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Old 04-28-2011, 10:57 AM   #1
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Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Over the years, I've formed some strong opinions about using RV component when converting a bus into a home on wheels.

I'm going to try to list these opinions here in hopes that new people looking to do a conversion will read this and find the information to be food for though, rather than just thinking "oh, I'll get a bus, slap up some walls, reuse the toilet, fridge, a/c, load center, etc from this rotted travel trailer, and be good to go and save a lot of money". Sure, that approach will work, and you will end up with a better built RV, but you may not end up with the quality you're really looking for.

So here goes:

AC/DC Load Center: The AC and DC load center in most RVs is typically junk. Especially the ones that you'll be finding in a rotting trailer or motorhome. Using a higher quality load center will give you more reliability, and reduce the risk of fire. Those older automatic transfer switches were notorious for cooking the contacts on the relays, causing them to stick, potentially tying two power sources together, or not fulling disconnecting one when you think it is disconnected. The breakers in those centers are old, and have probably been tripped a lot of times, so if you are going to reuse one, at least replace the breakers.

Converter: The converter found in most RVs is worse than junk. It's just enough to sell the rigs, and let people get a couple of years out of them before their batteries are destroyed and need to be replaced. Do you want to keep buying expensive batteries every 18+ months? Spend a few dollars and get a quality battery charger, and use it to keep your batteries maintained. A converter is just a waste.

Toilet: The toilets used in most RVs are cheap, made of plastic, and of poor design. Often they're shorter than normal toilets and need a platform in order to be used. The waste valve (where the stuff goes down) tends to leak over time, potentially allowing oder (or worse) back into your rig. The fresh water valves often leak or break, which can lead to overfilling your black tank and draining your fresh tank before you realize it. Or worse, flooding the whole bathroom, and out into the rig. There ARE some good RV toilets out there. However, quality costs. Some of the heavier toilets (not plastic) are better quality. Many of the marine toilets are a better quality.

Air Conditioners: The rooftop a/c units on RVs are a compromise design. They are an afterthought. First there were RVs, then someone said "hey, let's design an A/C unit that takes up no space in the RV", and they did. They wanted to make minimal structural changes to the RV, and so decided on a few things that lead to inefficiency. First, they put it on the roof... the hottest spot on an RV. An A/C unit in the shade is more efficient than one in the sun. Then they put a cheap plastic shroud on top (or plastic/fiberglass) that has no UV protection. In the sunlight. It doesn't take long until they're so brittle they break when you sneeze in their general direction. On top of that, they chose a 14" square hole for all the ducting. Yes, that's the cold side as well as the warm side return. Typically with an interior bulkhead mount air diffuser with controls built in (the majority of the installs), the separation between the cold and warm side is a thin sheet metal tube with no insulation. So, as the cold air comes in, it cools the metal, and as the warm moist air passes over the cool metal tube going out, water condenses on it, dripping down inside. Rooftop A/C units are electrically inefficient, and also inefficient at cooling. They are expensive to repair or replace. They are expensive to buy new. Replacement shrouds are expensive. They require being cleaned out regularly, as debris gets blown in easily. Oh, and providing energy to power these beasts will quickly cost you a lot. These guys are conspicuous consumers of electricity that have seen very little change from the days when the promise of "cheap, limitless energy" was still believed.

Absorption Fridges: These things are a scourge to the RV world. The promise of a very low energy high efficiency refrigeration device is really nice, and absorption fridges have been that since before electricity was common. However, the RV absorption fridges have many problems. The control board is expensive, and has a high failure rate. There is an entire after market business in 3rd party control boards for RV fridges. The chemical used is based on ammonia, which is toxic when inhaled. There is an open flame when running the RV fridge from propane, and it isn't protected nearly well enough. RV fridges are quite often the cause of entire rigs burning to the ground. In spite of numerous safety recalls, this is still happening. They are expensive to repair, expensive to buy new, and expensive to replace the food ruined when they don't work right. Oh, and don't get them too far from level and try to operate them, as that'll affect the absorption process. They require two openings in the shell of your rig, one down low, and one up above the heat stack. They require adequate heat ventilation. In 100+ degree weather, parking with the fridge side getting the sun hitting it can cause the fridge to not function, and ruin your food. A dorm size or apartment size fridge is much more affordable, and reasonably energy efficient, even for off grid living.

Water Heater: The RV water heater is an interesting beast. The most common ones are in 6 gallon or 10 gallon sizes, and are frequently heated by an electronically ignited propane source. These sometimes have an electric element to supplement the heat. They use a lot of energy. They tend to be well insulated. Most often when someone doesn't winterize properly, they end up with water left in them that freezes and breaks connections, possibly ruining it altogether. About 15 minutes of operation in the morning will often provide enough hot water for 1 person for an entire day, if used frugally. However, there are other options out there now. There are on-demand heaters that will mount in the same size opening. These can actually be quite effective for a budget conversion, but you do need to be aware of the difficulty draining them. Also, the electronic ignition controls often fail, causing expensive repairs.

RV Furnace: The RV furnace is perhaps the biggest trick played upon RVers since the RV A/C rooftop units. These monstrous heaters are typically about 35% efficient, can burn thru a typical bbq tank of propane in a single night and drain a battery bank in a single night, and still leave you cold in the morning. There are many things that can go wrong with them. The control board is the most expensive, and is also easily fried. There is a 3rd party that makes replacement boards. Apparently they make enough money on their higher quality lower cost replacement boards that they've been in business for years. There are many better choices for heat in an RV. Among them are: hydronic radiators, hydronic air exchanger (this is how your car gets heat btw), propane catalytic (greater than 90% efficient), pellet stoves, wood stoves, and any number of other options that can be less expensive and much more efficient. Most importantly, many of the other options will leave you MUCH warmer than an RV furnace.

RV bed: An RV bed is typically close but not an exact match to one of the standard bed sizes. This can cause some frustration. However, the framing might be useful.

