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Old 02-19-2016, 06:14 PM   #1
New Member
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 4
Total Newbie - a bit overwhelmed

Hi All!

My (soon-to-be) hubby and I have finally made the decision to purchase a bus after years of playing with conversions/tiny houses in our minds. We had the opportunity of getting one that'd been converted to propane already for 5grand, and we wish we'd gone for it, because a lot of the hard work had been done and it came from a trusted family friend. Alas, we weren't ready.

Now we're in it for real. We just had a daughter who is turning 6 Months in a few days, live with my brother-in-law who's an arborist and comes by some beautiful wood we can use for the project, and our other roomie is a framer and carpenter by trade and is willing to help us out. Seems the perfect situation to finally get this done, and give our kiddo a little less-conventional way of being raised.

We're both bodyworkers, and I am also an herbalist and I want to turn our bus travels into a way for me to wildcraft herbs and make/sell herbal medicine, and possibly caretake campgrounds in national forests along the way. We'll see.

What I can say for definite is that we need a LOT of advice... We know nothing about large engines, what to spend, where to start, etc etc...

What I do know:
- We want it to be as energy efficient as possible: Solar, propane, composting toilet...
- We want it to be as easy on gas mileage as possible: aluminum framing, converted to propane or biodiesel...
- We want as much livable space as possible without compromising natural light & storage. I absolutely love the designs that convert spaces and have multiple uses but are still comfortable homes.
- We want to live on it full time eventually. We would love to buy a few acres to homestead, and also travel for a good portion of the time.

In our years planning for living in a tiny home, we have gotten lost in the design aspects because its so much more fun, but I notice I have a natural fear of things like electricity, plumbing, water tanks, etc... Maybe its because Im a girl and know nothing about this stuff but I fear because this is the most important and initial phase of converting a bus, that it will end up being so time consuming and stressful that we'll give up and resent purchasing the bus in the first place....
I am glad i found this forum though, because the how-to's I can already tell will be illuminating. I just have to take the time to learn.

Anyway, that is us!

Any help would be appreciated!
Gretchup is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-19-2016, 07:44 PM   #2
Join Date: Oct 2014
Location: Kent, WA (Seattle)
Posts: 202
Year: 1987
electricity/solar: read that fully
For storage: get a bus with underbelly storage.

That's all I can really say, everything else I suggest you just read up on other peoples builds as much as possible.

Also be mindful of the engine/tranny.

Good luck!
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Old 02-19-2016, 09:57 PM   #3
Bus Nut
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Location: Katy, TX
Posts: 757
Year: 1989
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Saf-T-Liner ER
Engine: 3208 CAT/MT643 tranny
Rated Cap: 87

First, congrats on the kiddo! Second, congrats on the nuptials (pending ;) )!!!

My wife and I took two years in forming the floor plan we now have from the mistakes of our first skoolie. We then took another three years to find our bus. We have specific parameters we followed. It meant passing on some similar buses that for one reason or another did not fit what we were looking for.

My suggestion is look at other builder's threads to see what they bought and why they bought it, and what their ideas are in building it.

For example, we were looking for a Thomas Saf-T-Liner from the late 80's to the early 90's with a Cat 3208 engine and the Allison 643 transmission and cargo bays. We know California is dumping these types of buses cheaply because they are not CARB compliant. What does that mean? The tree huggers are throwing away perfectly good buses for nothing.

I appreciate the fact you want to be energy efficient. School buses do not have, as a whole, aluminum in their construction, the exception being Crown buses with an aluminum roof. Aluminum mated to steel is not ideal due to corrosion issues (it's a chemical thing). As for the type of fuel you chose to burn, diesel is really the only way to go if you plan on any type of long distance driving, especially in the mountains. Gasoline is less efficient, higher maintenance, more moving parts, and the engine does not last as long. A word of advice about biodiesel. Biodiesel has water content in it. There's no way to get around that fact. Water is used to scrub impurities from cooking out of the fuel. Water is the death of diesel engines, namely the fuel injection distributor pump and injectors. A long time ago I was with Steel Soldiers and watched one member work real hard on his military truck to effectively burn biodiesel. It was a very impressive build and process to watch. However, in the end his engine died due to the water content in the fuel corroding away his engine. He broke down 1500 miles from home and had a horrible experience getting back on the road. I learned from that experience to avoid biodiesel at all costs.

No matter what platform you chose, be it Blue Bird, Thomas, International, et. al., Looking at your description I suspect you are looking for a 40 foot diesel pusher (the engine is in the back) with cargo bays that go through the entire bottom from one side to the other. If you get a front engine bus you will have, at best, cargo bays that are not going under the bus completely due to the drive shaft connecting the engine to the rear axle. The rear engine bus will maximize the livable space with cargo bays. Most people prefer Cummins engines. I prefer Caterpillar engines because I owned three 18 wheelers powered with Cat engines (3406B 425 engines). I put on over two million trouble free miles on those three rigs over eight years. I used Prolong Engine Treatment in the engine, Marvel Mystery Oil and Lucas Diesel Fuel Additives in the fuel. I averaged about 9 m.p.g. with these engines. Everyone is different. I accept that. I'm just speaking from my experiences.

As far as windows are concerned, bus windows are the least efficient in either retaining heat or air conditioning. The challenge will be in finding the windows that work best for your bus. There are many manufacturers out there. Look carefully at what they offer and do due diligence when buying your windows.

