Crackle and pop in a snap with these wood stove pro tips.
Written by: Elizabeth Paashaus, Deliberate Life Bus
Elizabeth has been heating her bus with wood since 2017 while traveling the country with her family in a self-converted 1994 Thomas Saf-T-Liner. Starting in 2018, she has been working remotely for Tiny Wood Stove helping people source and install wood stoves in their own tiny, mobile, and unconventional living spaces. The pictured stove is a Dwarf 5kw.
The stove is the thing people notice first when they come in our bus, especially if we have a fire burning. We chose wood heat for our bus conversion for the je ne sais quoi that wood fires have. A fire in a wood stove makes people want to gather ‘round and play games, eat a meal, or just sit by chatting. We like that if you put in a little work (finding wood, cutting wood, building tinder up nicely for an easy to start a fire), you can have the coziest space for very little to no money spent on fuel. And you don’t have to have any insider knowledge to figure out how to fix it if something goes wrong like you would with propane or an electric heater. Here are some tips for how to choose and install a wood stove for your bus
Get the Right Size
A properly sized stove can provide longer burns, plenty of heat for even the coldest winter days, and can even help manage the humidity in your home. Tiny Wood Stove has a BTU Calculator where you can put in the dimensions of your skoolie, how well you insulated it, and the coldest temperature you plan to stay in to get a sizing recommendation for whether you plan to use your stove as your only heat source or as a supplement.
A stove with an insulated firebox will help your fire burn hotter and more efficiently, a baffle and separate air controls to aid in secondary combustion will allow the flue gasses to burn more completely and add to the efficiency of your stove, and airtight construction of the firebox will give you longer burn time and more heat with less fuel consumption. Read more about how to compare efficiency between wood stoves.
Ah, the elusive tiny stove with an all-night burn. Longer burn times mean less work and larger wood stoves may even be able to keep a fire going all night, though selecting too large a stove for your space will overheat your bus. Some of the same features that increase a stove’s efficiency also increase it’s burn time such as separate air controls, a baffle for secondary combustion, and an airtight firebox.
Outside Air Supply
If your stove is not connected to an outside air supply, then it is using your pre-heated room air for combustion. Any air that's used from inside the room needs to be replaced with air leaking in from outside, so a wood stove can sometimes create cold drafts near leaky windows and doors. To avoid drafts, connecting your stove to its own outside air supply is a good option.
Where to Put Your Stove
In order to keep your bus cozy, you’ll want to consider where in the bus you’ll place your stove. Selecting a spot near the door is convenient for bringing in wood and sweeping out ash while a centrally located stove heats your space most evenly but doesn’t always align with your layout. If you need to place your stove further toward one end of your bus or you have walls that will make it harder to get the heat to one area, a heat-powered fan on top of the stove can make a big difference in heat dispersion.
Don’t trust pictures. People do frequently violate clearances and post the results online. Just because someone did it doesn't mean it's safe. Adequate clearances are one of the two most important safety features of any wood stove installation. (The other is proper materials.) But cheating on clearances can create a very dangerous situation. In most cases, clearance violations will not cause a fire immediately. As material is repeatedly heated, it deteriorates on a molecular level. After months or years of repeated heating, a surface that "hadn't had a problem yet" can spontaneously burst into flames. Because the actual clearance requirements for wood stoves are impractical for buses and other small spaces, most people will use a heat shield to significantly reduce the clearances. There are many ways to build a safe heat shield for clearance reduction but the most effective and most common is an air-cooled shield. That can be both simple to build and an attractive surround to your stove.
Is Wood Heat Right for Me?
Just like with any choice you make in your bus conversion, there are pros and cons of heating with wood. The questions you need to ask are: do the added work of chopping wood, lack of thermostat and mess of ashes outweigh the cozy feel of a wood fire, the dry heat that controls moisture in the bus, the simplicity of burning wood to stay warm, the ability to cook on top, and the freedom from reliance on propane?
If you have any questions for Elizabeth or Tiny Wood Stove, you can contact her at
One night and you're home.
