The Bus Renovation Journal

Update 10

Update 10! Today is June 1st. Six months ago we would have confidently told you that we’d be on the road by now… whelp, looks like we were a little optimistic! When we started thinking about the bus, our goal was to get everything done in (get this) one month. Luckily, fate stepped in and gave us a little more time, and now we’re working hard to have her done by our second deadline, June 18. All told, we’ll have spent almost four months building.

This past weekend was huge. My parents traveled up from their home in Nipomo, CA to help us for a few days. Having them with us was great not only for productivity, but also for morale. If building this bus was an endurance race the last few weeks would have been those tough, cold hours just before daybreak. Mom and Dad showing up with enthusiasm and fresh ideas was just what we needed to brighten our moods! Without further ado, here’s what we got done. Warning, tons of photos!!

Furniture

Last week I mentioned that we were struggling with our paint color. Not wanting to make the decision to set us back even further myself, I took it to Facebook. We were so surprised (and thankful, and overwhelmed!) by the thoughtful, encouraging comments you left for us! We’ve decided to keep the blue for now, which was the popular opinion in the thread.

When visiting with my parents over the weekend, they reminded me of a similar color conflict I had when I was younger. For some reason, my parents thought it would be a good idea to buy a vintage VW Bug on eBay for 17-year-old me. Long story short, we got in way over our heads and had to refurbish the entire thing, which meant I got to pick the paint and upholstery colors. I picked blue exterior and blue upholstery! When the car arrived it was lovely but I’ve always felt that it would have been a liiiiiittle bit nicer if I’d just made everything white.

So, lesson learned. Next time I want to paint something blue, we’ll just skip the inbetween step and go straight to white. Luckily I know from experience that I’ll be able to learn to love the blue, even if it wasn’t the best choice straight out of the gate.

This brings me to our next big decision: painting the bus! We were looking forward to painting the bus (you guessed it) blue. However, due to major time constraints and the fact that we have neither painting equipment nor cash to pay someone else to do it, we’re going to keep this baby white. We’ll have to do some touch up, of course, but I think the white will do just fine for the first year on the road!

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Guess she’ll just have to stay like this. Anybody have ideas for a name?

Wall Paneling!!

My dad and I worked on paneling our walls all weekend. The wood we chose was pretty easy to work with until we got up to the curvy section. It took a few tries, but we finally ended up with an acceptable curve that includes one absolutely perfect board.

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Dad, getting ready to cut some boards.

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Look at that perfect fit!

We’ve been talking about getting our wall paneling up for the past few weeks, ever since I did the first little section in the front of the bus. The problem was that we knew we didn’t have enough beetle kill boards (tongue and groove pine boards with lovely gray marbling, due to the pine beetle infestation in Colorado) to do the entire bus, and we didn’t know how to finish the other walls. I tried my absolute hardest to get Home Depot to ship some to us, but California has some seriously strict regulations!

Finally, we decided to order up some regular pine boards to finish the remaining walls. They aren’t exactly matching with our beetle kill, but since they’re from the same tree they coordinate pretty well! We’ll use these for some of the walls and to cover the exposed wiring above the windows.

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Healthy pine on the left, beetle kill pine on the right.

Since we don’t have enough beetle kill to panel the entire bus, we placed it strategically so you would think it paneled every wall. When you walk in the door and look towards the bedroom, all of the walls facing you are beetle kill. The plain pine is hidden away inside the bathroom and other side of the bed. Sneaky, sneaky!

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From left to right: kitchen wall, diagonal wall (unfinished) bedroom wall.

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I’m toying with the idea of using the plain pine oriented vertically on our diagonal wall to break up the flow of beetle kill across the back.

Countertops

Will and Rob spent the weekend installing our gorgeous butcher block countertops. We didn’t anticipate this being such a big project, but I am really happy that they took the extra time to really do these things right.

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Countertop team on the left, paneling team on the right.

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We bought two 25″x74″ solid wood countertops from Ikea. Our kitchen is longer than those dimensions (and wider, at one end) so the guys had to splice the two pieces together. Throw in a tricky 30º angle and you have a recipe for some serious headache. I don’t know how they did it, but they made a perfectly fitting countertop and backsplash with almost no waste.

