Update #003 - To build a home...

Back in July 2016, I posted the last update about my bus/country-cottage-on-wheels conversion project. I think it’s about I time I fill you in on what’s been going on since then. Because there’s an awful lot to tell. 

I’m not quite finished, but for the first time, the finish line is in sight. Well, sort of anyway. This thing has become something of an odyssey, and to be honest I don’t think it will ever truly be finished. I’ll always be changing things, improving it, adapting it to better suit my needs at any given moment, but that’s fine by me. So when I say the finish line, what I mean is the moment when my original dream and vision for my new home has been realised and I can hang up my tools again ready and waiting for the next project. Really, when I can finally call this crazy place home, rather than a building site. I’m rather excited.

Before I delve into all the details though, I think it’s worth remembering how this all started. It seems like an eternity ago now, but in fact just over a year has gone by since I had a bit too much to drink one evening, ended up on eBay, and discovered to my delight the following morning that I’d gone and bought myself a bus. What a year it’s been. When I started work on the bus in mid-April, I was clueless. I had almost no practical DIY skills (such as how to use an angle grinder, or a chisel, or a circular saw). I had no money and was now homeless (having sold my previous abode - an old caravan - to pay for the bus). And to be frank, I had no real idea whether I’d be able to pull this thing off. All I knew was that it was a worth a shot. 

Words cannot describe how glad I am that I took that risk and took this project on. Because right now, as Storm Doris batters the country outside, I’m lying on my king-size bed, admiring my almost-finished creation, with the wood stove pumping out heat in the corner. I’m safe and sound, warm and toasty, and……well, just very comfortable indeed. This sure is an improvement on the tiny caravan I called home before.

The last time you heard from me, the place looked like this: 

Well, this is how it’s looking now…. 

This post should have really been written back in the autumn. Most of the work described below happened in July, August and September. My original deadline for the completion of this project was Yestival (October 22nd), to which I was hoping to bring the completed bus. However, things took a lot longer than anticipated and in the middle of September, I had to go back to work full-time putting the project on hold over the winter. It’s only really in the last few weeks that I’ve managed to make some further progress. 

Soon after posting my last post, I organised a bus-warming party for September 10th. I’d be going back to work on the following Monday, so this was the latest date I had to “move in” and a party was definitely needed. The only trouble was, there was a tonne of work to be done to get ready enough to host a party and sleepover, and only 8 weeks in which to do it. I was also running out of money at this point, so my weekends were all booked up out on the festival circuit trying to bring in some much-needed cash. Not much time then.

Things didn’t get off to a good start. The keener eyed among you may have noticed in the main photo from my last post (and the first photo above) that the window to the right of the picture is a little frosty. I didn’t mention it at the time because I was still so annoyed with myself for letting it happen, but I’d manage to smash it while doing some midnight maintenance. Late one night, I noticed a tiny water leak coming from one of the air vents at the back of the bus and decided to do something about it. Unfortunately, I was a little sleep deprived and didn’t think twice about reaching for the nearest tool to try and lever the vent off so I could get a better look underneath. Frustratingly, that tool was a metal file. I should have known better and found something more suitable, but I couldn’t be bothered. Big mistake. As soon as I put some pressure on it, the file snapped in two and one half shot across the room (narrowly missing my eye) and hit the window. Thankfully, it was safety glass so didn’t shatter but nevertheless it would still need replacing, and I was not a happy chap. Luckily, I’d been planning on blocking off that particular window anyway. I’d just have to spend a lot more money and time doing it now that I’d been so careless. Rather than get a replacement window at a cost of over £500, I instead engineered (with the help of the indomitable Chris Barnes) an alternative solution: an aluminium box section frame covered with aluminium sheeting, spray painted black. Once that was in, I just filled gaps in the frame with Celotex insulation and covered the internal wall with plywood and a vapour barrier, as I had planned to do anyway. The other windows were a little easier to cover up. I had bought some blackout window film and Chris and I spent an afternoon trying to get to grips with it, using washing up liquid and a window cleaning squeegee to paste the thing onto the window without there being any creases. Being a novice, I'd made the mistake earlier in the demolition process of not covering the windows while I was angle-grinding so we discovered that tiny specs of metal had embedded themselves into the glass of my windows. This made it almost impossible to get the film on crinkle free but we did a pretty good job eventually. 