Lynne Larson explains the perks and process of becoming a South Dakota Resident
When traveling around the country full time, choosing the right state to call “home” for tax purposes is important. According to Bankrate’s “Best State for Retirement,” if you choose the "best state" to call home when traveling full-time or retiring, it will be about 20 degrees on Christmas, about 1,300 miles from either the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean and the state will have fewer people than the 15 largest cities in the United States. You only have to spend one night in this state, with a receipt using your South Dakota address, to start the residency process.
Becoming a South Dakota resident does not mean you are planning to live or be here for days or weeks or months. You are choosing South Dakota for your resident state to save money, (and because the Black Hills of South Dakota are beautiful!). South Dakota has no state income tax, no pension tax, no inheritance tax, no personal property tax, and there are no vehicle inspections. According to our Governor, Kristi Noem, South Dakota has the friendliest tax and regulatory system in the nation. It is one of the lowest taxed states in the country. According to the State Business Tax Climate Index, South Dakota ranked second in tax burden, which was driven by a lack of individual taxes.
Getting Set Up
Establishing residency in South Dakota can be done in three steps, which are outlined on our website, www.choosesd.com. You can also call me, Lynn Larson, at the South Dakota Residency Center office at 605-722-5270.
The first step is getting a physical address. Even if you don’t want to establish residency here, you may need a mailbox when you are traveling. Here you can sign up for a digital (virtual) mailbox. Your mail will be sent to us here at the South Dakota Residency Center. We then send pictures of the envelopes or packages to your smartphone, tablet, or computer by scanning them to you. On an app or on our website, you can see what envelopes or boxes are here for you. You then reply back through the app or website what you want done with your mail (scan the contents to you, forward it to you, or recycle/shred it). The basic digital mailbox service plan is $9.99 a month with no initial fees or set-up fees. You can be sitting in your bus reading your mail anytime and anywhere in the palm of your hand.
One Night Rule
Now that you have a physical address, which is not a P.O. Box but a real address, you need to spend at least one night in South Dakota at a campground or hotel using that address as your home address. Get a receipt from the campground or hotel because you need it to take it to the DMV to get your new driver’s license. Currently, in South Dakota, the DMV is requiring an appointment to get your new driver’s license and establish residency. You can book appointments at a South Dakota DMV at dps.sd.gov. Our office is located in beautiful Spearfish, SD, which is in the Black Hills and close to hiking and biking trails. Spearfish is also close to many areas with rock climbing, both water and snow skiing, and several Black Hills attractions. The award-winning KOA Campground is open year-round here in Spearfish.
For those who want to license and register their bus or another vehicle while in Spearfish, South Dakota, the treasurer’s office is only 17 miles away in a quaint town named Deadwood. You will need to have a weight slip for your bus after the conversion, the old title, and an affidavit of what you did to the bus. If you want to get an idea of what it will cost to register the bus in SD, you can call their office at 605-578-1862. If you have already paid tax on your bus, then you pay the difference up to 4%. This is because motor vehicles registered in the state of SD are subject to a 4% motor vehicle excise tax.
If you are homeschooling your children while traveling, you can stop in a school administration office to pick up a “public school exemption certificate” if you have established South Dakota residency. Or, you can get the certificate on the website, https://doe.sd.gov/. South Dakota requires a standardized test to be given at the end of 4th, 8th, and 11th grades. If you have questions about homeschooling as a South Dakota resident, you can contact Jill at the Spearfish School System administration office in Spearfish, SD at 605-717-1201.
If you love freedom, personal responsibility, feeling like part of a community, and a government that works for you, South Dakota is the place to be a resident. I encourage you to look up recent videos that Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota has placed online. She believes that “Freedom, not government, is the best friend of innovation.” If you are ever in the area, visit us here at the South Dakota Residency Center in Spearfish, SD, located in the beautiful Black Hills. We would love to meet you and hear your story.
Lynne Larson works for the South Dakota Residency Center in Spearfish, South Dakota. She can be reached at 605-722-5270 or
- Written by: Elizabeth Hensley
A collection of films to inspire your bus life adventures
because every bus has a story.
More and more retired buses are getting new life through custom conversions, but this growing scene is part of a long legacy. Bus life is more than a trend, it's a culture.
From documentaries and historical dramas to fantasies and dystopian adventures, bus culture has shaped how we navigate the world. So, if you find yourself in one place dreaming about life on the road or if you have a couple of hours to spare after a drive in your home on wheels, here are 15 bus films to binge-watch this summer.
