Picking the right source of heat for your bus conversion.

-Written By: Brock Butterfield -

For those of you looking to live full time in your converted school bus and need a plan for colder climates there are a couple different options out there. I've put together some of the most common ones I've seen in bus conversions so far. Each with their pros and cons.

The four main types of heat sources for bus conversion are:

  • Propane
  • Wood
  • Electric
  • Diesel

Determining what heat source is best for you will depend on your budget, space and desired comfort level. So let's start with the most common for it's simplicity and cost of fuel to burn.

Propane

The other white gas. I'll let you make an educated redneck guess to what the first is... Propane is fairly cheap and easy to find in most towns. There's a good chance you're already using propane for cooking so being able to tap into your existing line can be easy with a few parts.

You have two types of propane heaters to consider. Standalone portable propane heaters such as Mr. Heater products or vented permanent propane heaters for bus conversions.

I've used and tested both the Buddy and Big Buddy propane heaters from Mr. Heater in my bus conversion as they are indoor safe and easy to operate. For my 76 square feet living space I've found the Buddy heater will raise the temperature in my bus in the winter by 35-40 degrees in roughly 45 minutes. I use it the most when my wood stove has burned out during the night and I need a little heat to talk myself into getting out of my zero degree sleeping bag. They have an O2 sensor that when it detects the oxygen level is getting low it shuts off automatically. I always crack a couple windows to allow fresh air to flow in as a precaution and to help with condensation. 

Mr. Heater Buddy also serves as my boot warmer in the mornings before heading out into the cold.

The other option for propane are the vented systems such as the ones made by the company Suburban. They can be accompanied by a thermostat to get the most out of your fuel by letting it turn on and off throughout the night. With only a 4.5 amp draw it wouldn't put much strain on your battery bank either. With venting to the outside of the vehicle you don't have to worry about cracking a window for ventilation.

Suburban's 30,000 BTU vented propane heater.

 Ok, so now let's talk about the cons of propane heaters from my point of view which is also known as an opinion and we all know what opinions are like... Propane is a "wet" fuel/gas so you'll notice that you get a fair amount of condensation on your ceiling if you left it metal as well as your windows and windshield. My only complaint about this is I typically move everyday so if I've been running the propane heater then I either have to wait a pretty long time for the defrost to burn off the moisture on the windshield or use a towel if in a hurry. The towel method usually comes back to haunt me when driving at dusk into the sun and you see all the towel smudges.

With that said let's talk about a dry heat.

 

Wood

There's nothing quite like the feeling, smell and novelty of a wood burning stove. It's also currently the hipster thing to do for a bus conversion right now as I'm seeing people who don't plan to live in the bus full time or in cold climates for extended periods of time. But dammit to be able to claim you've got a wood burning stove in your bus conversion is something to brag about as you sip from the newest IPA at the brewery while wearing your lumber sexual attire!

For my bus conversion I chose a wood stove because I wanted dry heat for staying warm and wet snowboard gear drys out much quicker when your heat source is literally sucking the moisture out of the air. Wood stoves can heat a small space very efficiently which means they don't have to be the giant wood stoves that you've seen in your grandfather's cabin. My little Kni-Co Packer wood stove is only 16" tall, 10" wide and 23" deep and is MORE than enough for my 76 sq ft. I actually have to crack windows and the top vent because even in a t-shirt it's toasty. 

Kni-Co Packer wood stove with a heat powered stove fan.

 

 Another popular and highly efficient wood or solid fuel burning stove for bus conversions is the Dickinson stove such as the one used in Will Sutherland's 95 Chevy Bus Conversion. It's also a very popular stove for boats.

The small yet efficient Dickinson solid fuel stove.

The only con and non-hipster thing about this type of heat source is that fact that you'll actually have to cut down a tree and chop wood. While this can seem like an inconvenience to some people it's also kinda therapeutic for me. It's also nice that I don't have to worry about making a trip to town when I run out of propane as I can usually step out into the woods, find a dead tree, use my chainsaw to bring it down and then haul it back to the bus for chopping. A drawback is the amount of space it takes to store wood as opposed to a tank full of propane.

If you go the wood burning stove route here's a few extras you'll want to look into that I've found to be a must.