With the obsolete windows blocked off, I set about putting in place the rest of the plywood panelling to cover the wall sections I’d already framed and insulated. While doing this, I realised I hadn’t yet decided where to put my plug sockets or made any effort to wire them in yet. That’s the trouble with a project like this: so many tasks rely upon you making decisions about other parts of the project that you haven’t even thought about yet, before you can proceed with the job in hand. In one swift move, I went from wall panelling to electrical installation. From the outset, I’ve been set on having a fully kitted out housebus, with full electrics, plumbing, and gas. This thing’s not going to be a toy. It’s going to be a country cottage that just happens to be sitting on a set of wheels. With the sockets then, I wanted a pretty versatile setup, able to handle any number of appliances in every part of the bus, without having to run extension leads everywhere. Nonetheless, I didn’t want the place to look like a corporate office either. I just want to be able to welcome onboard a touring rock band should I ever fancy it, and there be enough sockets for everyone to plug their amps into. This desire, however, made quite hard work of installing the sockets - there are six switchless single sockets in the living room, six more double sockets on the stage, one double in the bedroom, a few in the kitchen, one in the utility cupboard and two on the outside underneath the bus. Overkill, perhaps? We’ll see. To install each one, I had to add some extra timber supports in the wall, drill holes for the cabling to run through, cut a hole in the insulation, another hole in the front panel, fit the socket backer box, feed the wires through, and repeat. Sixteen times. For those interested, I used 1.5mm 3-core arctic flex for my cabling, and ran a ring main down either side of the bus and used radial circuits for the others. As a heads-up to anyone doing a similar project, I made the mistake of testing the cables fitted through the holes I had drilled in the timber frame before securing the front panel, then waiting a week or two before wiring them up only to find the timber had shrunk and the cables no longed fitted. Live and learn. 

Now might be a good time to brew yourself a cup (maybe even a pot) of tea, because this post is LONG. 

With a good chunk of the panelling done, and sockets in place, I decided to take on a big, exciting task that would take the project to a whole new level. Something like building the bathroom and kitchen. The first job in the bathroom/kitchen area was to remove the internal windows connecting the living quarters to the porch, and block up the holes with insulation and 12mm ply (recycled from the YesBus). Once this was done, the living quarters were now self contained and insulated on the floor and all four walls (minus a front door). 

Next came the stud wall separating the bathroom from the hallway and living room. Originally I had planned the bathroom and kitchen to be on opposite sides to how they are now but after reworking the layout hundreds of times, I realised that the space available for a full size shower with the bathroom in its original place was too small. It would look weird with the shower cubicle jutting out into the living room, so instead I switched the bathroom and kitchen around. This has worked out wonderfully and the bathroom is now one of my proudest bits of the bus. We built the stud wall pretty quickly, leaving enough room for a full size 800x800 shower and a large toilet area too. While doing this, I realised that the new plywood end wall would be the ideal place from which to hang my hot water boiler, and decided that this whole space between the end wall and the toilet area (above the wheel arch) should become my utility cupboard. Having the majority of the utilities located in one convenient place would make everything much easier. However, it also meant that I couldn’t do much more work on the bathroom until the utilities were installed. This began in earnest in early August. 

First up was the gas. I’d decided early on that while I wanted to do the bulk of the work on this project myself, the gas installation I would leave to the pros. Fortunately, my step-dad is plumbing and heating engineer so I could get a safe and well-designed LPG system installed without having to fork out hundreds of pounds to hire somebody in. This was a godsend and I’m eternally grateful for his help. I spent days designing a suitable system that would provide instant hot water for my shower and kitchen tap, and power my oven and hobs too. It took a day to get the copper piping in and install a changeover valve for the gas bottles in the rear locker of the bus. It then took another couple of days to install the water heater, and connect up the oven.

Next came the plumbing. Again, having my step-dad as an experienced plumber helped, but really I did most of the plumbing myself. I designed a system that in theory would do all the things I wanted, ran it past him to improve it a bit, and then set about ordering the components and fitting it all together. Using plastic push fit components meant I didn’t have to do any soldering or pipe bending, but instead could just put all the pieces into place and add new sections as when I needed them without too much effort. It’s not too far off putting together some Ikea flatpack furniture. My plumbing system allows me to live both on and off grid. Most of the time, my bus is parked on a piece of land that I rent where I have access to mains water, electricity, and sewage. But it’s a bus, and buses are designed to go places, and so that means it also needs to be fully and comfortably liveable while I’m parked in a lay-by somewhere in the depths of the Scottish Highlands, far from anywhere, without access to a tap. On the side of the bus, I’ve installed a mains water connection point to which you can connect a standard garden hose. Inside the bus, 15mm pipes then run down both sides of the living quarters to the front bathroom and kitchen area and also to the back, underneath my bed, where my 450-litre potable water tank will live. The idea is that when I’m connected to the mains, my kitchen sink and shower are fed from that but the moment it is disconnected, the water pump automatically switches on and water is then supplied from the tank. To refill the tank, I’ll just switch a valve which lets the mains water back flow into the tank. I think it’s going to be pretty neat, though I haven’t got around to installing the tank yet. 

