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Old 12-13-2018, 12:44 AM   #1
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Thoughts on building tiny house on a bus chassis

Hey all.

My partner and I recently purchased property in the Olympic Peninsula and are trying to decide on what direction we want to go with a bus conversion.

Currently we are considering a 30' or 40' bus to convert as our permanent home.
Probably once we park it, it will remain on the property but there is a possibility we will go on short trips as well.

I've checked out numerous bus conversions and all have typical
challenges such as insulating, ceiling height, and running electrical wiring.

I'm trying to decide if I want to do a typical conversion and work within the existing structure of the bus body or remove everything behind the drivers area and build a tiny house using conventional framing.

So, my questions are,

Is the body of the bus critical to and part of the structure of the bus chassis?

If I remove everything above the floor and frame a house will that work?

Has anyone here built a tiny house on a bus frame?

Thank you for any help.
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Old 12-13-2018, 12:51 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by WestCoastCarpenter View Post
So, my questions are,

Is the body of the bus critical to and part of the structure of the bus chassis?

If I remove everything above the floor and frame a house will that work?

Has anyone here built a tiny house on a bus frame?

Thank you for any help.

1. Yes. The entire body is structural.


2. At what point does that become like the way RV's are built? I suppose it could be done, but you'll lose a great deal of structural integrity inherent in the bus's original bodywork. Of course, if you never plan to drive/move it any distance, I suppose it becomes a moot point. You'll have great difficulty insuring it, if at all.



3. None that I am aware of, but I'm sure there's bound to be one or two.
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Old 12-13-2018, 01:02 AM   #3
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Thanks for your comment.

Good to know about the structural and insurance issues,
I'll look into that.


I guess the difference from an RV would be the busses ability to carry weight and the difference in heat and sound insulation, as well as a custom design floor plan.
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Old 12-13-2018, 01:17 AM   #4
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I guess the difference from an RV would be the busses ability to carry weight and the difference in heat and sound insulation, as well as a custom design floor plan.

A custom framed tiny home versus the original bodywork of a bus - at what point does it outweigh the GVWR of the chassis? Insulation can be added to bus bodywork, folks do it regularly. As for the floor plan, either way you still have to work around *SOME* constraints. The axle and wheel humps, frame rails, fuel tank placement, etc. You still have an 8' width limit (unless you go past these, in which case you get into over-width issues when driving, regardless if you build tiny home or expand the bus sides).


How much does a tiny home weigh (or in this case,add to the bus chassis)? We can weigh some 2x4's and plywood, but the ten thousand tiny odds and ends that invariably get used on such a project all add up. I'm not saying to do or not do either way, just to make an informed decision. Personally, I would not go the tiny home route unless it was something I rarely (or never) planned to move, and even at that, not any great distance. I might consider it if I ended up with a very rusted bus that would require too much cost and effort to rebuild (and only if the frame was sound).
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Old 12-13-2018, 02:12 AM   #5
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I was thinking the GVWR on a bus would be pretty high because of the potential live load plus whatever people bring on the bus.

Then if you deduct the weight of the bus body and bench seats which I imagine is significant, I think there would be plenty of GVWR remaining for a framed structure.

I'd have to look at a particular model and work out the math on materials vs allowable weight.

Thanks again for your input, it's just what I needed.
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Old 12-13-2018, 08:23 AM   #6
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Old 12-13-2018, 10:00 AM   #7
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I have a few thoughts on what has been posted so far, they are just my opinion.

Quote:
Currently we are considering a 30' or 40' bus to convert as our permanent home.
Probably once we park it, it will remain on the property but there is a possibility we will go on short trips as well.
If you think you "might" use it for trips, you probably won't. If you are stationary for any length of time, the time to stow everything away securely for travel gets longer. You're moving your "house". Even if you don't go anywhere there is still maintenance that must be done to the "bus" part. While generally, it does more harm to start the engine once in a while than leaving it sit, there is still things that need to be done after it sits for a while. It's not good for tires to "sit" without being driven.

Quote:
Is the body of the bus critical to and part of the structure of the bus chassis?
The "bus body" depending on model is just a body. The chassis is the frame with all of the running gear. If you take the body, including floor off you have, basically, a truck. You end up with something much like class A motor homes start with.

Quote:
Has anyone here built a tiny house on a bus frame?
Look at some of the old "hippie" buses. There were some that were quite well done (some not so much). Some are gorgeous.

As far as the weight issue, I'm not sure. My wife and I watch the "tiny house" shows. They build a "house" on a 2 axle trailer, I can't see how it is in any way possible that they have kept under the GVWR of that trailer. No mention is ever made about that. Then they show them happily leaving pulling something that, in my mind, isn't even constructed to travel as well as a stick'n'staple RV. They also have to purchase a very large truck safely pull it. I've pulled some kind of trailer most of my adult life, including some 38 ft towables. I wouldn't even consider pulling one of those things. As mentioned before, 102 inches is max width without a permit.