RV Shower: An RV shower is often very small and cramped. There's nothing special about them, they're just small. You can use a house type shower if installed properly. You can build your own (it isn't rocket science). Or, go wild and install a bathtub.

RV windows: RV windows are typically single pane, but you can find them in double pane versions. If it is double pane and there is condensation between the panes, it's no better than a single pane as it has leaked. The worst thing about RV windows is the framing. Basically, these are held in place with an aluminum ring (most commonly) that acts like a clamp. There is an inside ring and an outside ring, and they attach to each other, and squeeze the wall and window between them, holding it all in place. These are great heat sinks. Touching one on the sun side on a sunny day can burn your hand. These will suck the heat through the wall to the cold side, making your rig harder to heat and cool. Also, they have a really bad R value. Covering them when needing to stop heat transfer is essential. As an alternative, you can use normal house windows by providing proper framing. Some states require that all glass on a motorized conveyance be safety glass, either tempered or laminated. You can order safety glass in normal house windows, and this is probably worth the cost to stay legal.

Vents/Skylights: An RV skylight/vent unit is typically made from cheap plastic that eventually yellows with exposure to sunlight. It might even become brittle. You can't leave them open in the rain unless you cover them with a vent cover. The fans are usually power drains, unless you luck into a FanTastic Fan vent. They are typically the biggest heat loss point in an RV after the windows.

RV Awning: An RV awning is typically quite expensive. Most of the designs don't have a lot of structure, as they're designed to be easy to just bolt up to an RV. These are another after market design item that started to be included on factory rigs. Often times, they are ripped, stained, or damaged from being left open in a mild breeze. Replacement parts are costly. New material can be very expensive. They often require frequent repairs.

Now on to some good things you can get from a donor RV:

RV couches, captains chairs, and sinks are often reusable and often of a good solid build quality. Not all mind you, but most are. These things cost a lot new, but when provided by a donor vehicle can result in a huge savings. Now normal household furniture can be used as well, except for the safety seats (seating used while in motion), which must be anchored to the vehicle, and should have seat belts.

RV awnings, should you absolutely require one, should be gotten from a donor to save money. Or, you can design and build your own. There are a few examples of creative shade creation in the skoolie archives.

RV tanks are often reusable, as well as the water pump. Sometimes pieces of the plumbing is reusable, but I'd recommend sticking with PEX these days.

RV lights are reusable. However, there are more efficient ways of lighting a space than the typical 12V incandescent units, or even the 12V flourescents.

I hope these points provide people with some food for thought, and perhaps some points for discussion. Ultimately, it is up to you, the one doing the conversion, to decide what you're willing to accept. I'm not saying here that using any of the things on the negative side of this list is wrong for you, just that you should be aware of the issues with it before deciding to use it. It is often difficult to argue with free/cheap, but sometimes free/cheap can cost a lot of money down the road.

I will say though that I think it is a huge fire risk to install an RV absorption fridge. If you do decide to go that route, please please please install fire safety equipment behind it. Check the Mac the Fire Guy website. They have a product that can be mounted in the fire prone are behind these fridges that will automatically attempt to suppress the fire should one occur. Operating these fridges without such a device is foolhardy at best.

jim
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Old 04-28-2011, 05:30 PM   #2
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

While I don't have a whole lot of good things to say about RV stuff, I will rebut a few of your statements. For starters, I am currently living FULLTIME (and have been since 2006) in a small 1977 Midas Mini Class C on a GMC Vandura G35 chassis. It was not a top of the line RV when new.I am a firm believer in buying stuff from places like Lowes/Home Depot/ACE Hardware for ease of replacement when repairs are needed. We have extensive background in construction and we tend to rehab rather than replace.

Quote:
AC/DC Load Center: The AC and DC load center in most RVs is typically junk. Especially the ones that you'll be finding in a rotting trailer or motorhome. Using a higher quality load center will give you more reliability, and reduce the risk of fire. Those older automatic transfer switches were notorious for cooking the contacts on the relays, causing them to stick, potentially tying two power sources together, or not fulling disconnecting one when you think it is disconnected. The breakers in those centers are old, and have probably been tripped a lot of times, so if you are going to reuse one, at least replace the breakers.
Our Class C is using the ORIGINAL GE AC panel box. All breakers were replaced. You need to understand that you can buy a brand new breaker and it can still be bad. A breaker box is pretty inexpensive.

Quote:
Converter: The converter found in most RVs is worse than junk. It's just enough to sell the rigs, and let people get a couple of years out of them before their batteries are destroyed and need to be replaced. Do you want to keep buying expensive batteries every 18+ months? Spend a few dollars and get a quality battery charger, and use it to keep your batteries maintained. A converter is just a waste.
Original converter still in use.

Quote:
Toilet: The toilets used in most RVs are cheap, made of plastic, and of poor design. Often they're shorter than normal toilets and need a platform in order to be used. The waste valve (where the stuff goes down) tends to leak over time, potentially allowing odor (or worse) back into your rig. The fresh water valves often leak or break, which can lead to overfilling your black tank and draining your fresh tank before you realize it. Or worse, flooding the whole bathroom, and out into the rig. There ARE some good RV toilets out there. However, quality costs. Some of the heavier toilets (not plastic) are better quality. Many of the marine toilets are a better quality.
You haven't been around RV's much have you? Okay, the "short" toilets were made for the tub/showers that have a "platform" at one end. The bayonette valves suck big time (we've replaced the black valve because they DO freeze contrary to what many RVers say... ours froze one very cold night in S GA). We will not be using them on the bus and when we get out of the Class C, we will be replacing the original waste tanks (damaged) with new ABS tanks and NEW BALL VALVES because my daughter will be living in the Class C for a while. All the fittings on RV toilets are plastic and plastic rots and degrades over time. Our current Thetford is not as old as the RV but it was replaced in the mid 80's and still holding up okay. The RV toilet we are putting in the bus is very old. It is a Mansfield Sanitary Traveler 901 (china bowl). Sealand bought out Mansfield and I can still get parts. There are several rubber seals that will need to be replaced over the years in ANY RV/Marine toilet. They age, dry rots (like any rubber) and get damaged from hard water. The most damage to an RV toilet occurs from water. Try not to use the toilet from an All-n-one bathroom (toilet sits in the shower stall). That is what is in our Class C. The springs on the toilet (pulls the ball valve/blade valve back across the throat when the valve opens to flush) gets rusty. To replace the water valve is the same amount as a new toilet will cost.