The 240V electrical setup is similar. I have 16A and 32A mains plugs (switchable) on the underside of the bus, just inside one of the side hatches. This connects to a small consumer unit, which in turn connects to a large consumer unit (via a SPDT relay) and a 13A socket. A 12V battery charger is plugged into the socket and this keeps the battery bank topped up when I’m plugged into the mains. On the main consumer unit, there are a couple of RCDs and currently five socket circuits on MCBs. Also plugged into the relay is my 3000W inverter, which allows the consumer unit (and therefore all the sockets) to be powered off of the 12v batteries when the mains electricity is disconnected. The best bit? I don’t have to give it any thought whatsoever, as the relay automatically switches to the inverter when the mains connection is unplugged, and vice versa. 

If you’re wondering where the biggest costs are on a project like this, herein lies your answer. My electrical, gas and plumbing setup cost me over £3000 in total. To some of you that might not seem like a lot, but considering my entire original budget for the project was £5k, this came as quite a shock. It’s paying off in bucket loads though and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Because the result is that this converted bus really doesn’t feel like a converted bus. It has all the mod cons you’d expect from a 21st century home.

Before I started this project, I’d been spending half my year in an old caravan and the other half on the back of a pushbike, living out of a couple of panniers. I loved the simple life this forced me to embrace, but to wash or do the dishes, I’d have to boil the kettle on a gas hob or camping stove every single time and it became a bit of a bore. So you can imagine my delight when for the first time in over two and a half years, I turned on my kitchen tap to get endless instant scorching hot water. And it’s as good as free (£28 of propane has lasted me three months - running a full cooker, shower and kitchen tap). It still makes me smile every time I turn on the tap. Who would have thought that such a simple thing could provide so much joy?! I must be careful not to take it for granted now.

By the end of August, most of the aforementioned plumbing and electrical work had been completed and I was counting down the days until my bus-warming party. The trouble was, there was still a mountain of work to do before I could move in. I didn’t even have a bed yet! But there’s nothing like a good deadline to motivate yourself, so in the two weeks leading up to the party, I ticked off a serious chunk of my very long to-do list. I laid my bamboo floorboards, built my bed, fitted my oak floorboards on the stage, built my kitchen cabinets, and many other things. 

One of the first things I bought after I acquired the bus itself was a dozen packs of engineered bamboo floor boards. I got them on the cheap as they were part of a clearance sale at a flooring supplier. Little did I know at the time that I would have to spend two months replacing the entire subfloor of the bus before I could even think about laying them, but it was worth the wait and instantly made the bus look homely. It was a faff cutting out the hatches and I rushed it all a little but it did the job at the time. 

With the kitchen, I just focused on putting together the main bits (the base frame, cabinets and worktop) before the party. Mind you, just doing that wasn’t easy. It meant making a lot of concrete decisions about where I’d want my sink in relation to my oven, how big my cupboards would be and where they would be located, and silly things like how much space I’d want either side of my fridge. It turns out there’s a whole science behind kitchen dimensions and there were various things I hadn’t initially taken into account (like having a toekick) that made all the difference in the end. Rather than buying an off the shelf flat pack kitchen as others have done, I decided to custom build mine. Months before, I had purchased some key components, such as a gorgeous Scandinavian solid walnut worktop (a steal at just £56), a beautiful big Belfast sink (£62), a cooker and a very classy under-counter fridge/freezer, and so the wooden base unit had to be fitted around these. There was also the challenge of building it over one of the wheel arches while providing enough support for the heavy worktop and sink. Of course, there were also all the other things I had to take into account, such as ensuring there was a suitable route for the sink waste pipe to take to where the waste water tank will be going, and making sure there would be room behind the sink to install and maintain the tap connections. I put a socket underneath the worktop for the fridge and cooker on a separate circuit so that if the rest of the sockets trip, the fridge will remain on and the freezer won’t defrost. I’ve ended up with a kitchen that is just the right size to allow me to store everything I need to store, and cook anything I’d want to cook. It’s pretty damn sexy too. I just need to build some overhead cabinets, and fit some shelves and cupboard doors.

Building the bed was also a major milestone for me. Since the build began, I’d been sleeping in pretty much a new place each night. Once the seats had been ripped out, I had set up camp on the rear bench, but this quickly became uncomfortable. I then borrowed a single mattress and slept on that for quite a while, but once I had ripped the floor up there was no longer anywhere to put it. So I moved into the rear locker. This was comfortable and less draughty than the floorless bus but I kept on locking myself in by mistake and had to be rescued a number of times. Eventually, I moved back inside but had to move the mattress every day as I made further progress with the floor replacement project. Long story short, I was camping on a building site and it wasn't much fun. With a bed built in, I would have a consistent place to sleep each night. Not one for doing anything by halves, I built myself the biggest bed I could: a kingsize. Although I’m currently single, I’m hoping that at some stage a girlfriend will move in, so I thought it best to keep my options open! Plus, who wants to sleep in a single bed? I’m not a kid anymore! I built the bed out of 2x2 and 3x2 softwood timber, bolted to the floor and rear wall but with ample space underneath for several large drawers and most importantly, my water tank. I’m planning to erect a wall at the end of my bed soonish to separate the bedroom from the rest of the bus, and give me some space for bookshelves.

