This bus is SO hott, it needs TWO(2) AC Units
to cool it off!
We’ve gotten quite a few questions about our A/C setup in the bus. So, now that summer is coming to an end, we decided to write a little article about how we kept ourselves cool in the bus for the past 3 years.
"The bus came with a front and rear AC installed. Neither of them worked when I bought the bus."
1990 International Amward 3800 with DT466 engine linked to an Allison transmission.
"Purchased in March of 2015, this Big Blue Church bus has been a dream come true."
Don't get me wrong. I fully understood when I bought the bus, that even with the most beautiful interior and exterior renovations, it will continue being a 1990 International bus. At the end of the day, it's a metal/aluminum tube with old cranky, leaky windows. I knew the entire process would challenge me.
I was then, as I am now, prepared for anything. To be cold and hot, to take cold showers not take showers at all, to eat cold meals, to need more blankets, or to sleep with a fan running, limbs spread far apart, sweating into my pillow top mattress.
Bus Life, to me, has always been about simplicity and living with less.
I have learned to be grateful for what I do have.
In comparison to the Skoolie Love bus, our great friends living the BlueBusAdventure don't have a bathroom, minimal insulation, storage, less space, etc and they are doing absolutely wonderful living in their bus. It’s about balancing your needs and your wants, keeping everything in perspective.
They absolutely love their life, and you can tell in the way they look you in the eyes, speak with you, and give you the most heart warming smiles and hugs. A little is a lottle!
"I had been online friends with Nick and Jessica for a long time, until I met them at Descend On Bend in 2017"
What do you NEED and what do you WANT?! You can get by with much less, and have so much more time and space for other things in your life.
Installing the A/C Unit(s)
Parked on my parents property, the Big Blue Bus was converted in Las Vegas, Nevada during the summer of 2015. It was a ridiculously dumb idea to build it during these months - May to August 15 - as we had nuclear temperatures in the bus.
"16% Humidity, with a current temp of 122, and a high of 131."
When I initially day-dreamed about the road trip in my new Skoolie, I was not that concerned with how the interior would come together. I was prepared to slap some wood in, lay down a mattress and poop in a bucket. There would be a foot-pump hand wash station. The conversion would be done super quick and I could hit the road with most of my savings intact. Now I have full electric, plumbing including a 6 gallon water heater, lamps and LED ropes. And much less in the way of savings.
My dad was adamant about adding an Air Conditioning unit right from the start.
“No way old man, you don't know what you are talking about."
"I do know what I'm talking about. You're going to love having it."
"I don't have to listen to an older, wiser person that happens to be my dad. I'm a mountaineer and camper."
"Sure you are."
"I DON'T NEED IT!”
"A brisk walk uphill - 14,411 feet on top of Mount Rainier in Washington."
My parents were not having that. They were not going to support that kind of lifestyle. If it was going to be a bus home, it was going to be a proper and beautiful bus home. Something I am proud to show off, and happy to come home to. They would not work on a literal dump bus for me to live in, as much as I wanted it to be "minimal."
So it has become what it has become - The most beautiful home I have EVER lived in.
Once we really got working on the bus interior, as it got into late May and the temps in the bus were constantly above 100 degrees, it made complete sense to install an AC. It was clear to see that installing one would help make the build more tolerable. I am glad that my parents talked me into it. It has been a COMPLETE LIFESAVER from day one.
Once we decided to go ahead with installing an AC, we wondered how we would go about it. We did not want a window unit in an actual window, for safety reasons. I also did not want an AC on wheels, because those have huge vent hoses, and I did not want to worry about storing something that tall when not in use.
There was really no other simple place where we could install a permanent window AC unit. So my dad and I decided to cut a hole in the back of the bus. We went to Home Depot and measured their AC units, and got the biggest one we could fit into the available space at the top end of the bus.
My dad cut the hole with an angle grinder, and then we wedged the AC in, after cutting off the feet and small nubs of the unit, and sanding down the sharp edges of the brand new hole in the bus. The AC unit fit like a charm! We attached small pieces of wood around the unit, encased the inside of the wall with Styrofoam insulation, siliconed all sides of the unit, secured it, and installed wood trim around all of it. It has been doing a necessarily fantastic job!
"Dad, you were right."
"I'm glad you're enjoying your new home."
Be ‘COOL,’ listen to your parents
Adding a Second Unit
For the past 3 years, the unit in the back has been working out great. Once I close the curtain and put the AC on 65, it blasts out cold air and spreads out into the bedroom. While the bedroom has a chance to cool off, it became apparent quickly that the unit does not, and never really has, covered as much square footage as advertised.