Quote:
Air Conditioners: The rooftop a/c units on RVs are a compromise design. They are an afterthought. First there were RVs, then someone said "hey, let's design an A/C unit that takes up no space in the RV", and they did. They wanted to make minimal structural changes to the RV, and so decided on a few things that lead to inefficiency. First, they put it on the roof... the hottest spot on an RV. An A/C unit in the shade is more efficient than one in the sun. Then they put a cheap plastic shroud on top (or plastic/fiberglass) that has no UV protection. In the sunlight. It doesn't take long until they're so brittle they break when you sneeze in their general direction. On top of that, they chose a 14" square hole for all the ducting. Yes, that's the cold side as well as the warm side return. Typically with an interior bulkhead mount air diffuser with controls built in (the majority of the installs), the separation between the cold and warm side is a thin sheet metal tube with no insulation. So, as the cold air comes in, it cools the metal, and as the warm moist air passes over the cool metal tube going out, water condenses on it, dripping down inside. Rooftop A/C units are electrically inefficient, and also inefficient at cooling. They are expensive to repair or replace. They are expensive to buy new. Replacement shrouds are expensive. They require being cleaned out regularly, as debris gets blown in easily. Oh, and providing energy to power these beasts will quickly cost you a lot. These guys are conspicuous consumers of electricity that have seen very little change from the days when the promise of "cheap, limitless energy" was still believed.
Okay, I've never cleaned out the shroud. You have two choices with A/C units (which are all AC powered). You either put one on the roof (out of the way) or you put it underneath the floor (out of the way). I will address the power consuption later...

Quote:
Absorption Fridges: These things are a scourge to the RV world. The promise of a very low energy high efficiency refrigeration device is really nice, and absorption fridges have been that since before electricity was common. However, the RV absorption fridges have many problems. The control board is expensive, and has a high failure rate. There is an entire after market business in 3rd party control boards for RV fridges. The chemical used is based on ammonia, which is toxic when inhaled. There is an open flame when running the RV fridge from propane, and it isn't protected nearly well enough. RV fridges are quite often the cause of entire rigs burning to the ground. In spite of numerous safety recalls, this is still happening. They are expensive to repair, expensive to buy new, and expensive to replace the food ruined when they don't work right. Oh, and don't get them too far from level and try to operate them, as that'll affect the absorption process. They require two openings in the shell of your rig, one down low, and one up above the heat stack. They require adequate heat ventilation. In 100+ degree weather, parking with the fridge side getting the sun hitting it can cause the fridge to not function, and ruin your food. A dorm size or apartment size fridge is much more affordable, and reasonably energy efficient, even for off grid living.
No argument from me on this point. We pulled ours out of the Class C and replaced with an undercounter freezer unit (4 cf) and a small refrigerator (3 cf.. which is too small). The "level" thing no longer applies with the newer units. If you can sleep comfortable (not fall out of bed) then you are level enough to operate the fridge. Many "dry campers" (folks who camp without hookups) settle for the 2 or 3 way units. Most RV fires seem to occur around the refrigerator vent area. We rarely are without hook-ups (just over night in parking lot and traveling down the road). We run the POS Onan generator to power the refrigerator and freezer as well as the A/C unit. (note: don't get a generator smaller than 3KW)

Quote:
Water Heater: The RV water heater is an interesting beast. The most common ones are in 6 gallon or 10 gallon sizes, and are frequently heated by an electronically ignited propane source. These sometimes have an electric element to supplement the heat. They use a lot of energy. They tend to be well insulated. Most often when someone doesn't winterize properly, they end up with water left in them that freezes and breaks connections, possibly ruining it altogether. About 15 minutes of operation in the morning will often provide enough hot water for 1 person for an entire day, if used frugally. However, there are other options out there now. There are on-demand heaters that will mount in the same size opening. These can actually be quite effective for a budget conversion, but you do need to be aware of the difficulty draining them. Also, the electronic ignition controls often fail, causing expensive repairs.
We replaced the Class C's original Bowen (became Atwood) with an AC/LP electronic ignition 6 gallon water heater. We normally run it on AC (more about usage later). It doesn't take much power to operate it. We have yet to operate it on LP. Since we fulltime, we don't winterize. There is plenty of hot water to allow me to take a shower (non-stop water) and wash my hair. I like HOT showers. It recovers fast enough that by the time I get dried off/dressed, the water has recovered enough for David to take a lukewarm shower (the kind he likes). To recover completely takes about 20 to 30 minutes in the winter with very cold inlet water. For the bus, I will get a tankless LP water heater (endless hot water... hour long showers!!! YES!!! )

Quote:
RV Furnace: The RV furnace is perhaps the biggest trick played upon RVers since the RV A/C rooftop units. These monstrous heaters are typically about 35% efficient, can burn thru a typical bbq tank of propane in a single night and drain a battery bank in a single night, and still leave you cold in the morning. There are many things that can go wrong with them. The control board is the most expensive, and is also easily fried. There is a 3rd party that makes replacement boards. Apparently they make enough money on their higher quality lower cost replacement boards that they've been in business for years. There are many better choices for heat in an RV. Among them are: hydronic radiators, hydronic air exchanger (this is how your car gets heat btw), propane catalytic (greater than 90% efficient), pellet stoves, wood stoves, and any number of other options that can be less expensive and much more efficient. Most importantly, many of the other options will leave you MUCH warmer than an RV furnace.
Okay, I have PROBLEMS which what I read about RV furnaces. I have a very efficient OLD Suburban forced air furnace. Very noisy... only surpassed by the rooftop A/C unit and jet air planes. Many will post that they suck up a 20 lb LP tank in a couple of days. In TN/NC mountain winter, a 20 lb tank (also use it to cook with) will last two weeks. For the bus, we will use the original bus heater with a used LP RV water tank plumbed in to heat the fluid. We will add an electric heating element to the water heater since we tend to have our electric included in our site rental. We will also add a catalytic WAVE 3 int he bathroom area (I like to be warm after I get out of the shower) and a blue-flame wall mount heater in the fireplace mantle because sometimes we need just a little heat.

