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Old 10-07-2020, 12:28 PM   #1
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Wink Pretty Girl in Need of Help From Smart Skoolie Experts :')

Hey Skoolie people,

I've been reading these forums rabidly for months now, both before and after I bought my 2004 36' International T444E school bus. She's bright blue and beautiful. I'm an absolute amateur with all things related to the build process, but I've gotten by well so far reading the forums--- this is my first time asking a question. I've made lots of mistakes so far and would like to avoid them moving forward (I'm very low on money). My goal is to have the bus ready for a very minimalist month in the woods this fall so I can get away from it all. Then, in the winter and spring I'll keep working on the bus (hopefully with a bit more money and knowledge). I want to do the basics right this fall so that I can simply add to it later on without having to backtrack. I've currently had a finished floor for months (stripped it down, treated metal, then insulation foam board/plywood/vinyl flooring.) Recently I've been fighting leaks for weeks--- sealed roof seams, now in arduous process of pulling every window scraping caulk and resealing with butyl tape (God I hope it works!) This is all much harder since I basically do it all alone. Next I'm gonna paint the roof white, then work on insulation in the walls and ceiling (and figure out how to minimize heat loss through windows and window frames until I can afford window deletes in the future). I also have to figure out how to set up a minimalist solar power system (for now, I just want to be able to power my phone and lights and laptop charger for a month in the woods), and get a basic heater (Buddy?), and figure out insurance (I'm registered in Vermont but live in Mass--- If any of you live in Mass/RI, I'd love to meet up!), and make sure all the mechanics of the bus are solid. That should be it for the basic needs for this fall, since I already have a mattress in the back. I will make it more of a home in the future. I just need to get away for a month while my family and country fall apart.

Anyway, that's my situation. I have a few questions.

Question 1: I made a mistake when I was making my floors---not only did I glue the insulation and then plywood down, but I also screwed dozens and dozens of screws through the plywood and insulation through the metal bottom. There are dozens of screws sticking out of the bottom of my baby I learned on the forums afterwards that this was a mistake, and I should have just stuck (lol) with the glue. Now my quality Home Depot vinyl flooring with underlayment attached is installed over the plywood and the screws, but I'm still worried about the screws compromising the insulation / creating thermal breaks from the inside of the bus to the outside / possibly being condensation risk? Should I worry about this or should I just move on since the floor is done? Should I cover the screws from the bottom in any way or treat or address this issue or just let it be?

Question 2: I'm planning on keeping my existing ceiling and walls (I checked inside both and there's no mold or anything in the fiberglass, and I don't have the money to gut them and refill them with my own insulation.) Instead I just plan on covering over the walls and ceiling with pink foam board insulation and then some sort of wall/ceiling covering. How does this sound? Do I need to worry about furring strips or something like that? Any recommendations on cheap material to cover the insulation? Should I worry at all about toxicity?

Question 3: How should I best cover the windows and window ribs to prevent heat loss? I would like a window insulating solution that I can remove and put back on, ideally.

Question 4: Did I make a mistake leaving the area under and around the drivers' seat untouched? I didn't pull the rubber or plywood from under there and so I didn't treat that metal either. Worried this will bite me one day, especially cause I can't figure out if the driver's side window leaks (it looks like there's weird manufactured holes under it and I can't tell where they go).

Question 5: How do I make sure I use the Mr Buddy Heater smartly and not kill myself or hurt my bus? Long term I'd love a wood stove but that's not in the cards right now.

Question 6: What mechanical issues should I make sure to check on? I've never had a car before nor have I been around many car folk. I know I'm supposed to change the oil frequently and get a grease gun and fix the leak in the coolant line next to the back heater (any advice on that, btw?) but I'm sure there's more in depth bus maintenance stuff that I don't know about.

Question 7: Is there a good thread someone can link me to that tells an amateur how to get and set up a basic solar system? Also, does anyone have advice on running a second alternator, or somehow connecting my existing alternator/starter battery to a house battery?


