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!