Quote:
RV bed: An RV bed is typically close but not an exact match to one of the standard bed sizes. This can cause some frustration. However, the framing might be useful.
Except for the "short" sizes, the beds are the same width. Many times the owners will have already replaced the mattress with a normal full-size mattress. I''ve cut down our king sized water bed frame to accommodate a full-sized mattress.

Quote:
RV Shower: An RV shower is often very small and cramped. There's nothing special about them, they're just small. You can use a house type shower if installed properly. You can build your own (it isn't rocket science). Or, go wild and install a bathtub.
If you go with a bathtub, you pretty much need to go with a tankless water heater. We used a house style 32X32" shower pan in the bus.

Quote:
RV windows: RV windows are typically single pane, but you can find them in double pane versions. If it is double pane and there is condensation between the panes, it's no better than a single pane as it has leaked. The worst thing about RV windows is the framing. Basically, these are held in place with an aluminum ring (most commonly) that acts like a clamp. There is an inside ring and an outside ring, and they attach to each other, and squeeze the wall and window between them, holding it all in place. These are great heat sinks. Touching one on the sun side on a sunny day can burn your hand. These will suck the heat through the wall to the cold side, making your rig harder to heat and cool. Also, they have a really bad R value. Covering them when needing to stop heat transfer is essential. As an alternative, you can use normal house windows by providing proper framing. Some states require that all glass on a motorized conveyance be safety glass, either tempered or laminated. You can order safety glass in normal house windows, and this is probably worth the cost to stay legal.
As for the legal part, there is probably an exemptions buried into the rules for RV's, there often is... just like under the CDL exemptions. The aluminum framing applies to house style windows as well. The difference between a single pane is R-1 and a duel pane is R2. Lower the R value for aluminum framing. What dual pane does is lessen the condensation problem. We haven't had that much of a problem with condensation... we have spent the winter in high humidity areas in S GA, TN/NC and Corpus Christi TX . We put Reflectix on the windows to keep the heat and cold down. Does make it dark in the winter. I have read that the clear packaging bubble wrap will do the same with just a hair less R-value. We kept the single pane bus windows.

Quote:
Vents/Skylights: An RV skylight/vent unit is typically made from cheap plastic that eventually yellows with exposure to sunlight. It might even become brittle. You can't leave them open in the rain unless you cover them with a vent cover. The fans are usually power drains, unless you luck into a FanTastic Fan vent. They are typically the biggest heat loss point in an RV after the windows.
My vents are non-powered. I use the fan on the A/C unit. I do have vent covers over the vents (NOT Fantastic vent covers... Non powered Maxx airs... one came on the Class c and the other I picked up free just by meeting up with someone from the RV forums as they were passing thru GA. The vent covers allow me to leave the vents open when it rains.

Quote:
RV Awning: An RV awning is typically quite expensive. Most of the designs don't have a lot of structure, as they're designed to be easy to just bolt up to an RV. These are another after market design item that started to be included on factory rigs. Often times, they are ripped, stained, or damaged from being left open in a mild breeze. Replacement parts are costly. New material can be very expensive. They often require frequent repairs.
Crappy wind finally caught ours while in TX. No a big deal here in NM. We don't dare open one due to the gale force winds. Can't open one in our current campsite since a tree is in the way. We used to use a freestanding canopy with our little Apache pop-up. Worked great. I have a 10X20 EZ-Up that has a torn cover from the NM sun. I'm going to get a shade cloth "tarp" to use on it and use that in place of an attached awning for the bus.

Quote:
RV tanks are often reusable
The translucent tanks are poly and a PITA to repair. If buying new, I would recommend ABS (often black in colour) as they can easily be repaired.

Quote:
RV lights are reusable. However, there are more efficient ways of lighting a space than the typical 12V incandescent units, or even the 12V flourescents.
Watch out about what kind of lights you use. Halogens get very hot and can melt nearby things. LEDs need to be the right colour temp otherwise it will strain your eyes and give you headaches. Your best choice in light will most likely involve more than one type. Each light will need to be matched to the task.



ABOUT POWER USE.....

Our electric has been included in every site we've been in except two. Both were in the Corpus Christi area. Both charged 14 per kilowat hour. Our highest bill (Jan 2010) was about $50 (we think the meters were off since the previous campground was only $35 for a month). That was running an electric space heater because the furnace wasn't working... when we pulled it out of the RV in NM, found that loose rust was clogging the LP orifice. We had a bad flat on the way out of NM and didn't realize the furnace was not working until a few months later in TX. Also had the water heater on AC. And we used a lot of water. David pulled hot water from the Class C to operate the food cart.add two computers, (1) 27" LCD TV, (1) 4 cf freezer, (2) refrigerators (4 cf & 3 cf), microwave and various "inefficient" incandescent lights.

ABOUT LP USE.....
We use LP to cook with... RV range (RV ovens are very bad about cooking... you need to put unglazed tiles in the floor between the rack and the burner... I use some old quarry tiles my dad had and some folks use pizza stones) and cheapie Wal-Mart table top gas grill. Even running the furnace on LP the most LP we have used is 20lb (BBQ tank) in 2 weeks (that is a full 14 days). It was during a really bitter cold snap with a week long stretch of sleet/ice storms in NC.


