This Organic Bus: The Conversion Plan
We have been completely organic and as synthetic-free as possible for the last five years. Because of this, we want to have the same things on the inside of the bus. We also want to be citizens of the earth as much as we can, leaving the places we visit better or at least no worse than when we arrived. To do this we need to start with the right mindset in place when we approach this bus project. I’ve detailed some of our ideas below.
PLANNED UPGRADES, CONVERSIONS, & ADDITIONS
Most of the interior finishes will be wood of some kind, specifically green wood. We talked with the folks over at Haney Family Sawmill in Liberty, TN and they have graciously offered to sponsor all of the wood for the conversion of this bus. We are amazed and thankful to Roy and his staff for their generosity and their belief in what we are trying to do.
Now that our costs are alleviated for the raw materials we can look at how we intend to make this behemoth of a bus into a rolling, efficient tiny home. We want to make sure that we have the ability to reuse as much of the bus parts as possible. For example, the old footrests off of the original passenger seats are going to be used as tiles for our back-splashes.
The first change that will be made as this process goes along we will be installing only high efficiency LED’s. I say high efficiency because there are a lot of manufacturers out there who will lead you to believe that their “high-quality” bulbs are great. The truth is inferior LED lighting can be very inefficient and also will wear out a whole lot faster. You can still find quality LED products.
This is also a vital step since we will be running exclusively off of our solar bank at times. Keeping the draw from lighting at a minimum is essential to making sure that we can regulate the solar system. Plus the other options available for lighting are inefficient, and in some cases, downright dangerous.
There are also other added benefits of LED lighting.
- It can be installed virtually anywhere in a wide variety of form factors.
- It can be controlled via remote and integrates easily into the smart home processes we will have in place
- It has the ability to change color, allowing us to use different light. For example, if the wee one is asleep we could wash the interior in red hued light, allowing her slumber to continue uninterrupted.
PAINT & STAIN
When it comes to the surface coverings we intend to make sure that there are no chemicals anywhere. This is not just because of our organic lifestyle, but also because of the small square footage we will be occupying. Any materials that off-gas will be more harmful when there is not as much space for those chemical compounds to dissipate.
For the surfaces that will be natural wood finished, we will be using a combination of natural oils, shellacs and home made stains. Check out how we make the stains we use here and how amazing shellac is.
Seriously though, shellac is AMAZING!
This way we can control the ingredients and still provide an attractive finish.
When it comes to any of the surfaces that will need paint, we will be using an all natural milk paint. We’ve sourced a company in Sweden that makes a phenomenal product, but its rather pricey. We are still on the hunt for other acceptable manufacturers but have yet to find anything that we feel comfortable with.
In regard to our fabrics, seat cushions, and all things of that ilk, we plan to use a number of things. We will go into more detail in later posts about each but for now, here’s a few of the ideas we have floating around.
- All fabrics will be organic or derived from plants that are raised using organic methods but not necessarily certified. This includes our linens and our clothing.
- All of our seating cushions, mattresses, and other “squishy” things will be filled with a combination of 100% natural latex foam, buckwheat hulls, and millet hulls. The one we are excited to try is the construction of a mattress made from scratch – post here.
Heating our space will be accomplished with a two fold system. The majority of the time we will try to locate ourselves in places where the climate is moderate, this way the solar bank can power the forced air heat.
Although, we know that there will be times when we want or have to be somewhere cold. Once the temps get to the point that the draw on the solar system is becoming too much, we will have a wood burning stove that I plan to make removable and stowable in the bays underneath.
I will probably weld up the stove myself using 3-6mm sheet steel and some parts purchased from a stove company. The overall plan is to have something with a look similar to the stove in the picture to the left. I may even see if there is a high temp teal paint that will make the Mrs. happy, but we’ll have to see. More on how I made our stove here.
One of the biggest challenges in converting this bus is going to be the ability to keep it cool when shore power is not available. There are a couple of very important things we have factored in to our plan to help us out with this.
First the floorplan is set up to allow the maximum amount of airflow through the entire cabin.
Second, we will be installing remote actuated skylights to act as both an additional light source as well as air vents to remove excess heat that will inevitably build at the top of the bus.
Third, we will be installing a low draw mini-split air conditioner somwhere and plumbing the condensing unit underneath in one of the system bays. We will have to make some changes to the door structure to allow us to vent the bay and draw in cool air.
Since we are going to have the entire interior ripped out anyway, we figured we would take the opportunity to install a centralized vacuum system slash forced air system.
Underneath we will house a 5 gallon shop vac that is connected to a 3-way switch controlled outlet. One way will turn on the vac and the other will turn on the blower. We will then plumb a hose that standard vac hoses and attachments will fit onto.
We also plan to add a couple of “sweep-into” ports so that when we are sweeping the bus we can just throw all the detritus into a corner and watch as it magically gets whisked away to a land that I will have to empty later on.
