Electric buses and tips to reduce your carbon footprint on the road


By Elizabeth Hensley and Brock Butterfield


Imagine riding off into the sunset in your bus home without a gas station in sight. Not to worry, your bus is electric.


Decades have gone by and diesel-powered school buses have remained relatively the same. Links between emissions and health problems have been documented and with climate concerns on everyone’s minds, especially in the nomadic community, we started looking into options.


Whether ditching mortgage payments or saying goodbye to a typical 9-5 job, bus life means being more conscious about the lives we lead. Many of us chose to live in converted school buses to free ourselves from the pitfalls of mainstream culture. But one element we cannot escape is the environment. In that sense, driving around a diesel-sucking home on wheels is not exactly the solution.


The original idea for this article was to compare bus life to living in a home and what was better for the environment. There are too many variables involved to get a clear answer. But if you convert a bus and park it somewhere for long periods of time and it’s off-grid, then yes, the carbon footprint is smaller than living in a home. However, most in the bus life community buy buses to travel and explore while not having to pay rent or lodging during their travels.


In this article, we go over some exciting developments in the electric bus industry that will no doubt make their way to the bus life community in the future. In the meantime, we offer up some tips so you can get started reducing your carbon footprint as we make our way there.
So, what about electric bus life?

LionA Electric Bus

The LionA all-electric mini school bus. Courtesy of Lion Electric.

Electric Buses


Bus manufacturers have been working on all-electric buses since around 2017 and they will be the future of buses being used by schools. Because of climate concerns and strides in technology, more bus manufacturers are realizing the need to bring electric models to the masses (cite articles). There are currently more than 385,000 electric buses in operation worldwide and the number is growing steadily.


One electric bus that’s been giving us life comes from The Lion Co. This bus manufacturer specializes in zero-emission fully electric vehicles including full-size school buses, trucks, and midi/minibuses that are built with attention to passengers with special needs. We think they would make amazing bus conversions! The LionA model is just over 26 feet long and weighs more than 22,000 pounds with a top speed of 65mph. On a full charge, it can go up to 150 miles. It has an 80 percent energy cost reduction and 60 percent maintenance reduction over a diesel engine. We hope this is what the future of bus life looks like!


But with price tags for new electric buses stretching beyond $300k, close to the national average for a house in the United States, it has been a struggle for electric school buses to make their way into school districts let alone into the nomadic community. Until e-buses become the standard, it seems we are still a long way from seeing them in bus life. We’ve heard rumblings of people tinkering with Tesla or Leaf batteries and even the electric VW bus. But realistically, what does it take to power a tiny home on wheels?

 

Solar views from roof deck of Little House on the  HWY

Solar panel views from the roof deck of Little House on the HWY at the United Tiny House Festival in Orlando, Florida.

Solar-Powered Skoolies


While solar power in bus life has become the norm for powering everything from lights to AC off-grid, we took it a step further and asked the question: what would it take to power an entire electric bus engine through solar power? To find the answer we asked our good friend, Garret Towne, President of AM Solar. He gave us calculations. This gets super geeky but hang with us. The specs are as follows:

For a range of 150 miles, you would need a battery capacity of 168 kilowatt hours, and roof dimensions of 313” x 96”.

168kWh x 1000W/kW = 168,000Wh
168,000 / 3 = 56,000W of solar to take the battery bank (the big version) from empty to full on an average day.

200W solar panel dimensions: About 62” x 29” = 1798 square inches per panel

Let’s say you can utilize 70% of the roof’s space for solar panels (very optimistic)
313” x 96” = 30,048 square inches
30,048 x 0.7 = 21,033 square inches available
21,033 / 1798 = 11 panels
11 x 200W = 2200W of solar on the roof

2,200W / 56,000W = Miles per day / 150 miles
5.89 miles per day*
150/5.89 = 26 days to go from empty to full charge*

*These calculations are assuming a lot of things: no other loads or charging sources (shore power), very predictable weather that gives you 3Wh per 1W of solar panels, etc.