Year Released: 2016 Length: 1h 58m Director: Matt Ross Genre: Drama Where you can find it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, iTunes
After losing his wife, survivalist Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is left to raise their six kids on his own. Set in Washington State, the family eventually leaves the forest to venture into suburbia in their 1993 Blue Bird bus conversion named Steve. The bus from the movie was on sale for just $6,000 in 2017, set props and all - a great buy if we weren’t a few years too late!
Year Released: 2011 Length: 1h 30m Director: Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: Tubi, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, iTunes
This documentary follows “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” author Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters on a drug-fuelled trip across the country in their converted school bus. It is a classic tale of bus culture shaping the counter-culture of the 1960s. The film uses Kesey’s footage from his unfinished film and features cameos by The Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg, and “On the Road” author, Jack Kerouac.
Into the Wild
Year Released: 2007 Length: 2h 28m Director: Sean Penn Genre: Adventure/Drama Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Starz, SlingTV, iTunes
Based on the book by Jon Krakauer, this true story chronicles the life of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) after he set out on the road in North America during the early 1990s. As told through letters McCandless’s journal and letters he wrote to his sister during his travels, McCandless eventually makes his way to an abandoned bus in Alaska territory. The iconic bus does not make an appearance until the end of the film, but Into the Wild embodies the spirit of life on the road that often accompanies bus life.
Where’s the bus now? The actual bus McCandless stayed in was removed from outside of Denali National Park, Alaska, in June 2020 for safekeeping after it proved to be a dangerous destination for inspired travelers.
Year Released: 1998 Length: 1h 29m Director: Chris Eyre Genre: Indie film Where to watch it: Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, iTunes
This award-winning Canadian-American production centers on two neighbors, Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams), from the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation who travel from Idaho to Arizona to retrieve the ashes of Victor’s father. The bus ride from the reservation serves as a backdrop for the pair to explore their identities as indigenous men. According to the film’s screenplay writer, Smoke Signals remains, “the only film directed, written, and co-produced by Natives to receive major national and international distribution.”
Year Released: 2000 Length: 2h 42m Director: Cameron Crowe Genre: Drama Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, iTunes
Next stop, 1973. The film is based on screenwriter and director Cameron Crowe’s real-life experience as a young journalist for Rolling Stone on the road with famous ‘70s bands. But it also sheds light on a unique brand of bus life: the band tour. Almost Famous is an insider look at life between shows on the road filled with roadies, groupies, and band drama. In one famous scene on the bus, the film’s main character William says he has to go home to which “band-aid” Penny Lane replies, “You are home.”
A League of their Own
Year Released: 1992 Length: 2h 8m Director: Penny Marshall Genre: Sport/Comedy Where to watch it: Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV
The film starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks covers the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s premiere season in 1943 and follows the Rockford Peaches on a bus tour to games throughout the region. Several scenes take place on the bus and it shows how, despite having barely enough room for themselves and their belongings, they manage to make the space their own by hanging photographs, kicking back, and even stashing booze.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Year Released: 1981 Length: 1h 36m Director: George Miller Genre: Action/Adventure Where to watch it: iTunes, MaxGo, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, VUDU
“Greetings from the Humungus!”
Looking like a bus conversion with a partial roof raise, the steel-clad dystopian adventure rig plays a small yet memorable role as the bus used for a gate of a compound in post-apocalyptic Australia. The film, the second installment of the Mad Max movies, follows former highway patrolman Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) through the desert in his V8 Pursuit Special as he avenges the murder of his family by a biker gang.
Year Released: 2017 Length: 1h 35m Director: Selima Taibi Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video (there is an English full-length version with subtitles for free on YouTube, but you didn't hear that from us).