  • Windbeater Stainless Steel Chimney Cap - I had issues prior to getting this cap with wind back blowing into my chimney and filling my bus with smoke. This has withstood 65mph gusts during winter storms without blowing smoke back in due to it's design. It also won't blow ash around while you're driving.
  • Metal Roof Pipe Flashing - Initially tried automotive high heat silicone to create a seal around the chimney pipe on the top of the bus roof and that failed. Have since swapped out with this high heat stove pip flashing and haven't had an issue yet.
  • Heat Powered Stove Top Fan - This thing is amazing and works by generating electricity when hot air from your stove rises up through the metal. It circulates air throughout my bus rather than letting it all rise up in one area.
  • Stove Pipe Thermometer - It is extremely important to knowing how efficiently you're burning and how hot your stove is getting. This thermometer attaches to your stove pipe by magnet and gives you your stove pipe temp.
  • Inside Thermometer and Humidity Monitor - This is great for letting you know what the temp is inside the bus as well as the humidity level. If it's too dry you can set a pot of water on the stove to put some moisture back in the air.
  • Outside Window Thermometer - I just threw this in because it's kinda rad to see how cold it is outside when you're wearing a t-shirt inside with a wood fire cranking.

Windbreaker chimney top and high heat pipe flashing.

 

If you're not too keen on being a lumber jack and will have a place to be plugged in all winter then you'll want to consider an electric heat source.

 

 Electric

If you're lucky enough to have somewhere to be plugged in all winter than an electric heat source is a good option to look into. Most bus conversions I see running this type of heat source tend to like two different styles. Space heaters and oil filled heaters.

Oil filled electric heater.

Electric heater for small spaces. 

These in wall Cadet heaters are great if you want to plan them into your bus build.

 Last but not least I'd like to talk about a great alternative to heating your bus conversion especially if you're already using the fuel source to drive around. Diesel!

Diesel

I first heard about this method from an Alaskan who was living out of his truck with a custom truck camper or tiny home. The second time I was able to see it in person from the Native Eyewear sprinter van conversion. It allows you to tap into your existing diesel fuel tank and uses a drip system that is highly efficient. The most popular system is the Airtronic from Espar but you can find similar designs as well. I've heard from a few people that the installation can be a bit daunting but really isn't that bad if you're good with reading directions.

 

Diesel fuel heater taps right into your existing gas tank.

Now obviously a con can be the complexity that is required to install as well as you're tapping into your driving fuel source. You'd just want to make sure you don't post up for too long and drain your gas tank. An extra gas can of diesel is a good idea regardless as you never know when you could run out.

 

Coffee shops, libraries, pubs and Karma.

- Written By: Brock Butterfield

It's a common question we get when traveling or from online inquires. "What do you use for internet on the road?" With being on the road full time since 2014 I have found many options for staying connected and feel like I've got it mostly dialed in. My motive in finding good and reliable internet comes from writing these blogs for you fine folks as well as providing IT Consulting for my clients who I do everything remotely for. Everything from from website design and management to desktop and server support. Having internet on the road is essential to keep the gas tank full.

It's actually really not that hard to find Wi-Fi on the road as libraries, coffee shops, rest stops, Wal-marts and pubs offer free internet most of the time. 

 

Coffices (coffee shop offices)

Ben Girardi hashing out some photography work at a coffee shop in Jackson Hole while shooting with Bus Life Adventure.

Most coffee shops these days offer free wi-fi and I love good coffee so if I know I'm only going to be working for a few hours then I'll pop into the nearest local coffee shop (I try support local everywhere I go as opposed to Starbucks and big chains) and grab a house drip and perhaps a brownie before sitting down to work. Some of the pros of a coffee shop are the people watching, good atmosphere and usually if you're an extrovert you'll make friends with a local and learn about good camping spots, hikes, places to eat, etc.


Some comfy seating for some work.

Some of the cons of a coffice is it can be loud so headphones are required to focus, finding a spot with power close enough to plug into can sometimes be tricky and I always feel bad if I'm working longer than a few hours. If I ended up staying longer I try to make another purchase so they don't feel like I'm freeloading of their wi-fi. But, that's just my own moral dilemma.

Libraries


Oakridge, OR public library with high speed fiber internet.

Quiet, the smell of many leather bound books and no guilt of hanging out for hours without making some sort of purchase. I typically choose libraries if I know I've got a big chunk of work to do and will be in front of the laptop for hours. Most libraries also have "study rooms" or "law room" that you can request to use. These rooms allow you to spread out all your stuff, make loud phone calls and leave your stuff in a locked room while you drop the kids off at the pool. Also known as going poo.