In other words, to quote Doc Brown from Back to the Future, “Great Scott!” That’s a lot of time and power!
So, if buying an electric bus or powering your rig’s engine with solar power isn’t exactly in the cards right now, here are some no-brainer solutions that can get you on the path to reducing your carbon footprint today:

Stay parked longer


It is no surprise that staying off the road longer will help reduce your skoolie’s carbon footprint. Many people opt to stay for weeks or months at a time in the same spot. If you can live completely off-grid, all the better! If you live in the United States, one way is to seek out BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or publicly owned land. If you want to work while staying in one place, Workamping is a good option to save for future adventures.

 

Skoolie Travels with Tow Vehicle Number Juan Bus

 Number Juan Bus uses a motorcycle as their tow vehicle.

Buy a tow Vehicle

Good parking on the road, especially in a scenic area, can be hard to find. It’s not efficient to ditch an ideal camping spot with your entire home on wheels to drive into town for groceries or to a remote trail. Towing a vehicle like a motorcycle, electric bike, compact car, or truck to cruise into places while you’re parked can be very handy. On the flip side, consider the amount of traveling you will be doing with your vehicle in tow. If it’s a lot, you could end up burning more fuel overall, adding to carbon emissions.

Nontoxic Wool Insulation Carbon Emissions

Logan from Ramblin' Farmers shows a bit of their Havelock sheep's wool insulation in their bus conversion.

Choose nontoxic insulation

If you want to beat the heat and stay cool in the summer, insulating your bus is a key step in the conversion process. But when it comes to the materials, you have options. Fiberglass and spray foam are commonly used but they contain chemicals and carcinogens that can be harmful to you and the environment. One sustainable, nontoxic option is sheep’s wool insulation. Wool has been used for thousands of years as natural insulation. It is fire, moisture, and bug resistant too. Not only a good option for folks who want to be environmentally conscious but a good choice for those who have asthma and allergies as well. Ramblin’ Farmers shares their experience using Havelock Wool insulation on on our blog here.

Composting Toilets Kildwick Natures head

Kildwick and Nature's Head composting toilets are made with tiny living in mind.

Composting Toilets


Composting toilets are an eco-friendly approach to doing your business in the wild. Instead of “black water” holding tanks loaded with chemicals, common in most RVs, composting toilets break down solid human waste into compost with the help of organic materials like peat moss or coconut coir. Two major composting toilet brands, Kildwick and Nature’s Head, go “head-to-head” on our blog so you can learn which one would be right for you and your rig. Click here to read the full article.

Biofuel Vegetable Oil Diesel School Bus Conversion

 Jax Austin's video shows how bus lifer Kyle has been running his buses on biodiesel for over ten years. 

Turning toward biofuels, how does it work? Is it for everyone?


Biodiesel is a non-toxic alternative to regular diesel that runs on fossil fuels. It comes from renewable resources such as cooking grease or vegetable oil that mixes with alcohol to run an engine. It burns cleaner and is biodegradable. YouTuber and bus lifer Jax Austin made the switch in his second skoolie to a biodiesel fuel system. Watch this video from his YouTube channel to see how and why he was inspired to make the switch. Maybe it could work for you too!

We had a lot of ground to cover here. From the state of electric buses, powering a solar bus engine, to ways we can all be more environmentally friendly on the road. Minimalism and off-grid living can definitely be a step in the right direction, but it will take everyone to really have an impact in reducing our carbon footprint over the long haul. Feel free to reach out with other ideas that can help: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . And keep on busin’ as green as you can!

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We always like learning about new shit so when Kildwick reached out to us about doing a guest article on their composting toilets we thought, "Well, shit. Why not? If these German engineers find their shitters superior, then let's let them explain what makes their product so special!" And thus, this comparison article between Kildwick and Nature's Head was born.

We're not affiliates of Kildwick or Nature's Head composting toilets but we do find it a relief (especially to our bowels) that we're starting to see other composting toilets come onto the bus life, van life, tiny living bathroom scene. Oh, and nobody paid us a dime or gave us any product to promote this so it's authentic AF. So, pop a squat and get your scrolling thumbs warmed up for a quick comparison of Nature's Head and Kildwick composting toilets.                              - Brock Butterfield, Founder, Bus Life Adventure

 Sitting LooSo, how does the Kildwick compost toilet compare to Nature’s Head?

