A fresh and functioning water supply is arguably one of the most essential things a person needs.
Since we will regularly be far from civilization and running water, we have installed two 150 liter fresh water tanks. The two tanks are connected and are filled directly from the outside. With these 300Liters we get along with a normal consumption 7-8 days.
On our previous trips, in some countries we had to rely on buying bottled or jerry can drinking water because the local tap water was not of drinking water quality.
To avoid this scenario and be self-sufficient in drinking water supply, we decided to install a water filter from the brandFamous Water. The Water-Jack fresh assembly 4h consists of two ceramic and two activated carbon filters.
The ceramic filters act similar to a sieve. Components that are too large get caught in it and everything that is small enough flows through.
The mesh size of our ceramic filter is 0.2 microns, so it can hold back pretty much all the solid components that make us sick. However, substances that are dissolved in the water, such as bad taste or chlorine, the ceramic filter can not hold back.
The activated carbon filter is responsible for these substances. It binds the dissolved substances from the water and additionally reduces the content of lead and heavy metals.
“With this water filter, we could fill up from the nearest pond and generate drinking water.”
Enough pressure is needed to move the water through the close-meshed material of the ceramic filter. A normal pumpwith approx. 2 bar is not strong enough for this, so we decided on a stronger pump with 4.8 bar from the Japsco brand. However, since most devices are not compatible with such a strong pressure, you still need a pressure reducer. In our case, this reduces the pressure to 2.5 bar, so that our hot water boiler can be operated gently.
Hot water supply
For hot water we have a 20 liter boiler brand Elgena. This is operated either by 230 V through our solar system or with an integrated heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is connected by a copper spiral with our wood stove, so that we can heat our shower water in winter also with the help of the wood stove.
All the plumbing is built under our bed to make the most of the space.
With all the motorhome conversions we’ve done so far, it’s always been important to us that they’re practical, look pretty and are built with the most sustainable materials possible.
Accordingly, we try to buy as little as possible new and recycle where we can. Since we have about 15 square meters of living space in the school bus, we were able to use a lot of our furniture. We had to convert some, or misuse. So an old chest of drawers became a washstand, part of a closet became our sofa and dolls’ cupboards serve as wall units in the kitchen.
Kitchen living room
When you enter our coach through the porch, you’re standing right in a cozy eat-in kitchen where you can cook, do dishes, hang out on the sofa, eat, sit in front of the fireplace, work, and do a bunch of other stuff.
We cook on an English enamel gas stove from the 60s, which is the highlight of the kitchen and provides faithful service despite its age.
Actually, our sink is too big and much too heavy for a “standard camper”. But since we have never really adhered to standards, we could also install a 20 kilo ceramic sink with two basins with a clear conscience. This is incredibly practical for collecting dirty dishes and is also suitable for washing laundry.
When it comes to refrigerators, we have remained true to the “Engel” brand. We got to know the refrigerators and boxes five years ago in Australia and have been convinced of their performance and quality ever since. In our VW bus we had installed the Engel MT-45-FS compressor cooler.
The advantage of a cooler is the low power consumption, because the cold does not “fall out” when you open it. However, it always bothered me to have to fish out the things you needed from the very bottom.
Therefore, this time we chose a refrigerator with 80l capacity and freezer compartment.
In our bathroom with a whole 1.2 square meters, we have installed a separation toilet and shower. We decided against tile in the shower stall because of the weight, instead we plastered the walls in a concrete look and sealed them with 3 coats of boat paint.
-Let’s see how long it lasts.
To allow the moisture to drain away better, we have also installed a skylight.
It was very important to us to have a fixed bed so that you can just lie down whenever you want without having to set up, move out or fold anything down.
The bed is supported by an old workshop chest of drawers, which is also our closet, and a beam screwed to the wall. The slatted frame can be folded up together with the mattress to access the water installation in rare cases. Under the bed there are two 150 liter water canisters, a hot water boiler, a pressure pump, a pressure equalization tank, a 4-cartridge water filter and two batteries for the solar system. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
A separation toilet is a very environmentally friendly way of doing one’s business, as neither chemicals nor water are needed. With a separation toilet, as the name suggests, liquid is separated from solid.
Through a special separator insert, the pee is directed through the front part into a canister. Everything solid falls into a container in the rear part, into which you scatter a handful of wood chips or earth after each bowel movement. This removes moisture from the solids, preventing foul odors. To play it safe odor-wise, we also put an air vent to direct odors outside.
We built our separation toilet with a separation insert, from the Kildwick company. It is designed like this, that it works equally well and clean for men and women. Due to the manufacture of high-quality, robust and at the same time recyclable polystyrene, the Kildwick urine separator has extremely smooth surfaces on which germs and bacteria do not find a breeding ground. Above all, this makes cleaning easier.
Since we will be living in the bus year round and traveling to different climates, a sophisticated heating system is a good requirement.
We chose a combination of a small storage furnace (cast iron) with fresh air supply and underfloor heating with 2 heating circuits.