Nice quiet workspace in Oakridge Public Library.

Cons in this situation can vary by town and their funding. You could have speeds slightly better than dial-up in most smaller cities. The smell of mothballs from the old timers reading the paper or attempting to "Book face" can be somewhat strong. However I did hit a gold mine in Oakridge, OR were I found 30mbps of fiber down AND up. Bend, OR and Salt Lake City, UT also have extremely fast and reliable internet but Oakridge, OR takes the cake with hardly anyone there, friendly staff and a beautiful interior with skylights. Plus you're in the middle of the Willamette National Forest so when you do step outside the views are stunning.

 

Public Houses


Hanging in the pub and using my Karma Go.

Also known as "pubs". These fine establishments carry delicious microbrews and cask beer along with food. Wi-Fi is usually abundant and I like to locate a local pub when I've got to do some work a little later in the afternoon or evening. Another great option for getting to know the locals and learn the lay of the land.

Cons at pubs is that you might end up drinking more than you do working but is that really a con?

The Boffice (Bus Office)


Breakfast and Wi-Fi in the "boffice".

Sometimes I just need to crank down on some work without distractions of the general public or I'm on the road when I get a call from a client and have to pull over to update web content for them or reboot their mail server. In this case I rely on one very important tool. A hot spot. In the beginning I would use the hot spot on my phone using Verizon's network but would always end up paying for an extra GB to get by or upgrading to a larger plan which was more money.

However, I had heard about this new company called Karma from Adam Sauerwein when I interviewed him for his bus conversion. Upon digging into them it was right when they were making some big changes and people were PISSED. I decided before I committed to anything fully with them I wanted to check it out for myself first so I ordered a Karma Go. After using Karma's service for two months I was actually really impressed. It runs off the Sprint network so the coverage is good although not as good as Verizon's but nowhere near their price. 


Actual speed test just outside of Eugene, OR while on the road.

Speaking of pricing I love their Refuel option. You pay for a certain amount of data and it never expires until you use all of it. This is very different than my Verizon plan where if I don't use all my data that I pay for then I lose it. You can also earn data by sharing your Karma with others when you are in public places. Your hot spot will show as an open network and people who connect are prompted to sign up and get 100mb fee to try and you get 100mb added to your data when they do. Their 100mb doesn't count against your data so no need to worry about sharing with strangers.

 

Disclaimer: Karma gave me the free device and service for a month to try. Check their website for latest pricing and details.

**Update: With Verizon Wireless introducing their unlimited data plans I now simply use my phone as a hotspot and tend to have the best coverage.

The Best Cabinet And Drawer Hardware For Your Bus or Van Conversion

-Written By: Brock Butterfield -

During your bus or van conversion process you should always be thinking about how much vibrating and shifting the contents of you tiny home on wheels will be doing as you hum down the open road. Most of you that are converting a skoolie or van probably have the desire like myself to take the road less traveled which most of the time means it's also less maintained.

I'll be sharing some tips and advice on choosing the right cabinet and drawer hardware to keep them shut during transit regardless of how bumpy the road may get. This information has been gained through trial and error as well as meeting other "full timers" in van or bus conversions that have discovered better hardware.

Drawer and Cabinet Catches

Some of you may already know the term "drawer catch" but I didn't when I began to search for the right hardware. I would Google "drawer stopper" or "hardware to stop drawer from sliding out" with little luck in finding the correct item I was seeking.

A catch essentially is a small piece or hardware that is installed on the cabinet or drawer as well as inside the cabinet or drawer that prevents them from opening until you engage them in some sort of way. Here are the four different types of catches that I have found to be the most effective bus and van conversions.

  1. Push Button Knob Catch

    These in my opinion are the best catch to use on drawers especially if the drawer is going to hold items that are heavy. The knobs come in different colors and shapes and work by keeping the drawer shut until you press the center of the knob which then engages the catch to release. There are better versions that require you to push the button in and then turn the knob. Those versions seem to be a little better built and are most common in boats and high end RVs.

    The first van conversion I saw these installed in was when I met Dani and Roland from Native Eyewear. I had no idea such a thing existed until I did a little tour for a blog write up on their amazing van conversion.

