- Written by: Brock Butterfield
Fan-Tastic Fan or Maxx Air Fan. Which vent fan performs the best?
No one likes sweaty balls or tatas. No one. If you don't take the right steps to insulate and put a coat of elastomeric paint on your roof when you convert your Skoolie then you will soon find yourself trying to figure out how to cool your bus conversion down. But, even with proper insulation and a UV reflecting paint on your roof, you may find yourself in certain climates that are just hot no matter what and the need to cool your Skoolie down is a must.
In this article I'll cover the two most common vent fans installed and which one isn't so fantastic (spoiler alert!) from my experience and others. It should be mentioned that I bought both of these vent fans and was not asked by either company to write this review. It's my opinion and other people's opinions and experiences could be entirely different than mine. Insert grain of salt here.
Fan-Tastic Fan vs. Maxx Air
I currently own a short, 5 window school bus that I've converted into an RV, tiny home on wheels, escape pod or whatever your preferred term is. I spend most of my time in the hot and dry desert climate of Moab, UT and the cool and sometimes humid Oakridge, OR of the Pacific Northwest (or Cascadia). My skoolie has a bathroom with a shower and a queen size bed that is always setup as a bed. I decided to place two fans in my bus conversion, one in the bathroom for shower steam and the unearthly morning after pub food and cider smell, and the other fan above the bed for staying cool at night in the summers as well as to keep the sh!t lion (cat) and dog comfortable when I'm out tromping through the woods.
Because I was planning to install two fans, I decided to order one Fantastic Fan and one Maxx Air fan. I ordered comparable models from each company that were similar in features and price. Here's a feature and price breakdown of each.
Fan-Tastic Vent 803550 Series ($270 as of 8/1/2019)
- 3 fan blade speeds; Reversible air flow
- Manual and electric lift dome
- Built-in thermostat
- Rain sensor that automatically closes when the dome gets wet
Maxx Air Fan Plus 4500K Series ($239 as of 8/1/2019)
- 10 fan blade speeds; Reversible air flow
- Manual and electric lift dome
- Built-in thermostat with quick "Auto" one press button to open and pull air out at 78 degrees
- Rain sensor that automatically closes when the dome gets wet
- Remote control
I tested both fans for a total of 1 year and 10 months in both Utah and Oregon and during all seasons in each state. The MaxxAir was installed in the bathroom and the Fan-Tastic vent fan above the bed.
If I could football kick the Fan-Tastic vent fan into an active volcano without looking like Charlie Brown, then I'd be doing so right now. Here's my beef.
My first duly noted complaint was how loud the Fan-Tastic fan was when turned on even to the lowest of three settings. My partner Heidi describes the sound as "a jet engine over my head". The next complaint came after roughly three months of using both fans, I was awoke one night to a pterodactyl in the bus. Or so I thought in my sleepy, White Claw, comma state. The Fan-Tastic vent fan was squealing above our heads. It sounded like a failing bearing similar to when you start your car and have a squealing belt. I did pull the fan blades off and cleaned everything really well and then tried to add a little grease to help but it only lasted a few weeks before the pterodactyl came back to dive bomb my dreams.
The last straw for me was the ghost water leak. Now, I'm no newb when it comes to using caulking and preventing water from entering a home as I grew up working with my father and remodeling homes with his construction business for 15+ years. In fact, when it came to my bus conversion, I went perhaps overboard as I didn't want all my hard work done to the interior to be ruined by a little roof leak that could've been prevented. I have learned from experience with my first bus that silicone is not your friend on a bus roof. Avoid silicone on your roof at all costs if you can.
For each fan I installed I used butyl tape under the lip and self leveling lap sealant on all screws and the edges of the fan. Same methods used on both fans but the Fan-Tastic fan had a ghost leak that I couldn't ever locate but I noticed that the small drip would get in when driving during rain storms as opposed to just parked and raining. In checking the gasket around the vent where it opens and closes I couldn't see any areas of water penetration so alas I'm stumped on how the water was getting in but it wasn't something I was willing to live with.