Anywhere I've parked, as the outside temperature, and ambient temperature of the bus became warmer and warmer, and the windows were taking on the sun's rays, the AC unit couldn't produce and push cold air past the 20 or so square feet that is the back bedroom. The conditioned air barely reached the hallway of the bus.
During the first part of my road trip, I spent the winter in Florida, and then made my way back to Vegas during that following summer, a year into Bus Life.
I went back in Summer because...well...that's how Life wanted it. So I came back to Vegas at the end of April, heading into Eternal Hellfire that is a desert summer. I knew what I was in for.
It was not fun being stuck in the bedroom of the bus in order to stay cool. I did not want to be in bed all the time while reading or working on the laptop. Since the AC unit did not work past the bedroom, most definitely not the 300+ Square feet it advertised, the front of the bus became roasty toasty, unbearable to spend time in.
I still wanted to be “Home” while parked on my parent's property, so I stayed in the bus as long as I could, before heading in to the house to live in my parent's guest room. To escape the heat.
My dad and I brainstormed what we could do, from trying out a swamp cooler, to adding a rooftop AC, or installing another window unit.
But where and how would we put it?!
This is what we came up with! We were able to install a bigger BTU unit into the emergency window. We found a unit at Home Depot that fit right into the window when it was opened.
My dad got to work right away on building a sturdy and safe mount. He used scrap pieces of wood to build a base that supported itself against the outside of the bus, as well as an extra piece of wood on the interior side that sits against the metal frame of the window.
Then he put together a metal wire support system, attached to holes on the underside of the roof/window rivets. The black wooden support base is simply laid on top of the window frame, nothing is physically attaching it. The weight of the AC unit, and the cable supports, is all that's needed.
** This is ONLY for when I am permanently parked. **
This is not safe when driving. I only use it once it gets hot, when I am permanently parked somewhere. Otherwise it is too much of a hassle to set up if its only for a night or two. I store it in its original box inside the bus when not in use.
More Appliances means More Power needs
It’s plenty nice to have 2 A/C units, but not as much fun when you can’t run either of them.
With my limited 200 watt solar setup (Amazon Link), with 4x 6 Volt batteries with I believe 215 Amp Hours, I am unable to run either unit while I am on the road. They simply draw too much power for the battery bank and Inverter to keep up. Both units only work when the bus is plugged in to Shore Power.
You would need a minimum of 400 watts, full sun and high quality batteries to be able to run either of these units. Both come with an Energy Saving mode, as well as only a Fan mode. The fan mode, only to move some air, DOES work when on the road. If you have a generator, then you might be able to run both units.
The permanently installed unit in the bedroom is functional all the time, where as the unit in the window is only temporarily in the window if I am parking long term.
The Square Foot coverage that the AC advertises is not true to Bus Life. The back unit said it was good for 300+ sq ft, and it barely cools the bedroom down. The front unit, when on full blast, cools off the front area of the bus very nicely.
However, in the 100+ degree heat this summer in northern California,we needed both AC units running the entire day, as the direct sunlight was heating the bus us to 95+ degree temperatures easy.
Without them, it would be extremely difficult to get through such hot temperatures. You can open the windows as much as you want, if there is no breeze, it's simply hot. NO matter where you are and what you live in, when it's over 100 degrees, it's just going to be hot. The AC units do make it extremely bearable to live in the bus.
Our neighbors were living in an older RV, and their roof top AC units were not able to keep up. Even at full blast, it would be in the upper 80's and climbing into the 90's in their RV.
Thanks to my parents, especially my dad, for making sure that my bus became a proper Home, a place that I can feel comfortable in, no matter where in the world I am.
If you are going to be traveling and living in your bus, I highly recommend adding an A/C into your home. No matter where you are going to be parked, you'll be happy you have an AC during the warmer months.
Companies also make AC / Heater unit combos. Those would be perfect to keep you cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, without a need to find storage for the unit during either season. For our specific build, the hole in the back, as well as the available space in the windows, we found these units were too big, too heavy, and too expensive to consider.
Another positive that my wife and I found, running the A/C or only as fan-mode, it helped our tinnitus and made it easier to fall asleep. The white-noise was able to distract our hearing enough to get better sleep.
And let me tell you, we get amazing sleep on the bus. The bus has one of the most comfortable mattresses I have ever owned. When the temperature is right on the bus, it is the most perfect place to be. Making the decision to install the AC units is one I would make over and over again in future builds.
You can always just leave where you are, and head to cooler climates.
If you don't like it around here, leave. GET OUT!
That's the beauty of living in a mobile Skoolie Home, isn't it? – Don't like it here? Drive somewhere else!