While spending several hours on Instagram this week and ignoring most of life’s responsibilities, I came across quite a few posts and accounts of Bus folks struggling through the winter.
"We nearly considered selling the bus and quitting bus life altogether after wintering in Seattle. It was simply too wet and difficult. Our sheets were cold and damp, and the mattress seemed to get heavier the longer we lived there. Then we found mold in our bedroom."
My wife and I have been living in our 189 square foot bus for the last 4 years, and have found several “necessities” for comfortable bus living.
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From #BusLifeAdventure to #BusLifeResponsibilities
Here are 10 crucial products and ideas that we have found to make Bus Life "better" and healthier.
Through torrential downpours and sticky icky humidity in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana to constant foggy mist in Oregon and Washington, a dehumidifier is on the top of our list. If you live in a bus with 110v power, and have the ability to run and store it, a dehumidifier is a must.
While wintering in Seattle, we were constantly running our unit. It was simply too damp. We had several mold outbreaks because of the wetness and had to entirely re-adjust our thought process on living in the bus. Cooking, breathing, showering - just living in the bus creates moisture and humidity. Add to that the constant drizzle and water vapor in the Seattle air, a dehumidifier is just about the only way we could stay dry and comfortable. We bought our unit on sale at Target before moving to Washington. There are different sized units, your need depends on how large an area you intend to keep dry.
We have tried and used all theDamp Rid products. We really like the large RV bucket version (which does take up quite a bit of floor space) and we really love the closet hanging ones. They take out a great amount of moisture from small areas like closets. Beware of leaking bags/rupturing them as you are in motion. The water solution it produces is nasty and will stain your clothes and ruin your building materials. They are useful, but not comparable to a Dehumidifier. We cannot run the unit unless we are plugged in to shore power. It draws quite a bit of electricity and would drain our house/solar batteries in minutes. If you are constantly in motion and off-grid, this would not be something for you.
On a side note, the way the Dehu's work, they don't function well under 55 degrees. So in order for the unit to function properly, you'll need a way to heat the surrounding area. However! Another positive of the Dehu is that it pumps out dry, warm air, which warms up your space while drying it out. It kind of becomes a balancing act of dry/damp/cold/warm. We were constantly amazed how fast the water container would fill up after a few hours of run-time. We could feel the wetness in the walls and then we couldn't.
2. HyperVent material underneath the mattress
We nearly considered selling the bus and quitting bus life altogether after wintering in Seattle. It was simply too wet and difficult. Our sheets were cold and damp, and the mattress seemed to get heavier the longer we lived there. Then we found mold in our bedroom. We talked to a friend of our property owner, who used to build boats and furnish the interiors of them. He told us while sleeping, the human body releases around 2 liters of water – breathing, sweating, etc. All that gets released into the air and, yup, into the mattress. He told us to drill holes into our wooden bed frame as well as buy “HyperVent”
This stuff goes between the wood/mattress platform and your mattress and expels any extra moisture that's being introduced. My wife was able to buy scrap pieces of it from a local mattress store for $20, after being quoted $100+ for a single piece the size of our queen mattress. We also drilled several small holes into the wooden boards underneath the mattress.
THIS IS A MUST HAVE FOR ANYONE THAT SLEEPS AND LIVES IN A SMALL, ENCLOSED ENVIRONMENT LIKE BOATS, VANS, BUSES, RV’S, ETC
We immediately noticed a difference and have not had a soaked mattress since. We do still spray a bleach/isopropyl alcohol solution onto the bottom of our mattress and bedroom area. This HyperVent stuff is magic and absolutely worth the price! It works!
If you’d like to read more about the process of installing and using this wonderful material, check it out here.
3. Bubble Wrapping windows during the winter
This is a trick we learned about at the Tiny House Living Festival in Portland before we moved to Seattle for the winter.
If you live in a bus or any sort of vehicle with single pane windows, you WILL experience condensation. Looking through all the posts this week, I have seen an increase in the conversations and complaints about the single-pane bus windows condensating.
When the warm air of the interior meets the cooled windows from the different temperature outside, water droplets will form on the inside of the windows. There is no way to mitigate this happening, it’s simply how it is always going to be. My wife and I had a tight regiment of wiping down the windows every morning with a towel and an RV Mold Spray / light bleach mixture to combat the growth of mold. Then we tried the Bubble wrap method.