A floor heater would have been the easier option, of course, but we want a heater that we can run on renewable resources, in this case wood, rather than gas or gasoline/diesel. With the underfloor heating, we had a clear extra expense during installation. We had to mill joints in the floor insulation, lay the pipes as tightly as possible in the joints, install a heating circuit distributor, attach a 60 liter boiler as heat storage, and and and…. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
This meant that we not only had more work, but also a significant increase in weight. That’s just how everyone has their priorities.
Besides the sustainability factor, this heating system has the further advantage that it can also heat our shower/domestic water. Through the copper spiral, which winds around the stove pipe, the water flows out of the boiler and is thus heated. Because the boiler is placed higher than the stove, the water flows without a pump. Only by natural convection, the heated water, due to its lower density in the boiler rises upwards, while at the same time the colder water from the boiler sinks down another pipe to the stove pipe.
The heated water is transported from the boiler through the pipes of the underfloor heating system by means of a pump and thus distributes the heat throughout the entire bus via the floor. After passing through the floor, the cooled water returns to the boiler and, due to its greater density, flows directly to the stove pipe to be heated.
There is also the possibility to heat our shower / domestic water. For this purpose, the warm water from the boiler is pumped through the heat exchanger into our electric boiler and heats the 20l of water there.
Our conclusion is: The effort to install a wood stove and underfloor heating in a bus is of course enormous, but for our needs this heating system is ideal. And honestly, what could be nicer than sitting by the stove in the evening and looking into the crackling fire?
One of the first and most relevant steps in planning the PV system was to create an annual profile of our supposed electricity consumption. To do this, we noted the nominal power (watts) and the respective duty cycle of our consumers over the course of the day, taking into account the different seasons. If we then multiply the number of consumers by power and operating time, we get the energy consumption in watt-hours.
For example: 4 energy-saving lamps consume 10 watts each and are in operation for 5 hours a day.
4x10x5= 200 Watt hours
After determining our approximate power needs, we still had to figure out the maximum load for the right choice of batteries and inverter. How many watts do we consume when almost all devices are switched on at the same time?
Due to the fact that we heat our water with the water-bearing wood stove in the winter and only turn on the electric heater in the boiler in the summer when there is enough power available, our power consumption is relatively low. Also the maximum load will not be too high, because we have mainly battery devices.
Nevertheless, our bus will rarely make the acquaintance of a shore power connection, as our destinations tend to be remote locations far from campgrounds. Accordingly, our power supply must function completely self-sufficiently in every situation.
The winter, or bad weather, when the sun refuses to come for a few days, can not really be avoided. To be prepared for this eventuality, we need to store the necessary energy. For this we have installed two Victron Energy 12V 220Ah Deep CycleGel batteries. These batteries are durable, powerful, and do not outgas. A lithium battery would of course have been lighter and could have been discharged deeper, but the ease of flammability, destructive degradation and lack of recycling methods, put us off.
On our roof there are 6 solar modules with 240 watts each. These are divided into two strings in order to still generate energy even if the roof is partially shaded. The generated energy is managed by 2 solar charge controllersand fed into the batteries.
The two 12-volt batteries are connected in series to create a 24-volt electrical system. A voltage of 24 volts results in a thinner cable cross-section in the DC area than with a 12 volt network, which in turn saves space and money.
But since we want to have an electrical system in our bus like in the house, to be able to use normal lamps, sockets and other devices, we need an inverter that converts the direct current into alternating current (or transforms the voltage from 24 to 220 volts).
Now the electrical installation must be appropriately fused. If a short circuit occurs, only the fuse blows and not the cable.
In the case of a 220 volt network, personal protection is also required. The RCD has the task of switching off an electrical consumer within 0.2 s if it has a fault and a touch voltage that is dangerous for persons occurs.
A professional electrical installation and the associated protection, is very important to us, because in case of doubt it can be about our lives. Therefore, we have discussed this project piece by piece with a specialist from the company “Green Akku”and had it approved by an electrician before use.
By now it was January and we finally had the insulation done!
But before we could cover the walls and lay the floor, we had to lay some pipes…
First of all, we took care of the pipes for the underfloor heating (sounds decadent but in the end it is a relatively cheap and quite sustainable heating system). In order to lay the aluminum composite pipe stably and effectively in the floor, we milled the track in which the pipe should lie into the Styrodur with the router. Now the pipe was squeezed into the track so that it protruded about a millimeter, so that afterwards it would directly touch the floorboard to achieve maximum foot warmth.
With the remaining aluminum composite pipe we laid the water pipes in the shower and kitchen.
The next step was to lay all the power lines. A topic that I am not particularly comfortable with, but fortunately Julian has enough experience and knowledge and always kept track despite all the cables. We laid 2.5 square, fine wire for 13 sockets and 3 light switches across the bus.
We have placed the cables in protective tubes to protect them from external influences.To make them insensitive to vibration, we have also fixed them at regular intervals, with clamps.