As I explained in my last post, the stage was designed to allow me to place my piano and desk over the rear wheel arches. Rather than have a walkway between them, it made sense to use this space for storage (guitar storage to be exact) and install floorboards on top with a hatch allowing me access underneath. The floorboards I ended up using are beautiful old oak boards that a friend of mine found, covered in sheep poo in the corner of an abandoned barn. He had had his eye on them for a while and knew they could be put to better use so we salvaged them, cleaned them up (that was fun) and had the edges planed so they’d fit neatly beside each other on the stage. Between us, my buddy Andy and I spent a good day or two sanding them down so they provide a smooth surface on which to walk upon. And boy do they look the part.

The last big task I took on before the party was the ceiling. I cut out three holes in the aluminium roof and mounted ultra-quiet PC fans underneath the holes, which I have wired into the 12v electrical system, and then riveted chrome mushroom vents on the top to keep the rain out. I then insulated the whole ceiling with 25mm Celotex insulation and taped up the gaps with aluminium tape.

And then, with a few hours to spare, I moved in. In came my piano, in came my almost-new king size mattress (which cost me just £5.50 - you gotta love eBay!), in came the cushions I’d had custom made for my still-to-be-built living room seats. I had also bought some M8 eye bolts to screw into the threads in the roof joists that the luggage racks were originally attached to, so that my friends could securely swing hammocks across the bus. The bus-warming party was a resounding success, and the stage was put to good use as we had an impromptu (very drunken) piano concert featuring yours truly. From what I can remember, there were about six of us actually sleeping on/in the bus that night but there was plenty of room for more and I'm looking forward to playing the "how many people can you fit in a...." game next time I host a get-together here. There was still a lot to do of course, but it had come a long way. Before the party started, I printed out a set of photos of the build so far and it came as a shock even to me just how far we’d come in less than six months. I was very proud, and very happy. 

After I’d recovered from that, I set about making my bus a little more homely and finishing some of the things I hadn’t managed to get done in time, such as cutting out the worktop around the sink and plumbing in the tap. There wasn't much to show for my work during the following month except for two things: the lighting/ceiling, and the shower room.

The shower makes me smile every morning. Not only because it's wonderfully hot and high pressured, but because I went against all advice on this one and it turned out being one of the coolest bits of the bus. While scavenging in skips in the Cotswolds (where people seem to throw out ridiculously expensive things without a care in the world), I came across an old stainless steel kitchen sink. I'd always planned on having a Belfast sink in my kitchen so there was no real need for me to salvage this particular item but I quite liked it and thought I could probably sell it if I couldn't find a use for it myself. Thankfully I found a use for it in a quite an unlikely way. Rather than do what I was originally intending to do with my bathroom, which was to install a reinforced ceramic shower tray, and put up off-the-shelf splash panels, I decided to turn it into a tiled wetroom instead with my scavenged kitchen sink forming part of the shower tray. With its pre-existing drain and overflow, it was ideal and by a complete stroke of luck, it fitted perfectly into the hole between the wheel arch and one of the flooring joists where I'd planned to put the shower cubicle. This solved another problem I'd been battling with: lack of headroom in the shower (because of the curved ceiling). Now, with the sink set down into the floor of the bus, I could step down into it and be given an extra 20cm of headroom, allowing me to wash properly. I haven't got around to cladding it yet (can't decide between tiles or cedar shiplap) but the shower has been functioning for months now and the whole room is tanked with wet-room solution so that I can splash about as much as I like! You have to see it to believe it, but it really is pretty great. 

Like everything in my new home, I wanted the lighting system to be as flexible and multipurpose as possible, whilst also being energy efficient and cheap to run, so I decided upon 12V LED lights in "warm-white". Although the bus is really an open plan space, I wanted the feeling of different areas so there are separate lighting circuits for the hallway, the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, the stage, and the bedroom, plus a couple of outside lights and a porch light. Wiring these up properly took a few attempts. Because I had already insulated the ceiling, the lighting circuits had to sit on top of the insulation board which meant it was much easier to accidentally screw into the wires when putting up the ceiling panels (which I did a couple of times - short-circuiting them!). So I ended up removing all the insulation, installing the wiring again and then resealing the insulation. Twice. After the lighting circuits were in and I was happy with them, I could attach the plywood panels on top and put in place the actual light fittings. This was a bitch to do on my own, but doing things on your own forces you to invent ingenious ways of doing things. Over the course of a few days, I used a number of different bits of furniture (plus various parts of my body) to hold the ceiling panels up while I simultaneously piloted holes and screwed them up. 

I then set about the task of just living and trying not to do anything else on the bus. This was harder than I had imagined but also very rewarding. I'd recommend to anybody building their own home to take some time out at some point during the build to just live in it, no matter how unfinished it is. Because you learn things. You learn things such as where to store your food in the most convenient place for cooking and where you naturally reach to find your pots and pans. You learn that it's super annoying having to walk to the front of the bus to the light switch panel to turn off the bedroom light last thing at night and then walk back up the length of the bus in the dark. You learn all manner of other things, and these insights allow you to change things before it's too late, and I'm very glad I did this (even if it was never planned).