LP vs AC....
When in a site with metered electric and you are trying to decide whether you should use your dual fuel appliances on LP or AC... Cost of LP per gallon (not pound) 22 = $$ If the results are more than what the metered electric costs, use the electric. If lower, then use the LP. If the same... you decide. This is not exact. It is a generalized amount based on the typical efficiency of RV appliances (which normally aren't very efficient). So far, we have found that LP and metered AC to be the same price. That has been our experience. I have heard of others where the price difference is pretty big.
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Old 04-29-2011, 12:48 AM   #3
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Great posts, both of you... Lots of useful info...
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Old 04-29-2011, 12:53 PM   #4
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Quote:
note: don't get a generator smaller than 3KW
I have a larger one (I have 2 A/C units in the Genesis), but plenty of people are thrilled with their Honda Eu2000 gensets! According to several people, they will happily run all weekend, silently making their maximum rated power or a bit more without a hiccup.
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Old 04-29-2011, 01:28 PM   #5
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

I have a POS Onan Microlite. It works just fine but when all the compressors (freezer, refrigerator, A/C unit) manage to cycle on at the same time, the surge almost kills the generator. It doesn't happen all the time but it will about two or three times a day. You also have to remember that alot of the folks with EU2000s do not run AC only appliances.
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Old 04-29-2011, 04:41 PM   #6
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Honda makes a 3000 also... A buddy has one and it's really quite... A few in our group have the 2000s and a parallel kit...
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Old 04-30-2011, 10:08 PM   #7
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

I know...I will own an Eu3000 as soon as Liz and i can go get it (it's about 3 hours away).
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Old 05-05-2011, 02:35 PM   #8
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

IMHO YMMV -- I'm not really a grouchy old man...most of the time I manage to smile and be very patient when explaining my lifestyle, and generally people amuse me with their ideas, usually because it shows how much they are conditioned to think inside the box...but sometimes the same old "neat ideas"get aggravating, so sorry if I sound a bit grouchy in this post.

My 2 cents. Of course, I've been living in a bus for 6 years now, so maybe I don't know anything.

Refrigeration? It's evil. Unless you have medicine that needs it, do without. Buy fresh, let the grocer pay for the electricity and hardware.

A/C? 2x as evil as refrigeration. Enjoy the weather. No, seriously, A/C is eviler than refrigeration by far. Drop about 150# and spend some time outdoors, and you won't really notice the heat.

Water heater? Go with a 5 gallon marine hot water heater that has a heat exchanger for the engine coolant to heat the water. Then hook that up to a solar hot water panel on the roof. Also hook it to your underfloor heating. I haven't gotten the last two done yet, but soon, soon...


Oh yeah, most RV stuff is crap. If you're fitting out a bus, avoid it. Use household hardware and fixtures where possible. Also use recycled/used stuff where possible.

And another thing. Don't build stuff in if you don't have to. Leave as much of your bus as open as you can -- it will seem bigger, and you can use the space for more than one purpose if you don't build in dedicated things like...couches...TV nooks...etc.

Oh, yeah, ditch your TV. TV is evil. Video as a medium is not, but TV is.

Every time people come over to my bus they say, "You know what you need...?" I use to listen politely and then ignore them. Now I just tell them that there's nothing that they could think of that I haven't already thought of -- and if they don't see it already in the bus, that's because it won't work for me. Things that I keep getting told I need:

Futon -- WTF? I like sleeping on the floor and having a full 8x10 space to work in when I take up my bed. A futon is just a goddamn big piece of furniture that would take up 3'x7' in my bus, whether I was using it or not, and I would have to fold and unfold it constantly. Screw that. Same goes for most other pieces of furniture. Right now, I could build a canoe INSIDE my bus (or store my kayak in it) because I left it as open as possible.

Hammocks -- Have you ever slept in a hammock long term? It might work for 18th century swabs between the decks of a man-o-war, but it ain't a practical item for a bus or for daily sleeping.

Hanging pots and pans -- Brilliant! Like there's not enough **** banging around every time I drive the bus. If you're going to put something on a wall or suspend it from the ceiling, lock it down!

Refrigerator -- "You should get one of those little ones they have for dorms." Dude, you obviously have no idea what kind of energy requirement that takes. Life does not oblige you to refrigerate things, and I have better uses for the space than to tote around a 2x2x2 foot container for science experiments that requires a constant high energy input.

Captain's chairs from a van -- Yeah, I'm sure they're really nice captain's chairs. I don't freaking want them! They require permanent mounting and take up huge space, and you can only sit in the place they are located. I have folding chairs that can go inside or outside, and they don't take up near the space of a freaking captain's chair.

A ship's wheel to go on top of my bus steering wheel -- That's YOUR idea of decoration, amigo, not mine. Plus, I'd be like the pirate with the ship's wheel in his pants -- it'd be driving me nuts.

Anything that requires cutting holes in the roof -- NO, dipweed, the roof is solid to keep rain OUT, not to let it in.

"Well you have solar panels, you could run a XYZ..." You obviously know nothing about MY solar installation. (Ignorant) people think a solar panel will run anything....

A windmill on the bus to make electricity when I drive down the road...Oh, sweet JESUS!

A closet to grow marijuana in -- I'm living in and occasionally driving around a giant vehicle that screams "SEARCH ME" at every cop around. Don't be stupid. ****, the local drug enforcement helicopter flies over my place (and the rest of the county) regularly looking for pot plants -- the LAST thing I'm going to do is set myself up for a prison term for manufacturing drugs. Once you boys grow up and learn how to deal with the testosterone in your systems, you will see the wisdom of my advice in this area...

