We built it. We moved it. Now what?

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Hello and welcome to my tiny home!

We bought this beast of a bus over two years ago, and spent so many hours and long nights tearing it apart and then putting it back together again, in a way that we dreamed up and designed and built.  Did we finish it?  Not quite.  So many loose ends were flapping in the breeze when we pulled out of that tiny side-yard she’d been parked in for so long.  There is trim missing, a tiny half-wall still to build so no one scoots their chair back and falls into the entry stairs, a door on the girls’ room, the tiny magnets that hold the pantry doors shut, drawer pulls on all the drawers that had been custom-made (some of which could still stand some tinkering).  The plumbing wasn’t done (we installed the steel cages that hold the tanks under the bus the DAY before we moved – nothing like waiting til the last possible minute…), and the propane lines weren’t installed.  But we packed the bus to the gills (didn’t realize just how much stuff we were taking!!), put the canoe and bikes and a plastic slide on the roof rack (also installed days before departure), said so many goodbyes and shed tears, and then took off, because it was time to go.

The drive north was so much smoother than I dared hope for.  Slow – YES.  SO SLOW.  We averaged 45 miles an hour.  But dang, that bus was so heavily loaded, but that Turtle just kept on going.  There was not a single hitch in the drive up.

And so now we are here, and what is it like?  Well, at first it was more like vacation – we parked at the second-home of dear friends, who generously offered up their driveway.  It is the property that we came to first, and where we first looked at each other and said, “Well, this feels like home.  How weird that we’ve never been here before.”  And so we slowly unloaded the bus into a storage unit.  I drove the bus to work for TWO DAYS – not exactly the ideal commuter vehicle.  Then we slowly started working on the propane and the plumbing.  And I mean S-L-O-W-L-Y.  Heck, we STILL haven’t finished the plumbing. Between starting a job and getting to know the area, and visiting with friends who came to the valley, and trying to make new friends, there has been shockingly little time for finishing our new home.  This fact in itself has been very frustrating for us – already it is August and we don’t have the sink plumbed or the tiny trailer bathroom even CLOSE to completion!  In mid-July we moved from our friends driveway – the bus was parked in full sun and was getting ridiculously hot during the day.  We are parked about one mile down the road, on the property of friends of friends of friends.  It’s that kind of place.  We are calling our new spot “Wolf Creek Woods” – we are in Ponderosa pines and keeping much cooler in general.  One great thing about dry heat – the shade is so refreshingly cool.  At our new parking spot we do not currently have electricity.  These is power on the property, but it hasn’t been hooked up in years and the process of getting it connected is taking awhile.  So, even if the sink was plumbed, our water pump wouldn’t work anyway, so we don’t have running water at present.  Instead we use a big 5 gallon rubbermaid on the counter and a bucket under the sink to catch water.  Rudimentary, but functional for the moment.

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Some of the really joyful parts of living in the bus so far… the girls LOVE IT and are so excited to be there.  On days when it was in the 90s inside the bus (parked at our friend’s house we were in full sun), those girls would be in there playing in their underwear!  Their enthusiasm is quite a marvel to behold.  At Wolf Creek Woods, amongst the pines, we are woken EVERY morning by the shockingly loud chitterings (how do you describe their sounds??) of red squirrels.  We were actually woken the first two mornings by a red squirrel INSIDE the bus – we finally realized the driver’s window had been left wide open!  Ah ha!  Living in the bus feels very similar to camping.  There are so many windows, and so many of them are open, the separation between inside and outside is very thin.  We can hear so much of what is happening outside, and the wind blows through the whole bus.  While we like this aspect of bus living, it is also making us think about all the ways we can make the separation greater in the winter months.  We will have to make insulated curtains to cover the windows and the driving area.  We will put plywood around the perimeter of the bus to stop wind from blowing underneath.  We are about a day away from ordering our wood stove – the propane heater is installed already!  Lots to think about.  And one last thing about the joys of tiny bus life – it is much quicker to clean!!  Although, as you can see from the photos, the girls desk is pretty much a cluttered mess (you can’t actually SEE the desk), but one can only spend so much of the summer days cleaning up after kids.