I then moved out for 10 weeks to go and work distributing Christmas trees in London, as I do every winter. This was an equally interesting exercise as it allowed me to experience life in a normal(ish) house again and reevaluate my decision to live in a bus. It also gave me time to think about my progress so far, and reenergise me for the next big push. My reevaluation came to the same conclusion though - living in a bus was the only way forward for me, as spending £150 a week on rent instead of £80 a month was just plain ridiculous. 

Back from Christmas, I set to work again. Now I had a new deadline: April 1st. On April 1st, I’m leaving on a 3-4 month bicycle expedition across the Middle East and Central Asia (you can follow me on that trip at nickfromengland.com). 

This deadline I might actually make. I had a few weeks off in February to recuperate from the Christmas madness, and made some good progress. I also had a new workshop. With my post-Christmas bonus, I treated myself to my very own 20ft shipping container which I've put on the land I'm renting. It doesn't sound like much but has made work on the bus so much easier as I don't have to turn my home into a building site every time I want to do something. This new setup will really come into its own when I get started my next major project (which I'm super excited about, but best finish this one first). 

To get me back in the swing of the things, I built an additional front step in the bus's porch, to hide the hot water piping from my boiler to the kitchen tap and some wires, and also to provide some cold dry storage for my root vegetables! I then ripped up the nice bamboo floorboards I'd put down before the party, and relaid them doing a proper job this time rather than rushing to get it done. This meant installing a vapour layer (which I'd forgotten to do first time around) and installing some higher quality underlay. I still haven't finished off the engine access hatches though, but we're getting there. I also ripped the ceiling down and started again with that as again I'd rushed it. During my living-but-not-working-on-the-bus period, condensation kept on building up on the aluminium ceiling joists overnight and then dripping back down during the day. Cold bridging is a problem I knew about from the beginning but to see it happening in reality was sobering to say the least. My solution was to cover the entire ceiling in a sheet of foam flooring underlay which had a vapour barrier built into it. I did some tests beforehand and it seems to do the trick. This added extra of insulation also helps keep the warmth in. 

Talking of warmth, now my wood burner is in, there is tonnes of it. And all that hard work insulating the place is paying off. Way back in August, I spent £400 on a beautiful little Franco Belge Belfort stove enamelled in green, and then before Christmas another few hundred pounds on the twin wall flue system. My brother then came up for a day to help me install it and the difference it makes to the place is incredible. This was the last major functional component of the home build to tick off my list. Now I have warmth whenever I need/want it, hot water, cold water, lights, 240v electricity, 12v electricity, a fully working cooker and hob, and everything just works. It's more than superb. 

The only things really left to do are make it aesthetically pleasing. That means cladding it in spruce matchboard and pallet wood, finish off a few little things such as the floor hatches, the window surrounds, some cupboard doors for my kitchen, and hang my front door. Oh, and build some seating for the living room. 

If you've made it this far, thanks for hanging in there and I'd appreciate your comments below. I'll write a final post when I reach the finish line, but for now I've got to crack on. Let the cladding begin....

As a final note, I'm toying with the idea of letting somebody live here/look after the place for three to four months while I'm away travelling. Get in touch if you fancy it and maybe we can come to some kind of an arrangement. :)

Update #002 - Rome wasn't built in a day...

This update is WAY overdue. It's safe to say things have been fairly busy in the world of bus converting. But it's also been going incredibly slowly and the schedule has long been abandoned. 

Yesterday, I sat down and ordered the mains electrical supplies I need and today decided that it's definitely time to fill you guys in on what I've done so far. On paper, it doesn't look like I've done much. I've replaced my floor, built some walls and 'The Stage' and insulated the whole thing. This is how it’s looking right now…

Back in April, when I made the decision to rip up the existing floor, I did so with a serious sense of trepidation. I'd read various blogs and forums about bus converting in the previous couple of months and nobody, and I mean nobody, had gone to the extent of ripping up the floor of their bus. It was in most cases an unnecessary hassle. For me however, it was crucial. This bus is going to be my full-time home and at the very least I want to be able to stand up in it. When it first arrived, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of headroom. It has enough - a couple of inches above my 6'2" height - to walk comfortably throughout, but if I was going to insulate it (and this was essential to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer) then I'd have to lose that headroom and spend the next few years craning my neck, which wouldn't be much fun at all. The solution? Remove the floor, insulate beneath it and then re-lay it. Easy enough, right?!

As I explained in my last update, getting the old floor up was a royal pain in the butt. But it was nothing compared to putting the new one down. It took six long tough weeks to get it to where it is now, and it’s still not quite finished. I still need to lay the new floorboards. Admittedly, I haven't been working on it every single day, but even so - I never thought it would take this long. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to make it work, but that's a silly reason for not trying something. 