I have since replaced the Fan-Tastic fan with another Maxx Air Fan Plus 4500k series and added a Maxx Air Vent Cover to allow airflow during rain which helps the most when I'm cooking in wet weather as I can crack a window in the kitchen, turn the fan on high blowing in and it pushes the hot air from the stove out the cracked kitchen window.
To recap here's the list of complaints I had with the Fan-Tastic Vent Fan:
- Fan sounds like a jet engine
- Only three speeds for the fan
- Fan bearing squeals like a piglet on a roller coaster
- Mysterious entry point for water while driving in rain
- I have to flip four separate switches to get the fan to operate how I prefer
- No remote which required me to climb on the bed each time I wanted to turn on or off the fan
- Thermostat is displayed with a cold (blue) to hot (red) colorway so I have to guess that perhaps the third red block in the colorway is 78 degrees
- It was more expensive with LESS features
Here's what I love about the Maxx Air Fan:
- Fan is quiet
- Fan has ten speeds to choose from
- Controls for the fan are push buttons and I can press one button (Auto) which will open the vent, turn the fan on pulling air out and run until it hits 78 degrees after which it will auto close itself. I also have the option with the remote to change the thermostat temperature to higher or lower before it will turn off and close the dome.
- The remote makes it easy to turn on and off the fan or open and close the vent from a distance which makes it nice when I'm battening down the hatches to get ready to drive and may be in a hurry.
- Thermostat is a digital readout on the remote and not only can you adjust what you want the inside temperature to be but it also tells you what the inside temperature currently is.
- It's less expensive with MORE features
If you're looking for the best way to keep your bus conversion, van conversion or other escape pod cooler with a vent fan, then I would advise to give the Maxx Air Fan Plus 4500k a whirl (pun intended). Below I'll include some links to the fans and products I mentioned earlier for ease of locating.
You may also find this article I wrote on How To Run An Air Conditioner Off Solar Power with the expertise of Garret Towne, President of AM Solar. Is it even possible? You'll be surprised. I definitely was.
Lastly, it's worth mentioning that there are evaporative swamp coolers for RV's worth looking into. They use very little power but a good amount of water. I haven't had any experience with them but discovered them in doing some research.
- Written by: Brock Butterfield
Can you run an AC unit off solar power for your Skoolie? You'll be surprised on what we found out in our research.
There's nothing worse then travelling in your escape pod during the summer and spending time in a climate that can get miserably hot without a way to cool down. Even if you've installed a couple of good vent fans and treated your roof with a UV reducing elastomeric paint, you just can't beat the heat without a way to create cool air inside your Skoolie (or other escape pod of choice).
A short Skoolie at The Bus Fair in Oregon charges off the sun during the event.
A question I commonly get asked is, "How many solar panels do I need to run an air conditioning unit?". For the longest time I used to answer that question by explaining that you would never have enough solar panels or a big enough battery bank that would fit inside a school bus conversion that would be able to run an AC unit. But, in doing some research on this article I tapped on Garret Towne, President of AM Solar to give me the technical details behind why you can't but was shocked by his reply. Here's what Garret had to say:
"When someone mentions that they want to run an air conditioner I tell them they will need at least a 3000VA inverter and 200Ah of lithium battery capacity per one hour of runtime at full power for a 15,000BTU unit.
Solar will be one of a couple charging sources for the rig, but due to limitations in the amount of power radiated from the sun per square foot on planet Earth and the limited size of a skoolie’s roof, you will never be able to park out in the desert and run a 15,000BTU air conditioner 24/7.
Here are the numbers:
For simple math, let’s say an air conditioner draws 15A of current at 120V AC. That works out to 1,800W.
If you run it for an hour, that is 1,800Wh or 1,800Wh / 12V = 150Ah. I tell people they need 200Ah because not all lithium batteries can safely discharge their full rated capacity, and because it is likely that there will be other loads running at the same time. I recommend Lithium, because lead-acid batteries have voltage sag and a battery bank large enough to run an air conditioner for a substantial length of time would be impractically heavy.