At first we were skeptical, but it truly works! The air gets trapped between and inside of the bubbles, so it helps warm the cool air from the outside, and puts a barrier against the warmer inside air. It helped tremendously with condensation.The windows still got a little wet, but nothing like it was before we taped the bubble wrap onto all the windows. We only had to wipe the bubble wrap lightly some mornings/after intense cooking. It seemed to help keep the bus a few degrees warmer. It made so much of a positive difference with wet windows that we will ALWAYS do this during the winter if we are permanently parked in a wet and cold climate.
The downside to covering all your windows is lack of sight to the outdoors and letting less light in. We felt more trapped in our tiny space than at any other time living in it. It felt small with all the windows covered, permanently parked in the middle of the woods. It did not help that we were in Seattle where it rained/misted everyday. We definitely experienced our fair share of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder.) To combat that, we used a light box during the day.
4. UV Light Box
This box puts out light that mimics the Sun's Rays and color spectrum.You only need to have it on for an hour during the day somewhere in your tiny home, you do not need to be looking right at it. Through science, it activates the happy chemicals in your brain, and helps you deal with the depressing blues while going without less sun in the winter.
Our unit also comes with an ionizer, which discharges electrons into the air that binds to dust particles, pollen, smoke, pet dander and so forth and makes them heavier, so they fall to the ground instead of floating around and end up being inhaled. It basically helps clean the air. Many electric air fresheners have built in ionizers as well. My wife and I highly recommend having a light box on a few hours during the day during the dreary winter time.
As for the ionizer, you do not want to be in the bus when that is on, as the extra electrons floating around can give you a headache and make you sick. Sit with the light on for an hour, and when you leave your home turn the ionizer on.
5. Several layers of curtains
Along with bubble wrapping, this winter we have come up with a curtain system that consists of several layers.
Against the windows (not pictured) we have a thin white polyester layer. Then we have two layers of wool felt, which has been lined with a plastic sheet/vapor barrier and stuffed with a layer of quilt batting.
On the inside of the bus, we have a separate set of curtains, to add some texture and color to the interior.
We velcro'ed the thin white curtains right to the gray wool felt. They are attached on one set of steel cables. These are our first contact to the windows, and are there to take on any of the condensation. These can be easily removed and washed/replaced. We would like for the middle layer/gray curtains to stay dry and free of funk.
Then we installed a second set of steel cables for the green curtains. These can be easily changed out to different materials and colors. All of it can be rolled up, or tucked behind our "crown molding."
So far, driving from Vegas to Florida, we have noticed that they make quite a difference combating cold drafts and keeping the cool window temperatures outside, and leaving us warmer inside.
Most underutilized material during Skoolie Builds we’ve seen, including our own build.
We’ve had several mold outbreaks and needed to replace wood paneling all throughout the bus. Utilizing plastic sheeting as moisture barriers when attaching any wood to the interior metal of the bus is a must. That includes the ceiling, and some moisture barrier material underneath the floor.
Any metal throughout your bus will sweat with different temperatures/humidity changes and will rot your wood over time. Metal sweat is water droplets forming on any metal surface, basically like condensation on windows, caused by different air temperatures. The cold metal coming in contact with warm interior air. Moisture on metal will ruin the wood that's attached to it, if it's not separated by a moisture barrier of some kind.
Also make sure ALL YOUR WINDOWS ARE SEALED. Leaks can and will ruin your entire interior wall structure. Vapor barriers, treated/painted wood is super important in these builds. You will experience every kind of drastic climate.
While I loved and highly recommend the Cuisinart two burner hot plate, it’s difficult to store and you have to wait for it to cool down to put away. It also draws too much electric power to run without being plugged in to shore power.
While on the road, to cook simple meals I bought a cheap camp stove which uses throwaway butane canisters. It worked great and heated up my stove-top espresso maker quicker than the hot plate. I don't enjoy the idea of the throwaway canisters, and the other week, the butane leaked while it was installed in the camp stove, while the burner was lit. A large flame shot out, nearly catching the nearby towel on fire. So we trashed that thing.
For those reasons, I am absolutely in love with our new built-in RV propane stove. Initially, I did not want anything to do with propane on the bus, for safety reasons. My dad and I could cut wood, install electric, run plumbing, but when it came to installing a propane tank and proper lines, we did not feel comfortable doing that work.
After living in the bus for nearly 4 years and seeing other people’s setup, I was less intimidated with installing a stove. So during our recent renovations, we decided to go ahead and get ourselves a propane stove. AND WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! At this point, I have no idea how I managed to cook before, because our stove-top/oven is amazing.