The first step was to inspect the chassis and engine and see what the rust situation was. It wasn't bad. By a total stroke of luck, most of my bus is built with aluminium (meaning it won't rust). There were a few minor spots of rust on the steel chassis but these were soon sorted out with a grinder and some metal paint. 

The aluminium floor frame was about 120mm deep before any engine components so I figured I could fill this void with insulation, and then re-lay floorboards where the old ply floor was and be done with it. This was a good idea in principal but was a little more complicated to implement. To protect the insulation from the elements, I'd have to attach a sheet of some material at the bottom of the floor frame. I thought about plywood for a bit, and then aluminium sheeting, and then my friend Mike suggested I use aluminium composite sheeting (a thin layer of ally then a core layer of polyethylene then another thin layer of ally). The fact that this stuff costs £80 per 8x4 sheet new didn't matter as he had a massive pile of it spare which he had received for free, and passed onto me for free too. It was the material from left over construction site signage, and was destined for the scrapyard, so I was more than happy to recycle it. Light, easy to work with, and strong - it was ideal for the job. 

Just as I had taken out the existing floor in small square pieces, the new one had to be put back in one section at time. This was a painstaking process. I had to measure up each section, cut the ally to size using a cutting blade on the angle grinder, and file off the edges. Then I had to attach brackets to the existing floor frame and fit and attach the panel to those brackets. At first I tried bolting the brackets in place, which although solid was an expensive way of doing it and a right faff. Drilling the holes in the floor frame destroyed a lot of drill bits (despite using oil as a cutting agent) and the first panel took a good two hours to get securely in place. This was a process that was going to have to repeated approximately 50 times. I soon figured that there must be an easier way. Along came rivets. Being an engineering and metalworking novice, I'd never really used rivets much before. They were a godsend. Although I only had a hand riveter, they cut the panel installation process down to about an hour per panel. Progress sped up after this and before long we'd panelled the entire mid section of the bus. I had planned to do all the panelling across the entire bus, then move onto the next stage but both my wrist and sanity needed a break after this section, so I decided to move onto the next stage here before working my way down the bus with the panels. 

The next stage was to install new floor joists. For quite a while, I had my eye on some beautiful oak floorboards that were so strong they wouldn't need any extra joisting. However, when it came down to it, there was no way I could afford them - it would have cost over £1000 for just 20m2 of floor space. Instead, I found and bought some beautiful bamboo floorboards for less than £400. The only problem was that they would need more support from the subfloor than the existing floor frame could provide. The only solution was to install extra wooden floor joists between the existing ones, every 40cm or so down the length of the bus. I quite enjoyed the joisting process, but again it was a lot of very fiddly work, making sure they all sat flush with the existing frame, and were strong enough to hold the weight of a large human or three. We (my friend Jake and I) riveted large brackets into the aluminium sub frame, cut lengths of 3x2 to fit, and bolted them to the brackets. Once we got the hang of this it was fine, and we made a couple of jigs to help us along the way, but it still took a lot of time to complete that mid section. Things were further complicated by the hatches we were required to put in to allow access to the engine below. 

The next few weeks were some of the most soul-destroying weeks I've had since cycling the endless plains of Botswana last summer. There was no way to really speed up the process as each section of floor we had to put down was slightly different to the rest and there was always an obstacle or two to make things even trickier, like a pipe in the way, or shock absorbers to build hatches for or the protruding battery locker that we'd have to work around. The only thing that sped us up a bit was the replacement of the hand rivet gun with an air rivet gun attached to a compressor (again kindly donated by Mike). This took all the strain out of my wrists, and although there was constant noise from the compressor running, it made the riveting tasks much less daunting. 

Although I have a vision of how I want this bus to end up, my plans have been changing from day to day throughout the build and soon after starting the floor I had a major decision to make. I had originally planned to put the bathroom at the back over the offside rear wheel arch, next to my bedroom. However, I realised that this would mean I’d have to put my piano over the front wheel arch, which wouldn’t work particularly well seeing as a piano has pedals right in the middle. To get round this, I’d have to either move the piano pedals to the side (which would be very weird to play) or build a platform above the wheel arch big enough for the piano ad stool to sit on too. Eventually, I decided to switch the positions of the piano and bathroom and build a raised platform (The Stage) across the entire width of the bus over the rear wheel arches to put both the piano and my desk on. While working at my desk or playing the piano, I’d rarely be standing up so I wouldn’t need the headroom here and it would solve the pedal problem. It would also provide a nice natural divide between the bedroom and the living area. 

After I’d finished panelling and joisting the new floor of bus, I started insulating it. I had picked up a trailer load of 100mm Celotex insulation offcuts from a insulation manufacturer down the road for £50. All I had to do was fit the stuff. Despite every single piece being a different size, I made some good progress with this. I sealed the edges of the ally panels with heavy duty flashing tape and then cut the hundred or so pieces of insulation to size. 