We spent several weeks trying to get the bus sealed properly. It was dripping in so many places that we couldn’t figure out where exactly the water was coming from, so we decided to seal every single joint and rivet with body glue. After passing a test with the Kärcher, the next step was to protect the interior from rust in the long run. Using Ovatrol, Pellox and special rust-proofing paints, we treated the entire interior to remove existing rust and make the body resistant to rust in the future.
In the meantime, it was already November and began to freeze at night, so that icicles hung from the ceiling even in the bus. If you turned on the oven in the morning to have a reasonably comfortable temperature to work, of course the ice thawed and the entire bus was soaking wet. There was no way it could go on like this! We had to insulate… As we know, when cold air meets warm air, condensation occurs, which of course we definitely don’t want, otherwise our bus will become a dripstone cave. So we have to move the dew point to the outside with the help of insulation. Sounds quite simple at first… I would have loved to insulate with natural materials such as wood or sheep’s wool, but unfortunately these are not very suitable for steel walls because they absorb water, causing the coach to rust and our wooden interior to rot. Accordingly, we unfortunately had to use insulation made of synthetic material. Fortunately, we were able to buy polyethylene foam insulation mats, also known as trocellen, as a waste product from a company. These were mats that were dirty and partially damaged. However, we didn’t care about that at all. We spent the next three weeks applying the Trocellen to the walls and ceiling with Pattex kraft glue (smelly devil stuff). We insulated a total of three layers, which is about 4 inches. After the walls came the floor! We wanted to insulate the floor with Styrodur and searched for used Styrodur for a long time, but never found enough. Until we noticed that the cold store on our property, which is to be demolished anyway, is insulated with 8cm Styrodur panels. These we have directly reused and insulated our floor….
Even before we bought the school bus, we knew we had no other option but to raise the roof. Julian could not stand upright at a height of 185 cm in the interior and that is probably one of the most important things for a comfortable life in the bus. It was a little harder for me to come to terms with the idea of cutting the bus open all around, lifting the roof 30 cm with jacks and props, and then welding the cut beams back together and covering the now vacant areas with sheet metal. Even though many people advised us against our project, we didn’t let it influence us. Most of the time we put into the preparation, precisely because this is the first time we raised a roof. There are several ways to proceed, but which is the best for us? Should we cut under, or above the windows, borrow or buy welding equipment, use galvanized steel or paint, do we need additional building supports, what profile should the new beams have and so on…. Our heads were really smoking and our time was running out. It was time to choose a variant and it is explained in the following video….
Obwohl es an dem Tag relativ windig war ist alles reibungslos abgelaufen. Wir haben es zu fünft in einer Stunde geschafft das Dach sicher und gerade 30 cm zu erhöhen und die Hauptträger wieder zu verschweißen. Die nächsten Wochen bestanden darin, die nun freien Stellen wieder mit Blechen zu verkleiden. Wir haben uns dazu entschieden die Bleche mit einer Luftdruck Nietzange zu nieten und zusätzlich mit Karosseriekleber abzudichten und zu fixieren. Nach vier Wochen harter Arbeit haben wir es geschafft und die Karosserie nach unseren Vorstellungen verändert.
Since we didn’t want to spend the next few years carting 40 kids from A to B, the first step was to completely gut the bus.
2 days and about 50 flex discs later, all the benches were out. This immediately created a completely new feeling of space, we now had 20 square meters at our disposal and of course immediately began to think about how best to expand the bus….
But the seats were only the beginning…
The floor was covered with rubber mats, which had to be scraped off with the spatula in painstaking work, shred by shred. As a reward, we got to see more and more of the rusty floor.
The hardest work, in the truest sense of the word, was tearing out the interior trim, which was made of a ton of steel. Puuuuhh, we probably knew that the Americans in terms of cars on a massive construction value, but that it is so hard we would not have thought. After a few trips to the scrap yard, everything was disposed of and the tons of steel even earned us some money.
Now the bus was completely empty and you could see any rust and weak spots. One beam was rusted, the floor got some and here and there some rust, but honestly, we had expected it worse.
To be honest, we didn’t necessarily decide on a 30-year-old school bus, it just turned out that way. It was clear to us from the beginning that we wanted a somewhat larger vehicle than our previous VW T3 bus. There were several models to choose from, but an American school bus had always been our dream. Unfortunately, we could not afford the taxes, as well as costs for shipping, so we did not even think about it. But as it often happens, the solution is closer than you think. For about 20 years the school bus of our dreams was used for rentals and advertising purposes of a beach sports hall, in our area. We had been eyeing the bus for a while, but didn’t really expect them to want to sell it, but it was worth a try. After a few nice conversations with the owner and some thinking time on his part, he was really willing to sell and thus support our project. We could hardly believe it, we actually got the vehicle we always dreamed of and at a price we could afford.
The bus was not exactly in a good condition: The TÜV had expired three years ago, there were some leaks and accordingly a lot of rust, the right side including the window was sprayed with graffiti’s and what was wrong with the engine, we did not even want to know. 30 years have just left their mark….
But we didn’t care, we were full of energy and started right away.