- Written by Skoolie Love
~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!
Items Used By Skoolie Love
- Written by Brock Butterfield
- Some thoughts and comparisons from guest blogger and owner of Van Sage -
Guest Blog Written By: Veronica Cavanaugh ~
Over at VanSage.com, we’re always contemplating the idea of converting to the Skoolie world, and there’s no guarantee that we won’t someday. Truth is, every time I see a well-outfitted school bus I dream of an on-board shower, the room to cook a real meal, and maybe even have a guest or two in for coffee. Just a few reasons we were excited to get this invite to compare van and bus life.
You Live in a What?
That is the most common question I receive after people ask my address. Very few people ask to see my van when I tell people I live in one. In fact, most people simply look at me as if I’m crazy.
However, judging from what I’ve seen when a decked out bus rolls into the campground, I bet most people want to take a look into your vehicle.
I know I love seeing inside converted school buses, so I can only imagine how many requests you get from strangers to see inside. Although potentially time-consuming and inconvenient, do you let them look?
Veronica's Dodge Campervan
Trebventure in their full size school bus conversion.
Oh the Lessons You’ll Learn
My friend belonged to a family of 6 that renovated a bus and traveled the United States for 5 years. He said it was the best education he could have received growing up.
Although I am grateful for the campervan experiences I’ve had over the last decade or so, I am jealous of my friend who was able to learn so many powerful life lessons at such a young age. Imagine if more parents raised their children this way!
School buses often provide enough privacy, amenities, and space; perhaps the perfect travel vehicles for families. Van life, on the other hand, can be difficult enough for couples. On the other hand, if you’re rolling solo, a van can be a blissful adventure into minimalism.
Dharma Tribe Bus teaching their little one the joys of being a kid growing up in a skoolie.
I love to entertain and while out on the road I have longed for the option to host friends new and old in a larger space.
I know from experience trying to have friends over in an old Dodge conversion van is a bit difficult. Of course there’s no standing up, and even if the bed is of the hideaway variety and the seating is carefully planned, it gets crowded fast.
In a skoolie you can have a potluck and invite your other skoolie friends over!
Design and Décor
There’s not a lot of room for decorations in a campervan and the inside of a newly demo’d school bus must be like a massive, open canvas in comparison. Much more like designing the layout of a studio apartment, with many possibilities.
While we may have one or two options for our chuck box design and a modicum of storage (every inch counts in a campervan), skoolies actually have enough room for designated dining area, bedroom, bath, etc.
I imagine it is much easier to feel at home when you can personalize your surroundings with cabinet choices, window coverings and other fun stuff.
On the other hand, van lifers aren’t burdened with big design considerations, and a bit of color goes a long way in our tiny space.
Valerie Bus showing how cozy you can get with your school bus conversion.
In a refurbished bus, there is room for certain things a person in a van would consider a luxury such as plumbed in toilet and shower. Van life made it necessary for me to find public showers.
For van people, some of the best places to shower are laundry mats, campgrounds, and local outdoor outfitters. My portable solar shower bag, while a lot of fun in the sun, is a rough choice in bad weather
When it comes time to use the restroom, my choices are my little portable camp toilet (keep in mind, that’s in my living space), public restrooms or out in nature. It would be very convenient to be able to take care of all of my hygiene needs at home.
Aw. The ability to take a hot shower anywhere inside or outside the bus with this little portable shower.
Of course many school bus models are known for their durable motors and transmissions and I think many Skoolies take pride in the durability and longevity of their rigs.
Luckily for bus owner, many of the parts are interchangeable. Additionally, there are a lot of different bus makes and models available from a wide range of eras. This makes it easier to find the specifics you may want.
Many campervan makes/models are ubiquitous and we rarely have issues finding parts or mechanics who know our machines.
I have heard it can be a challenge to find mechanics that know how to work on buses. And then there’s the shear size of many of your parts. For example, while the tires on buses may last longer, when it is time to replace them they can be pricey and difficult to find.
Still, given the longevity of bus parts, I’d imagine cost of care and maintenance is a wash between buses and vans.
As opposed to a van, most buses you can access everything easily by tilting the hood. Makes self repairs a little easier.
