- Written by Elizabeth Hensley
Chris Penn, skoolie builder, author, and founder of Tiny Home Tours, sits down to talk tiny living, mobile entrepreneurship, and what lit the spark to get him on the road.
Interview by Elizabeth Hensley
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Chris. I’ve been living and traveling on the road for about six years full-time. For about four years before that sporadically just because I didn’t have any online income and I had no idea what I was doing. I would stop at a spot, work for about four or five months, and then hit the road for four or five months.
I started out with a couple of camper vans, then went up to a Class A, and now I live and travel full-time in my school bus conversion. I went with the school bus conversion just because after I started seeing the limitations of the Class A, how it was built, its weight capacity. I was looking for different options and the school bus was the best option for me because it could carry a lot of weight, and also the drive train was very reliable if you get the right engine and transmission combination. So, I’ve been going the school bus route for the last three and a half, four years, and I’ve been absolutely loving it.
Chris' bus, Zep II, during and after its roof raise.
You mentioned your engine and transmission combination. What was the right combination for you and how did you find that?
For me, it was the Cummins 8.3 L with the Allison 3060 transmission. It’s a push-button automatic transmission. The Cummins 8.3 L is very reliable. It’s what’s called a wet sleeve engine, so if something happens with the engine, if it needs to be rebuilt, you can reuse the block. Basically, where the cylinder walls are, you can remove those, replace those with new cylinder walls and essentially get a brand-new engine. It’s just a lot easier to repair if and when that does happen.
By the time I got into school buses, it had already become a thing, so I was able to do the research, I was able to talk to mechanics, I was able to talk to a lot of people already doing the school bus life, so they were able to give me their feedback in terms of different engines and different transmission combinations.
Now that bus life is more mainstream, where do you recommend people start doing their research to find the right bus for them?
Just remember that when you go online to do research on forums like skoolie.net and Facebook groups, there’s one called School Bus Conversion that I really like, some of the people on there have no experience with this stuff. They are just repeating what they’ve seen or heard in other forums. So, take what you read with a grain of salt and really do your own research.
What I like to do is find people that have a ton of experience and are able to go in and give you their feedback because they’ve actually done it. I listen to maybe four or five people that I know have done it for a while and really know what they are talking about
For example, Tony down at AAA Bus in Arizona has been dealing in school buses for twenty years and this skoolie thing just started to happen, so that’s a lot of his business now. But he’s been working on ad selling buses before it was popular, so finding mechanics like that you can talk to is important.
You can spend five or six hours researching online not knowing if the information is correct or not, or you can call somebody like Tony at AAA Bus and pick his brain on what he thinks is a good engine transmission combination and he’ll tell you straight up in a matter of fifteen minutes what’s good, what’s not, what to look for, and what your options are.
Zeppelin Travels crew member, Brad, works on his van conversion. Chris started his travels in camper vans as well.
Pre 2009, before you even started in a camper van, what clicked in your mind about wanting to go on the road? How did that evolution happen for you?
Back when I was six or seven years old I told my grandmother I was going to live out in the woods with my dog and not pay rent or utilities. It was to the point where they wouldn’t let me put up blanket forts more than once a month because I had my own little fort and I would bring food and water in there. I just liked the idea of having my own small space and being self-sustained in it.
Later, my college job was working at TGI Fridays as a server and there is a large interstate that runs through. A lot of people will jump off the interstate, come to TGI Fridays, and get back on the road. One of my tables was a family that was doing an RV trip. They told me about what they were doing and I thought it was really cool, especially in college when I was making like $60 bucks a shift and I had no money. It just got in my head that I could just buy an old van and put a bed in it, and I could sleep in the van and just hit the road.
When I told my co-workers about it in that same shift they thought I was crazy, they were like, “That’s stupid. Why would you do that?!” But that was the spark. I took my college graduation money, I sold my mustang that I was in love with and had been building over the years, took that money and bought a van and hit the road.
Chris and his dog in the early days living on the road.
How about tiny living? You mentioned wanting to be self-sustained and off-grid during your life. Was it an adjustment for you to go the minimalist or tiny living route?