This film is probably the closest narrative to the way bus life is often portrayed in the media today. It features a young Millenial couple who buy and convert a school bus into a chic “loft on wheels” and travel through North America with their dog, Rudi. It stars German filmmaker Felix Starck and musician/director Selima Taibi whose music makes up the film’s soundtrack. It takes on more of a vlog-style than the other documentaries on this list and does a good job of blending the beautiful scenery with music, while also showcasing some of the hardships that can come with life on the road.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Year Released: 1994 Length: 1h 44minutes Director: Stephan Elliot Genre: Drama/comedy Where to watch it: Vudu, rent on Google Play Movies or YouTube
This film takes viewers on a wild ride through the Australian outback when a transgender woman and two drag queens set out from Sydney to Alice Springs for a string of performances in a bedazzled bus conversion named Priscilla. This movie is an outrageous rhinestone in the rough with over-the-top dance numbers, lots of profanity, and some sticky situations. But at its heart, the movie is about acceptance. The ‘90s film is credited for helping to bring positive portrayals of the LGBTQ community to mainstream audiences. It also provides insight into what bus life in Australia's outback would be like.
Year Released: 2016 Length: 1h 19m Director: Matt D'Avella Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes
Although this film does not feature a bus, many see it as a source of inspiration to downsize and live intentionally. It serves as an introduction to minimalism that leads some to bus life. The documentary follows Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus who tell the now-familiar story of ditching the corporate world for a more meaningful life with less. They take viewers on the road to promote their book and website and introduce others who share their understanding of minimalism.
Year Released: 2010 Length: 2h Director: Stanley Nelson Genre: Historical Documentary Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video, PBS.org, iTunes
What it was like when riding a bus meant risking your life. This historical documentary covers the story of the Freedom Riders, black and white activists who protested the segregation of American transportation and bus terminals after it was found to be unconstitutional. From May to December 1961 several freedom rides took place throughout the American South resulting in white mob violence, bus bombing, and calls for assistance from Federal Marshals to protect the non-violent protestors.
Year Released: 1994 Length: 2h 22m Director: Robert Zemeckis Genre: Dramatic Comedy Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Starz, Sling TV, iTunes
You may remember a lot about this film like the running, the box of chocolates, and more running, but do you recall the steady stream of buses? It is the story of the latter part of American 20th-century history seen through the eyes of an unlikely cultural hero. The film begins at a bus stop and ends at one. Along the way, we are introduced to the Vietnam-era Army through one bus and left behind at an anti-war rally by another. If you look closely, Forrest Gump is a great example of how buses are both literal and figurative vehicles taking us through life itself.
Year Released: 1994 Length: 1h 56m Director: Jan de Bont Genre: Action/Adventure Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes
We couldn’t resist putting this ‘90s movie starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on the list. Anyone living bus life would marvel at the fact that the bus stays above 50 mph so so long. For many of us, our bus conversions would take half of the movie just to get up to that speed.
Life in the Bus Lane
Year Released: 2017 Length: 51m Director: Brock Butterfield Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: YouTube
The tale of Bus Life Adventure and The Bus Fair founder, Brock Butterfield, and how he overcame a near-fatal bout with ulcerative colitis to become a professional snowboarder, later converting and traveling the continent in a short bus turned tiny home on wheels. The film shows the reality of what it takes to build and maintain a school bus conversion.
De Griezelbus (Dutch)/ El Bus Del Terror
Year Released: 2005 Length: 1h 39m Director: Pieter Kuijpers Genre: Horror Where to watch it: complete version en Espanol available on YouTube
Based on the six-part children’s book series by Paul van Loon, this Dutch production captures the imagination similar to the Harry Potter series or Chronicles of Narnia, released at the same time, but it features De Greizelbus or "the horror bus." It is geared toward a younger audience but fun to see how bus life can take on a creepy and downright sinister tone.
Thanks for reading and watching, what did you think of our list? Let us know if we need to add something. See you on the HWY!
10 Important Facts About Bus Brakes
Before heading off on your bus adventure, there are only a few things more important to consider than the condition of your braking system. To do that, first, you need to understand the difference between brakes on your bus and your typical vehicle.
1. Air Brake Systems
Buses use Air Brake Systems, rather than hydraulic systems as found in other vehicles. Using compressed air to make the brakes work, the heart of this braking system is the compressor. Often directly attached to the engine, it can also be found engine mounted or belt-driven. Essentially, it turns every time the engine does and is fed oil directly from the engine’s pressurized oil system.
You will find there are air reservoirs positioned in several locations and plumbed together with one-way check valves. These store the pressurized air in readiness to draw from when required in the brake chambers.