Matters of size
As a campervan queen, there have been many nights I have needed to sleep incognito in town. Other than full length Sprinters, vanners can usually go unnoticed while stealth camping. Even if you have to pull over in broad daylight for a quick nap, your normal looking van won’t garner much attention.
Of course school buses face some real challenges with regard to staying low key and this is one of the biggest differences between the two awesome types of vehicles.
However, I’ve read some accounts from experienced bus dwellers that they always manage to find a spot, stealthy or not.
If not, it can get expensive staying in campgrounds where you may be required to use RV stalls vs the cheaper car/tent spots. Though I am sure the power and water hook ups are well worth it (depending on how you trick out your bus).
Veronica's quick nap setup in her van conversion.
It was a breeze for The Woody Bus to find parking.
Road awareness and Safety
When I was a new van driver, I had a bit of a learning curve ahead of me as the road awareness required to drive a van is very different from the sedans I’d learned in and always driven.
As a school bus driver, you must be constantly alert. It’s more of a truck driver mentality and includes being aware of overhead bridges, awnings, drive throughs, etc.
It’s easy enough to stay low key in a van and no one needs to know you’re traveling long term or even living in it.
However, when most people see a school bus that’s not bright yellow and packed with kids, they might assume someone is living in it.
So I’d imagine that buses can become a target for break-ins. I’d be tempted to keep windows covered most of the time and install a good alarm. Perhaps even get a mid-sized dog? Be safe out there, please.
Thanks for reading!
As I mentioned at the top of this article, we’re always considering a bus. If you’re reading this, chances are that you share the same insatiable love of adventure and freedom that we do. So no matter what you choose for long term wandering, we’re all brothers and sisters of the road.
When she's not writing guest posts about van life, Veronica Cavanaugh from VanSage.com is camping, backpacking, or planning her next outdoor adventure. She also enjoys watching old movies and writing poetry.
- Written by Brock Butterfield
Old man winter is on his way and if you've been considering portable propane heaters as a source of heat then take advantage of our winter sale on Mr. Heater products. Free shipping on all US Residential orders!
In one of my recent articles I touched on the different types of heat sources for school bus conversions. Portable propane heat can be a great interim before you get your main source installed or for an emergency backup heat if your main heat source fails. I personally used my Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater in the mornings during the winter when it was cold from the wood stove going out in the night and I needed something to take the chill of before getting out of my sleeping bag.
I have a good relationship with Mr. Heater and they have given me the opportunity to share savings with you on the Buddy, Little Buddy, Big Buddy and Hunter Buddy propane heaters below. Sale ends soon so grab one now if you've been looking!
My trick to warming up my cold boots in the morning before heading out into the backcountry.
- Written by Brock Butterfield
~ Woman learns how to convert a shuttle bus into a tiny home from TV, Google and YouTube. ~
Interview By: Brock Butterfield ~
Shuttle Bus Conversion By: Tabatha Marie
-Model: E-450 Shuttle Bus
-Motor: Super Duty
-Interior Square Footage: Well, 25 Feet x 7 Feet
-Current Location: Long Island, New York
-Purchased From/Location: New York
-Cost in materials for the conversion: Endless
What made you want to complete a bus conversion?
After converting a vintage travel trailer and vintage pop up, I needed more space and the freedom to pick up and go. Being able to drive off with everything you need and the ability to customize a home on wheels, was all I needed to convince myself a bus conversion was for me.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself along the way?
I knew the basics from watching shows on television, searching Google and YouTube. As I went along in the conversion, I learned solar, electric and utilization of living space and storage.
What was the hardest part of the bus conversion and what guidance would you give others for that part?
The hardest part was removing the wheelchair lift and the rows of seating. I went through so many saw blades, drill bits and fingers. A commercial bus has extremely hard flooring and thick metal. Which needs to be considered when having to use tools.
We’ve learned that you also helped your daughter convert her bus. Tell us about that experience.
Yes, we loved traveling together, and I saw her desire to go out on her own. She was so interested in watching the process. I decided she was turning 18, she had some driving experience, and just graduated high school. I knew a vintage skoolie, would be perfect for her to adventure and find herself before she committed to college or adulting. We worked long hours to turn her bus into a reflection of who she is. Lola is a dream come true for Lex, and I am so stoked that she takes off with a brave soul to discover all the beauty that's out in this world.