That's all for now I guess... thanks skoolie.net! Love you <3
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Old 10-07-2020, 02:45 PM   #2
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#5: Buddy Heater. Note that propane is very damp and you may see condensation, especially if the outside air temp is below 45 degrees F.
These use disposable 'green' tanks. Ideally you would store these someplace external to your living space in case they start to leak. Boom risk. I've never concerned myself with securing these green tanks outside of the living space in all the years I've used them, they seem so safe, but after reading up on them here and elsewhere, it's smart to stow them properly, especially if your rig is your full time home. Others may have input on whether it is safer to leave one screwed into the buddy or take it out after use. I'd be inclined to take it out and keep the propane outside of the bus.
Carbon monoxide sensor needed. Google 'best placement of carbon monoxide sensor' to learn more about where to put it.
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Old 10-07-2020, 03:18 PM   #3
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This is a list of things to check on your bus. It's not only for safety prior to a trip, but is a good way to avoid buying a problem vehicle.

https://www.skoolie.net/forums/f9/re...ist-33026.html

I don't think the screws are so much a problem as the gluing down of the wood and such. Underneath you can just spray them with rubber undercoating to avoid corrosion, which won't be much of a problem with galvanized screws anyway.

You might want to go over the metal roof with Flex-Seal or KoolSeal for an extra measure of leak protection. And yes, I would poke around the area around the driver's seat and footwells, the footwells are common for rust, and if your driver's window is leaking, you may have potential for rust in this area.
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Old 10-07-2020, 03:25 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by lucille View Post
Hey Skoolie people,

Question 3: How should I best cover the windows and window ribs to prevent heat loss? I would like a window insulating solution that I can remove and put back on, ideally.

Seems this is a problem we all face, without a perfect or universal solution. Some people use thermal/insulating curtains or blinds, some use cutouts of reflectix, some remove all the windows or install double pane rv windows.


My plan (which is just a vague idea in my mind so far) is to create rigid pull up insulated panels that pull up from the below and can insulate the windows when needed.

Picture something like those shades that pull up from the bottom. Ideally I would love for there to be two layers, a thermal and acoustic insulating 'blackout' layer made of rockboard, cork, or maybe carboncore or something similar, and a faux double pane layer made from double walled corrugated plastic or something that could add a tiny bit of insulation but still let light through.


If you are having a hard time picturing it, here are some of my sources of inspiration:


Bottom Up thermal blind:
Military communications truck:


Tern Overland or Seitz windows:


I'm thinking with wood framing and some effort, a halfway attractive design could be developed. As for the ribs between windows, I haven't thought too hard yet about how best to insulate that, many people seem to use just wood in that area, I'm thinking if at the least it was backed by cork or a thin layer of insulation that could be screwed through without compressing that would help.



Quote:

Question 7: Is there a good thread someone can link me to that tells an amateur how to get and set up a basic solar system? Also, does anyone have advice on running a second alternator, or somehow connecting my existing alternator/starter battery to a house battery?

Not a thread, but I recommend starting here to learn the basics, this is a super accessible intro:


Beginner Video Playlist


Also check out the videos from Amy at the AlteStore on youtube. Another very accessible channel.
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Old 10-07-2020, 03:55 PM   #5
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Question 1: don't worry about the screws sticking out the bottom. They will eventually pick up a little surface rust and swell at the hole, sealing off what tiny leakage there may have been around it anyway. A standard school bus has some screws sticking through the bottom and it's not big deal. It's not like water is going to be forcing its way around the screw tips if you're driving in the rain.

Question 2: keeping your ceiling and walls makes it a lot harder to locate any leaks you might be having, but otherwise there's nothing wrong with doing that. Putting insulation against the wall and ceiling as you're suggesting (as opposed to putting it into the cavities between the ribs, flush with the original wall or ceiling) is very effective, since it's not "broken" every 27" by a steel rib that conducts heat very well.

I'm using 5mm underlayment plywood for my walls and ceiling, cheap and simple; I'll use 1"-wide strips of this to cover over the seams between panels.

Furring strips are helpful since they make it easy to attach your paneling (whatever it is).

Question 3: I'm going to cut blocks of 2" XPS foam board to fit into each window, with a slightly larger pieces of the 5mm plywood glued to it, so I can just push it into the opening I'll have framed for each window. I may make these hinged in the middle so they'll stack up more compactly when I'm not using them. I'm also going to put RV picture hooks on each one, so if I can't see out I can at least put up some of my art.

I'll paint the "out" side black to blend in with the windows.

Question 4: a lot of buses have bad rust around the driver's seat and the step well. You might want to at least poke around on the underside and see what shape it's in from there. My original plan was to completely ignore the cab area, but once I pulled up the plywood I could see that some repairs were needed (as in cut out rusty sheet metal and weld new stuff in). The floor was in bad enough shape that I do not regret this - in fact I found my seat belt tethers were anchored into just rusty sheet metal and rotten plywood.