 

All in all, we are excited to be finally living in the bus – we’ve set up an outdoor kitchen, and the hammock and canoe often act as the outdoor living room.  Whether we will stay in the Wolf Creek Woods through the winter or find a different place to park remains to be seen – we’ll keep you posted!

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Written by Kristin LaFever

Trundling along

The girls have beds!  This is my last BIG construction project inside the bus.  The drawers were, of course, the trickiest part of this, but they are in, they all slide (some easier than others…), and there is LOTS of space for all the girl’s clothes, and hopefully some space for Dave’s and my clothes as well….

I should probably clarify here – This is not a bunk bed!  I am not expecting my daughter to sleep in a one-foot crawlspace!  The lower bed pulls out (trundle bed-style) and will be next to the taller bed.  My 6-year-old’s friend asked me this question and I thought others might wonder as well.  🙂

One of my favorite things about finishing the beds was the reaction by the girls – it was instantly a super fun thing to play on, under, around, and gave me a little glimpse of how playing in the bus is going to feel.

This week I took the bus to the mechanic to have everything looked at – and I’m guessing there is a fair amount to look at, based on the 11 mile drive from Arcata to Eureka.  Namely, the lack of power.  I literally drove down Highway 101 South at 26 miles per hour for quite a few miles before the bus picked up speed – to a whopping 40 miles per hour.  Hoping that we can get the old girl to go a tad faster on our northward journey!!


Written by Kristin LaFever

The shape of the kitchen!

You may be wondering if we took the winter off, if we’ve been busy sleeping through all the rainstorms and long dark nights.  The bus progress part of the blog has been quiet now for months it seems… But the truth is, we have NOT been hibernating, and we have NOT been curled up by the fire through all the storms.  Instead I have been busier than ever with bus work, and busy with all the other things happening in our life right now, and putting up photos on the blog has been shuffled to the very bottom (or close to the bottom) of my priority list.  But at long last, here are some photos of what has been happening – namely, kitchen cabinets!  I had never made cabinets, so there has been a steep learning curve!  There’s a reason cabinets cost SO MUCH to have made – they take a TON of time and lots of precision work that is very unforgiving.  It’s also really fun, and great to see the shape of the kitchen coming together.  We wanted to avoid plywood as much as possible in the bus, so I designed and built the cabinet frames using 1×2 poplar.  After lots of drawing, measuring, cutting, dado-blade groove cutting, gluing and nailing, the frames were finally finished!  Here are a couple photos of the first cabinet frame we made, with Maddie modeling how to meditate in a cupboard.

And here is another cabinet that has some of the sides attached.  We used some pine for the sides, and also some salvaged wood from pallets.

After all the frames had been built (I built four separate cabinet frames) came the very painstaking and at times frustrating task of building drawers.  I love drawers!  They are a pain to make, but so amazing to have in a kitchen!!  So, I made boxes.  And often had to tear the box apart in order to make it 1/16 of an inch narrower so it would fit into the drawer slides.  But hurrah, at long last I got them all to fit!

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And the final and of course most fun step – putting on the beautiful doors and drawer fronts!  We used the same juniper wood we used on the pantry.  Full of knotholes and lots of character.

More to come as soon as I can finish it up!


By Kristin LaFever

A door that shuts!

We finally found a door to replace the completely broken, shattered, and non-functioning door that has been on the bus since we bought it – you can see the old door in this photo:

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We found a solid wood door with lots of windows that was totally unfinished at Home Depot (for less that $200, amazing!).  It was a little too wide, but luckily we have a friend who is a woodworker, and he cut the door to size and made the notches to the existing hinges to fit in.  Then we learned how to install a doorknob and make a door jamb – we still have to fix the threshold, but for now we are just glad to have a door that closes all the way (it even locks!).

