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Old 09-18-2017, 10:08 AM   #1
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Please help narrow down my search!

Hello all, I posted this question in the new member's forum, but thought maybe it would be more appropriate here. I'm new to the whole skoolie thing myself, though my brother-in-law (jMyles) and his family have been doing it for about two years and has had help from this forum in the past. I've been stalking the forums for a couple weeks, looking at lots of people's builds and advice. Any help with narrowing down our search criteria would be extremely helpful.

A little about us:
We are two adults, one toddler and another one planned for next year. My wife is headed to grad school next year and we're exploring alternatives to the underwhelming suburban lifestyle we are currently in. As a nurse, she has the option to do locum tenens work, or temporary assignments for several months at a time. We've been discussing it for a few years now, as well as tiny house/minimalist living, and a skoolie seems like a great way to do both. I'm an engineer and rather handy for basics like plumbing and electrical, but have no experience (yet) with metalwork or carpentry, though I definitely want to learn. We'd like to be able to be off-grid for a few days at a time as well as use alternative energy sources, though that would be a long term goal. We'll need laundry on the bus as we use cloth diapers.

Our criteria for a bus:
Full size. Year-rounder for any climate. We do a lot of hiking and outdoor things so being able to get into/out of parks/forests is a must. I don't really care if it goes fast, but being able to get to highway speeds (65) would be nice. We would likely be going somewhere and parking and setting up camp for a few months at a time and using other transportation while on site. I like the idea of the rear engine because I've seen some of the builds with additional storage compartments created under the bus, however also not a deal breaker. Doesn't need to be tall, we're all under 5'6".

Thanks for reading through this all, I know people ask this question constantly, and we all have unique situations and desires for our living situation. Hopefully I've provided enough info to narrow down the drive train and a little bit on the body style.
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Old 09-18-2017, 11:11 AM   #2
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Hi!

Just throwing out there, laundry machines eat a LOT of elecgtricity. If you're planning to spend any amount of time off-grid you should plan to not have laundry available.. At least not with conventional machines. If you don't mind hanging things to dry, you'll get a lot farther. We've fully embraced the laundromat because we don't have the space, power, or water storage required in our shortie.
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Old 09-18-2017, 11:15 AM   #3
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Thanks for that info. I think we'd likely only be using the machine while on shore power. Cloth diapering requires A LOT of laundry time and we don't want to be stuck at a laundromat for half a day. Might consider just a washer instead of a combo, not sure. I saw one families conversion video and they basically made a "dehumidifying room" as their drier, so that's also a consideration.
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Old 09-18-2017, 11:42 AM   #4
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The thing with a laundromat is you can do all your laundry in one go. We can do 2 weeks of clothes in 2 hours. It helps that we're following Springtime and wearing shorts and t-shirts rather than jeans and long sleeves and socks and jackets!

When planning your build remember that the space you have to work with ends up feeling a lot smaller than it looks on paper. A 38 ft bus looks massive, when its empty space!
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Old 09-18-2017, 11:59 AM   #5
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Water consumption is a bigger deal than many people realize.

We had a compact washer/dryer in a 5th wheel. It was near useless unless I had FULL hookups.

We lived full time in it while relying on rain water collection for our domestic water supply. When we started using the washer our water consumption doubled.

I dislike going to the laundramat but the idea of being able to put all of your accumulated laundry into washers & dryers at once reduces the time commitment to a more manageable level.

My recommendation: Look at one of the compact hand crank washers and a clothes line for backup but rely primarily on the laundramat as your primary.

Just my $0.02
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Old 09-18-2017, 11:59 AM   #6
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Finding an Engine:
1) Dog-noses are cheapest to work on, then flat-noses, then pushers. If the engine is in the rear it's harder to work on and costs more.
2) Everybody loves the Cummins engine, super reliable, and it's in a lot of big rig trucks too so it's easy to find parts. Everything I've read says if you can find one in great condition it'll last forever (if you do your maintenance religiously)
Caterpillar engines are equally reliable, but parts tend to be a little more expensive, and as they're usually used in construction machinery (think dump trucks) a lot of the garages that work on them can be muddy.
Internationals and Detroits are well-respected too, I jut don't know as much about them. They're cheaper options than Cummins when bought new and I don't think the Internationals have quite as much power (I've seen a lot of Internationals in mid-size buses, where I'm looking)
I'd stay away from a Mercedes engine. Not sure why german motors are ending up in American school buses, but german imports are usually more expensive to maintain.
3) GET THE bus INSPECTED before you buy. It'll cost $100 or so but can save you thousands later. If you're buying locally, visually inspect it yourself before paying the inspector. ()

Transmissions:
I've only really heard about the Allison (people love it). Just google the transmissions of the buses you're considering to check for duds, and of course get it inspected before purchase.

