The Bus Renovation Journal

Update 7 – Spray Foam Debacle

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of trail running. It’s a nice way to clear my head, and I often use the time to compose blog entries and other things I need to write as I run. So, last night as I ran, I started writing this blog post in my head. It started like this:

“The last few days have been incredibly challenging, but we are currently passing a major bus milestone. As I type these very words, the bus is getting spray foamed and we are excited to enter the next phase of bus building!”

Suffice to say, that’s not happening. As disappointing as it is to write those words, let’s start at the beginning. Last week we met with the spray foamers and set a date for them to come out and insulate the bus. Before then, we had to do all of these things:

1. Electrical Prep

Electrical has been weighing on our minds in a BIG way. We’ve had all of the components we need for quite some time, but putting everything together was a big, dangerous puzzle. Will spent a lot of time researching, diagramming, and planning with our contractor Byron before getting started. Over the course of a few days we pulled all of the wires the bus will need for both our 12-volt and 110 volt systems. We also prepped the bins for electronic storage, which meant partitioning them into two separate spaces with plywood and drilling a whole myriad of holes for wires to pass through. We’re stoked about the wiring that we did, but we are going to have Byron come back once we’re a little further along to hook everything up. That equipment is just too expensive to mess around with!

Outside Found Bus Project

Wires in conduit running from the interior of the bus down into our electronics bins. Blue = 12v, White = 110v, Orange = 10 gauge for a future A/C install.

Outside Found Bus Project
Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project

Left: Electronics bin. This is where our inverter, converter, charger, distribution panel, and shore power cord with go. Right: Battery bin. Batteries give off some explosive gases, so we had to separate them from all of the electronic stuff even though they’ll be connected by wires.

Will also installed a few spotlights on the exterior of the bus, a backup camera in the back, and re-wired our “school lights” (the ones that flash red when the stop sign is out) to turn on only when we’re in reverse, as added backup lights.

Outside Found Bus Project

Back spotlight on the left and tiny backup cam just under the clearance light in the middle.

2. Vents

Recently I’ve been feeling a bit like a girl scout earning her “bus conversion” badge – I was helping the project along, but didn’t have much ownership and needed a lot of handholding along the way. Will suggested that I take on a bigger project of my own, so I decided to tackle installing all of the vents for our appliances.

Neither of us had any idea of how to install the vents, so I was basically making things up as I went along. The first vent, the upper fridge vent, was situated on one of our paneled-over windows and went in pretty easily. The second vent (lower fridge vent) was significantly more challenging. Not only was I cutting through the actual skin of the bus, but I also had to remove the inner chair rail and the outer rub rails as well. First I tried a saber saw – no dice. The blade was too long or too short based on where I was and all around too flimsy. Second I tried a Sawzall – again, no luck. The metal was too wobbly and the narrow space between the outer skin and the chair rail meant the blade couldn’t move as it was meant to. Finally I tried the old standby, our buddy the angle grinder. It took a few tries to find the right blade (“Cutting and grinding,” not “cut-off”) but once I did I was cruising! The lower fridge vent took about 3 days of off and on work to finish, but getting it done gave me a plan of action for the other two.

Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project

Fridge vents on the inside and outside. You can see the spots that still need some Bondo work.

The furnace and water heater vents went in much faster, with one major mishap and one valuable lesson learned. When marking out the hole for the furnace vent I accidentally placed it over top of one of our structural ribs – not ideal. Luckily I noticed it before I started cutting and was able to re-measure in the correct spot. Not wanting to stupidly cut along the wrong lines, I carefully “x’d out” my first marks. Then I walked into the shop, set up the grinder, walked back to the bus, and started cutting confidently along my lines. I was so sure of myself! These vents were a piece of cake. After I had cut off a significant portion of rub rail I realized that I was cutting on the wrong marks. The marks that I had x’d out. Luckily I had only cut the rub rails, so the skin of the bus wasn’t damaged. With my pride and the bus’s facade of the bus thoroughly thrashed, I moved over to the correct lines and finished up the vent in record time. Lesson learned: measure twice and check that you’re actually using the right measurements before you do any cutting.

Outside Found Bus Project

Furnace vent, and my rub rail mistake.

Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project

Water heater vent, inside and outside.

3. The Floor

Putting in the floor was one of the first things that we did when we got the bus, and we were so proud of getting it finished. Unfortunately over the last few weeks we started to realize that we’d made some mistakes in the floor that just couldn’t be ignored. We thought that the 3/4″ plywood we used would be sturdy enough when supported only by the long sides, but after a few weeks we were noticing a lot of bowing and sag on the middle of those sheets. After mulling it over for a few days we decided to pull up the plywood and add some support for the middle of the boards. It was a painful choice to make, but it wouldn’t take too long and would make a sturdier floor in the long run.

We knew we had a problem when the first sheet of (brand new!) plywood we unscrewed came up moldy around the edges. The treated 2×4’s are soaked in preservative fluids before sale, so they were a little damp when we installed them. Ironically, these more expensive treated 2×4’s that we used to prevent moisture problems actually caused some of their own.

Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project

Moldy plywood. Gross.