 

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Written by Kristin LaFever

The excitement of a pantry

I am this close to finishing the pantry – and to date it’s the thing I’m most excited about completing in the bus.  Maybe it’s because the wood is so beautiful (it’s juniper from eastern Oregon), and it smells great too, or maybe it’s because the tricky vision I had for the door configuration ACTUALLY WORKED and it doesn’t look super janky, or maybe it’s because the kitchen is the center of the house and I spend a lot of time in there so I’m excited to have something done in that arena.  It’s probably a combination of all that. It’s also exciting because it’s got that “finished” look.  Wiring outlets is very important and all, and I’m getting SUPER close to having that done as well, but it’s not something that you SEE much of (I’ve done my best to hide the wiring and make the outlet boxes semi-subtle!), so perhaps that is why it’s less of a thrill.  Anyway, without further ado, here are some photos of the pantry:

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Why the crazy doors?  Well, the juniper wood is pretty heavy, so I didn’t want to have a massively heavy door – when I thought about a Dutch door it also occurred to me how much the girls would love to have a little door just their size to play house with.  They are both thrilled.  And the hinged section is just so that the door takes up less space when you swing it open, since it’s in a tiny kitchen and it’s going to be very tight quarters as it is!  The final touch: driftwood handles!

I stopped wiring a while ago when I was halfway done because I ran out of wire.  Silly, isn’t it?  I finally bought more and now the wiring is almost done.  To complete the wiring I also had to get the wood shelf and outlet boxes up on the wall above the windows (which hides the wires), and this took me a little while.  The big chunk of black oak that you can see sticking out further than the other shelf will be a kitchen shelf, and will sit above a deep counter.  Right now it’s a major safety hazard, as you could just walk face-first into it, so it’s blocked by a table at present.

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The girls room is almost totally separated from the rest of the bus – just needs a door!  Woo hoo!

 

And just because no post is complete without the girls, here they are using bits and pieces of wood and boxes of screws, etc, to make their own tiny playhouse.

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~written by Kristin

Wild (Bus) Ideas of a 5 and 1/2 Year Old

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While lying in bed as Madeleine tries to go to sleep, she is suddenly very awake and full of ideas.  Bus ideas.  Certain topics seem to just be a way to prolong the going-to-bed process, but when she’s got “good ideas” I like to let them flow. 

Her first idea was about the desk we are going to have in the girls’ bus bedroom – she wants it to be a board that comes out of the wall, without sides, just the supports it needs.  Then she wants drawers to be attached under it.  Which I hadn’t thought of doing, and I think it’s a great idea!  Check!

Second idea: about the bathroom for the bus (our current idea is to have a separate tiny trailer that has a bathroom…) – first thing she wants is a hanger in the bathroom for hanging towels on, and another for hanging bathrobes on.  This seems easy enough.  Her other idea is to have drains in the floor under the hangers so that if we hang up wet swimsuits or wet towels the water that drips out will go down the drains.  This one seems challenging, but I love the creativity!

Third idea: build a room connecting the bus to the bathroom.  I said something about having a roof so that we don’t get wet if it’s raining, and she clarified “With walls.  That we would insulate.  And cut some windows in the walls and put in glass windows.”  This is getting very elaborate, but also kindof a cool idea for when the bus is permanently parked… maybe a breezeway?  Or a screened in porch that also has access to the bathroom?  Hmm…

Fourth idea: She wants a round wooden room INSIDE her room on the bus that is “really big” (have we been reading too much Alice in Wonderland?), and it’ll have a door, and then we’ll make a loop of beads on a string “with no clasp, just a circle of beads” that will go through two holes in the door and the beaded circle will be the handle for the door.  We’ll pull it open by grabbing the beaded circle… and at this point she paused, and was in deep thought, and then talked about how we would push the door from the other side to get out of the room, also using the beaded circle… I felt like I could almost hear the gears spinning in her head as she was visualizing the door and how she’d pull it from one side and push from the other, and how that would work with the handle she was creating in her head.  The room, she says, would be for typing on computers and going into when you are mad and need to calm down.

 The ideas she comes up with are sometimes totally impossible or totally impractical, and often they are totally brilliant and totally creative and ALL of them are totally awesome, because she is so uninhibited by the rules of practicality and feasibility that the rest of us usually operate under.  I love seeing her mind develop and delve into figuring out ways to solve a problem or create something she wants to have around.  A couple weeks ago she said something about wanting to be a builder – I told her she’s lucky to have a family that also wants to learn about building, so we can do it together.  And I think we’re pretty darn lucky to have her with us, too – she brings in fresh ideas and inspiration that we wouldn’t have had on our own!