I’m not really into possessions. The only things I really like to have around all the time is my camera gear because I like filming. I like producing videos, I enjoy having that. The only other things I’m really attached to are my t-shirts because as I travel and go to different places, whether it be overseas or in the states, I can pick any t-shirt out of my closet and tell you a story of where I was and what I was doing.
In terms of minimalism, I’m not really that attached to possessions, I don’t really need that much stuff. But it’s a sliding scale. Most of society would say I’m minimalist because I don’t have much stuff and I live in a 40- foot school bus, where there are others who are doing it bare-bones and they make what I’m doing look like Disneyland.
In terms of my core friend group, a lot of us are living on the road and we are interested in keeping a small footprint, not being bogged down by our possessions. It’s more about life experience. Possessions are supposed to help you navigate the world nomadically. So I would say I’m a minimalist. I’m really into tiny home living. I think this is the way to go. Different cities say different things but in the typical-size house in the U.S., they only use 20-30 percent of their house, so I would say I’m a minimalist for sure.
When did you know this would be long-term and how did you pivot from that into making an income on the road?
When I got that first van, I knew this would be a part of my life. But it wasn’t until I started making a mobile income that it actually seemed feasible to do full-time. I would stop in one spot and work from anywhere from one month to two months towards the beginning and hit the road for a while, so I was just living very very very cheap. I would go to the store and just buy Chef Boyardee and to this day I can’t even smell it without getting a sick feeling in my stomach because I had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
As for the transition to mobile income, my main income now is YouTube. I was part of the YouTube Partner program early on in its infancy really. When I sold my first van I did a quick video and was just going to post it on Craigslist. But it gained some traction on YouTube which got me into the partner program.
The first month I was making money on YouTube I made 25 cents and I spent probably 25 hours figuring out the camera, figuring out how to edit, figuring out how to upload. But I was absolutely stoked that I had figured out how to make money online. I was sending screenshots to all my friends and family saying, “look! I made money on the internet.” I was just absolutely intrigued about the idea of making money online and have been pushing forward through there.
The way I look at it is if you have your typical 9-5 job, you have a bucket and a hose. The hose is your money coming in, the bucket is your desired income. Early on I realized if I had multiple buckets out collecting the water that would be a good way to go about it. It just started getting to the point where I was trying to make as many different sources of income as possible. Even if it was a hundred or two hundred dollars a month, living on the road really isn’t that expensive barring the breakdowns or unexpected expenses.
For me to live on the road is about a thousand dollars a month for my health insurance, vehicle insurance, diesel, food, if I’m out there trying to be frugal. So when you have five sources of income that bring in $200 a month, that’s your entire budget to live. I just became very intrigued by finding multiple sources of income where I could make money online.
Skoolie roof raise in progress.
For people getting started, it seems it took a lot of back-end effort to get started. How long did your mobile income take to develop?
Let's use the analogy of an avocado tree. Everybody wants avocados right now. But if you want them yourself, you have to till the land, plant the tree, nurture the tree, watch it grow, get the bugs off of it, get the right amount of sunlight, and then eventually you are going to have more avocados than you know what to do with.
Right now, a lot of people just want success quick. They want it right now, which is human nature. But in terms of online income, especially YouTube, which is my main income source, it is definitely a long game. I don’t know if you know what Clubhouse is, it’s an online app, they have rooms with YouTube creators and sometimes I’m a moderator and people will come up and they are so impatient. They want everything now. They want to grow their channel right now. But I always tell them it’s usually a good year, year and a half before you get any traction whatsoever.
That’s the way it is with all these online income sources. You’ve got to put the time in, you’ve got to nurture it, you’ve got to keep going and hustling at it otherwise it falls off. A lot of people do give up and that’s why there’s so much opportunity out there even right now. I’d say a good 80 percent aren’t willing to put the effort in and they give up. It’s that other 20 percent that keep pushing, keep going forward, not making any money for years, and then all of a sudden it hits.
How much would you say is having a plan and how much is being adaptable while living on the road working toward a mobile income?
I started YouTube in 2011. That's when I was first monetized. And just within the last six months I actually have a plan. The first ten years were just hustle. It was adapting and changing things and going that route. I was like, “This is my path. I’m going forward. This is what I’m working for.” Now I am finally able to take a step back, look around, and see which direction I want to go.
