permanent stove or microwave

Bus – Motor Home (RV)
Foreign – Bus – Motor Home Page 2 of 3
Foreign Title Unit (R11/09)
Requirements
• :
Original NJ Title
o If the customer wishes to re-sell the vehicle, they must do so after the conversion, as a separate transaction. must be already in customer’s name as a Bus.
• Color photographs
o Exterior photos must completely/clearly show all 4 sides of the vehicle. of the interior and exterior after the conversion.
o Interior photos must completely/ show the bed, stove/microwave and sink.
• Pencil tracing or photograph clearly showing the complete VIN plate
• $60.00 check or money order payable to: NJMVC.
o If cash is received through the mail, immediately notify a supervisor.
No Cash (mail/ dealers)
o $85.00 is required if title is issued with a lien.
• Certified weight slip for the converted motor vehicle.
Most full size, and I think some short buses, have enough power to haul stuff. Check out Project "Brutus". Jake is moving across country, and towing an overloaded cargo trailer. Jake Von Slatt, who's build got me interested, pulls a Yaris with his.

I'm still in the early stages of my build, but others can help out re: solar, plumbing, heating. As for a bus size, with a family of four and a dog, I'd recommend at the very least a 75 pax. That's what Captain Obvious is, and even though its just me and SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed ), it gives us plenty of space if we want to take friends, other family members, or even just ditch a permanent building and go full time. (Final build plan here)
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Old 06-13-2014, 12:03 AM   #3
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

Oh man, thanks for the info.

I didnt even know people converted them "professionally."

If we could drum up a lease for some place out of state, could we use that to register/insure the vehicle within that state?
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Old 06-14-2014, 11:39 PM   #4
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

Your kids are small enough that your small living space won't be too cramped but there won't be much privacy.

Running a small AC or DC refrigerator on solar panels and batteries may be do-able but running air conditioning will require a shore power plug in. Lots of people live full time in their buses but most are plugged in to the power grid. Those living off the grid of necessity become serious power misers.

I'm assuming you're still employed so can you find a place to legally park your new home that's close to work and schools? Most communities won't allow you to park in any one spot for more than a day or two.

Where will you get water and how will you get rid of grey and black water?

How will you heat in the winter?
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Old 06-16-2014, 12:44 PM   #5
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by complextinction
Grey water I am unsure of as of right now, since I don't know much about this
Grey water is usually sink & shower water.
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Old 06-16-2014, 05:58 PM   #6
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scooternj
Quote:
Originally Posted by complextinction
Grey water I am unsure of as of right now, since I don't know much about this
Grey water is usually sink & shower water.
I should've clarified. I know what grey water is but I am unaware of the disposal process.
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Old 06-17-2014, 09:32 PM   #7
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

Nat, I am with you on this one. Doing half measures rarely works out. I decided on my Crown conversion that I wanted a good size generator. I went with an 8000 watt Quiet Diesel from Onan/Cummins. The difference in price between the 6,000 watt and the 8000 watt was about $250. The size and weight were identical between the two generators. Electricity is important. You don't want to do a setup where you are constantly tripping breakers and having to hassle and worry about what is on or off. Part of the fun with my conversion will be peace of mind!! Plus, I got a price that was $2,000 off from retail. I figured I couldn't pass it up.
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Old 06-17-2014, 11:28 PM   #8
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

The composting toilet simplifies your waste disposal considerably. At our family camp site I just open the grey tank and let it dribble but In town or a campground that won't be accepted behavior.

Heat options:

RV propane furnace - Not very efficient and draws a fair amount of electricity (ours draws 40 watts). No monoxide or humidity worries. Somewhat noisy when the fan runs.
Catalytic propane heater - Quiet, no battery draw and very high efficiency. They dump a good bit of humidity into your bus and can burn up all the oxygen if your bus is built tight.
Wood stove - Wood can be free. They need to be tended regularly and heating up a cold bus can take a while. Kids could get burned.
Electric heater - No humidity or monoxide issues. You need to be plugged in to shore power.

Even a very efficient refrigerator is going to draw a good bit of power so you'll need a generator or lots of solar panels and battery capacity to keep up if you stay off grid.