 

Here are some photos of recent work in the bus:

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Here is the most recent addition to the bus – a wall!  Almost done separating the girls room from the rest of the bus!  (And the gap at the top of the wall will be filled in, I just ran out of wood bits – got one today from a neighbor!).

Here’s a view of the open shelving on the other side of the wall:

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And we’re working on pantry doors – beautiful juniper wood that smells great.  Between roadtrips and reducing our chicken flock, progress has been slow lately.  Soon I’ll be back at it!!

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written by Kristin

 

Chaos and change… in the bus!

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I just saw a quote that says, “All great changes are preceded by chaos,” which seems an appropriate way to start off a post about the bus progress.  It seems there is constant chaos right now in the bus, with boxes of screws in various places, random pieces of boards, extension cords, wiring tools, empty boxes and baggies that haven’t found their way to the trash can yet.  Added to the chaos of construction detritus are items brought in by two young girls – there is a table in the back with watercolors and beads, and as soon as a shelf is made, it becomes a bunk bed for dolls or stuffies.  The futon is constantly employed as a trampoline, or slide, or small house for all the babies.  Worlds of imagination created out of the ordinary mess of life and out of the chaos there is an emerging order, at least at times we see evidence of it.

Here are some photos of the various projects ongoing in the bus:

The electrical wiring is coming along, we put up the wooden boards and shelves that hide the wire and hold the outlet boxes:

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We put in the stove and refrigerator!  Hooray!  The stove is propane and the fridge is propane or AC-powered, both from Unique.

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Once we got the fridge in, we were able to start building the pantry and the shelves that will be in the girl’s room at the back of the bus.  Here is the framing:

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And the shelves start going in!

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As soon as the shelves were put in, they instantly became bunk beds for the girls’ favorite bears.

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Now I am working on prepping the boards that will enclose the pantry, and the shelving for the girls room.  With the lengthening days and warmer weather, I feel such a rush of momentum to be outside working, and it helps that the girls can play and help while I’m putting things together.  I love to see Maddie feel ownership and excitement over the bus project – she is involved, she knows what’s going on, and she gets very excited to show others what we’ve been working on.  Perhaps Juniper feels all that, too, but it’s hard to tell – one thing I do know is that she really loves to bounce around and play in there!

 

 

The Advent of Electricity – almost there!

After a long hiatus, mostly due to my own mental stumblings over working with electricity, work on the bus has begun rolling forward again, and I feel my motivation and enthusiasm building.  Hard to say if that feeling comes from getting over the mental roadblock or is more to do with the changing weather – I tend to be much more motivated on a sunny day!  So with the sunshine comes progress on the bus.  While figuring out how to begin the electrical installation, I worked on a couple of the built-in shelves   – one behind the driver’s seat, and another that forms part of the wall between the girls room and the rest of the bus.  They are not 100% finished, but here are the bare bones:

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While I figured out our electrical diagram, I started working on the boards that will cover up the wires, make the bus a little “prettier”, and also to make extra shelving possible that will nearly encircle the bus.  We are running the wiring (12 gauge, the kind in the bendy conduit) above the windows, and the outlets and switches will be attached to a 12″ cedar board that will be attached to the bus walls.

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Our vision for the wiring is to set up a simple system that can be plugged into the grid with an extension cord or be upgraded to solar when/if the need arises.  We are building in storage for the batteries, converter, charger, etc., that will be in the same area where the extension cord will come into the bus.

I find that each task seems fairly simple and straightforward, but then I realize that working on these things with two small kiddos in tow can really stretch out the amount of time needed.  It’s taken me weeks to get boards sanded, cut just right, attach the shelves, and build little boxes that will house the outlets.  But as of today, I have half of the boards ready, and I’m excited to get them up on the walls and have outlet boxes with wires coming through!!  Here’s a photo of the board while it’s laying on the floor of the bus.

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And here’s a photo of one of the outlet boxes – kindof confusing to see while laying on the floor, but hopefully soon it’ll be on the wall and more obvious how the outlet will fit.