Also for simple math, let’s say a solar panel produces 3Wh per day per 1W of rated output. This number varies depending on latitude and weather, but 3Wh per day / 1W is a pretty close approximation.
One hour of air conditioner operation would require 1,800Wh divided by 3Wh/day per 1W = 600W of solar left in the sun all day.
A 170W solar panel takes up about 11 square feet. 600W / 170W x 11sf = 39 square feet.
To run the 15,000BTU air conditioner for 24 hours with no charging sources, you would need 3600Ah – 4800Ah of lithium capacity.
To run the 15,000BTU air conditioner, continuously, from solar, you would need a battery bank large enough to serve as an energy buffer from peak production hours through the night, roughly 3000Ah and a 14,400W solar array. The solar array would take up 936 square feet.
If your roof mount array was 8 feet wide, your skoolie would need to be at least 117 feet long.
You can run an air conditioner for short periods of time, but you will need to plan to hook up to shore power, run a generator, or use an alternator charge to help your solar array top off your batteries in between uses. Of the rigs I’ve dealt with where air conditioning is a major concern, they have had between 400Ah and 1800Ah of lithium battery capacity.
It's also worth mentioning that in testing we've seen impressive results from alternator charging systems. One we tested got 129A at idle. That’s the equivalent of roughly 2000W of solar panels."
I had to read over that a few times before the numbers started to click for me and a visual image started to form. While it IS actually possible to run an AC off of solar panels and a battery bank, it's not for very long due to the lack of square footage needed for panels and batteries to make it happen.
Hypothetically if you had a 117 foot long bus and a big enough lithium battery bank, equipment pricing alone for a system with a 3000VA inverter kit, 3600Ah lithium battery kit, and 80x 170W solar panels, along with other system essentials would work to roughly $90,000. Not really the coin that many of us have on hand. Unless you're friends with Oprah? "And you get solar! And you get solar! And you get solar!"
An impressive and massive power bank by Broccoli Bus as displayed at The Bus Fair
An alternative to an AC unit that I just learned about the other day is an RV swamp cooler or evaporated cooler made by TurboKool which uses very little energy. Granted it would only work in dry climates due to how swamp coolers are designed and a little looking into I learned it uses on average 10 - 15 gallons of water per day. My bus only has a 30 gallon fresh water tank so for me that's not really an option unless I knew I was close to a fresh water tap that I could top off each day.
Another alternative that I've used now for a few summers and like is the Icy Breeze Cooler that also acts as an air conditioner and runs off 12v or 110v, draws very little power and circulates the icy cold cooler water through a "radiator" and uses a fan to blow out cold air with an adjustable "elephant nose" to point it where you need it.
If you're looking to invest in solar for your bus conversion, van conversion or other escape pod, the crew at AM Solar (an employee owned company) are a great resource to reach out to with questions. They also now offer solar kits for Skoolies that are designed around three types of needs. Weekend warriors, those who want a little more juice and be out a little longer and those looking to full time.
If you're interested to read more articles that the president of AM Solar, Garret, has contributed you can do so here:
- Written by: Brock Butterfield
Your Complete Guide To Life On The Road In A Van
John and Jayme from Gnomad Home just dropped a great little article on the ins and outs of Vanlife that's worth a read if you're still trying the make that decision on whether a van conversion or bus conversion is best for you.
These two have been living vanlife for quite some time now and the insight they provide in their article is a vault of knowledge for anyone that is completely new to making the lifestyle change.
Here's a quick preview of the topics they cover:
What is Van Life?
- Why Would You Want to Live in a Van?
- What Are the Challenges of Vanlife?
How to Live in a Van
- Converting a Van into a Mobile Living Space
- Where to Park Your Van at Night
- Bathrooms, Showers, and Laundry
- How Much Does Vanlife Cost?
- Making Money on the Road
- Getting Mail on the Road
- Insurance (health, auto, property, etc)
- Resources and Community on the Road
Taking your pets with you on the road
Guest Writer: Angie Hill
What could be better for having the best pet-friendly travels on the road than a vehicle that comes complete with all the creature comforts of a house, but on wheels instead? Waking up in new locations for you and your pet to explore is what life’s all about!
One of the primary benefits of travel in a converted vehicle is that your pets can get some real enjoyment from the great outdoors during the day and then get to sleep in the same comfy spot at night; just like in a regular home.
Offering them that consistency is a super way to get your pet relaxed and at ease with this type of environment.
Travelling with your pets in a converted vehicle can also throw up some different challenges that you wouldn’t have to consider in a stationary home. This is all part of the ride though, and with the tricks and tips we’ve picked up to keep pets smiling, safe and content, you can use them to help you and your pets on your travels.
Top Tips for Travelling on the Road with Pets
1. A prepared packing list
Before you set off anywhere, set aside a decent amount of time just to go over all the things that you will need to pack for your pet. To help you out, we’ve listed the main ones already, and then you can add in more that might be relevant to you later on.
- Food and doggy treats
- Drinking water
- Travel food/water bowls
- Up-to-date ID tags
- Photos of your pet
- Copies of health records and vaccinations
- Carpet cleaner (just in case!)
- Some toys
- Any required medication and/or supplements
- Poop bags
- Pet insect repellent and sunscreen
- First aid kit
Read more on Woof Dog to pick up the supplies you need.
2. Research where to go
When you’re on the road with pets, you have to think about their needs as well as your own, but being pet owners, you probably put them first anyway! That’s great, and it’ll help you figure this point out more effectively.
Essentially, you just want to take the time to make sure that wherever you are headed has a lovely range of pet-friendly places for them to explore, as well as places to eat so that no member of the family is left behind.
3. Staying safe while driving
As tempting as it might be, you shouldn’t give in to the temptation of having your pet on your lap while you’re driving. At the same time, having a pet roaming about in the back can also be risky as they can cause a distraction.
You need to have total focus on driving for everyone’s safety, so pets should always be safely buckled up in an appropriately fitted, crash-tested seatbelt harness or alternatively, in a carrier that is fastened in place.
If your pet is new to all of this, it might be worth going out for a few small rides first of all to get them used to how it feels and then they’ll see this as normal routine when the time comes to go further afield.
4. Factor in more breaks
When you are eager to reach, discover and enjoy a new location, it can be really tempting to just keep on truckin’. If you need to stop for a quick stretch and a toilet break, your pet needs the same consideration as well.
Just factor in that they need some little walks and toilet breaks so that they can be great travel companions and make the most of your journeys together. It’ll help break up long drives and that way it won’t feel like your whole day has been spent behind the wheel.
5. Stay aware of the temperature
We all know about the dangers of pets overheating in cars, but even in your super comfy converted bus, the weather can become a little pesky if you’re not on top of it. Just bear in mind that you should keep an eye on weather forecasts and be aware of high/low temperatures where you are heading.
It might be worth just fitting a temperature gauge in your vehicle as a precaution. This will give you the opportunity to have peace of mind about the exact temperature in your vehicle. That way, you can rest assured that your pet will be perfectly comfortable while travelling, or while you’ve popped out for something.
6. Be an exemplary travelling pet owner
With the rise of digital nomads and people escaping standard homes to travel on the road more, so does the number of pet-friendly welcoming spots to travel to.
Policies are always changing and improving to help pet owners enjoy life with their extra family members who are by their side enjoying the trip with them. To keep this trend going, we all need to be the best pet owners we can and lead by example.
Stay on the right side of any leash laws that need adhering to, follow local pet guidelines, and always ensure that you pick up after your pets.
Hopefully, these pointers are useful for your future adventure and your pets can have an amazing time on the road travelling with you as a family!