It's the only rust I found in the bus that was actually putting my life at risk, so it's worth taking a look at.

Question 5: Mr Buddy should be renamed Mr Soggy Death. Sell it and get a Chinese knock-off diesel air heater.
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Old 10-07-2020, 05:57 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by lucille View Post

Question 7: Is there a good thread someone can link me to that tells an amateur how to get and set up a basic solar system? Also, does anyone have advice on running a second alternator, or somehow connecting my existing alternator/starter battery to a house battery?

You will want to develop a power budget to understand your power needs before committing to any specific approach. Knowing your requirements will narrow the options you need to consider.

In the simplest configuration house batteries can be recharged by simply connecting them through a battery isolator to the chassis/run battery. Search 'battery isolator' for details on equipment and typical installation. An isolator allows charging of house batteries from the rig, but doesn't allow discharging of the rig battery for house use.

Second alternator: if your rig doesn't already have a second alternator in place I recommend first checking to see if your engine alternator might be able to do the job.

For example: my rig came with two batteries connected together in parallel but the second one is mediated by a voltage regulator. That, in theory, prevents the second battery from drawing too much current while recharging. I just added a third and fourth batteries behind the second battery, separated by the isolator. I'm guessing that will do an adequate job of recharging based on our usage (max four days off grid).

Depending on your power needs something similar may be enough for you, especially if you plan on having a solar system to replenish your house batteries.

Others have already responded with tips for where to get educated on the systems. There's a lot of good information out there but you'll still need basic knowledge to understand what of that information pertains to your setup, and whether you can make use of it given your needs.
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Old 10-07-2020, 06:02 PM   #7
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If the Mr Buddy heater has the 1 lb bottles you will be changing them a lot. I think there might be a kit to connect 20lb bottles to it? I have an 18,000 btu heater that a 20 lb bottle fits into it, and I get about a week out of it on low, which is enough heat for down to freezing. Below freezing it needs to be on medium or more depending how cold it is. I have stock roof insulation and two inchs of fiberglass in the walls. I do keep a roof vent slightly open, and do have a carbon monoxide detector.
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Old 10-07-2020, 06:40 PM   #8
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One more general reccomendation for solar/electrical. Almost everyone begins buy wanting specific product and brand recommendations, or focusing on the specifics. This is in my opinion the wrong way to go about it.


1. Learn the basic concepts first, and get a basic understanding of electricity and how to design a simple electrical system, this will save you time and stress and vulnerability in the long run.
2. As someone has already mentioned, get a basic energy budget, you cant know what system you need, and nobody else can help you determine what you need until you get a ballpark idea of how much power you will require.
3. Don't let amazon (and budget amazon brands) be your first and last stop in your search for components. Electrical is one place where it can be very helpful (and less overwhelming and fraught with shoddy parts) to search and buy through specialized sellers who have a curated selection of decent brands.
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Old 10-07-2020, 09:38 PM   #9
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Wow, lots in that intro we can relate with... Some thoughts:

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucille View Post
Question 2: I'm planning on keeping my existing ceiling and walls (I checked inside both and there's no mold or anything in the fiberglass, and I don't have the money to gut them and refill them with my own insulation.) Instead I just plan on covering over the walls and ceiling with pink foam board insulation and then some sort of wall/ceiling covering. How does this sound?
Keeping original insulation in VT/MA could pose challenges depending on your use case. Most importantly cover up any and all metal surfaces- they are a direct thermal conduit to the outside. If you do at least that it may not be ideal but passable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucille View Post
Question 3: How should I best cover the windows and window ribs to prevent heat loss? I would like a window insulating solution that I can remove and put back on, ideally.
Depends on what you're working with in terms of space, your budget, etc. Can you afford / fit rolled up fiberglass insulation in there? Maybe a picture of the raw area and more on how you hope to cover it (wall?) would help.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucille View Post
Question 4: Did I make a mistake leaving the area under and around the drivers' seat untouched? I didn't pull the rubber or plywood from under there and so I didn't treat that metal either.
Until two months ago my build was completely raw in the driver's area- I just recently covered it with the Home Depot luxury vinyl. We painted all metal surfaces but didn't pull up the plywood- I don't forsee any problems there. Hope that helps.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucille View Post
Question 5: How do I make sure I use the Mr Buddy Heater smartly and not kill myself or hurt my bus? Long term I'd love a wood stove but that's not in the cards right now.
Well... first thing I tested was a Mr Buddy for heat, it was... insufficient in NH winter. This was prior to insulating as well as I ended up doing. I tried two space heaters after insulating and was still falling short on my target temperatures... only once the mini split / heat pump had been installed was I able to keep the cabin warm.