OTOH -- if you like hot tubs, there is a wizard on this list who does some really neat things with hot tubs...and busses...and flamethrowers...and oceanfront real estate...
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Old 05-05-2011, 02:49 PM   #9
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
... Refrigeration? It's evil. Unless you have medicine that needs it, do without. Buy fresh, let the grocer pay for the electricity and hardware...
HMMM Anyone want to buy an unrefrigerated hot dog? How about a ham sandwich? Food poisoning is evil. The 20 to 40 pounds of ice we go thru every day we work is evil!
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Old 05-05-2011, 03:39 PM   #10
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
IMHO YMMV ...
Eric, I'm totally impressed with your work and how you set up your bus. Of course you're situation is different than mine and someone else's situation is different than both of us. Whereas you are a single guy living full time in your bus off-grid, I have a family of 5, often haul large groups of people, will often be plugged in to shore power, and only use my bus for a few weeks at a time at most. So I would say that your advice is great for someone in a similar situation to you, but for people like me, well... your setup would frankly be a bit too spartan.
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Old 05-06-2011, 09:43 AM   #11
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Maybe I'm harsh about the refrigeration, but really, it's easy to adapt, and in the winter (in the northern 2/3 of the US) there's plenty of refrigeration available for free. But the reality is that refrigeration is easy to do without if you learn how to live without it. Most people (not all) live in places where they pass grocery stores at least once a day, which means that fresh meat and dairy products can be had without a need for refrigeration at home -- just stop by the store and pick stuff up. Fresh veggies keep without refrigeration for a day or two with no problem if you keep them out of direct heat. Root crops keep well without a fridge. Many fruits will keep quite nicely without refrigeration, too (raisins, apples, oranges, etc.), as long as you don't buy more than you can eat in a week or two. Eggs? They keep quite well without refrigeration, for at least a week (yes, even the ones that have already been refrigerated.) Milk? Powdered milk is great for baking, and for using as coffee creamer, and also for cereal -- you don't have to make more than you need to use at any given time. Dried foods, such as beans, lentils, peas, and, pasta requires no refrigeration whatsoever. If you need to store meat, canned chicken and ham are easy to use in stir-fry dishes. Tuna in a can does not require refrigeration, and mixed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pickle relish (does not require refrigeration), and some onion and salt and pepper, it makes a very tasty tuna salad -- without refrigeration.

My biggest beef with refrigeration, particularly in a bus/RV, is the constant energy input required for the "benefit" of having cold food at your fingertips 24/7, when it's simple to get fresh food (unless you are in the boonies -- where you have energy access issues to begin with.) I'd consider Icy Balls as an alternative, if I could heat them with solar power ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icy_Ball ).

Food poisoning results from improper handling and storage of food, not from learning how to live without refrigeration. Buy your hot-dogs on the way home, cook them and eat them. No food poisoning. I've never experienced food poisoning as a result of living without refrigeration, even though I may push the envelope sometimes (cook steak/stir-fry for dinner, eat half, and leave half covered in the frying pan for the next morning.)

Certainly it's a matter of choice, and certainly not everyone has to give up refrigeration, but most people are so dependent on this modern convenience that they don't even know there are options. And it makes designing, outfitting, and, living in a bus much easier when you don't have to deal with a refrigeration system and it's support systems.

Like I said, IMHO, YMMV, and, I've only done this for 6 years.
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Old 05-06-2011, 11:21 AM   #12
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Im a big fan of fresh food, but, Im a bigger fan of cold beer in the summer heat.

just my 2 cents

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Old 05-06-2011, 12:12 PM   #13
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
... Food poisoning results from improper handling and storage of food, not from learning how to live without refrigeration. Buy your hot-dogs on the way home, cook them and eat them....
Sorry, but I don't think we could get our customers to buy hot dogs (or our other sandwiches) right after we bought them from our supplier (we got home last night from Albuquerque doing that at 11PM). Plus I'm sure that while NM is pretty lax on the rules, the Health Inspector would have a fit.

Look if it works for you, great. But I have no intention of living without a fridge or freezer. I want my clothes washed when I want them washed... so a washer and LP dryer is planned (since I tend to do laundry at night). I like to have my computer and TV (I like movies). We will run mostly off of a battery bank with a few inverters. For things like the automatic Dishwasher (I loathe putting my hands in dirty dishwater), washer/dryer (I hate doing laundry too) and the air conditioner, they will only be used when plugged into shore power. Unlike many on the forum, we stay hooked up to a power post. We are "unplugged" while traveling. We stay in parking lots and stop in a campground every 2nd or 3rd night (when possible) to dump tanks and refill water plus get a good night's sleep. We also operate a food business. Our needs are a tad different than many other folks. That is part of the reason why we are converting a bus. To build something that suits US rather than anyone else. As for A/C... I don't want to be in the upper 2/3 of the US. It was plenty cold here over the winter and the stories David told me about the Michigan winters he grew up in were enough to tell him I would NEVER move North of the Mason-Dixon. The TN & NC winters in the mountains are too cold for us now (but the summers are nice). But my home has wheels and it rolls down the road to... wherever. Only thing that ties us slightly to any one area is the food cart and the annual licensing fees... plus the cost of diesel!

We have tent camped & RVed since 1979. At 50 yo, I want a soft bed and all the comforts of "home" since this is my home. David has a bad back and is even older than I am. We have "roughed it" and done without for too much of our life. The line in the sand has been drawn. We are working a business that is often a 12+ hour day/7 day a week job. And we are supposed to be semi-retired. I'll do cushy over hard any day. I am not a domestic diva. The only thing domestic about me is that I used to live in a house. I do not like "shopping" and David is even worse about it than I am. I got better things to do than wander around the grocery store looking for stuff that I have to cook. Cooking is something I do simply because I like to eat good food and all the local restaurants around here suck. And then I have to stick my hands in dirty water to wash the dirty dishes... yuk.