By Nath Fedorova for Kildwick

Year-around travel, endless possibilities, and the ultimate freedom – it’s easy to see why bus life and van life communities are thriving in the U.S. and abroad. And, seeking to living green(er), we have come to rely on sustainable solutions for the things we have and the things we need: from plastic-free kitchenware to solar panels... And our toilets.

Odorless, easy to install, and eco-friendly, modern compost toilets have quickly become the sanitation solution in the bus life and van life community. They don’t depend on water or chemicals. People new to the topic might expect just some sort of a bucket and are pleasantly surprised to discover the comfort of a conventional bathroom.

Variety makes perfect

There are of course fan favorites when it comes to something as intimate as a toilet installation. Nature’s Head is such a fave; it’s built to last, dependable, easy to clean, comfy, and odor-free thanks to the inbuilt vent hose and fan. It has a few downsides though, such as being quite pricey and dependent on electricity for fan operation. It’s also a less perfect choice for smaller vans or buses. Thankfully, the market for waterless and source separation toilets is adequately dynamic and there are several brands to choose from.

This is a dry toilet with a unique design, ideal for the nature lover in you

Kildwick LoointheWild

Although not entirely a new player, Kildwick (born in the U.K. and relaunched in Germany in 2019) is new to the U.S. market. In European van life communities, the wooden compost toilets are so popular that the brand even launched a vanlifer design collaboration for its first year "made in Germany." If you love design, need a unit that runs entirely off-grid, or have to keep an eye on your dry toilet budget, check out this following feat by feat comparison. We’d love to know what you think!

Design and material

Nature’s Head: Wet room compatible

NaturesHead Pic2

Nature’s Head toilets look and feel just like toilets. Sturdy, dependable, built to last. They can be easily installed in a wet room – and look exactly like their flush counterpart.

Kildwick: Multifunctional and highly customizable

Kildwick’s design idea is about a clever, slimline that doubles as a seat and looks rather inconspicuous. This works with all models, but the sitting solution is probably most popular with the smaller MiniLoo unit.

The signature Kildwick design has an edgy body made of birch plywood (all parts are laser-cut for precision and rounded) that you can easily paint and customize. Customization is particularly popular with the models EasyLoo and MiniLoo.
The customization idea goes even further as you can purchase your fave Kildwick model as a DIY kit and build and install it just the way you like it.

Kildwick MiniLoo Customized

One downside: the untreated birchwood surfaces are not completely waterproof. The 2020 novelty comes in three super chic, eco-friendly color options to pick from and is splash-proof.

Pricing

Nature’s Head: At approx. $1,000.00, Nature’s Head compost toilet has to be seen as an investment.

Kildwick: Starting at approx. 299€ for a DIY kit (finished product at 469€). The top model of the range FancyLoo starts at 799€.

Kildwick EasyLoo Basic

Comfort

Nature’s Head: Originating from marine adventure life, Nature’s Head toilets sport a minimalistic design and don’t have toilet seats.

Kildwick: All Kildwick toilets have a classic toilet and sport a chic toilet seat made of bamboo. – similar to indoor water toilets.

Maintenance

The liquid bottle needs to be emptied after 3 days at the latest with both brands. But Nature’s Head and Kildwick differ in how the solids are collected and emptied.

Nature’s Head: Emptying is due every 4 weeks. The complete lower part of the toilet needs to be emptied, depending on your interior solution, even carried out of the bus.

The coir or the bulking material is put into the (empty) tank once and later mixed with the waste with a stirrer mechanism, meaning: you don’t need to face what drops inside but you also can’t line the tank for mess-free emptying.

Kildwick: Emptying is due approx. once a week, depending on the model and on the solids tank size. The empty tank is lined with compostable bags and remains clean at all times.

Kildwick EasyLoo bags

The cover material is put into the tank after each "session," and doesn’t require any stirring.