Don't get me wrong, many people use the Buddy heater safely and successfully from the looks of it, they probably insulate very well and/or they isolate off areas with barriers as to heat a smaller area. If your design has little rooms in it, you should be able to heat a small section easier than the entire cabin. Ours is an open design, so...

Safety wise, I wouldn't run them without an LP gas detector and the usual smoke / carbon monoxide detectors. And I would be very hesitant to run them while sleeping- any reason no wood stove sooner?

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucille View Post
Question 6: What mechanical issues should I make sure to check on? I've never had a car before nor have I been around many car folk. I know I'm supposed to change the oil frequently and get a grease gun and fix the leak in the coolant line next to the back heater (any advice on that, btw?) but I'm sure there's more in depth bus maintenance stuff that I don't know about.
I would say, find a reasonable, regular interval (every year, year and a half, or two years) to take the bus to a shop that specializes in larger rigs and have them do an inspection- I use Fleet Ready in Hudson NH. This way you can get an itemized list of what professionals see as issues and address those specifically.

Yes, change the oil regularly. Don't let it sit without running for very long periods, and watch for changes in behavior. Fixing the coolant leak: Sometimes hoses get old/crack and need replacement, sometimes you just need new clamps. I had to replace the entire heater/defroster loop in ours. As long as you can identify where the leak originates from, you can find a way to fix. Post a picture of the problem, someone here can make recommendations.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucille View Post
Question 7: Is there a good thread someone can link me to that tells an amateur how to get and set up a basic solar system?
There's a lot involved in building a system and it really has to start with identifying your wants / needs and budget. Me and my girlfriend are in Windham (NH) if you'd like to meet up for some help here and maybe with that coolant leak- however we will probably be migrating south anywhere between a few weeks and a month, and will likely not be back any time soon.

Best of luck.
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Old 10-07-2020, 10:42 PM   #10
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Lucille, congratulations on your bus and on having a well laid-out plan to build it out. Having a plan and asking the tough questions (as you have) are the very best first things to do. Too many do not make such plans. Kudos!
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Old 10-08-2020, 08:03 AM   #11
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Ditch the buddy heater(I hate those nasty things) and get a CHinese diesel air heater.. im assuming at some points in time during your month in the woods you will be able to return to civilization so you can fill up your diesel tank if needbe..



if you truly are going to park for a month be sure to include a solar battery charger to keep a charge on the batteries on your 444E or plan on running the engine every week or so to keep a good charge on your bus batteries.. run it 15-20 minutes or so every week and it will keep the batteries full..
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Old 10-08-2020, 10:36 AM   #12
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Good start to your conversion. I would just camp in the bus. I would consider waiting and designing a powerful solar energy system and buy the components over the Winter. Use a generator and battery charger for the month camping trip. Itís good to have a backup generator anyway. Building a good energy system is something that shouldnít be rushed. With the generator you could also run a electric heater and cook in tandem with a buddy heater while youíre camping. This strategy will give you more time to think over your design and experience the bus.
I would consider a folding table, folding chair, folding cot, and camping gear. You could even set up a big tent inside and use a small 100 watt heater to be cozy. Think shabby sheik. I had 4 month job where I set up a tent in a unheated bunkhouse. It was 10 degrees warmer in the tent just from body heat. The bunkhouse was 10 degrees warmer than outside so I was 20 degrees warmer in the tent than outside with no heat. Imagine what it would be like with a tiny heater. Even a candle would make it 30 degrees warmer in the tent than outside.
I run my buddy heater from a 20 lb bottle using a adapter. Propane powered generators are available too. Ive not used a Chinese diesel heater. Ive considered them but donít like messing with diesel. A good clean installation would take time you might not have right now. My buddy took out his diesel heater and went to propane heat. No regrets. He uses propane for cooking also. So itís personal preference.
If you design a really powerful solar energy system you might get by with a 2000 or even a 1000 watt generator as backup. I regret not buying the 1000 watt Honda someone offered me for $100. Iíd like it as backup to my 2000 watt Honda inverter technology generator. If you plan on having a air conditioner and other power hungry loads then a bigger generator and solar energy system should be considered.
Any updates?
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Old 10-08-2020, 11:21 AM   #13
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I must admit there is some value to just camping in the bus. No tent for me though, enough of them things.. However staying in the bus unfinished will give you ideas about how you might want to do something that would be different then planned. We did our bathroom first and the basic kitchen then used it with a futon for our bed.
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Old 10-08-2020, 02:09 PM   #14
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What area of the country, Geographically do you plan to be living in your Skoolie?
That makes a big difference in the type of materials you should plan to use, and your insulation needs.
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Old 10-08-2020, 06:18 PM   #15
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I wonder if this post was an experiment in seeing how many replies a "pretty girl" could generate without responding.
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Old 10-08-2020, 07:03 PM   #16
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I wonder if this post was an experiment in seeing how many replies a "pretty girl" could generate without responding.
Thread title is pretty silly, its like the text equivalent of a clickbaiity youtube video thumbnail. I can't tell if its meant to be tongue and cheek or crafted in hopes of eliciting more attention/help through a bit of benign social manipulation, or a little of both. I choose to believe tongue and cheek, but who knows.