It's been incredibly important throughout all of this that I kept in mind the end goal, which is to have a fully kitted out home with electrics, plumbing, and gas, and that they are easily maintainable. As a result, there was a lot of work that I simply couldn’t complete on the floor just because I hadn’t yet decided on the best way to go about installing the utilities. Originally, I was planning on running all the pipes and cable underneath the floorboards and joists and having a bus-length hatch to access them. In hindsight, this was a bit of a ridiculous idea, but while I figured out a better solution I was hesitant to finish off the floor completely. For example, from the beginning, I’d be planning to put the fresh water tank in the large storage locker at the back of the bus. It would be almost impossible to secure that in place without being able to access it from the top so I left the floor at the back open until such a time that I had finished designing the plumbing system and could install the tank. Since then, I have decided to have the water tank within the bus underneath the bed where I had some otherwise unusable space, so have now joisted up and insulated the rear section too. The front section was in limbo too for a long time while I decided exactly what size I wanted my kitchen and bathroom to be, and had worked out where the plumbing pipes would be going. 

Once the bulk of the floor was complete, I covered it up with loose ally panels and roughly carpeted it so I could get started on the walls. This was an exciting time. I was certain that once the floor was done, the rest of it would come together much more quickly. And it did. It took just two days to put up and insulate the side walls, and another day or two to build and insulate the rear wall. Doing this meant that I had to making some concrete decisions about the locations of various elements of my future home. I had to decide what size bed I am going to have (kingsize), how long my kitchen is going to extend (2.4m), which windows to block out, and where my wood burner is going to go. These may seem like fairly easy decisions to make but in fact were very difficult. I’m confident that I’ve made the right decisions now though as I put in a lot of thinking time!

It’s only in the last week that I’ve managed to finish off the floor at the front and have now sealed the entire length of the bus above the joists with a second layer of ally-composite sheeting. This provides a completely flat surface on which to lay my vapour barrier and flooring underlay, before laying the bamboo floorboards (which I plan to do this weekend). 

I have also built the raised platform upon which my piano and desk will sit and have acquired some beautiful oak boards which are currently being planed to size to provide the floor for this. 

Lastly, I’ve just finalised my plan for the electrical, plumbing and gas systems and costed the whole thing up. This has taken ages, mainly because I’ve had to re-learn GCSE & A-Level physics and get up to speed with how plumbing systems work best in movable homes. I’ve just about got my head around what I’m going to need to do to install an incredibly versatile 240V and 12V electrical system that will work brilliantly both on and off grid, have endless hot and high pressure water for my shower and kitchen tap, and have a safe and efficient LPG supply powering my oven, fridge and boiler. The next few weeks will be spent installing these.

There is still a long way to go before I’ll be satisfied that it’s done, but things are at last taking shape. If you would like to help out with this project, now is the time to get involved. I pretty much know what I'm doing at last, and have quite a few jobs that would get done a lot faster with a second pair of hands, even if you only know as much as I do. But if you are handy with tools and know your way around a consumer unit, or can build kitchen cabinets, your help would be invaluable right now. 

I'm hoping to make it liveable by the middle of August and completely finished in time for Yestival in October. Once it's done, I'll probably take it on the road for a couple of weeks and explore the country a bit. That's all for now - I'll try and update you again once the electrics and plumbing have gone in (hopefully by the end of July). 

Please let me know what you think in the comments box below, and share to anyone you think may be interested. Thanks!

Update #001 - The grunt work...

Since I bought the bus back in January, a lot has happened; only now have I reached the stage when I can stop taking things out and starting putting things back in again. So I thought I'd better bring you all up to speed before we go any further...

First up, a bit of advice: if you buy a bus, make sure you have found somewhere to put it before you commit to the purchase. It will make your life a lot easier. Living in the countryside, surrounded by farmyards, I didn't think it would be too hard to find a small bit of land to rent. The only place I could get my hands on in time for the bus to delivered was the corner of a very wet sheep field - full of sheep - at the bottom of a narrow but incredibly busy country lane. It had a few things going for it - like the fact it was directly opposite an industrial estate with a welders shop, mechanics, and carpentry workshop, and that it was half way between my Dad's house (where I was staying) and my work, and that it had a beautiful view. It wasn't, however, a particularly practical space for doing a bus conversion. The bus driver who had driven down from Cumbria to deliver it helped me get it through the small gate and halfway up the field before it sank in the mud and got stuck. Very stuck. He gave me a quick five-minute theory lesson on how to drive the thing and then left me to it. Oh dear. Long story short, with the help of a tractor, my Jeep, some grounds mats, some carpet, three guys, a lot of expletives, and some very upset sheep, I eventually decided and then somehow managed to get it back out of the field. Shortly after, I was very kindly given permission to keep the bus in the yard next to my office at work where I'd been living in a caravan the past two years - so we moved it there. 