Additional solids tanks can be purchased separately and, coming with air-tight lids. They can serve as temporary storage if no emptying is possible at the moment given.

(Low) Tech

Nature’s Head: Wired for 12V power to operate the exhaust fan.

Kildwick: The fan is optional and can be purchased separately; Kildwick toilets are initially built for off-grid living.

Sustainability

Nature’s Head: Made in the U.S. using steel and plastic, Nature’s Head requires sustainable coir for solids collection and some power for the fan operation. Low tech that’s built to last and last.

NaturesHead Pic3

Kildwick: Made in Germany using regional and sustainable materials and parts only. All materials are sturdy and robust, the steel parts (screws, hinges) are top quality steel. The birch plywood comes from sustainable forestry and comes with additional eco-certification for the top of the range ‘FancyLoo’. Tanks and liquid bottles are made from recyclable plastics.

Kildwick also offers hand-picked equipment and accessories such as eco-friendly cleaning liquids, reusable towels, and biodegradable non-GMO waste bags.

Kildwick FancyLoo Color Options

Sizes

Nature’s Head:

Width: 19"
Depth: 19"
Height: 20" to seat, 21" total
Weight: 28lbs

Ideal for large buses.

Kildwick:

All Kildwick toilets are really lightweight in comparison, but also slimmer and smaller. The toilet itself (FancyLoo) can carry up to 440lbs and the lid carries up to 220 pounds.

The smaller model, Mini Loo, measures:

Width: 13,27“
Depth: 15,6“
Height: 16.96“
Weight: 21.34 lbs

Ideal for smaller spaces.

       

Conclusion

Nature’s Head and Kildwick

Wow, that was a lot to unload here! It's fascinating, these two brands, while both offering source separating dry compost toilets made to last, could not be more different in their approach.

In the end, it all boils down to your individual needs and preferences. So we’re curious to hear from you now. What do you like most (or least) about each of the contenders? Are there features both of them miss? How would you customize your birchwood toilet? Follow us on Instagram and tell us in the comments!

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Turn your tiny home ceiling into a starry night sky with this step-by-step guide ✨

Native Trek Starry Night Ceiling

 

We are Nat and Don and we travel with our two pups, Kona and Bandit. We live and travel in a renovated retired school bus we have named, “Caroline”. While our bus is just shy of 32’ she can comfortably entertain and seat up to nine adults inside. She is a Thomas flat nose bus with a rear Mercedes/Detroit MBE 906 engine coupled with an Allison MD3060 transmission. What that means is that she will take us anywhere we want to go.

Native Trek  Nat and Don

We decided to live tiny about five years ago when we started to consider what life would look like for us after our children grew up and moved out. We loved our home on the water in Florida, but the idea of living in a four-bedroom, two-bath house with a double garage didn’t make much sense to us. We really liked the idea of living in a tiny home but weren’t too keen on the idea of being geographically anchored to one spot

Native Trek Bus Show

We started to look into living and traveling in an RV, but the cost of a well-built and reliable motorhome was not what we envisioned for our life of travel. We didn’t want to take on an RV mortgage to travel. To us, it seemed counterproductive. 

When we first came up with the idea of renovating a retired school bus into a functioning and livable RV, or skoolie, as they are affectionately called, we knew we wanted to incorporate some unique features that we had not seen in other RV, skoolie, van or tiny homes.

Other Fun and Ambitious Projects for our Tiny Home on Wheels
We knew we would have to keep our king-sized bed for our RV. After sleeping on a king for the past three years, sleeping on anything smaller was simply out of the question. We also built an 80 sq ft rooftop deck that has a marine hatch sky-light access from the inside of the bus.
We built a removable and storable 28sq ft “doggie deck” off of the right side handicap door so our pups would have their own deck to lounge and enjoy some warm sunshine on nice days.

Native Trek Doggie Deck

Natalie is the one who came up with the idea of installing a different and unique light texture to our ceiling in addition to our 12v marine puck lights. Her inspiration came from a friend of hers who saw an Instagram pic of the fiber optic lights in a limousine. When she forwarded the pic to me and asked me what I thought, I told her immediately, “It’s on!”