No matter what your thoughts are on refrigeration or anything else, if you are going to the effort, time and expense of converting a bus, then you need to do it to suit your needs not someone else's. These are CUSTOM conversions. Not cookie cutter RVs. I think more thought needs to be put into not only HOW the bus conversion will be used in the near future but how it will be used down the road. I also think some of you single guys need to talk to a few female friends to see what a woman thinks about toilets and showers. Easier to at least plan for the possibility of a full bathroom and allow for the remodel in a few years than have to buy/build another bus. Skoolies are built extremely well. It is not unreasonable to expect them to still be running down the road 50 yrs from now (hey I'm currently in a 30 yo sticks-n-staples RV that can outrun most other new Class C's). That is how we are converting the bus... with an eye to living in it until we wake up dead. The folks in my family have a long history of living well into their upper 90's (and are still pretty healthy & mobile). I've told my kids they will have to chase me down to get my keys away from me! They would have to find me first...

The only "MUST DO" things that I would tell someone converting is to make sure they use heavy wiring. Don't use any electrical wire that is less than 12 gauge (smaller the # the larger the wire). You can buy 12/3 and 10/3 heavy duty extension cords fairly cheap (Lowes has a 100 ft 12/3 for $60 and a 100 ft 10/3 for $120 to give you some idea on pricing), especially after Christmas when everyone puts the green holiday cords on sale. Since you will just be cutting them up, look for them at yard sales and flea markets. "TIn" the cut wires before attaching them to the receptacles, etc (better yet, tin and use electrical connectors) . Use no smaller than #4 to hook up your inverters. You don't want to have to tear out your walls, etc to upgrade your wiring. And to use Smoke/Fire, CO and LP detectors. Everything else I feel is really up to the converter. You don't 'have" to vent your holding tanks, but you will regret not venting them at some point. You don't have to do lots of things but there are things you should do.

Rant over!
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Old 05-06-2011, 12:42 PM   #14
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

I live in Central Texas, where for months on end temps are around 100F most days. Even at night it's still 90 degrees at bedtime, and only cools to 80 degrees by morning. We have 3 very active kids. Air conditioning is not optional, but a requirement for survival and sanity in my situation. Regarding refrigeration, I've decided to just use an ice chest for now, since we have limited space and typically won't use the bus for more than a few days at a time, and I also don't want the constant energy drain of a refrigerator. The AC can be turned off when ambient temps are cooler, but once you commit to a refrigerator, you have to keep it running all the time. I can always retrofit a fridge later without too much trouble if our needs should change, but we would have to sacrifice seating to expand the kitchen. Like Lorna said, it's a good idea to build with the thought that things may change, and modifications may be necessary. But I don't think I would go without refrigeration of some sort, especially since, as gbstewart pointed out, cold beer is of paramount importance in the summer!
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Old 05-06-2011, 11:37 PM   #15
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

I didn't mean to sound...absolutist about the refrigeration thing. It's not for everybody. But consider it. Lorna hit the nail on the head when she said it's about customizing to suit your needs -- any other approach is sure to end in dissatisfaction at the very least.

But...let me suggest that when you go into converting a bus for living quarters, examine your *needs* very closely -- don't be constrained by what you are accustomed to.

IMHO, YMMV.
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Old 05-07-2011, 12:30 AM   #16
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

That's eye-opening stuff about refrigerators. The one in my '76 Winnie works great on ac current; hasn't needed service. I haven't run it on gas and the warnings here give me pause!

Dorm/apt. fridges don't need the vent holes cut in the side and roof, either. A plus.

Suggestions on how to mount the apartment fridge securely would be welcome: screws, bracket types, etc., to keep that heavy object from breaking loose and smashing me or a passenger in a crash.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
Refrigeration? It's evil. Unless you have medicine that needs it, do without. Buy fresh, let the grocer pay for the electricity and hardware.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
A/C? 2x as evil as refrigeration. Enjoy the weather. No, seriously, A/C is eviler than refrigeration by far. Drop about 150# and spend some time outdoors, and you won't really notice the heat.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
Oh, yeah, ditch your TV. TV is evil. Video as a medium is not, but TV is.
Gee...I thought the Amish shunned motorized vehicles as well.

OK, that was un-called-for. You like TV as much as I like Facebook, Twitter, et al.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
Every time people come over to my bus they say, "You know what you need...?" I use to listen politely and then ignore them. Now I just tell them that there's nothing that they could think of that I haven't already thought of -- and if they don't see it already in the bus, that's because it won't work for me.
I hear you! Unsolicited advice about anything is waaaay up on my pet peeves. When it comes to comebacks, I'm a slow gun, but I usually want to give a verbal equivalent to skunk spray and a glass of shutthehellup.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
Futon -- WTF? I like sleeping on the floor and having a full 8x10 space to work in when I take up my bed. A futon is just a goddamn big piece of furniture that would take up 3'x7' in my bus, whether I was using it or not, and I would have to fold and unfold it constantly. Screw that. Same goes for most other pieces of furniture. Right now, I could build a canoe INSIDE my bus (or store my kayak in it) because I left it as open as possible.

Hammocks -- Have you ever slept in a hammock long term? It might work for 18th century swabs between the decks of a man-o-war, but it ain't a practical item for a bus or for daily sleeping.

Hanging pots and pans -- Brilliant! Like there's not enough **** banging around every time I drive the bus. If you're going to put something on a wall or suspend it from the ceiling, lock it down!

Refrigerator -- "You should get one of those little ones they have for dorms." Dude, you obviously have no idea what kind of energy requirement that takes. Life does not oblige you to refrigerate things, and I have better uses for the space than to tote around a 2x2x2 foot container for science experiments that requires a constant high energy input.
No you shouldn't...because you don't want 'em! With rare exceptions, the only time I want to hear a "You should..." is if I first ask, "What should I...?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbstewart
Im a big fan of fresh food, but, Im a bigger fan of cold beer in the summer heat.

just my 2 cents

gbstewart
Me too! When I want a cold one I want to be able to just walk across the room/RV/house, without the inconveniences of an ice chest.

I grew up around my Winnebago (which I inherited) and have a sentimental fondness for them. Lord prevent me from getting in a wreck though. My skoolie's interior will have Winnie-like styling combined with my own ideas. It's not intended to be "cheap;" I'm attracted to the sturdy bus construction and, well, the looks.