How can you find meaningful connections/collaborations while on the road?
Everything we do is based on collaborations. When you collaborate with people and you leave it open and you take their ideas regardless of what they are and really look at them objectively and see what they bring to the table, that is where we have found the best path forward with the best ROI (return on investment). Also, always remember to leave meat on the table. There’s plenty of deals where I had the absolute leverage like they had no bargaining chip in the negotiation, but I always leave meat on the table for them for future collaborations.
Especially if you are just getting started out, anything that comes your way that’s within your voice, something that you are trying to promote, or something you believe in, just collaborate with everybody. Even if you are bigger. Even now when people reach out, I always look at it objectively. How can I work with this person? How can I help them out? How can they help me? And how can we move forward with whatever side-project that is.
We have four YouTube channels now, we’re probably going to start a fifth here with nomads in a particular niche and it’s because they reached out, they had an idea and I’m like, sure, let’s do it. Let’s see what happens. Because collaboration is the best way. Our main channel, Tiny Home Tours, is all collaboration because the people are on the channel but they get to plug their social, their business, any product that they want. And again, it comes down to that collaboration and being open to anything.
Chris works on the under storage of a school bus conversion.
I like how you said, it’s not just how this person can help me, but how I can help this person. It has to be a two-way street.
Exactly. Just a little tidbit about a collaboration I did with a company called Progressive Industries. They did surge protectors for RVs. This is when I had my Class A RV. I went above and beyond what they were expecting because typically companies get reached out to for free product or paid advertising on social media. I went above and beyond. I told them, I’m going to come to your facility, you install this particular component on my RV. I’ll film it and then if you like it, I’ll take the product for free and if it doesn’t work out I’ll buy the product and it was nice meeting you and we’ll be on our way. So, I filmed the company owner installing the product. He explained what he was doing. He explained what it is, why it’s important, and then I went back to the RV, edited it real quick, took it to his office. He was absolutely blown away. It’s simple stuff for most nomads on the road: filming something, adding good b-roll with good audio.
From that collaboration I got the free product, but also I became a distributor for them, and I was also their social media manager. That was getting more value than they were anticipating and in turn, they gave me more value than I was anticipating. From the distribution of their products to being their social media manager, that collaboration turned into an $8-10k collaboration.
What does your day-to-day look like? How much time do you devote to making a mobile income versus enjoying traveling and being nomadic?
Right now I’m actually in Kansas building a bunch of minibuses for my video and editing crew. I’ve been locked down here at the moment, so my days are dramatically different from being on the road because I spent a lot of the day at the shop doing roof raises or building the buses. But if we back up to when I am on the road when I am in my zone, I wake up at 5 am and I work until about 9 am and the rest of the day is spent hanging out. I can continue working on projects, I can explore the local area, or sit back and relax. I was able to do that because I built a team.
What are your plans for the minibuses you are building?
We have about 13 people, most of whom are nomads, living on the road. They are videographers, editors, assistants helping me with projects. We’re at the point now where I’m about to hand over all of my social media to my number two and she’s going to manage everything. I’m going to focus more on the Zeppelin Travels side of things, which is where we’re giving people rigs to live on the road and vlog their journeys and work for us. Once I do hand over the social and get Zeppelin Travels up and running, I’ll probably have about two hours a day that I’m working on the social media side and the rest of the day will be building buses or whatever I want to do that day.
Zeppelin Travels minibus conversion.
What are some things you wish you knew before you got started that you know now?
In terms of business, there’s a book called The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. That book and Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crushing It! have been the two pivotal books that have changed my life. In Tim Ferriss’ book, he mentions that any time that you are the bottleneck in a business, so when I was on YouTube and I was filming the Tiny Home videos and editing them I was the bottleneck. I was letting my ego get in the way by thinking that whatever editor I hired wouldn’t be able to do it as well as me.
When I read that book I finally put it into practice. I hired an editor overseas for a discounted rate through Upwork.com and started sending videos to him. That’s when I can go back to my analytics and actually see when the Tiny Home Tours channel started to really pop off because we started pumping out more content which brought in more subscribers which brought in more revenue, which brought in more opportunities.