Starry Night Lights
We started where we usually do for instruction, inspiration, and information: YouTube

Native Trek Dusk Starry.


We couldn’t find anything that remotely related to putting these tiny but awesome little lights in the ceiling of a skoolie, motorhome, or even a van. There were a couple of videos on the installation in a home theater room in a house and a few on how they looked in a stretch limo, but nothing that really gave us any instruction on a process for installing in a tongue and groove wood ceiling in a bus or skoolie.

Together we masterminded the only solution we thought would give us the results we wanted. We would drill individual holes for each fiber optic thread into the wood ceiling planks and then install the individual tongue and groove wood pieces to the ceiling.

We looked on Amazon to see what products were available. We found this set of lights and they have been perfect for us!

Not even halfway through the installation, we decided we wanted more than the 220 lights we purchased. We bought another set of fiber optic strands and another light engine and quickly realized we had just doubled our work.

The process of installing a tongue and groove wood ceiling into a skoolie is difficult and frustrating enough, considering nothing on or about a school bus is “square” or consistent when measuring; couple that with installing delicate and tiny fiber optic strands without crimping, screwing, or cutting through them while maintaining the design and look that you want, it can be quite a feat to accomplish.


Starry Night Ceiling Step-by-Step Guide

*Disclaimer: We are not responsible for the dissolution of any relationships as a result of taking on this project.
There were several times throughout the week it took us to finish the project we questioned our sanity, faith, relationship, and desire to finish the project. It really was both physically and patiently exhausting. If you want to test the mettle of your relationship with your significant other, take on this project.
All joking aside, it is installed now and we are absolutely loving the effects, relaxation, and peacefulness these 440 fiberoptic threaded lights are in have offered us in our tiny home on wheels.

Depending on the type of ceiling you have, your installation may vary. For us, we used 6-inch pine tongue and groove ceiling boards.

Items Needed:

*These are quick Amazon Affiliate links but check at your local hardward store first to support local.

✨Light engine(s) and fiber optic strands 

✨1/16 drill bit (x 10-20, because they will break 😊)

✨Drill

✨Rubber mallet

✨Silicon caulk

✨Caulk gun

✨Scissors

This is how we installed our lights. Installation may vary. We had never done this before, so we were learning as we went.

Native Trek Before Bus

Setting up Lights

Position your centerboard where it will be permanently attached. Do not attach it yet.

Place your fiber optic light engines with the strands attached to the place on your bus where they will be permanently housed. For our location, it is the cabinets above our sink, which we had yet to install. So, we simply made a temporary structure to hold the light engines and fiber optics into their spot.

Provide electrical power to your light engines.

Native Trek Nat Strings

Planning Your Design

Know what kind of pattern you want for your lights prior to installation. If your lights are going to be a replica of a star system, constellation, or galaxy, then draw it out on paper. If it is going to be randomly placed lights for stars, no need to draw it out on paper prior to installation, simply drill the 1/16 size holes randomly on the ceiling pieces.
If you have a constellation or galaxy planned, attached that drawn-out design (we used brown paper and spray adhesive on reflectix that we installed over our spray foam).

Once you have completed your design, you will know roughly how many stars/lights you need to accomplish your design.
If your design calls for 200 lights, then you will need to separate those fiber optic strands out across your design area to accommodate the amount of stars/holes you will need to place in your ceiling boards.

Native Trek Don Strings

Place the centerboard up on the ceiling where it will be attached. If any of your planned constellation stars fall on that board, mark their locations with a pencil or light-colored pen.

 

Putting your Plan into Action

Now, you will be drilling your first holes in your wood ceiling. Using the 1/16 drill bit, drill from the backside of your board and make a clean smooth hole for your fiber optic lights. Depending on how many stars fall on that piece of board, you will drill that many holes.

 Once you have all your holes drilled, place your board in the general area of where it is going to be attached. Note: from this step on, you will likely need at least two people to accomplish this project. Four people is ideal.