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Lesson learned: no more tricky angles!

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Making holes to connect the countertops with biscuits

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Look at that matching backsplash!

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Marine varnishing the bottom side to protect from wayward moisture

Once they got it secured to our counter bases I cut out the holes for our tiny two burner Atwood stove and Ikea sink. Now that I see it in the space, I wish we had purchased the bigger three burner stove… we certainly have room for it! This bus has more counter space and kitchen storage than my first two college apartments.

Cushions & Driver’s Seat!

When we first started the bus project I had these visions of beautiful, custom cushions on our built-in couch. Those visions quickly disappeared when I started getting quotes to have them made. Did you know that a single couch worth of cushions can easily cost over $1,000?! There was no way we were going to spend that kind of money, so we put cushions on hold for a few weeks. Then, one day, I was driving down the road and saw a big, ugly blue couch dumped carelessly in a pullout. Free cushions! I pulled over, sniffed them for cigarette smoke or cat pee (all good!) and hustled them into the truck. Once we were home I did a more thorough inspection and found that they were in great shape – new slip covers and nobody would be the wiser!

I renewed my internet search, this time looking for custom covers to fit my new cushions. Surely if I only needed the outside it would be much more affordable, right? Wrong. Still incredibly expensive. The “aha” moment came when we realized that the cushions came from an Ikea couch, and one that they’re actually still selling. A quick trip to the Ikea website and there it was, a full set of new cushion covers in a pretty gray fabric for only $200!

With the cushions covered (pun intended!) my next upholstery project was our driver’s seat. Originally we were going to buy a new seat, but those are pricey as well. We took our seat to a few different upholstery shops to see what they would charge to refurbish it and learned that we were looking at anywhere from $300 to $400! On top of that, none of them had fabric options that we really liked. There was no way we were spending that kind of cash on a seat that old, especially if we weren’t going to love the final product.

Enter: my mom. This weekend she took the parts of the Ikea slipcover that we wouldn’t need (the backs and sides of the couch) and turned it into a completely custom fitted cover for our ugly brown seat. Now we have matching custom upholstery throughout the bus! I can’t wait to get the seat and cushions in there. It’s going to make everything feel so homey!

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Our ugly, original bus chair.

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The “sweat shop”

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Amazing!

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The Throne

We knew that putting our toilet up on the wheel well was going to be weird, but we didn’t know it would be this… outstanding. The toilet is now in place and is quickly becoming the butt of many jokes. We’re going to embrace this and make it one of the ‘loveably quirky’ things about the bus.

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A quick thank you…

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been a part of this process so far. We are getting close to the finish line but we’ll need your support now more than ever in getting this thing rolling!

Joanne and Bob – Thank you so much for letting us use your amazing workshop and helping us make tough decisions with all of your knowledge. We absolutely wouldn’t be here without your help and can’t wait for you to see the final product this summer!

Danise and Rob – Thank you for not only putting up with us and our big, hairy dog, but also for keeping us well-fed, hydrated, and sane throughout this entire process. Rob, we owe you bigtime for all of the effort you’ve put in helping us build cabinets!

Mom and Dad – Thank you for traveling up here to help this weekend; it helped in more ways than you know. We also appreciate your unwavering support. Even when we don’t think we’ll make it, you remind us we can!

Here are a few more photos from the weekend, courtesy of the amazing Tina Pelletier. (She also writes a blog, check it out at www.seafoamphoto.com!)

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Are you thinking about converting a bus?

If so, make sure to check out our Big Bus Materials List! It has everything we used, from appliances to light switches to flooring, to do our conversion. Check it out »

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  • Fernanda M Samia

    Hi guys!

    Love your bus, been getting inspired for months and also have been reading and re-reading all your posts for their wealth of useful information, so THANK YOU!!! Hope to be on the road in a few months myself, and maybe even bump into you guys out there, although right now I’m still staring at an empty bus figuring out exactly where to start… Solar was my guess, and reading into your experience, likely a good idea. 😉

    In the meantime, I wanted to ask about your ‘pooper’ 😉 You guys successfully placed it on a wheel well… I’ve been going back and forth in the plans, with the measurements and such, and thought for sure that someone taller than me (at a whopping 5’4″) would most definitely hit their head on the ceiling while sitting on ‘the head’…? No? You guys would know!