In either case, its a big wall of text to drop and then not respond to.. But sometimes it just takes people a while to circle back.

This is his or her first post on the forum I think, so I wouldn't be surprised if we don't hear from them again. Pretty common with people signing up to ask a question and forgetting to check back, though not so much if they put so much effort into the first post.


I was tempted to make a satirical copycat post...

"Average Looking Somewhat Disheveled Man Needs Help from you so called 'Skoolie Experts'"

...And see who got more input
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Old 10-09-2020, 01:27 AM   #17
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im alive dont worry

Hey all,

Wow. I just read all your responses. I had no idea I would get this kind of response. I'm sorry I didn't check this all soon enough--- I sort of assumed not many people would respond, I've never done this before, figured I'd check back in a few days and see one dude telling me to stop being lazy and to check out another thread on X. So many of you responded so fast! I spent most of the last two days doing a ton of solar/electrical research. Plus butyl taping windows (but the hose test failed :'( sad!).

Plus, well, might as well be honest to my new bus friends, my parents are splitting up. My dad is really alcoholic and abusive and insane, and my mom is crazy now too (though it's not her fault). It kind of came to a boil tonight (it's now 2 am oct 9 but I meant oct 8 night) and I was caught in the middle of it and it was honestly pretty traumatic and fucked up and painful and sad. I won't say any more, don't wanna think about it too much. Anyway, I've been really depressed lately, with my family and with my bus struggles and with a lot of other things. This was one of the toughest days of my life, and I couldn't sleep, and I pulled out my laptop, and wow, I could not have imagined that I would have a dozen kind strangers writing to me and thinking of me. Totally unexpected grace. Honestly, it made me smile for the first time in hours, I feel kind of good now, I don't know why, it just felt so nice to see you all responded. Thank you. I'm serious. To the couple of you debating whether this post was tongue in cheek or a sort of social manipulation, I'll say it was definitely both--- the title is kinda true, but also I thought it was a good strategy to get responses, and also it geeked me out lol. And I genuinely needed the help---I didn't even know how badly. I've been doing this alone on a very small budget, and obviously I'm in need of a home of my own given my family situation, and I've struggled a lot. So, tongue fully NOT in cheek, thank you all so ******* much.

I'll reread and respond to all of these responses more in depth tomorrow. And I'll post updates and further questions and stuff. But right now I'm drained, exhausted. I need to finally sleep. And honestly I'm sleeping a lot easier thanks to you all. Sorry if this is cheesy but it's true. You know, Holden Caulfield always pretended to hate cheesiness, but if you read the text as closely as Salinger wished, you learn that deep down Holden loves and craves so-called cheesiness. Hm. Weird note to end on. Anyway... Goodnight friends
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Old 10-09-2020, 04:39 AM   #18
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Old 10-09-2020, 07:45 AM   #19
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Quote:
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Plus butyl taping windows (but the hose test failed :'( sad!).
Put a line of packing tape over the rubber gasket at the bottom of the window glass, where the glass meets up with the frame. Then water test it. Sometimes water gets into the frame channel because that gasket is dry rotted, then the water migrates to the corners of that aluminum window frame and into the bus. We struggled with this also.
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Old 10-17-2020, 03:49 PM   #20
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After freezing my everything off in our bus I bought foil bubble foilInsulation and glued super strong magnets to it and they fit over the windows. A life saver! Remove them when you don’t need them. I used a Buddy heater and run. Large propane tank on a 15’ hose. Front window is cracked open and plenty of airflow and the heater took care of 20’ of living quarters while
In low.
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