8. Waste bin for toilet paper.
DO NOT FLUSH ANYTHING EXCEPT YOUR WASTE. It will clog your system!
After wrapping a large trash bag around my arm up until my elbow to unclog our toilet plumbing three too many times, I did some research and found that many full-timers use a separate small trash bin with close-able lid for their paper waste. Since we started doing that, we have had ZERO plumbing problems. I know for folks just joining the mobile tiny revolution, this is an odd one. But trust us, it is a must! The specifically made RV paper that disintegrates quickly is hard to find and more expensive than regular toilet paper, so in the long run, it’s better just to use a separate waste bin.
9. Roof Deck
We were lucky enough to find a bus that already had a roof-rack structure. The church I bought the bus from had used two identical International 3800's to take rafting trips with the church kids. They used the roof deck to secure their inflatable rafts and other gear. When they arrived where they were headed, they used the air brake tank to fill up the water rafts.
Once my dad and I started converting the bus, he came up with the great idea to attach beautiful wood paneling around the existing bare metal frame. Then we added two-by-three's attached to each metal rib and covered it with treated plywood panels. Roof deck complete!
I am so glad that the bus already had a roof rack and a ladder installed. It is something my dad and I would not have been capable of building ourselves. So I took away this lesson, buy a bus that you know you can complete and work on. My dad and I are not welders or metal workers, and did not want to spend tons of money to have it made by someone. So I was looking for a bus that was rust free, enough headroom without a roof raise, and already had a deck.
The deck is excellent to use for extra storage, and is the perfect place for our Renogy solar panels. It is especially amazing at night, laying down with our blankets and staring endlessly into the sky. It has provided us some of the best experiences that bus life has to offer.
I could not imagine living in a bus without a deck.
10. Big(ger) Fridge
Downsizing is the name of the game for going tiny. BUT! After living 1.5 hours away from the nearest grocery store when Workamping in California, we realized that our little dorm sized fridge was not big enough.
As we were fridge shopping, we noticed that many of the fridges that were slightly bigger all had doors which were designed to mostly hold cans. While we love drinking La Croix and other bubbly water, we felt that the way many of the doors were designed was unusable for us. You can't really store anything in these plastic shelves that were designed to hold cans.
So we decided to go slightly bigger and get the next size up, which still has can storage, but also storage for every-day items we would definitely be using.
The bigger fridge allows us to meal prep larger meals, being able store more than one or two meals at a time. That allows us to shop in bulk/Costco for cheaper meals. The fridge we had before used 1.3 amps per hour, and the much larger one we have now uses only 1.6 amps, so negligible power usage compared to how much better this fridge fits our lifestyle. It is a 110 volt unit. We would love to get into a 12 volt unit, but for the price/size it doesn't make sense for our budget.
Since you made it this far on the 10 Essentials list, here's a reward! Let's turn it up to 11.
11.Miscellaneous Essentials / Must Have’s
When I first left my parent’s driveway in the bus on August 15, 2015 I had no idea what exactly I was getting myself into. I did not do a test drive with the newly built interior of the bus, and had minimal idea of how to work on a diesel engine. Luckily enough, everything went better than I expected!
3.5 years later, I have learned so much about the upkeep of a bus and home-ownership in general.
It is really important to have a good set of tools with you. Screwdrivers, all sizes of wrenches and sockets, Allen wrenches, pliers, vice grips, a hammer, etc. You WILL use all your tools, and you will be happy you have them when something goes wrong (and to keep things from going wrong) It's not a matter of IF, but WHEN.
Open your hood and look at the engine everyday while on the road! Take a look around, wiggle wires, touch and feel hoses and sniff stuff. Get an idea of "What's it going to be today" to take care of your ride and your home. Check for leaks!
I always have extra fluids in my outside storage as well – engine coolant, diesel fuel enhancers, engine oil, distilled water for my batteries, etc. I also noted which belts are on the engine, which run the alternator and the engine fan, and have a set of those tucked away.
I also keep an air hose and some air tools on the bus. I am lucky enough to have air brakes, and an air tank that has a hook up for the air hose. Because of that setup, I am able to fill up my own tires.
And lastly, I have a few emergency items on the bus. That includes a couple flares, emergency triangles, a charged battery pack for my phone, flashlights, tape and zip ties.
That about does it. Thanks for coming through and reading the 11+ essentials list for successfully navigating the Bus Life. It’s always an Adventure, that’s for sure!
Make it a wonderful day!