Lola the short bus conversion was created by Lexi and her mother Tabitha.
Where do you mostly park the bus?
My bus is parked where I live. As most bus lifers know , conversions attract a lot of attention, especially ones with huge silver feathers and curtains everywhere. For safety reasons, and privacy I prefer to keep my bus close by.
What make and model did you end using for the following:
- Solar panels: 165 watt Renogy TILT kit/ roof mounted and a 50 watt flat panel for rear system that I hang off the back window with a suction cup when parked so I can move it as needed.
- charge controller I purchased a few before I finally found one that had all the features I needed - this is still a lesson in progress,
- batteries : (3) Interstate Marine Deep Cell Batteries and adding more as I go
- I have 2 battery banks, 3 inverters and 2 solar chargers - one in the rear and one in the center.
- Kitchen stove - I absolutely adore the Butane single burner stove, it lasts for 100’s of cookings and butane is cheap. However, my plan would be to get a Camp Chef Stove so I can use the 1 lb can propane and be able to have an oven.
- Kitchen sink - This is a clever creation, I don't do standard or off the shelf type of decor, my sink was a melamine bowl that I cut and made into a perfect size sink for my kitchen counter.
- Refridge - I have 2 - Coleman 12 volt for off grid and a larger 110 when on grid.
- Faucet that's another area of creativity I chose a 12 inch swivel faucet, and installed it by my kitchen window, so that I can also use it as an outdoor shower, sounds crazy but it works. I can swivel it out the casement style window that shuttle bus have that lift up and when the water is on it is the perfect height for outdoor showering.
- Pump I used a small 12 volt water pump and hooked directly to my center battery bank, I also installed a on off lighted LED switch that I mounted to a piece of barn board and made a backsplash so with a flip of a switch, I have off grid water.
- Toilet - I am not a fan of compost and I'm not a fan of flush, so with that said I chose Stansport Easy Portable Toilet the best $50.00 I spent. I use colored scented small garbage bags knot the bottom, do the deed, bag it, knot it and toss it. Done. no mess no spills, no hassle.
- Shower creativity strikes again, I used a vintage galvanized 24x24 round basin as a tub, I set a drain in the center that drains under the bus with a flex hose. The shower head I did get fancy, I went with a rain shower head. I do have the shower setup for on and off grid. I use a 12 volt submersible pump and 5 gallon water tanks.
- Hot water source: I have set up a in demand water heater that I hardly use.
- My conversion is somewhat different than any I have seen on the internet, that my bus is not a build out. I did not like the idea of being committed to a floor plan and tons of walls and cabinetry. I wanted a open feel with all natural light. But mostly the freedom to alter my floorplan as the seasons change on my many travel adventures. I used threaded large Eye Hook bolts and L brackets that countersunk into the many threaded pre drilled holes in the floor along the rails of the walls. This gives me the ability to still move my couch, bed etc but, secure all my furniture to the floor. It is something that should be considered when doing a conversion. Its nice to move your table to the front or back of your bus.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
The most unique feature is the gypsy style decor that I use in all my conversions. I divided up a 4 wood hand carved room divider into walls for the bathroom and 2 I used as closets in the rear of the bus, I also use mixed fabrics, linens, lace and cottons. The more romantic and dreamy the better is how I see things.
What do you do for income?
I presently am an Account Executive for a technology company, while I continue to tweak my conversion, and my youngest son Billy Lee, finishes out high school. I live in my bus part time. Once he settles into school or life, than I can make the transition to full time, and all while paying for the conversion on a full time salary. It's a win - win.
So when the time comes, I'm off and driving.
What is the plan now that your bus conversion is road ready?
I have a list of to see places, and can't wait to be free from life's restraints. To be able to drive from state to state stay as long or as short of time as I want. You can't put a price on that. My daughter and I have big plans.
Where can people follow or find out more about your bus? (social media, website, etc.)
I presently have a website : www.TinyMobileLiving.com
My instagram is: @the_boho_bus
Facebook page: Extreme Glampers Club
All with a variety of mobile conversions.