    Care to share? I’d be forever grateful!!!

    wanderlustgusthebus@gmail.com

    Love,

    Nanda (and pups Scarrlett, Rootz and Bob – who will be on the road with me as well 🙂

    • Hi Fernanda!

      Thank you for the compliments, and congrats on your bus! Starting with electrical is definitely a good choice. You’ll want to do some quick calculations on how much electricity you’ll need before deciding on a solar setup to make sure you don’t end up over or under buying. If you have more questions, Will can help!

      We did end up putting the Nature’s Head on the wheel well. Will’s 6’0 and while he doesn’t come close to hitting his head while sitting down, he does have to duck while stepping up onto the platform. It’s not a big deal – an easier ‘bus adjustment’ than some! 🙂

      Have you seen our big bus shopping list? If you plan on buying anything (cough, like a solar setup!!) from Amazon, we’d really appreciate it if you might go through these links, as we get a tiny kickback for each sale. Thank you! 🙂

      Big Bus Shopping List: http://wp.me/p6vC9J-kU

      Alyssa

      • Fernanda M Samia

        Hi Alyssa!

        Thanks so much for getting back to me so swiftly!

        You two really have such a wealth of knowledge, having successfully accomplished this project that I can’t help but be inspired 🙂

        That’s so great to know about the NH, I initially had it designed as such but spent a whole day trying to figure out a different configuration to make it fit beside the well instead. But I would much rather have it like y’all do, so stoked to go back to the original design…

        And I will definitely go through your links for all my purchases on amazon!

        I know y’all have a small (2-way) fridge… I’m definitely going to want a bigger model, with a freezer up top… was hoping to steer away from propane as much as possible, but seems like 3-ways are the way to go, just not many options out there…
        I figured I can cook on my coleman 2-burner (with the little propane tanks) and maybe have a convection/microwave to compliment, plus a biolite grill… but also considered getting a little gas range/stove instead… I love to cook and it’s fun to cook outside (weather permitting), so I like the idea of the coleman plus biolite – with the convection and microwave for roasting/baking and reheating.
        I haven’t figured out what to do as far as heating water… and I don’t plan on being in very cold places, so a Mr. Buddy (little propane) heater should do me… I won’t have a TV, just my iMac and some smaller electronics and camera batteries to recharge… nothing major… so I think that even with a strictly electrical fridge and the convection oven, I wouldn’t need more than 4 panels. I’m planning on complimenting that with a solar generator… so, should be good 😉

        But again, thanks for your wonderful insight!

        🙂

        N

        • 🙂 Re: appliances –

          Fridge – I was really surprised at how workable our fridge is for the two of us. It’s not huge, but if I’m careful about how I pack it we can do a full week’s worth of groceries. The freezer is small but works like a champ. We would not be able to power the bus + fridge on solar alone – even with an efficient fridge, it’s just too much for the system to handle.

          Microwave – We don’t have one, but I would be worried about power consumption here as well! I even have to be careful about using the Breville oven on days when our batteries are running low, it draws a lot of power.

          Water heater – I’m convinced that hot water is the difference between feeling like you’re camping and feeling like you’re home. Washing dishes in cold water sucks! The Suburban is pricey, but 100% worth it in my opinion. Seriously – I would trade my entire shower for hot water in the sink if I had to choose!

          Heater – Yeah, we don’t really NEED our heater either, since it’s a summer bus only. Depending on how cold you go you could probably even get away without the Mr Buddy.

          Keep in mind that the biggest limitation you’ll probably experience with your solar setup is not the amount of sun you can take in (aka, number of panels) but the amount of energy you can store – aka, your battery bank. We have four batteries (Need to add these to the shopping list post! http://amzn.to/1nat9bt ) and have toyed with the idea of adding a few extra.

          AP