Speed
The only way to know is to test-drive. Some districts put speed caps on their buses, some don't. Some skoolie builders have been able to remove the caps, some haven't. If you're buying directly from a school district they may know how to remove it.

Body Style:
1) No one really has much to say about the body manufacterers that I've seen...the key is to find something you like and take care of it. Treat all your rust properly with Corroseal or Rustoleum when you get your bus, and keep up on spots that appear later.
2) If you're going to be off-roading you won't want to mount too much stuff under the bus, at least not that hangs down below the natural bottom clearance. The lower that stuff gets, the smoother you'll need your roads to be. You don't need a super high clearance for most national parks, though, they're usually designed with RVs in mind.

Year rounder for any climate
1) You're going to want to consider your heating and cooling plan EARLY. Heating and cooling are the biggest power draw in a bus, if you're going to be boondocking in unfavorable climates it takes planning. Good insulation, high efficiency equipment, and a large battery bank - you don't want to go out and run the generator in the middle of the night because it's too uncomfortable to sleep. You will need a generator. You can run an air conditioner off solar alone but you have to design your ENTIRE RIG around it and it will cost thousands of dollars more than just running a generator for a bit each day to recharge. And remember that domestic air conditioners are more efficient than RV units. Mini split systems are best, but even a window unit is going to be better than most RV rooftop conditoners. Look at the R value of your insulation, and make sure you consider moisture control. You can bet that tin can you're building inside of is going to sweat. That means mold and it can even ruin your insulation if you get one that doesn't like water (read: fiberglass). I'm going with spray foam in mine; it's more expensive but it has the highest R-value and it's a moisture barrier in and of itself.
If you'll be connected to shore power most of the time those considerations get a lot smaller. (Do watch out for mold though that never stops being a consideration)
2) PSA, if you get a propane heater get a direct vent propane heater so you don't get CO poisoning. And get a CO detector regardless. I've seen a lot of rigs with no CO or fire detectors. It's probably more important in an RV than a stick-built house. Get them battery operated, and independent from your house batteries. Test them. Maintain them. Don't die.
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Old 09-18-2017, 11:59 AM   #7
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Only got about 3 days before those diapers have to get washed, less if the first kid is still in them when we have the second. But it is definitely a big consideration on how we will lay out space. We will likely have to add extra storage space to the bus, either roof, rear, or undercarriage.
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Old 09-18-2017, 12:01 PM   #8
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Parking- A big problem many people in similar situations face is where to park a massive bus ?

Close to anywhere you can get a job there really are not many places at all to park without getting "moved along" by law enforcement. RV parks are expensive, cramped with no privacy or they are scary run down trailer courts.

Rural places don't have much in the way of jobs and it can get risky leaving all your stuff unwatched in the middle on nowhere(many poor rural places have meth problems).

Water- With a family and kids you need a lot of water to stay clean and healthy. You will need somewhere to tap into a water supply.
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Old 09-18-2017, 12:10 PM   #9
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Thanks for bringing up these important points.
One of the reasons we are considering this is because as part of the travel nursing my wife would be doing, not only do we get to choose where we go, but a housing stipend well above and beyond what either RV parks or camping permits cost is provided. We'd probably generally be finding the best place with hookups we can, whether that's renting someone's land or a spot in the RV park. This is definitely something I'll be speaking to my relatives about who are already living the skoolie life.

Edit: Plan on welding down at least one safe for valuables for the reasons mentioned.
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Old 09-18-2017, 12:38 PM   #10
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When I was on the road in my last bus I met several individuals & couples who lived full time in their RV while working as traveling nurses or radiology techs. They all seemed to love the lifestyle.

The housing allowance was a great windfall for those who were a little creative and leveraged County, State & Federal campgrounds as well as the occasional WalMart.

Good luck on your endeavor.
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Old 09-19-2017, 08:30 AM   #11
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Thanks, this is a lot of really great advice. Not knowing much about diesels I will definitely pay someone to inspect the bus with me when the time comes.
Our plan is to strip the bus down completely and insulate as much as possible. Spray foam does seem like the best option considering the incorporated moisture barrier. I'd certainly rather invest more time and money upfront than suffer for it a few years down the line.
I hadn't considered the mini split A.C. systems in the bus before, knowing how annoying they are in residential buildings. The one in my office backs up and drips a few gallons of condensate every month or so.
While it's unlikely we will be doing much in the way of off roading, I can see how clearance could be a big concern on rougher roads. It will be a compromise on where we clean implement storage space I think.
Thanks all for your advice so far. If I could fit the bus at my house now, if already be shopping. The closest place I can park it and work on it right now is almost an hour away.
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