*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!
14 thoughts on “Tech Talk”
Hey Luke! Really enjoy your guys blog. What an adventure you guys are on. Loved the tech talk, that’s the stuff I have been wanting to know about your sweet bus! Anyways, I have been wondering about how you have all your plumbing ran in your bus, like how its insulated and will you be able to run water in the winter? I dont have any friends with Scoolies but I have a few with large camper trailers and they always tell me they can’t run water once the harsh winter hits due to freezing.
Hey Caleb, Thanks! Glad you’ve been following our adventures. So the plumbing in the bus is almost all run on the inside, except where it exits the bus to go into the grey water tank. That being said our grey tank is completely outside the bus and is not insulated. Our fresh water piping and storage tanks are completely inside the bus and should be safe from freezing. I believe there are things we could put into our grey tank to keep it from freezing but we plan to mainly use our wheels to keep that from happening 😏.
I really wish I could find out who ensured your best for you because I’m doing the same project and I could use some insurance please let me know my name is Darren Rivers 615-429-0934 if possible please help! Thanks! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes I had the same question on insurance. Did you insure it as a bus or RV?
Once we got it retitled as an RV we were able to get RV insurance:)
Great details Luke! Reading this “almost” makes me think about converting something, but “Mama” wouldn’t approve of that. It was great helping you where you needed it!
Love the innovation!
You don’ t know me. I am your grandma’s, Donna’s sister, Dolores. So I guess I am a great aunt. My husband, Jerry, and I live in Cookeville, Tn. A community between Nashville and Knoxville. You are very welcome to come our way anytime. We are soon to relocate to a place on the Cumberland River where we will have 3 RV hook ups. Jerry is another mechanical guy. We have heard about you from numerous family. Would love to host you. At our home here in Cookeville or later by the River.
You are both very capable and admirable. Blessings to you and yours!
Dolores and Jerry Courtney
Beautiful conversion with excellent engineering.
Can you provide some detail on the choice of windows, they look great.
Thank you! The windows are Hehr double pane RV windows. RV windows seemed like the best option for long term travel, tint helps with privacy and overall they are probably more durable than something like a conventional house type window, which wouldn’t likely respond well to the flex and twist of the bus chassis.
You have probably been asked this before, and if you’ve already written this in another post, please feel free to tag it. My husband and I love your bus; he especially likes that you raised the roof significantly. My husband is 6’4” and most school buses wouldn’t be easy for head clearance. That said, did you lose any noticeable structural integrity when you raised the roof? How did you reinforce the “ribs” to accommodate for the height after the lift? Do you think there were any safety features that were lessened (probably not too much, if at all, or I doubt you would have felt comfortable having your lovely family in the bus :)?
Again, sorry if that seems amateurish, we are considering the Skoolie life, and raising the roof on the bus will likely be in our future, so I’m curious about your process, planning, any observations you made, or changes you would make if you could do it again with regard to the roof.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
How did you insure this as a RV or Bus? What company did you use?
I also was curious about insurance. I have a short bus listed as a motor home. Back when I first got it, it only had all but one of the bench seats removed and a bed platform installed across the back. I was able to insure it with State Farm. Long story which I’ll skip but it is now converted to include bed, desk, composting toilet and a rocket stove for heating and some cooking. I took it back to State Farm (someone else had owned it and insured it in Nebraska for a few years) and they refused to insure it because of the wood-burning stove. Since YOU have one in your bus/home, you obviously found someone who would give you coverage and I was wondering how you managed that! Thanks. And you all did an amazing job on that.