*Disclaimer; this is some meat and potatoes right here. If you’re just looking for a snack, come back when you have an appetite.*
This one goes out to fellow bus builders, van dwellers, want-to-be-builders and the otherwise curious.
I wanted to share the technical side of things since it’s something that seems to come up frequently. So lets talk shop, my favorite!
The foundation: The heart of it all, the bus of course. Our bus is a 1992 AmTran Genesis. It’s powered by an International DTA360 (5.9L) diesel linked to a 4 speed Allison automatic transmission. Stopped by air brakes. The overall length is 37 feet and the height (post conversion/roof raise) is 12’-9” which is the top of the chimney. In a pinch it can be taken down to 12’-3”. Last but not least, top speed! A cool 55 MPH is her comfortable top speed.
Appliances: This is what makes it home right? The ability to prepare, and most importantly, consume food and beverages, mmmm. The sink is a 25” (allows you to use a 30” base cabinet instead of the standard 36”) Elkay single bowl under mount, stainless of course, aren’t they all stainless? Whatever. Stove/oven is a residential but apartment size (24” instead of 30”) converted to propane. Made by Avanti. Above the stove is the 24” stainless range hood with a light, two-speed fan, and replaceable grease filter. Made by Broan. Our Refrigerator is an RV type Norcold N512UR. Now I know everyone is scared to use these but it’s honestly amazing. It runs on propane or 110V electric. I’ve tricked it out with a 12v thermostatic exhaust fan that keeps it running cold even in the hottest summer weather. Plus it lightens the load on our solar and battery system. Moving on. Water heater is a 5gallon propane RV water heater. It’s nothing fancy but it was cheap and it’s enough to shower, do the dishes, etc. It’s wired to a switch that allows us to leave it off if we are going to be away from the bus for a bit and it heats up rather quickly when we switch it back on. Heaters, well to keep things quaint and cozy we of course have our cast iron pot belly wood stove, did you get all that? It has a one-piece 4” stainless flue with a marine type flue cap so we can drive while using the wood stove if need be. There is also a heat exchanger that collects heat from the outside of the flue pipe and is ducted over to the front of the bus and out of the ceiling, all powered by a small 12v inline blower. This helps to even out the temperature and eliminate the cold spot at the front of the bus. Primarily while driving we use our other heat source, the bus’ original heater core blowers that have been re-located and re-piped to more convenient locations.
Propane storage: I know some people don’t like the idea of toting propane around on their rig but I feel it’s essential to the traveler that doesn’t want to be tied to the grid at every possible opportunity. Not to mention it’s a tried and true system that’s used residentially as well as countless mobile application (like RVs). Also propane is a very clean and eco-friendly source of heat/energy. That being said, we have three propane tanks tucked safely under the bus. The largest is a 17.5gal. refillable tank that is bolted to the chassis and was designed for RV use. The other two tanks are just regular grill tanks that can be swapped out at a hardware store or gas station. This was done to create flexibility incase we aren’t near a place that can actually fill our big tank, we can leave it empty and pick up a few small ones at the gas station and the automatic changeover valve will make a seamless switch to the other tanks.
Bathroom: Possibly the smallest in the world. The tub shower combo is a 2’x3’ tub base typical of an RV. A Perfect little bathtub for Charlotte. Instead of the plastic surround that is usually outfitted with this, we used 18g galvanized sheet metal with the corners rolled to match the radius of the tub. Although we had great plans for a custom sink and cabinet, we ended up pulling one off the shelf at HD and modifying it more than most would think possible. It does work well and fits the space nicely so I can’t complain. The throne is a DIY composting toilet utilizing a Kildwick urine diverter. The bathroom also has an RV exhaust fan to handle shower steam as well as general bus temp control and such.
Water/Waste: On our most conservative behavior we can make it nearly two weeks without filling or dumping our tanks. We recently hit 12 days and still hadn’t run out, but you have to fill when you get the chance! This is all possible due to our 100gallon fresh water capacity. In an effort to optimize the space and design, we did this with two tanks. There is a 60gal. tank under our bed loft stair case and a 40gal. tank mounted under our bed. On the waste side we have a 93 gal. grey tank (sink water, shower water, and urine) and since we opted for the composting toilet, we don’t have to deal with a black tank (sewage).
Solar/Electrical: ok bear with me… solar seems to be the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t always have cut and dry answers but I’ve done some home work and this is the way I did it. The bus has four 150watt 12v crystalline solar panels setup in an array that can be tilted. The panels are wired to a rooftop combiner box and then down to the controller. The solar controller is a Morningstar TS-60 PMW type. Soaking up all that sun-supplied energy is our four Crown CR260 deep cycle batteries. Since we opted for 6v batteries they are wired in series and parallel. Monitoring the batteries is a Trimetric TM2030. Now to take all the DC power stored in the batteries to usable AC power we are using two different inverters. The main inverter/charger is a Magnum MS2000, which is a pure sine wave inverter. Additionally we have a small 140w inverter that powers a few designated outlets for small tasks like phone charging or powering the igniter and clock on the stove. This helps us maintain efficiency by allowing us to leave the big inverter off except when it’s truly needed. Also wired into our electrical system is an RV type hookup for electrical service while at campgrounds, we rarely use it but it’s there if we need it. Our bus has a generator space built in just incase we ever felt the urge, so we also have a 50 amp automatic transfer switch and the necessary wiring already run to the generator space so its ready to go but just for the record we plan to avoid buying and using a generator. On the electrical consumption side of things, everything runs to one of three different breaker panels. One breaker panel is a residential style panel that handles all of the circuits powered by the 2000watt inverter. The other panel is also a residential unit that handles the circuits on the 140watt inverter. The last one is the 12v side, which is responsible for all the lighting, the exhaust fan, water pump, and fridge controller. This panel uses automotive style 12v fuses. So all these components that make up our solar and electrical system have worked very well for us. We are essentially able to remain off grid indefinitely. We have run out of juice once, while in Maine this fall thanks to nearly a week of overcast and rainy weather. On the other hand while in Colorado we were running our air compressor and all of our power tools off our solar setup. Okay I’ll be done now.
I miss garage talk so feel free to keep the conversation going and ask question!