2. Low-Pressure Warning Signals
Your bus will have a low air pressure warning signal. This consists of a warning signal that will come on to alert you before the air pressure in the tanks falls below 60 psi.
3. All Buses Must-Have Emergency Brakes
All buses using hydraulic brake systems must be equipped with emergency brakes and parking brakes. These are required to be fixed by a mechanical force and typically use spring brakes. If the air pressure is removed, the springs apply the braking system. You will see there is a parking brake system in the cab of the bus that allows the driver to let the air out of the spring brakes and enables the springs to put the brakes on. Alternatively, if there is a leak in the air brake system causing a loss of air, this will also cause the springs to apply the brakes.
4. Stop Light Switch
Obviously, it is vital to ensure drivers of vehicles traveling behind your bus are aware of your intended movements. They must be warned when you apply your brakes. The air brake system has an electric switch that turns on via air pressure, ensuring the brake lights go on when you step on the brakes.
5. What’s That Hissing Sound?
Ever noticed that weird hissing sound that buses make when it pulls up? Bet you have sat at a bus stop one time or another thinking, ‘Why do buses make that noise?’. Well, I hate to break it to you (pardon the pun), but that annoying hissing sound happens because instead of the braking system using fluid like a car does, the bus system uses compressed air to activate the system. There you go, mystery solved!
6. What Makes Air Brake Superior?
Air brake systems are preferable to hydraulic brakes for several reasons. Firstly, the air brake systems can tolerate small leaks. Importantly, the parking brake system also ensures a fail-safe emergency braking system, although it is true to say that some hydraulic systems accommodate for this also. If you are traveling across mountainous areas, you will find that hydraulic brakes may just not cope and become overstressed, whereas air-brakes can withstand this pressure in a much more robust way.
7. Coming to a Normal Stop
When approaching your typical course of stopping your bus, simply push the brake pedal down. Focus on controlling the pressure so the bus comes to a smooth and naturally safe stop. It is likely you may have a manual transmission, especially with many of the older cruising buses so if this is the case, it is important not to push the clutch until the engine RPM is down at almost an idle. As soon as you are stopped, select a starting gear.
8. Emergency Stops
Naturally, if a vehicle suddenly pulls out in front of you or an animal or other object appears on the road ahead, your human reaction is to slam down on the brakes. While this may be an adequate response if there is plenty of room to slow the bus and come to a stop, there are some safety factors to consider. There are two types of emergency stopping methods, the controlled braking or stab braking.
In controlled braking, the idea is to apply the brakes hard, keeping steering wheel movements very small. If the wheels lock or you need to make a larger steering adjustment, release the brakes then reapply as soon as you can. Stab braking sees you apply the brakes all the way then release when the wheels lock up. Immediately as the wheels start rolling, hit those brakes again.
9. Anti-Lock Braking Systems
In newer or modified buses, you may find you have an Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) braking system. This will help you avoid wheel lock-up as it engages a computer system that anticipates a possible wheel lock, reducing braking pressure. In this case, there is no need to pump the brakes to stop the vehicle
10. Check your brake system regularly
It is naturally pretty important you get into the routine of measuring and adjusting your brakes. You may be surprised that is fairly easy and quick, so make sure you put it on your list of must-dos as you are cruising in your bus. You will note “Brake Check Area” signs often found on roadsides and typically at the top of the biggest hills in mountainous areas. When you have a whole lot of weight behind you, it's a pretty good idea to be certain you have the power to go downhill safely.
To drive certain types of heavy vehicles such as a bus, you must apply for the proper endorsements only if you plan to operate your bus as a commercial business. Otherwise if you convert it to an RV and are using it for private use, you don't need a CDL. However, it doesn't hurt to get the proper endorsements more so to educate yourself on how you should operate a large vehicle with air brakes. If you do decide to get your endorsements from the DMV you will need to learn the material contained in the DMV’s CDL Air Brakes section of the study manual. To be eligible for the air brake testing, you should learn and study about how air is maintained in the system and the pressure conditions required to drive under.
Note: Always check with the DMV in your state as rules and regulations change constantly.
This article was submitted by Nadeem Ghori who is the Content Manager and Web Developer at Webplex Inc with over ten years of professional experience. He's an expert in e-learning and online course generation.