Monday, July 21, 2014

Some Good News

It's a truly lovely evening. I'm curled up on the couch with the laptop listening to the Edward Sharpe station on Pandora. A thundershower is rolling through the area with rain pitter pattering on the metal roof and hood of the bus. Poor Willow is cowering in her nook. Chris is across from me at the table sipping coffee and reading a textbook about some crazy medical ailments, I'm sure. He just asked me to look up the word "fecundity". I was about halfway through the wikipedia article on fecundity (found here for those who can't resist) when I suddenly started reflecting on all of the moments that led up to this one. So many moments of stress, frustration, mistakes, excitement and many more emotions but mostly moments of happiness. Looking back at the 6 months it took us to build the bus I feel happy. I actually miss the days of waking up early, going out to the bus with a cup of coffee, sitting on the floor and planning what we wanted to accomplish for the day.


My view of Chris studying at the table

These days we're much busier than we were when building the bus, or at least it seems like it. Chris spends 50-70 hours a week at school and I started a new job at an art studio last month. We don't see each other as much but still find ways to enjoy evenings like this one. Doing our own tasks but still together.

We have some good news. We've been living in the bus for almost 10 months now and we are still happy. No regrets, no worries that we made the right choice, just happiness and pride that we've come so far. This home that took so much of our time and energy and most of our money to build has been good to us and we're trying to be equally good to her.

As with any, home ownership has its trials and tribulations. We changed our house' oil last month (now that's an infrequently used sentence). It was something that we were intending on doing right after our trip in April but time got away from us. I was stressed about it at first but it turned out to be really simple and much less expensive than taking it somewhere. As always, thoughtful planning and patience paid off.

Chris putting in one of the new oil filters

We've also had an amazing increase in supportive followers on our Facebook page and website. They seem to be from all walks of life and though we've never met most of them, they're as easy to chat with as old friends. We frequently receive messages with questions from fellow bus converters and it's a real honor to see that people are going out of their way to ask us for advice. We rarely go anywhere without thoughtful comments or questions about the bus from friends and acquaintances. It's become more a part of us than we ever imagined.

Last week, a friend we made through the Florida Tiny House Enthusiasts Group came out and did a video tour/interview of the bus for a new mini series on Florida Tiny Homes. I'll share more information on that soon but we're very excited to finally be able to offer others a better glimpse into what it's like being in the bus other than just in pictures.

A last bit of exciting news is that I started writing posts for the Tiny House Listings blog 3-4 times a month. It's an amazing honor to be able to share my interest in Tiny Homes with such a wide audience. I share my posts on the Bus's Facebook page each week so check there if you're interested in reading what I've been writing about.

I'll leave you with this adorable picture of my two favorite guys. Good Night All!



After conquering fecundity, Chris relocated to the floor for some Winston Snuggles




Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Eccotemp L5 and L10 Hot Water Heaters: A Review

We purchased an Eccotemp L5 unit back in December 2013 for $109 and were very excited. We had been living in the bus for two months with no hot water and it was starting to get chilly out so cold showers were no longer acceptable. We easily mounted the unit on the side of the bus and plumbed it into our relatively simple system of one tub and one sink. We saw other Tiny Homes using the same units in a similar way and it worked well from the very start and gave us plenty of heat, was relatively quiet and fairly efficient. During that time we were going  though a five gallon propane tank every six to seven weeks or so.

It seemed to hold up well and worked fine after several rainy or windy days and we carefully watched the temperature to ensure it was drained properly when it got below freezing (only one night this winter here in Florida). Plus it was pretty cute.








About a month ago we started noticing that every once in a while after running the hot water for a while we'd hear a "squeeeeeel poof" sound coming from outside. We tried to make it happen for a while so we could observe but it seemed to be random.

Then, one night, I heard heard an exceptionally loud whine and boom from the water heater and rushed out to see if it had completely exploded off the bus. Fortunately, it was still mounted firmly to the side (with the recommended clearances) but the top guard was glowing red from heat. We immediatly switched it to the off position and turned off the propane. The next morning we inspected it more closely and could see a very obvious black mark from the ball of flame that had erupted from it the night before. At that point we were very thankful for our steel exterior shell, which survived unscathed.



Chris took down the water heater and took it apart to see if he could figure out what went wrong. The inside was a wreck and pretty crispy. I took a bunch of photos and sent them to Eccotemp as the heater comes with a year warranty and it'd only been about six months.


Inside the front cover

A melted ball of metal, not sure where this went


The back of the water heater was all warped


The ignition

I was a little disappointed with the service from Eccotemp at first. It took four email exchanges and over a week before they actually addressed the problem. At first, they said we voided the warranty by permanently mounting the unit to which I responded with several direct quotes from the users manual indicating that the unit could be permanently mounted. For example, under the "Getting Started" section of the users manual, the manual says "Use the top tab on the unit to suspend from a screw adequate to holding 15 pounds. Place at a comfortable height without putting stress on the gas hose. If the unit is to be permanently mounted, use screws to attach the bottom tab firmly." There were also several explainations as to how to plumb the unit into a garden hose or an existing system. Additionally, the warranty said nothing about mounting the unit permanently.

I also explained that there were many raving reviews on their website about this product being used in a similar way as ours and that I felt it was a defect in something inside the unit that went wrong, not an issue with quality of the overall unit. I also made it clear that I found direct communication via phone to be more efficient and pleasant than email.

Three days (and two more cold showers) later I got a call from Mike at Eccotemp. They use an internet phone service there and his call was dropped three times during our conversation. That was pretty frustrating. At first Mike was a little defensive, he made it clear they would not be replacing our unit and apologized that the manual was misleading and said they would be rewriting it.

Mike suggested that the Eccotemp L10 would be a better model for us as it is made to be mounted permanently outside and had a rain guard. I agreed that we should upgrade to the L10 for our next unit and fortunately, they were willing to work with us on the price. They essentially gave us the price of the L5 off of the L10, normally $260. They also covered the cost of shipping and shipped out the new unit that day. Mike became much more pleasant to work with and talk to after we decided on this resolution; he was actually a really nice guy.




Yesterday, we mounted the new unit. It's 8" taller than the first plus it has a flue at the top. It worked right away and seems to be doing just fine. We are able to run it at a much lower gas to water flow ratio than the L5 and the hot water gets to our faucet in under a minute. I'll write an update on our experience with the L10 in a few months, but for now we're satisfied.

We chose the L5 originally because of the size, the fact that it had a battery start and the excellent price. We never had any issues with it as far as leaks or traveling, though I wish we had gone with the L10 from the start to avoid this whole experience. I know of several people who have been living with the L5 for years with no problem so this experience may just be an exception, not the rule.

Overall, Eccotemp puts out a great product for the price that meets the unique needs of many tiny home dwellers. However, in the event that you do have an issue and need to contact them with something you need to be diligent and firm otherwise it may not be resolved in a timely manner. No one has time for cold showers.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tiny House Magazine

We're so honored to announce that an article we wrote about the Just Right Bus is featured in this month's Tiny House Magazine! This month marks the 17th issue of the magazine and it is jam-packed with 66 pages of beautiful Tiny House material. From a review about a composting toilet to coverage on the Tiny House Conference and a story about two weirdos that live in a bus, this magazine is Just Right for anyone who has an interest in Tiny homes.

You can purchase the 17th issue of the Tiny House Magazine for $3.99 and if you use the "Buy Now" link below we will receive a percentage of the proceeds. