~Staying Dry and Warm – Winterizing the Bus~
Living in a converted school bus in the Pacific Northwest can be cold, wet and damp if you're not properly prepared. We learned and are still learning through trial and error the best way to winterize our Skoolie for the season.
Making sure our bus-plants are getting enough sun; Putting up the tarp to cover the bus from all the rain.
“At the end of the day, this IS a School Bus. They were never meant to be homes. They were built to transport, not live in,” Charles Kern pointed out at the Tiny House Living Festival. “None of these buses are perfect. Miss-matching parts, different manufacturers. They all have their own personality.”
Each bus at the Tiny House Living Festival is as unique as it's owner.
Welcome to the Bus Life! It feels like camping, you're not quite home-less as much as house-less and whenever you feel like it, you tie everything down, button it all up, start the motor, and drive somewhere else. Can you say that about living in a house or apartment?
Free camping spot overlooking a serene lake in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.
Freedom of the road! Adventure!
What happens when you're not on the road, and you start living the #HomeIsWhereYouParkIt instead of the #OnTheRoad #VanLife #NoStress lifestyle?
What is the reality of #BusLife in a cold and wet climate such as the Pacific Northwest?
Well, it’s cold, dark, and can be extremely unwelcoming. The days are dreary and short; the sun rarely peeks out to release any warmth.
State Park camping spot in Oregon.
While it’s nice to be able to pack up our home and drive it anywhere, it’s also really nice to have a permanent spot to park, serving as base camp. It’s not always possible, money wise, to fill up the diesel tank and go. My fiancee and I have agreed that we want to park in the Northwest this season. Enjoying the downsized, tiny lifestyle, but not having the worries and stressors of the road.
From Beach Boys to Nirvana
One of the first pictures of the bus the day I bought it.
When I bought the Big Blue Bus in March of 2015, I doubt this 1990 Church Bus ever thought it would become a Tiny Home and drive almost 25,000 miles across 42 states in less than 3 years.
Living mostly full-time in the bus since then, I believe the best part of living in a school bus is the view!
The bus is currently parked among the trees in an old-growth forest, and I’m staring out one of the drivers side windows, watching tiny snow flakes falling all around. Ferns, pines, shrubs, moss, mushrooms, bugs and birds.
Sitting in the “dining room” area of the bus, I lean over into the “kitchen” area and grab myself a cold La Croix from the dorm sized fridge. I turn slightly to my right, still sitting down, and get myself a snack from the pantry, which doubles as a convenient head rest when I’m sitting at the table. It’s all about convenience and efficiency in our bus home.
We are about an hour’s drive north of Seattle, tucked away on a dead end street away from any major roads. The silence out here can be quite deafening. Being able to sit motionless, listening to and seeing nature right outside my home is magical. Year after year, I am happy that I did not remove any of the windows in the bus; my fiancee and I initially felt so closed in when we first had the tarp wrapped over the bus, covering the windows and our view. We felt like we were going mad when we did not see sun or anything outside of our windows.
Since then, we’ve strung a 20x30ft tarp over the bus, in order to shield the bus from the majority of rain and snow which we will continue to experience up here in the Pacific Northwest. It is so peaceful out here, I can hear the sound of the snow drops as they fall and land on everything. Not much has fallen, less than half an inch, but a layer of white covers the forest and surrounding landscape.
The first time the bus has seen snow since I've owned it.
Past Winters in the Bus
The first winter I spent in Florida, parked in my friend’s driveway. I stayed warm with 1 single electric space heater, which was right behind the driver's seat. It was enough to warm up the front of the bus to a comfortable 60 degrees or more, while it was in the low 40’s outside. For about a week, I considered buying another space heater that I would use in the back of the bus in the bedroom. The front one was permanently mounted, and not able to heat the 189 square foot space.
Parked for free in my friend's driveway in Florida.
Living in a bus in a driveway, my friends were gracious enough to let me shower in their house, as well as do my laundry. I dumped the waste tank into their septic system. “Wintering” in Florida was therefore not a problem at all.
Only source of heat the first two years. Next to a hot/cold water dispenser.
The second winter I spent in Vegas, parked on my parent’s property. While it can get blistering hot in the desert, it can also become incredibly chilly once the sun goes down. Parked beside the house within a gated community, we thought it was best not to live full-time in the bus due to HOA regulations. So during the day, I would spend my time in the bus, since it is my home, but once it got down into the 50’s and 40’s, I spent my time in my parent’s guest room. It was unnecessary to try and heat the bus up, when there is a perfectly heated up house right next door. The bus became more of hangout over the second winter. No problems with the bus.
Cutting some wood with my dad, for the Skoolie interior.
But this year! This winter I am legitimately living and wintering in the bus.
Home is Truly Where You Park It!