SYSTEMS & ENVIRONMENTAL CONVERSION
Since the bus was originally designed as a short stay commercial vehicle and not a full time home, we need to make some changes and upgrades to the “hidden bits” so that we get a lot more efficiency. Some of those changes will include:
After exhaustive research into the topic, we have decided to go with Johns Manville R-30 Unfaced Fiberglass Insulation Rolls. This product is Formaldehyde-free thermal and acoustical insulation is made of long, resilient glass fibers bonded with a bio-based binder.
This insulation has a high R-Value so it will really help keep the climate control in, whether that be heat OR air. Energy loss on either side is a huge consideration for us considering how much alternative power we will be using on the bus.
There was one other company up for the title, but unfortunately we here in the US can’t get it. The company is ThermaFleece and they manufacture a number of products that would have fit the bill.
- CosyWool and UltraWool – 2 natural sheeps wool insulations, one with a higher R-Value than the other
- NaturaHemp – a hemp-fiber insulation.
These products are completely chemical free and safe and we would have loved to give their product a try but there are no distributors here in the states.
STORAGE & FILTERING
Water will be supplied by municipal sources and will be collected, filtered and subsequently stored until needed in the cargo bay of the bus. I will be installing fresh water tanks for both pre-filter and post-filter storage. I will also be installing only a grey water tank. We will not need any black water storage since will will be using only composting toilets.
We should be able to hold nearly 250 gallons of water, half of that filtered, the other half warming up in the batter’s box, so to speak. Once you add the pump and all the lines, I have a feeling that I’ll be turning a wrench for quite some time.
We are exploring options to use other materials than traditional storage tanks. One of these ideas is to use food-grade 55 gallon barrels and plumb them like traditional holding tanks.
HEATING DAS AQUA
When it comes to heating the water we will be installing point-of-use tankless hot water heaters. These will run on electric provided by the solar array (or generator if we are out of juice).
There were a number of reasons that we decided that POUETs (that’s what they call them in the insider circles) were the right way to go:
- Having hot water before you can even fill a glass is a wonderful amenity. Not to mention the amount of wasted energy on heating water is negligible.
- You can adjust the water temp whenever you want. Lets say we put in the bathroom for showers and hand washing. We can set it to the temp the Mrs likes and never have to turn on the cold water, unless the toddler needs a bath. This saves energy and a minuscule amount of time. Don’t laugh, it all adds up!
- No twinkle light syndrome! If you loose the heater in the bathroom, you still have hot water in the kitchen.
- Um…NON-STOP HOT WATER (mostly).
- Easy installation!
- The units can go just about anywhere: no flues, no fumes, no vents.
- They are damn near 100% efficient.
Since the Wanderlust bus is running a 6v92 Detroit Diesel, we’ve decided to make the conversion to WVO or waste vegetable oil.
This conversion is a pretty straightforward process because most diesel engines are capable of running on pure filtered vegetable oil with little modification. I’ve been doing a ton of research on the best ways to do this right and I am going to show you my design step by step, but there is one thing I’ve already learned. DO A TON OF RESEARCH SO YOU DON’T SCREW IT UP!
Let me explain. I’ve literally been doing hundreds of hours of reading on every blog, forum, website and message board I could find on the topic, but it wasn’t until yesterday, on the umpteenth hundred site, that I found something that if I hadn’t, it would’ve shut the bus down.
You see, our lovely Model 15 Eagle has what’s called a DDEC. It’s essentially a computer that helps control damage to the engine. If I did the standard conversion and just run my WVO back to the motor at 160° the DDEC will think the fuel is coming in too hot and shut the motor down for safety. That could really put a damper on, well, everything.
So, yeah, do yourself a favor and read – A LOT! It will save you time, headache, and possibly a very expensive tow to just do your due diligence.
We will be using solar power for our main source of power. We are a very tech heavy family so we will have a fairly significant power draw. So I have devised a system that I think will be able to harvest enough power to fulfill our power consumption needs.
- We will use 10 panels that will draw 100 watts each on racks that will slide out and will also be able to draw while we are in motion. This will provide us with more than enough power to both charge the battery bank, and use anything we need to while we’re chugging down the road.
- In addition, I plan to mount 10 of the bendable panels underneath the position of the sliding panels. This will give us an extra KW of power anytime we are parked for an extended period. (I keep hearing my 55″ TV saying “Take me with you!”)
Add the 6 batteries for the storage bank, the charge controller, and all the monitors and switches and we should have one pretty spiffy alternative power source.
We will also carry a small portable generator for emergencies and extended periods of no sun. We hope that the solar will be enough for all our needs but better to have a generator on board than be in the middle of nowhere without power.
We are in the beginning phase of devising a mobile greenhouse. The cost of fresh organic produce can range in price from fairly reasonable to astronomically expensive.
We know that we can grow a good variety of baby veggies and micro greens but we have to make sure that we can keep everything safe and intact while we move.
We are even trying to be ambitious enough to include an aquaponic system. If we can pull this off it could really change the way full timers eat on the road.