When you live in a regular house or apartment, you don’t have to think about things like where your water and power come from, or where your waste goes after you flush it down the toilet or down the drain. But, with a unique arrangement like a bus conversion or tiny home, these are things that you have to design and plan ahead to accommodate.
Converting and living in a bus conversion isn’t something that you can just jump into. Living in a bus conversion is a decision that requires careful consideration and the following questions can be a great way to distill your thought process and help you to make an informed decision.
1. Why Am I Doing This?
Whether it’s to go off-grid and leave the city life behind, or you want to be more self-sufficient, there are different reasons for wanting to live in a converted bus. After all, it’s still considered a “fringe” or alternative lifestyle option to many, and your friends and loved ones may not be as easily accepting or even excited as you are about it.
That’s why you really need to think about this decision and talk about it with your partner or your family, and whoever is involved in the project with you. Plus, you might need to stay in a campervan rental while building out your bus tiny house, and you’ll need help from family and friends during that process.
But, in order to convince the naysayers, you need to have that conviction within yourself. That’s why it’s important to know your “why” early on in the journey so that you can elucidate it to others who may try to sway you away from it.
Also, having a strong purpose will fuel you during those grueling months of designing, building, and acquiring permits for your bus conversion. It’s a long and arduous process; one that should not be undertaken without a clear purpose.
2. What Are My Priorities?
When planning your bus conversion, you have to consider your needs and how different design options might affect your lifestyle. Be realistic about your living situation, how many people and/or pets are going to live in the home, and how much space you’re going to need to store your stuff.
For instance, you might want to raise the roof of the bus to create a feeling of spaciousness so it feels less like a bus and more like home. The last thing you want is to hit your head while sitting up from your loft bed in the morning.
The basic rule of thumb is to never compromise on the things that you have to do every day. If you enjoy cooking, make sure you design a kitchen that’s large enough to allow you to cook any meal that you’d be able to make in a normal house.
3. What Are My Heating and Cooling Needs?
I’ve seen bus conversions that go through a whole shed full of firewood in one winter season due to the weather conditions and insufficient insulation. That’s why it’s important to be realistic about the climate conditions of the place you plan to live and how you can cater to those climatic conditions in order to live comfortably in your bus.
Figure out how much firewood you’ll need for your wood stove if that’s what you’re using to heat your bus and maybe even to cook on. Keep in mind that the type of wood stove that’s used in bus conversions is often too small to accommodate fire logs, so you have to get your firewood and cut it to length. It might be a good idea to find a parking spot that’s close to or better yet in a forest so that it’s easy to access wood when you need it.
Of course, there are other heating and cooling methods available for a bus conversion such as a propane heater when it’s cold, and there’s even a way to heat your floor, using a hydronic floor heating system!
The issue with a propane heater specifically, is that if your bus measures about 40 feet long, you may find that the heat doesn’t travel down the hallway well, so the front of the bus might be warm and the back of the bus cool. This means you might need a fan to move air up and down the hallway.
In warmer climates, bus interiors can overheat easily. During those hot summer months, venting the hot air out of your bus will definitely help. A cheap box fan can fit perfectly into an opened emergency hatch. Just make sure it’s set to pull air from inside and push it out. Or, you can install a traditional rooftop air conditioner that’s powered by a generator.
The latter can be very helpful at keeping you cool if you plan on sleeping in a loft. If you don’t have an air conditioner, you’ll want to have at least two windows in your loft to allow for cross-ventilation. The cooling and heating options are endless!
4. What Type of Toilet System Do I Want?
You’re certainly spoiled for choices when it comes to the different toilet options at your disposal. Building your composting toilet is probably the most cost-effective and easy-to-manage option because it eliminates the need for water, piping, septic tanks, or massive amounts of maintenance.
There are different types of composting toilets, such as the ready-made composting toilet which is separated into two sections based on the type of waste disposed. But it is quite high in maintenance because, with most models, you’re required to empty the pee section at least once every one or two days, and they cost more, and sometimes the pee bottle may run over creating a mess for someone to clean up.
If that sounds like too high of maintenance, you could always opt for the DIY composting toilet, which is also referred to as the bucket system. Basically, you’d go to the bathroom in a 5-gallon bucket, and then cover up your “business” with some sawdust.
Other mediums that you could use to cover up the waste include leaves, pine needles, or pine shavings. The most important thing is to use something dry, because anything a bit moist you’ll end up using more of.
Overall, the composting toilet allows you to be off-grid completely, so it’s a great option for someone who wants self-sufficiency. But, while you might be able to get away with composting your waste in the country or on a big piece of land, the same can’t be said of a town or a city. You might need to have a hook-up that allows you to connect to a septic tank or a sewer system.
5. Where Will I Get Water?
We left the best for last here because water is gold in a bus, and it’s something that you’ll be hyper-aware of as you transition to bus living. You’ll come to realize just how much water you utilize for activities like washing dishes or taking showers. The gallons of water required will be based on the number of people living in your bus.
But, what’s the best way to ensure water security? Consider how you’re going to get clean water into your home and greywater out.
If your bus is parked on a remote piece of land, you might not have access to a well or a municipal water source. In that case, you might have to collect rainwater or find some way of bringing water to your bus and storing it for later use.
The freshwater tank is the most popular water system for bus conversions. It may require you to drill a hole on the side of the bus where you’ll be able to hook-up a hose that connects to the inside where the tank is located.
It is by far one of the easiest and most sustainable ways to get water into your bus because it even comes with a drain that you can use to empty the water if you plan on leaving the bus for a period of time or in the winter when the water tends to freeze up.
Anyone who’s converted a bus into a tiny house will tell you that whatever you think you’re going to spend; you’ll probably end up spending more. It’ll take longer than you expected. Also, depending on where you live, it might even be difficult to register and/or insure your bus once it is finished.
These and other challenges can make it feel as if you’re not making any progress, and it’s going to take a while to see everything come together. It can feel downright overwhelming sometimes. But that’s okay. You’ll get past it.
You might have to stop halfway just to hold on to your sanity, which will push the timeline even further away from what you initially planned, so it’s probably a good idea to mentally prepare for this possibility and know that you’re not the first or last person to go through this. Take advice, listen to people but do what works for you.
Most importantly, enjoy the process because you’ll learn a lot about yourself, including your strengths and weaknesses. So stay patient and keep a positive mindset during the messy moments in the middle of the process, and don’t lose faith! It will all be worth it in the end.