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The final thing that I’ve been finishing up is the baseboards!  Hooray!  No more gap around the edge of the bus!  We used the same redwood paneling we had for the walls, just cut at an angle.

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Those are the updates – now I can hope for more sunshine so I can be outside sanding, sawing, and varnishing!


Written by Kristin

Going up the wall

We rode the excitement of having the floors done for awhile – we had a dance party, we slid around in our socks (the bamboo is very slippery!), we hosted our first guests by throwing a futon mattress on the floor and a string of white lights… And then got back to the work at hand.Getting the walls in.  It was a long process – we found a deal on old-growth redwood tongue-and-groove paneling (pulled from under an old house in Eureka!), and began the slow process of sanding each board and treating it.  Not an easy feat when it’s October in Humboldt and the rains have started.  We treated the boards with a mixture of tongue oil and lemon extract – it looks beautiful, the grain of the wood really pops, it smells good, and it is non-toxic, so our girls were able to help in the process.

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Redwood boards drying in the sun (photo taken by Madeleine, our 5 year old)

While we waited for sunny days to sand, we also worked on the “framing” of the existing walls of the bus.  We needed these to have something to attach the paneling to, and it was, I have to admit, a pretty tedious process.  We used 1×2 boards and attached them vertically every 15″ (or so) with self-drilling drywall screws.

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Then we put some type of insulation in between, either the foam insulation we used under the floor, or some double bubble reflective insulation we had from another project like in the picture below.

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And the final step was using a table saw and cutting the panels for the top sill. Yay the corner came together nicely!

 

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And the nearly finished walls! The gap in the paneling on the right side of the bus where a woodstove will go to heat the bus (it will sit on top of the framed in wheel-well).IMG_5834

We have a couple things to finish up on the walls, such as the baseboards, some finishing edges, and caulking the gap between the paneling and the windows.  Our next mini-projects are built-in shelves (one of which you can see the framing for in the above photos on the right hand side of this picture) and the next major project is the wiring of the bus!  We hope to have more photos soon, but we’ll see how things progress….

~Kristin

 

Getting Floored

Two fundamental laws of our universe, one thermodynamic and the other ecological, weave through our lives. The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy or disorder generally increases in a system. That is to say that things fall apart. Pessimistic some might say but no less true. This is balanced, however, by a positive and fundamental characteristic of living systems which is that they are creative and self-ordering.  These two aspects of our existence, chaos and order, balance each other in the delightful and often tenuous moments of our lives. And it is true that creation can come from the seemingly destructive or, as Nietzsche said, through chaos comes order, or something like that. This is no more or less true as we are embarking on converting a 1988 Thomas Built school bus into a tiny home.

 

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Before pictures: front looking back; back looking back.

You would assume buying an old school bus that is mostly converted into livable space would make it easier to convert into a tiny home. However, after a year of ripping things out and building things back up again I do not know if that is a valid assumption. At least we didn’t have to unbolt, remove and dispose of all those bus seats. Hey, that’s looking on the bright side! Seeing how someone else designed and built the livable space was a great way to see what we did and did not want to do. Suffice it to say we did not keep a single design aspect from the previous conversion and it did show us how we don’t want to do things. We want more light, more space and more beauty.

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Front looking back. Left is before repainting, before removing paint from windows and rust neutralization; Right is after.

After removing everything down to the bare metal floor, we set to filling in bolt holes in the floors (think: every seat was bolted down multiple times) and neutralizing surface rust, which was extensive but not damaging, then we began the process of creating a home out of an empty shell. We began by repainting the ceiling to replace the vibrant rainbow across the middle of the bus with something that would reflect light, namely white paint. We did this everywhere except in what will be the girls bedroom, where we painted a blue ceiling with white clouds. At the same time, Kristin painstakingly removed paint or opaque, plastic coverings that were stuck to the windows (inside and out!) to limit visibility into the bus. Sharp razor blades and lots of painter thinner were her partners in that endeavor.

With the ceiling painted, it was time to start on the flooring. I will share some pictures now and will return to this process in more words and pictures soon.

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L: Insulation put down and framing of cabinets etc begun. R: Vapor barrier on top of insulation.

 

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Juniper dancing on the newly laid bamboo floor!

~David