    The push button knob catch can be used for cabinet doors as well if you didn't build your cabinets with a lip on the bottom (which I recommend) but these catches range anywhere from $10 - $27 each so quite a bit more than the other catches I mention below. However, it's one of those "you get what you pay for" situations and there's nothing worse than driving down a bumpy dirt road with a nice breeze in the air, you hit a bump and your serenity is disrupted when your silverware drawer opens and dumps everything out on the floor.

    Here is a link to push button drawer and cabinet catches that I found online.



  2. Double Roller Catch

    These double roller catches are originally what I started out with and have since then began to work on updated all of them except for my cabinet doors. They're fairly cheap and cheesy but do the trick. The only thing I've noticed with them is when installed on drawers they don't seem to like the constant jiggle of the road and don't take too well to the occasional time when you park not quite level and the drawer slams shut.

    However, these catches are great for cabinet doors IF you've built the cabinets with a bottom lip. Otherwise the contents in your cabinet can and will build up enough pressure when shifting to open the door and spill your coffee beans everywhere. One of my good friends who lives in a van without a bottom lip on his cabinet says he's still finding coffee beans from his first excursion in his van when his catch failed and dumped everything out.

    These are easy to install and require no drilling through the front of the cabinet or drawer unlike the push button knob catch. I'm still running this style of catch on my two cabinet doors as I have a bottom lip and they work well enough. The price difference isn't that much from the push button knob catch but every dollar saved adds up to less hours I have to work while on the road so I'll run them until they fail.

    These double roller catches run anywhere from $0.80 to $17 but the cheaper ones are, well, CHEAP. 

    Here is a link to the double roller catches that I found online.

     

  3. Magnetic Catch
    The magnetic catch is has it's pros and cons and is self explanatory on how it works. The thing I like about these catches is that they're easy to install and have less moving parts to fail like the push button knob catch or double roller catch.

    However, find ones that have a strong enough magnet to hold larger cabinet doors shut or a drawer is tricky. Most people that I've seen use these have to resort to installing two magnet catches on each door and I've seen almost no success with keeping a drawer closed.

    If you decide to go this route I'd only recommend them for small cabinet doors with cabinets that have a bottom lip on them.

    These magnetic door and cabinet catches run anywhere from $2 - $11 and again the cheaper ones are going to be less effective. An alternative to buying these would be making your own. I feel like you could make your own with Gorilla Glue, heavy duty magnets and some sheet metal.

    Here is a link to the magnetic door and cabinet catches that I found online.




  4. Child Safety Catch
    These have actually proven to be pretty darn effective in my bus when my double roller catches started to fail on my drawers and I was on the road. I needed something quick and found these child safety catches. They're a little complicated to install in comparison the the above catches I've mentioned but they do work well.

    One annoying thing I've come across is when you're cooking and may only have one free hand it's extremely hard to open the drawer, push down on the safety lever and open the drawer at the same time.

    I would only recommend considering these for drawers as they do allow the drawer or cabinet to open slightly (enough to get two fingers in to press the safety release) so I can foresee an issue with then installed on cabinets as they may allow smaller, skinnier items to sneak through the crack. The last thing you need is your tortillas and taco seasoning escaping before taco night!

    The price range for these is anywhere from $6 - $12 or you can buy them in bulk for a reduced rate.

    Here is a link to the child safety catches that I found online.

 

 

Cabinet Door Struts

I've seen mostly two ways that people build cabinet doors. The first and most common is placing the hinge on the side where the door opens left or right. The second is to install the hinge on the top so that the cabinet door always stays closed. While the second method is a great idea it has it's draw backs with being on a vehicle that is on the road. They still require a catch to keep the door from opening slightly if you're on a bumpy road and force you to hold it up and open or install something to hold it open.

The coolest and what seems most effective way to keep the cabinet door open when hinges are installed on the top are struts. Our friend Ashley showed us how she used these in her Bumble Beast Sprinter van conversion.

These are pretty standard in RVs and aren't too harsh on the wallet. You can find a four pack of cabinet struts for around $25.

Here is a link to the cabinet door struts that I found online.

 

Side Note To Save Some Money

If you tend to find yourself ordering a lot of items for your bus or can conversion on Amazon like I did it might be worth looking into getting a Prime account. I saved a lot on shipping plus it's free two day shipping. I've also been taking advantage of the free music and movies that come as a perk to the Prime Membership. You can try it for free for 30 days so keep that in mind if you want to check it out first.

Here's a link to look into an Amazon Prime Membership if you're interested in the perks.

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