Mary, my fiancee, moved onto the bus on September 1, 2016 and we have been living on it full time since then. We started our journey in Florida, and drove to the west coast to attend the Tiny House Living Festival in Portland, Oregon. Throughout the trip, we were networking and actively searching for places to park our bus for the next few months. We placed ads on Craigslist in both Seattle and Portland, hoping to end up somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
After attending the Tiny House Living Festival, we still had no idea where we would park the bus. We decided to extend the road trip, and headed down to the California Redwoods, which we both had never seen. From there, we headed north again towards Bend, Oregon to attend the Van Life and Bus Life gathering ‘Descend on Bend’, with hopes of finding a place to park.
Hanging out with Jessica from BlueBusAdventure.
The weekend long event was a blast, and we connected with so many wonderful people. We also had our first taste of the Pacific Northwest Bus life: condensation on the windows, not enough solar power to charge the batteries and realizing we did not have an adequate way to heat ourselves.
I remember looking at Mary with a concerned look, wondering if being up here would be a good decision. We both really wanted to park and live here, so we set out to make that happen, even if we knew there would be hurdles along the way. When aren't there any, right?
Leaving Descend on Bend, coming to Seattle
First week was rough
Parked at one of the only campgrounds that would accept a Skoolie. Just outside of Seattle.
With no electricity and no way to heat ourselves, we bundled up with blankets.
The first night in town, we parked the Bus at an RV park so that we could use their shower facilities, charge our solar/interior batteries and finally have enough power to run our space heater to keep warm. The windows were wet with condensation and we needed to get the bus dried out.
We had 2 Damp Rid RV buckets in the bus, Damp Rid closet hangers, as well as a routine of wiping moisture off the windows. We still had nowhere permanent to park, but my fiancee had a work meeting in the morning. When she initially turned in her 2 Weeks notice, her manager told her to reconsider, to take the time off for the bus trip, and when she came back she would get a raise. The meeting in the morning was a “welcome back, when can you work?” check-in with her manager. It was important for us to be in town, even though we would be boon-docking around the city with no actual place to park yet.
The RV park we found was only 1 of 3 that allowed RV’s older than 10 years (some are 15) and being a converted bus for that matter. They unfortunately did not have another night available, and regardless, we did not have a car, we needed the bus to get around.
We left the RV park in the morning and parked the bus along a busy residential road as Mary got ready to head over to her meeting. It’s always an uneasy feeling to be sitting in our home, as cars whizz by right outside. It was a great spot to park though, and I saw 3 other RV’s in the vicinity. The only catch was that we would have to move by a certain time, when the road becomes so busy that they need that lane to be unobstructed so cars can drive there.
Sitting on the couch, parked in the city, I logged onto Craigslist to see if there were any RV spots available on someone’s property. I also researched “Driveway Hosts” on the VanAlert App, and was emailing back and forth with someone.
“Unfortunately, we don't have a space as big as your bus. I would love to help you, but that’s like 6 vans you're essentially bringing in with your bus size.”
After her interview, Mary mentioned that her friend offered for us to park in her driveway, it’s plenty big. So we took off from the roadside spot, just in time for when the lane opened up for the busy traffic.
Temporary street parking to figure out where we could permanently park.
Cars whizzing by extremely close as we get settled in for overnight parking.
At the house, I tried every which way to get the bus turned into the driveway to temporarily park and figure out our long term situation. I was unable to get the bus into the spot next to the house. The bus was simply too big to make the turn (11 windows, ~34feet), making sure not to hit the house behind me, the cars in the driveway on my right, and leave the brick wall intact on my left. There was no way to fit. I was at a loss of where we would park. It was a high stress and highly demoralizing turn of events. Coming from such a beautiful road trip, covering almost 4,000 miles in less than 2 months to being cold, wet, hungry and miserable feeling, trying to find a spot to park your one and only home.
"Park where you can" is our motto. Suburb of Seattle.
We ended up driving the bus to one of the neighboring cities and parking along the side of a busy road, every other street taken up by apartment street parking. We had to fold the mirrors in, in case someone got too close. The leaks in the windows were getting worse, and it was obvious we need to get the bus tarped soon. The next day we drove north and parked in a casino parking lot for 3 nights. We had a lead on a permanent parking spot, and we were getting ready to meet a couple that owns a few acres and would love for us to park with them.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2
Heating ourselves - Wood, Propane, Electric
Parking on the property & Bus Needs - Electric, Sewer, Water.
Curtains/Bubble Wrap for windows
Mold problems / Staying Dry / Bus Life Challenges
Nature reclaiming this van and ancient television.
Until the next installment, check out:
Van Life: How to Stay Warm While Living in A Van During Winter
Thank you all for taking time out of your day to read about some of the challenges of living in a custom Bus Home.
Make it a wonderful day!
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