The Skunky Bus will be a lot different from Paradigm Shift...which is different from the Magic Bus...which is different from Birdee 662...is this a great country or what?
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Old 05-09-2011, 11:52 AM   #17
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

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Dorm/apt. fridges don't need the vent holes cut in the side and roof, either. A plus.
On second thought, provision must be made somewhere so the coils on the back of the unit can dissipate heat.

On third thought, although an empty school bus (which my girlfriend calls a "blank canvas") lets loose your inner designer, some constraints still exist. If you use an LP-powered RV fridge, don't put it right above the gas tank filler. Too easy to forget to shut the LP flame off before filling up - with fumes wafting up past the vent.
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Old 05-09-2011, 02:21 PM   #18
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

We use a dorm fridge and an undercounter freezer in the Class C. We kept the roof top vent and turned the access vent panel into an intake vent. We placed a small AC desktop fan in with the units to where it will move the air. It helped keep our units cooler during the extremely hot (100F and up) summers both here in NM and in S GA. Both our units are Energy Star units (refrigerator 252kwh/yr.... freezer 258 kwh/yr) . For the bus, the refrigerator is a 4.4 cf Aficionado by Hair (I would have to find the paper work as this is a fridge that we have been using for a few years now) and is also enerystar rated. The 12 cf upright freezer is also energy star rated and both units have vents in the side walls. We have been using it for a few years now so it's not new either. These appliances were not designed to be built in so we have to allow 1"-2" air space in the tops/sides as that is where the coils now run (not in the rear of the units).


http://www.energystar.gov

http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?..._refrigerators
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Old 05-12-2011, 09:36 PM   #19
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Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric von Kleist
IMHO YMMV -- I'm not really a grouchy old man...most of the time I manage to smile and be very patient when explaining my lifestyle, and generally people amuse me with their ideas, usually because it shows how much they are conditioned to think inside the box...but sometimes the same old "neat ideas"get aggravating, so sorry if I sound a bit grouchy in this post.

My 2 cents. Of course, I've been living in a bus for 6 years now, so maybe I don't know anything.

Refrigeration? It's evil. Unless you have medicine that needs it, do without. Buy fresh, let the grocer pay for the electricity and hardware.
OK, howzabout YOU eat eggs that haven't been refrigerated! Or milk. Or meat. Ye gods.

Quote:
A/C? 2x as evil as refrigeration. Enjoy the weather. No, seriously, A/C is eviler than refrigeration by far. Drop about 150# and spend some time outdoors, and you won't really notice the heat.
Last June I was in Alabama...104 in the shade & there wasn't any, heat index 130+. Even my wife (born in Cuba, grew up in Florida, generally unaffected by heat) was grateful for air conditioning. Nope, I have two roof A/C units, keeping them!

Quote:
Water heater? Go with a 5 gallon marine hot water heater that has a heat exchanger for the engine coolant to heat the water. Then hook that up to a solar hot water panel on the roof. Also hook it to your underfloor heating. I haven't gotten the last two done yet, but soon, soon...
No underfloor heating (eats too much space), no engine heat exchanger (didn't want the plumbing hassles)...tankless hot water for me.

Quote:
Oh yeah, most RV stuff is crap. If you're fitting out a bus, avoid it. Use household hardware and fixtures where possible. Also use recycled/used stuff where possible.

And another thing. Don't build stuff in if you don't have to. Leave as much of your bus as open as you can -- it will seem bigger, and you can use the space for more than one purpose if you don't build in dedicated things like...couches...TV nooks...etc.
Yeah, except that unsecured objects (like, say, couches!) tend to go flying!

Quote:
Every time people come over to my bus they say, "You know what you need...?" I use to listen politely and then ignore them. Now I just tell them that there's nothing that they could think of that I haven't already thought of -- and if they don't see it already in the bus, that's because it won't work for me. Things that I keep getting told I need:

Futon -- WTF? I like sleeping on the floor and having a full 8x10 space to work in when I take up my bed. A futon is just a goddamn big piece of furniture that would take up 3'x7' in my bus, whether I was using it or not, and I would have to fold and unfold it constantly. Screw that. Same goes for most other pieces of furniture. Right now, I could build a canoe INSIDE my bus (or store my kayak in it) because I left it as open as possible.

Hammocks -- Have you ever slept in a hammock long term? It might work for 18th century swabs between the decks of a man-o-war, but it ain't a practical item for a bus or for daily sleeping.

Hanging pots and pans -- Brilliant! Like there's not enough **** banging around every time I drive the bus. If you're going to put something on a wall or suspend it from the ceiling, lock it down!
Not practical for me, but I've seen it work...just have to secure them properly.

Quote:
Refrigerator -- "You should get one of those little ones they have for dorms." Dude, you obviously have no idea what kind of energy requirement that takes. Life does not oblige you to refrigerate things, and I have better uses for the space than to tote around a 2x2x2 foot container for science experiments that requires a constant high energy input.
Actually, I DO know how much energy they use...and that is, not much! The new ones (Energy-Star) are very efficient, especially the small ones. Once cold, they'll stay that way for days with minimal power use.

Quote:
Anything that requires cutting holes in the roof -- NO, dipweed, the roof is solid to keep rain OUT, not to let it in.
Plumbing vents, A/C units, vent fans, maybe the furnace...sometimes, the best way IS out the top! (Having said that, I did decide to not reinvent the wheel and ran the furnace exhausts out the sides, as they were designed.)
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Old 05-14-2011, 08:51 AM   #20
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Engine: 5.9 Cummins
Re: Some thoughts on converting a bus to an RV

Another central Texas habitant says A/C is not a luxury. I like the idea of split models but the rv ones will have to do. I took a chest freezer and added a thermostat to it and it runs via a converter from the batteries. Works real good. It keeps ice in ice form and the beer cold without freezing. Bought the whole setup on Craigslist $100.
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