Not wanting to wait for the wood to dry out, we decided to pull the whole thing out and start anew. We picked up some dry, non-treated 2×4’s from Home Depot, treated the plywood with mold killer, installed the new 2×4’s, added in our additional floor supports, and screwed the plywood back down. We had a long list of tasks to accomplish before the spray foamers arrived, and completely replacing the floor was not one of them. This meant we were in for a long weekend of bus building if we wanted to be ready for the spray foamers!

Outside Found Bus Project
Outside Found Bus Project

New 2×4’s all around, and supports for the middle and edges of the plywood.

4. Propane Tank

Propane will be our major source of heat as well as our method for powering our refrigerator and our water heater. Originally we were going to go with two smaller barbecue style tanks, but our contractor Byron suggested we look into getting an ASME under-mount truck tank because it would be safer and easier to mount. These tanks are pricy ($350+ for a 12 gallon tank!) new, but Byron mentioned he had seen a few of them at a junkyard up in North San Juan, a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada with a rough and tumble reputation.

According to Byron the junkyard didn’t have a name, phone number, or website, so we headed up there with his directions scribbled on the back of a napkin. We found it surprisingly easily and were greeted by a very old man in greasy coveralls, smoking an old fashioned pipe. Will asked about the tanks and he pointed us in a general direction. 10 minutes later, we’d found some good options. Our friend came over and pointed out another tank that we hadn’t seen before, probably because it was holding up an old Ford van that didn’t have any wheels. Will checked it out and it looked better than the one we found, so our buddy got a fork lift and lifted the van up so we could pull it out. After looking it over it passed all of our tests, and the guy sold it to us for $60. Not bad for a tank with twice the volume of the new one we were thinking about.

Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project

The most authentic junkyard an aspiring picker could ask for.

Outside Found Bus Project

Will posing with our propane tank, before we even knew it was there! (Under the bumper of the white van)

Outside Found Bus Project
Outside Found Bus Project

No dents, good strong welds, sturdy fixtures. It’s not pretty, but it’ll do!

We haven’t had a lot of success finding used stuff for the bus so far, simply because finding high quality used items takes a lot of time. This time it worked out, and we are so happy it did!

5. The Walls!!

We are really lucky to have the help of Will’s family while we work on this project. His Dad and Grandpa have built all sorts of things in the past and have a ton of helpful advice that we would be lost without. For example, the walls!

We scheduled the spray foamers to arrive and had a long list of things to do before then, but framing walls was not on the list. Fortunately Bob realized that spraying insulation before putting up the walls would be problematic, because we wouldn’t have any way to attach the studs to the ceiling.

Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project
Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project
Outside Found Bus Project
Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project

Building walls to fit with an irregularly curved ceiling is complicated. We ended up doing a traditional framing technique (16″ centered studs, with a floor plate) with a very custom ceiling attachment. We positioned all of our walls along the structural ribs so that we didn’t have to put any more holes in the roof of the bus. We attached our 2×3’s to the ribs through the side, by cutting a notch in the top of the stud, and secured them with self-tapping screws.

Outside Found Bus Project Outside Found Bus Project
Outside Found Bus Project

All in all we put up six different walls. One of them is a little crooked, but we’re okay with that! We’re probably the only ones that will ever notice.

Outside Found Bus Project

6. Prepped for Spray Foam

Last week we met with the spray foamer and couldn’t believe our luck. He was a nice guy who thought the bus was an awesome project, and he committed to getting his guys out here quickly! Even though it was going to be a tight squeeze, we scheduled them for Tuesday and set out to finish everything before the guys arrived. After working all day Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and even early Tuesday morning, 10am rolled around and we were finally finished! The electrical had been pulled, we added furring strips to the walls and awning backing strips to the ceiling, put up the walls, fixed the floor, and covered everything in tape and paper so they wouldn’t have to do any prep work. We high-fived and Will checked his email to see what time they would be arriving.

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This brings me back to my opening. To our dismay, Will instead got an email that said the spray foamers wouldn’t be coming and were either going to charge us an extra $800 or cancel the job. Bummer.

As of right now we don’t have a concrete plan for getting the foaming done, but we do have a few leads on companies that might be able to help. Morale was a little bit low this morning, because we were so excited to reach this major milestone. On the bright side, I’m confident that we’ll bounce back and the bus will be better than ever. Just look at the floor! A setback turned into something better than it was originally.

Now that was an update! Before you go – Will and I, along with our pup Hilde, are finalists in the Live Your Kurgo Adventure contest. If we win we’ll get $5000, which would really help get this bus on the road! We would love it if you might click here to give us a vote. Also, check out our entry video:

Live Your Kurgo Adventure: Hilde from Will Hitchcock on Vimeo.

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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  • Tiffany Everett

    Hi! I love all the info you guys were so nice to share! Can I get the directions to the junk yard you visited? I live in Boulder County.
    Thanks either way 🙂

    • Hey Tiffany – we did live in Boulder for a year before getting started on the bus, but worked on everything in Meadow Vista, CA and the junkyard was in Grass Valley. Sorry for the confusion!