When let my ego go thinking that I knew best, that’s when the company really started to flourish. It was almost like a look in the mirror to see what other parts of my ego are getting in the way and started working to lower that within myself, which has really helped with the collaborations - not thinking that I know what’s best for the business and really letting my team members have a say and have their own direction. I think that was the biggest turning point in everything that I do. I would definitely tell my younger self in 2009, don’t let your ego get in the way of you progressing.
Can you talk a little bit about your e-book, Skoolie Digital Nomad Manual: Your Guide to the World of Mobile Entrepreneurship and the lessons you learned from writing it, and what people can take away from that?
Yeah, that’s when the YouTube Channel started bringing in more than $10k a month and I wanted to put that together for people. It’s basically what we’ve been talking about here. It’s the lessons I’ve learned and how my business is structured and how it’s worked over time. It also has schematics of how my bus is structured in there so people can get different ideas down to the ‘why’ of what we do. And that age-old question if money didn’t exist, what would you do? My ‘why’ is to convince people that are looking into this lifestyle, again it’s not for everybody, but to convince those who are interested in this lifestyle to actually do it.
That book came out pre-COVID, so right now people are being forced to work remotely and I do believe that is one of the main reasons why the RV, campervan, school bus market is absolutely booming right now. But the book still holds value if you are going the entrepreneurial route because if you are working for a company remote you are still working for somebody else. This is more for the 5-9er’s if you are looking to build that side-hustle or looking to build multiple sources of income, or pursue your passion project, the 5-9er’s are the ones who get off of work on their secondary project for four hours a day to build that up.
Looking at mobile entrepreneurship in the next five years, what are trends you are seeing that people should take notice of?
The biggest thing that I’m seeing, well there are two things, Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crush It, back in 2009, I would have taken his book and slapped me in the face with it and be like “read this!” Back then he predicted that everybody is going to be their own social brand. Everybody kind of laughed at him when that book came out but we’re seeing a trend of that where everybody is becoming their own personal brand with their own products or their own thing that they are pushing on social media. I think we are still in the infancy of that.
As social media matures I think there’s going to be a big shift to where people’s online brands are going to be very important. That’s going to grow. And in terms of COVID, I think that nobody knows the markets. There might be somebody behind the scenes pulling levers or whatever, but I think that we may have a really big correction in terms of the economy and the market. So right now I’m stowing away my pennies and making sure that I have savings because I think it’s about to get very interesting.
In terms of how those meld together, I think there’s going to be an interesting intersection of people putting their lives or what they are interested in on the internet. I think there’s going to be a lot of isolated people out there and they are going to be looking for like-minded people.
Anything else you would like to cover?
I’d like to end this the way I end all my podcasts which is if you read my book, you probably already know this, but the average age of life is 72. That’s about 27,000 days. I think a lot of people don’t live their day-to-day lives realizing that. There’s not one day in that last four or five years for me that I don’t think about another day being checked off the list.
We really don’t have that much time to do what we want to do. Zero to 18 is about 6,000 days and then your golden years are when you are not as mobile and in a fixed position. So if you’re from the age of 20 to 50 that's when you can make moves. I think people really need to start taking advantage of the time they have because it’s very easy to get complacent and just work. For most people, a 9-5 and live for the weekends because those are the days you can actually appreciate your life. But if you put the work in, if you put the hustle in, you can live every day like you want to and feel good when you go to bed at night and not feel like a day was wasted.
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley
- Written by Elizabeth Hensley
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?
The LionA all-electric mini school bus. Courtesy of Lion Electric.
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 panel views from the roof deck of Little House on the HWY at the United Tiny House Festival in Orlando, Florida.
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.
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.
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.
Kildwick and Nature's Head composting toilets are made with tiny living in mind.
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.
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!
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley
- Written by Guest Writers
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
So, 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
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
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.
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.
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€.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Height: 20" to seat, 21" total
Ideal for large buses.
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:
Weight: 21.34 lbs
Ideal for smaller spaces.
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!
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley
- Written by Guest Writers
Turn your tiny home ceiling into a starry night sky with this step-by-step guide
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.
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
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.
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
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.
*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 😊)
This is how we installed our lights. Installation may vary. We had never done this before, so we were learning as we went.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley