Converting our bus was so much fun as we pretty well had a blank canvas to start with and a million ideas flowing through our heads! When we found the bus we were on a six week break from work as our boss had gone on a vacation. We had been briefly looking at prices of land/fixer upper homes in the more affordable areas of Vancouver Island to see what our options were. We also had the opportunity to travel up island for a quick camping trip over this time and the more remote areas of this island that we got to see are absolutely stunning, we loved them! These places all caught our eye, though we wanted to explore more, and still were not keen on the idea of a mortgage quite yet. This trip only encouraged our van living travel bug inside! We wanted the freedom to save money, remove the last of our debt and be living where we wanted, when we wanted instead of being stuck in one area due to paying such high prices. As well this would make it more difficult to travel as much as we would like. The two of us really do not like spending extra money often as we are fantastically good at sticking to our monthly budget which has allowed us to add money to our savings every month no matter what. So even though we didn't want to spend much money at the time our ideas had sparked us to take a look at some livable vans in the area to see what our options were for costs of converting a vehicle as we knew in the end it would only mean that we could save even more money.
Choosing the right vehicle!
We came across the bus we currently live in and thought it was perfect, though it was slightly out of the price range we were looking to stay within. We had a crucial check list to stick to as well to keep our costs down and try to include some of the bigger ticket items that we would need in our tiny home. Our check list included; solar panels, solar controller, inverter, batteries, good mechanical condition, room for the two of us, our 2 pups and all of our belongings, low kilometers, heat source, etc. We wanted to get the best bang for our buck and be able to customize the rest of the build to our needs for as low cost as possible. We saved the ad for the bus and messaged the owner knowing that it was a long shot if we didn't jump on it, and moved on to looking at smaller, lower cost vans. Sprinter vans were of high interest to us as we would like to be able to have 4x4 and get up all the secret logging roads wherever we would like, though they were all too expensive, which would only add to our current debt. So off the list sprinters went for this build. There were a surprising amount of passenger vans in our area for sale that had been partially converted for living, though with these vans you end up with about 5 square feet of movable space if your lucky as well as you are not able to stand up, unless you are under 5 ft tall or add an extended roof. There were many we liked a lot, though the idea of crouching in our permanent home and only having room for our pups to sit on the floor, probably uncomfortably squished, deterred us from choosing one at this time, though we cant wait to convert one for someone else.
We very quickly received a message back from the owner of the bus saying that we were his idea of who he would like to sell it too and that we could meet him in Vancouver to see it. We decided there could be no harm in at least going to see it to fuel our ideas. We drove to Nanaimo, and crossed the ferry to Horseshoe Bay where we met the owner of the bus. The only thing we questioned about the bus was if we wanted to drive around such a big unit all the time but once we saw it and got to drive it we knew it was the right tiny home for us. There were people all over BC contacting the owner to purchase it so we knew we didn't have much time to make a decision once we got home. We were extremely thorough as we had previously purchased an RV before our move to BC, which turned out terrible. We decided not go to the viewing ready to purchase that day, even if it meant that we would lose out on our chance for this bus. The owner saved it for us and a couple days later we went back to pick up Gus Bus, he was meant for us. It took a truck, a ferry, and a few bus rides through busy Vancouver, but we finally made it to pick up our bus and brought it back to the island.
It is a ford E350 with a bus chasis on it, that was used for hospital transfers so it was very well taken care of and drives amazingly smooth. We instantly knew we had chosen the right vehicle for our project. We were renting a suite at the time that we purchased our bus to convert and we were very lucky to be able to work on it at our suite. We bought Gus Bus and brought him home on February 16th/2019 and moved out of our suite and into the bus on April 28th/2019. We would not have been able to complete such a project if we had been working, as the job we had at the time we worked 10 hour days usually 6 days a week and were absolutely exhausted by the time we would get home. So we are very happy that we took advantage of our opportunity and how it worked out. No, not everything worked out as planned or went as smooth as hoped but nothing will in life and we didn't let it stop us.
We were fortunate enough to be able to work on our bus at our suite and to leave our suite 6 months earlier than we were supposed to, that was lucky and the rest we figure out as we go. Be organized and plan ahead only when necessary and go with the flow the rest of time....our motto. lol. If renting has taught us one thing though it is this, DO NOT EVER DO IT IF YOU CAN HELP IT. The rental system is honestly screwed and we know too many horror stories as well as going through a few of our own, from scammers, to untrustworthy people, we will just say this be extremely cautious. We have vowed to ourselves that from now on we will only live in our own space that we own however and whatever means we do that by. Ideally we would like to live in our bus or another converted tiny home vehicle as long as we can and then somewhere along the way find some land to build our own tiny home on or whatever wild idea we have by then for living. Just going with the beautiful flow that life's journey takes us. Okay, now a bit about the build of the tiny home bus conversion!
When we purchased Gus Bus, the outside was bright yellow, and you can still vaguely make out the words 'Hospital Transfer' across the front, and there were two, 275 watt solar panels attached to the roof. The inside had a frame for a bed utilizing the pieces from the lift that was in the bus, there was an aluminum frame of a counter top and crates for drawers along with a couch frame along the side wall. We were also super excited that the bus had a solar charger and inverter already connected to the solar panels as well as an amazing diesel heater. The walls were white tin, and there was some insulation put in under the flooring that the previous owner had put in. We were very thankful for that being done as your toes get pretty chilly in the morning on the cold floor. We are 5' 7" and 5' 10" and we can comfortably stand up and walk in all areas inside the bus, any taller and you'd have to slightly duck but still so much better than crunching your body up to get inside a passenger van.
We began the build by stripping the interior of the bus. We removed the tin panels on the entire roof of the bus as well as the aluminum frame that was used as a couch. Thank goodness for welding tools to get us through this conversion, not sure what we would have done without them to remove all the tin and aluminum. We came up with a drawing of what our home was going to look like, utilizing each small space the best we could. We started with the roof, first we had to fir out where we would attach the new ceiling. We got some vinyl flooring and by using glue and tiny finishing nails we attached each panel to the roof, which did not prove to be an easy task. We learned how we will change our order of tasks on the next build we do by running all of our systems and electrical before hand, just in case. But when your as excited as we were to start building our home you just have to adjust a step or two if you skip it by accident.
We then began framing in the back half of the bus using 1"x 2" for all the studs. This area was intricate as we have a huge storage cubby, two massive gear drawers, a garage for tools and our water system, and a dog bed/kennel all underneath our bed to maximize storage and living space. We also later framed in a slide in compartment for our dining table/other storage and a closet with three shelves for all of our bath towels and bulk items. All the room for gear was essential for us as we love to camp, snowboard, hike, longboard, etc. and we didn't want all of that taking up our living space. We also had to figure out what size of mattress that we could fit in the bus and frame accordingly as our bed sits on top of all the storage.
If you have any experience at all with framing you know the basics for stud patterns and what needs to be done essentially. We had very brief experience framing from a few months spent working for a carpentry company which ended up being more concrete work than anything. Anyway, we applied our little knowledge of framing and it went relatively smooth. Framing walls in a bus with curved walls though is not an easy task, making sure everything is level and square takes a bit of head scratching. Once we framed all of the storage area, we created 2 walls on either side of the bed, creating separation for the bedroom at the back of the bus and the kitchen/living room in the front half. Once we had this portion of the framing done we chose which windows we wanted to seal off and insulate and which would remain open. We chose to permanently seal up a few of them to limit the amount of condensation getting in as well as for privacy. We sealed off these windows using caulking and then insulated the walls using Thinsulate which we later sheeted over using 1/8" plywood. At this time we also sealed and spray foamed a few other areas of the roof and walls of the bus to ensure we would have no water getting in any cracks or around the emergency roof exit.
We then began framing the front half of the bus, including the kitchen counter/cabinets, a couch and a wardrobe. We planned out each drawer and cupboard size accordingly to what we needed to store in them. We built our kitchen cabinets and drawers as well as our wardrobe using pallets that we collected and re-purposed. These were otherwise garbage, it is surprising what we were able to find for material that people considered scrap. We first had to pull each pallet plank apart and use the material that was in tact to build with. We built each cupboard door and drawer, piecing together the planks like a puzzle to create one piece. We then sanded them down for a long time, stained and attached them using hinges for the cupboards and tracks for the drawers. To build our kitchen counter we re-purposed some cedar planks that were scraps for someone else. We laminated the pieces together by building our own press and clamps out of 2" x 4"s that we had laying around for the build. We (Logan) then sanded the counter down for what seemed like forever, stained it and cut our sink hole out of it before installing it onto our frame and drawers. We also recycled some cedar and turned it into a shelf in our kitchen.
One of our favorite features of the kitchen was that we built a removable spice rack into the wall so that we can easily access some of the electrical that is behind if need be without having to tear out portions of the wall. We also framed in a wall separating the kitchen from the cab area for privacy from the windshield, this doubles on the other side as a broom closet, essential for living in a tiny space with two bully's that shed like crazy, daily dusting is necessary. A couple other cool features that we are glad we thought of are; our wardrobe has three drawers for clothes as well as a main closet on top with two hanging racks, somehow we managed to fit all our clothes and shoes as well as our extensive sneaker collection. Another great feature is that we added a drawer into the bottom of the couch which is cut out for our dogs food dishes to fit perfectly, we just slide the drawer out, feed them, and slide the drawer away into the wall after. Little compartments like this have proven so handy to keep clutter to a minimum in our small living space. The couch was framed using aluminum that the previous owner of the bus had in it. We then built a seat and back rest out of plywood and aluminum, which we attached together with hinges and an eye hook on the wall to prevent the couch from sliding and damaging the wall. This storage area under the couch fits an incredible amount of our belongings, again keeping them at easy access yet still concealed away.
The electrical proved to be a bit more challenging then we expected. After doing things exactly as we thought they should be and having it not work out, as well as our solar controller and heater frying in the process... we decided to take a break and do a bit more research. We wanted to attempt every part of the build on our own with the knowledge and skills we had along with a bit of help from YouTube. We only wanted to get outside help if we ended up really needing it. We ordered a new solar controller and fuse box and ended up getting our systems working properly after a few frustrating hours of head scratching. For lighting, we ran one set of LED strip lights in our bedroom and one set of outdoor patio lights in our kitchen which both have their own separate switch. These lights run off of our solar power or when the bus is plugged into a power source. We also added six LED puck lights throughout the bus that run off of batteries to have the option to not use our battery bank for running lights.
Our next task was the plumbing of the bus. We had decided to re-purpose an old galvanized bucket that we had at home into a sink and we then soldered our own copper taps together to go with it. This was super cool to experiencing building our very own taps as they are expensive otherwise. We will be replacing our sink with one that the previous owner had in the bus but did not have hooked up. Living in a small space and creating everything the way you imagined comes with alot of trial and error and learning along the way. We then completed our plumbing using a pump and water jugs in the back storage area and ran braided hose to our taps. We have two 23 L water jugs at the moment and plan to get a third to ensure that we have enough water for showering. We ordered a tankless propane water heater to plumb in hot water to our taps and for showering. Unfortunately after receiving it and installing it the stater is faulty on it so it is currently being sent back so that we can get a new one set up in the bus ASAP. For the short time that we had it installed we could tell that it is going to work fantastic for us. Our shower comes straight out the back doors and we are able to spray our pups down after a long run and are able to create a shower for ourselves by attaching our curtain to the back doors of our bus. We did use the shower as a cold shower this week and it also worked fantastic, looking forward to that hot water though on chillier days, burrr!
The rest of our appliances were carefully thought out as well. Our bus is equipped with a composting toilet for when it is needed. We ordered a propane cooktop from Amazon in order to not use our battery bank power to cook. Our stove, and water heater both run off of propane. We didn't want to use electricity for our fridge if we didn't have to either, we either wanted it to be propane or a very good cooler. This is why we chose to go with a 45 L Yeti cooler for our fridge, and could not be more happy with it! This has been our first week living in the bus full time and our ice lasted the ENTIRE week in warm weather and kept our food exceptionally colder than any other cooler we have ever used.
We did a few more awesome re-purposing projects as we wrapped up the bus conversion. We used the rugs that we had on the floor in our house to upholster the back walls of the bus and to create curtains on the back windows. This was a challenge to cut the pieces to fit properly and match on either side but was really fun and adds a lot of color and character to Gus Bus now! The rest of our curtains were made using patterned beach towels that match the interior of the bus. We sewed them and used our left over electrical wire to create rods for them to slide open and closed on. Our couch was a super fun project! We wanted to be able to use our favorite items and utilize them into the build so that we could enjoy them everyday, so for the couch we reused some flags that we had hanging on our walls in our house. We used foam sleeping mats meant for camping for the cushions and then upholstered them with our flags which created a beautiful art piece as well as a super comfy place to relax. We also used a flag to hang on a wall that we were otherwise eventually going to paint white. We also found an old mirror at a thrift shop to hang in our living room. Another project was to build a book shelf for our bedroom by re-purposing a shoe rack that would not fit inside the bus otherwise.
A week before moving into the bus we were fortunate enough to be able to go into Logan's work on a holiday and build a tiny wood stove for the bus's new heat source. This was a super exciting project for the two of us as we were able to go through a ton of scrap material and find a some treasures to build our stove out of. We used an old pipe and some other scrap sheet material to create our masterpiece and cannot wait to install it in the bus! All we need now is to get the rest of the pipe and stack to vent the stove as well as protect the walls around where our stove is going to sit! We cannot wait to spend chilly mornings sitting in front of the wood stove drinking coffee. We chose to build a wood stove after some deliberations over what type of heat source to use. Again, we didn't want to be using electricity if it wasn't necessary so we looked at our alternative options, such as a wood stove or a propane heater or to fix our diesel heater that we have. We began to worry about the diesel heater collecting dust and the endless amounts of dog hair that collect, so we eventually chose to go with a wood stove. This will allow us to also use the stove for things like boiling water for coffee, etc.
Each of our skills and knowledge were exceptionally handy throughout the build, we played off of each others ideas and creativity and were able to complete each new challenge. This build was only the beginning, we have so many ideas for more conversions and we cannot wait to convert vehicles into tiny homes for other people!
What did we we use in the build?
- Tankless Water Heater https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B01CJPU6JI/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1