Seems to me that long term parking is your main issue. The usual solutions are a campground or parking on someones land. Shore power, drainage and water supply are key. Campgrounds are unlikely to let you dribble grey water so you'd need a spot with hookups.

Lorna and her daughter Mel are both full-timers and will probably chime in.
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Old 06-18-2014, 11:11 PM   #9
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by nat_ster
Minimum 5k for battery's, inverter, ect.

It all depends on if you want to live like your in a house, or you can be a miser with your electricity consumption.

It also depends on what you choose for a heating system.

Make a list of everything you use on a daily basis that is electric. This will give you a idea on how much power you need.

I'm not one for half assing stuff. I do it right, or I keep saving till I can. Meaning it's hard to set up a good, efficient system without having the entire budget up front. Buying inferior, undersized components just leads to spending more money in the end.

Nat
Hmm. Good call. I'm still trying to mesh things out. Right now I can see us living in the space as far as square footage goes, but its all the utilities that I wonder about. Right now I am in IT and I work remotely a lot. I would love to be able to pack up and drive for a month, working remotely all the while. Obviously this would necessitate satellite internet. As for power consumption, we are really good about not using the AC unless its over 90 inside the house. I keep my dial at 78 to keep the humidity under control and it lets me sleep in moderate comfort. Heat stays at like 65-68 during the winter months, enough to keep me in slippers and sweats when I'm at home.

I completely agree though, cheap is the wrong way 99% of the time. If it can be done cheap without any sacrifice or issue, then everyone would do it that way :P
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Old 06-18-2014, 11:16 PM   #10
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Re: Potential bus converter, have some questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by roach711
The composting toilet simplifies your waste disposal considerably. At our family camp site I just open the grey tank and let it dribble but In town or a campground that won't be accepted behavior.

Heat options:

RV propane furnace - Not very efficient and draws a fair amount of electricity (ours draws 40 watts). No monoxide or humidity worries. Somewhat noisy when the fan runs.
Catalytic propane heater - Quiet, no battery draw and very high efficiency. They dump a good bit of humidity into your bus and can burn up all the oxygen if your bus is built tight.
Wood stove - Wood can be free. They need to be tended regularly and heating up a cold bus can take a while. Kids could get burned.
Electric heater - No humidity or monoxide issues. You need to be plugged in to shore power.

Even a very efficient refrigerator is going to draw a good bit of power so you'll need a generator or lots of solar panels and battery capacity to keep up if you stay off grid.

Seems to me that long term parking is your main issue. The usual solutions are a campground or parking on someones land. Shore power, drainage and water supply are key. Campgrounds are unlikely to let you dribble grey water so you'd need a spot with hookups.

Lorna and her daughter Mel are both full-timers and will probably chime in.
I agree, long term parking right now is my main concern. I have a few siblings and family members with property but none with enough that the bus would fit comfortable without ruffling any feathers. My sister has a house that sits way back on the property with a nice long paved driveway that fits 5 cars front to back but she would have to be okay with us being there all the time. I currently own property, so I am debating finding a way to build a small home as a guest house or pave a driveway on the back end of the property and park there. Then I could rent my home out and potentially make some money.

As for the heaters, what is most common? I see a lot of wood stove jobs but they take up so much space and with kids I have always been iffy on them. Electric is ideal if I had a power source naturally.

I really don't care if I can stay off the grid all the time, it would be nice if I could go a few days here and there on battery/panels while I was traveling from A to B.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gmarvel
Nat, I am with you on this one. Doing half measures rarely works out. I decided on my Crown conversion that I wanted a good size generator. I went with an 8000 watt Quiet Diesel from Onan/Cummins. The difference in price between the 6,000 watt and the 8000 watt was about $250. The size and weight were identical between the two generators. Electricity is important. You don't want to do a setup where you are constantly tripping breakers and having to hassle and worry about what is on or off. Part of the fun with my conversion will be peace of mind!! Plus, I got a price that was $2,000 off from retail. I figured I couldn't pass it up.
How often do you find yourself using the genny? Are you frequently off the grid?
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