I'm sure other people will tell you to look at other threads. Please feel free to do so. Ask questions about things you see to better understand why they are doing what they are doing. If you look at my thread you will see my build is only to the demolition stage. I have a few small things left to finish in the demo stage, but it's mostly done. We're still looking at some small changes to our floor plan to gain some extra room. We have a four year plan to complete our build to the point we're full-timing in our tiny home/skoolie.

Hope this helps. You've got a whole new journey ahead of you. learn as much as you can so if something goes wrong or breaks, you can fix it.

Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence. — George Washington
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Old 02-20-2016, 03:17 PM   #4
Bus Crazy
roach711's Avatar
Join Date: May 2010
Location: Farmington Hills, Mi (Detroit area)
Posts: 1,337
Year: 2000
Coachwork: Eldorado Aerotech 24'
Chassis: Ford E-450 Cutaway Bus
Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 19
Good info above.

Propane fuel is fine for short route vehicles that are refueled at day's end at the home base, not so good for those traveling out and about with uncertain refueling prospects. Propane doesn't have nearly the energy density diesel does so your range between fill ups will be less.

Waste veggie oil is getting harder to find now that the fleet operators have gotten into the bio fuel business. Processing your own on the road requires extra tanks and takes up a good deal of space. Personally, I'd stick with dino diesel.

Plumbing and electrical are the two areas where you'll need some "learnin" but both are doable. Post up any questions and we'll be glad to help.
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Old 02-20-2016, 05:02 PM   #5
Bus Nut
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Winlcok, WA
Posts: 899
I admire your choices and I hope it will work out well for you!

In regards to fuel, I too would echo that you stay away as much as possible from waste vegetable oil and large percentages of bio-diesel.

Twenty years ago waste vegetable oil was a waste product users paid people to take off of their hands. If someone showed up at their back door and said they would take their WVO off their hands they would give it away. But two problems for bus owners have come up that makes WVO a non-starter for bus owners.

First and foremost is the number of gallons you will need to get anywhere. It is one thing to walk up and ask for 10-gallons of WVO for your diesel powered Mercedes-Benz that gets 30+ MPG. It is a totally different issue of finding enough WVO to fill a 110-gallon on a bus that gets less than 10 MPG.

The second real problem with WVO is almost no one will let you take the WVO away for free any longer. Most vegetable oil users do not purchase the oil and pay to get rid of it. Most vegetable oil users lease the oil from a company who delivers the fresh oil and picks up the waste oil for about the same price as what vegetable oil used to cost. That company then takes it back to refine the WVO to be sold as a bio-fuel that can be blended into regular dino diesel. Or uses the WVO in their own trucks.

As it has been noted before, propane is a good fuel but has some built in problems with the biggest one finding a fuel source while out on the road. Gasoline engines that were converted to run on propane are notorious for their lack of power. The newer buses that have engines that were designed and built specifically to run on propane do a lot better but they still have a lack of range and difficulty in finding fueling stations. The buses that run on compressed natural gas are some of the best for running clean but they define hard to find fueling stations away from home.

The only buses that used aluminum in the construction of their buses was Crown and Gillig made some of their buses with aluminum skins. The difference in weight was 6,000 to 10,000 pounds depending on the size of the bus. But even if their skin was aluminum their framing was all steel.

If you are looking to purchase a lighter weight bus to save on weight and get better fuel mileage there are some better ways in which to achieve better fuel mileage.

First, even though it may sound counter intuitive, find a bus with the greatest amount of HP. A large HP engine that doesn't have to work very hard to go highway speeds will use less fuel than a small HP engine that is firewalled every time you get out on the highway.

Second, reducing the drag can make a huge difference in fuel use. I have owned two different Avion travel trailers that were close enough in model years to have the same frontal area. One was a 26' LeGrande that weighed in at about 4,000 lbs. The other weighs in at just over 7,000 lbs. Both have roof top A/C units, roof top tv antennas, and full length awnings on the curb side. I have towed both trailers with two different tow vehicles enough miles to know that I use virtually the same amount of fuel to tow either trailer. How does that equate to reducing drag? What it tells me is weight has little to do with fuel use but frontal area and overall drag makes a big difference in fuel use. So how does that make a difference for you--the lower the roof, the less on the roof, and the less hung on the sides of your bus the less fuel you will use. It takes a tremendous amount of HP and torque to get your bus up to speed. Increasing your drag will require greater amounts of HP and torque to get you up to speed and to keep going at that speed.

Probably the best bus out there that would meet your basic parameters would be an IC RE with the DT530 with the 300 HP or 335 HP option or a Thomas or Blue Bird with the Cummins ISC or ISL engine option with 300+ HP. Any of bus equipped with those engines are more than capable of maintaining highway speeds and will use less fuel to do it than a bus with a smaller engine. There were some buses built with Cat engines with 285+ HP out there but I would stay away from them mostly because they don't call it Caterpillar gold for nothing.

One other thing to think about the big HP buses--most were spe'c'ed and purchased to be trip buses. They generally had a lot of added cost options on them. Among the popular options for trip buses in addition to the big HP engines were pass through under the floor luggage compartments, highway gearing, tinted glass, rear air ride suspension, 12" windows with 76"-78" headroom, vandal locks on all doors, air ride driver's seat, tilt/telescope steering column and on newer buses adjustable pedals, and white roofs.

As far as livable space is concerned, there are several builds chronicled here that include slide outs and roof raises that add more floor space and cubic volume for more headroom or a "second story" loft for sleeping.

With anything added it does add weight. And while weight alone does not make that much difference in fuel mileage, it is true that a bus that weighs 20K lbs. is going to use less fuel than one that weighs 30K lbs.

Good luck and happy trails.
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