If it were me and I was considering a "tiny home" I would use shipping containers sitting on a permanent foundation with"real" plumbing and buy a small camper of some kind for the travel part.
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Old 12-13-2018, 12:29 PM   #8
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How often should a bus be driven?
How often do most skoolies drive their homes around?
I imagine most Skoolies get used a few trips then sit like RVs do.

I've seen the hippie wagons, I would be going for a modern look possibly using steel framing mixed with wood to eliminate weight where possible.

I might just remove everything from the bottom of the windows up.
Then frame in nice windows all the way around and put the bus roof back on at a taller height.


I don't want it to not look like a bus because there is a lot of charm and character there.

There is a lot to consider.

Thank you.
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Old 12-16-2018, 12:02 AM   #9
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I imagine most Skoolies get used a few trips then sit like RVs do.
I don't think that's really the case. I feel from experience with the skoolie owners I've met in real life, most full-time or travel regularly in their conversion.
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Old 12-16-2018, 12:58 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WestCoastCarpenter View Post
I was thinking the GVWR on a bus would be pretty high because of the potential live load plus whatever people bring on the bus.

Then if you deduct the weight of the bus body and bench seats which I imagine is significant, I think there would be plenty of GVWR remaining for a framed structure.

I'd have to look at a particular model and work out the math on materials vs allowable weight.

Thanks again for your input, it's just what I needed.

Well, let's talk weights. A typical full length bus will tip the scales somewhere between 17,000 - 20,000 pounds (unladen but full of fluids). A common GVWR is 25,500 (keeping under the 26K Class B threshold). A typical cab-and-chassis medium duty truck will weigh between 8-10,000 pounds, depending on fuel tank(s), frame length, engine, and other options. I would hazard to guess a chopped-down, full length bus to come in around 10K or so. This would leave you roughly 15,000 pounds to work with before exceeding the max GVWR, a good bit more than a pair of Dexter 3500 pound trailer axles ... and for that matter, more than a pair of Dexter 5200 pound axles. I've seen large 30-some-odd foot fifth-wheel RV's that roll on 3 axles and weigh 10K+, often with multiple slide-outs.


Now if you look around for a bus on a 32K pound frame (and they aren't terribly hard to find), you may find an air-ride frame and air brakes, as well as plenty of weight capacity for your project. If you exceed *That* kind of weight, you're getting into 3-axle territory.


If all this weren't confusing enough, don't forget your *AXLE* weights. ALL the GVWR in the world won't help you if you have 14,000 pounds on a steering axle designed for 9500. The same holds true (if to a slightly lesser extent) on your rear axle, leaving the front axle underweight - it needs a certain amount of weight for good weight distribution, as well as giving good traction on wet roads.


Quote:
Originally Posted by WestCoastCarpenter View Post
How often should a bus be driven?
How often do most skoolies drive their homes around?
I imagine most Skoolies get used a few trips then sit like RVs do.

I've seen the hippie wagons, I would be going for a modern look possibly using steel framing mixed with wood to eliminate weight where possible.

I might just remove everything from the bottom of the windows up.
Then frame in nice windows all the way around and put the bus roof back on at a taller height.


I don't want it to not look like a bus because there is a lot of charm and character there.

There is a lot to consider.

Thank you.

I believe vehicles begin to decay if left sitting - unmaintained - for too long. How long? That's more subjective - a couple years? 5 years? 10 years? Outside? In a barn? In a warehouse? In a museum?


If you plan to re-use the bus roof (which is a pretty good idea, IMO), I would strongly suggest simply raising the rook to whatever height you need, within reason. Keep in mind most states have statutory height limits of 13'6", and for good reasons. Low bridges, low traffic lights, and vehicles being too top-heavy are the main reasons (but not the only reasons, these are just a couple that come to mind). When doing a roof raise, I *Very Strongly* recommend welding in steel wall supports matching the original wall supports to maintain as much of the original structural integrity as you can. I would *NOT* use wood in place of the factory wall supports. I would, however, find removing (or more accurately, relocating) one or two wall supports acceptable, assuming the wall has been suitably framed out and reinforced for your planned window placement. Wood is fine for attaching wall boards to, not so much for primary roof support and structural integrity.


All that said, I've seen photos of a bus that appeared to have been stripped from the driver's seat back, and above the driver's seat/windshield - the entire thing being rebuilt in the resemblance of a log cabin or woodsy style cabin. It looked great from what I remember, but I have no idea if it was over-height, overweight, how top-heavy or roadworthy it was, or how well it would have fared in a crash. I can only imagine insuring it would have been difficult at best.
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