That whole nightmare took two and half months. In that time, progress doing the conversion was very slow indeed. To be honest, I'd been planning to wait until late summer to do the bulk of the work anyway as I was meant to be going on a four-month bicycle trip. We did, however, achieve one major milestone: we got the seats out - all 53 of them! Before that had happened, it was hard to imagine how this thing was ever going to become my home. As soon as the seats were out though, it was clear. It's pretty spacious indeed. I recruited my friend Jake to help me remove the seats and it took us the best part of a day. Most of it we were able to do with a ratchet spanner, but from time to time we had to get the angle grinder out. I'd never used one before, but 500 beautifully cut bolts later, I'm fairly handy with one now. We also got the luggage racks down.

Back at the yard, work could properly start. Next up was the walls and ceiling and boy was I glad when that was finished. It was lined with this grey fibre glass sheeting that was riveted into and glued onto the inner aluminum skin of the bus. Making it even more difficult, the wall panels were overlapped by the ceiling panels, but the screws to get the ceiling panels out were inaccessible without getting the walls off first.  It took two sweaty days of drilling, levering, circular sawing and angle grinding to get all the panels out and by the end my ears were ringing, my hands were cut to shreds, and god knows how much fibre glass dust I inhaled. Top tip #2: get yourself a face mask, some gloves, some ear protection, and safety goggles before you get all excited about ripping the bus apart. With that all done, I labelled up the newly exposed cables for speakers, lights, ventilation, and heaters, and started work on the floor. 

I was nervous about the floor. It was made from a gigantic 18mm plywood sheet covering the whole surface of the floor (with disgusting plastic liner on top) and had been there for 30 years. It was pretty solid and I wasn't sure it would be a good idea to rip it up. However, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to scrap the old floor and see what I was dealing with underneath. I'd be able to give it a good clean, sort out any rust issues, and put a new fully insulated floor back in without ever again having to worry about what might be lurking beneath. The plastic liner came up easily enough, just having to drill out rivets in the aluminium beading holding it down and pull it free. To get the floor up, I just thought it would be a case of crawling underneath the chassis, undoing all the bolts, and then using a crowbar to level the floor away from the base of the bus. How wrong I was. I got all the nuts off the bolts underneath, but the plyboard just wouldn't budge. I tried everything and everything failed. Eventually, I decided to get radical. I'd wanted to preserve the plywood to use again so was anxious about cutting it into pieces, but this turned out to be my only option. It still wasn't easy. For two days, I toiled away singlehandedly cutting the floor into bite-size pieces and removing each section bit by bit. By the end, it was barely recognisable as a floor. And I was almost broken. None of that mattered though because what I found underneath has had me smiling ever since. This bus that I bought for £1800 on eBay in a moment of pure impulse has turned out to be in impeccable condition! Aside from a few tiny spots of rust, it is in almost mint condition. This is a very good thing. 

Since I got the floor up, I've been working out where things like the plumbing and gas pipes will go, and marking all the positions of the joists on my floorplan so I know where I can and can't drill when the floorboards are down. Now I know what I've got to work with, I've been ordering wood (for extra joists) and stud walls, and have just today picked up a trailer full of insulation. I also hired a hot water pressure washer/steam cleaner yesterday and spent 12 solid hours deep cleaning every joist, every engine component, every inch of Nick's Leyland Tiger I could find. So now it is not only in almost perfect condition, it is beautifully shiny too!!

The demolition stage is over. The construction stage begins tomorrow. First jobs are: rust-treat the chassis, lay aluminium flashing at base of floor joists, cut and fit all insulation, construct stud walls, seal everything, lay plywood floor in bedroom and kitchen, lay oak floorboards in living room, cut holes for hatches in floor. That should keep me busy enough...

Please let me know what you think in the comments box below, and share to anyone you think may be interested. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

The adventure begins...

Sometimes I have some quite silly ideas. This, I tend to think, was not one of them. This was possibly the best idea I think I've ever had. The idea was simple: to buy a bus, and spend a few months transforming into a movable home to last me the next ten (or more) years. 

I'm extremely glad to say that this is no longer just an idea. It is happening. Last week, I stumbled upon the perfect base vehicle on eBay: a 1985 Leyland Tiger 53-seater bus, that I can drive on a car licence! Within 24 hours, I'd bought it. Having not seen the thing, or had anyone look over it for me, I was a little nervous, but it sounded too good to let pass, so in a moment of impulse I clicked the buy button. Man, was that a exciting moment! And here she is...

All I need to do now is find somewhere to store it, raise enough money to convert it, get it delivered/go and pick it up, design and plan it, buy all the tools and materials I'll need, and then set about the gruelling work of stripping it out and building it back up again. Wish me luck....

I will try and document as much of it on this website, and post blog updates when there is something news-worthy to share. I'll also be looking for some help down the line, but more about that later.