Placing the Lights
Pull aside the number of threads of fiber optic for that specific board and feed them through the holes. Allow enough slack so when you attach the board to the ceiling that it does not tug on the wire.

Native Trek Ceiling Hanging Strings

Once you have the fiber optic lines pushed through their holes for each board, anchor them with silicone caulk or your favorite adhesive.
After you anchor your fiber-optic threads, it is time to attach the board to your ceiling using your chosen method.

Allow the caulk/adhesive to “set up” before attaching your ceiling furring strips.

Native Trek Caulk

Attach the board to the ceiling of your vehicle. Be careful not to pinch, crimp, or nail/screw through any fiber optic threads on the underside of the ceiling board.

As you continue attaching boards, pay special attention to the remaining fiber optic threads so they have enough slack to fill in the area of ceiling lights you are planning for.

Periodically test the lights to ensure you have not “pinched or crimped” any of the fiber optics during your installation.

Final Touches

When you have completed feeding the fiber optic threads through the pin-holes in your ceiling boards, cut away the excess fiber optic threads hanging from your newly installed ceiling.

Native Trek Scissors

To get a different lighting effect from each fiber optics strand, cut them at varying lengths and angles with a pair of sharp scissors. This will allow a slightly different effect on how the light shines through the end of the fiber optic thread.

Sit back and enjoy your new starry night ceiling!

Native Trek Finished Nat and Don

Contact us
If you have any questions and feel motivated to install a similar design in your RV, van, or tiny home, feel free to reach out to us on YouTube or Instagram.
Take a look at our bus, Caroline, and let us know what you think of our ceiling. You can follow us on:
Instagram @NativeTrekLife
YouTube @NativeTrekLife

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Four fail-safe tips to help you prepare for your next family road trip

The Bus Fair Family Friendly

By Lana Daniels

To say that living a nomadic family lifestyle is an adventure is an understatement. Getting to visit new places and take in every inch of your surroundings is exciting, especially with your kids. In a previous post, the Bratcher family notes that taking a road trip with your kids can turn them into lifelong explorers — and who doesn't want that?

However, as with any other excursion, a road trip requires planning to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your trip.

Make a checklist of essentials

When it comes to preparing to hit the road, it's sometimes better to over-pack instead of under-pack. Real Simple's packing list has the basics like spare changes of clothes and first aid kits, but you can also be a bit more creative when it comes to the activities you bring. Aside from relying on electronics, you can bring pads to doodle with, book tapes to listen to, and even postcards that your kids can send to their loved ones from any destination.

Come extra prepared with snacks

Hunger pangs are unavoidable, so it’s best to be prepared and avoid any potential "hangry" tantrums from both your kids and your partner. In Jane Adamson’s lifestyle guide on preparing for a camper trip, she points out that lightweight tableware and shelf-stable food is your best bet. This is a good general rule to keep in mind, even if your camper has a built-in stove. If you find yourself running low on snacks, don’t be afraid to have a pit stop and refuel. Having lots of snacks on hand also means that if you pass by a particularly picturesque site, you can have a scenic meal right away!

Don't feel the need to travel too far

Even if this is your first time planning a road trip, don't feel pressured to travel too far or see too many things right away. Travel writer Andy Cochrane recommends keeping your trips as local as possible. This is especially important as lots of bigger parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone are operating on limited capacity due to the current health crisis. Wherever your starting point is, traveling to nearby locales is a great way to make sure you're really getting to know the ins and outs of each place while also giving your kids ample time to run around and explore.

Treat it like an adventure

Last but not least, the best way to instill a sense of excitement in your kids is to be excited yourself. Each road trip is special, and you can never fully account for what you might see. It's good to have an itinerary, but don't feel pressured to plan out every second and every minute of your trip. In fact, why not ask your kids for some activities they might want to check out during your trip? Giving them this choice makes them feel a little more grown-up and involved in the decision-making process, while it makes you see the trip from their point of view.

And there you have it: four fail-safe tips to help you prepare for your next family road trip. While there are definitely going to be unexpected bumps on the road (pun intended), this is an exciting experience that your family will remember for years to come.

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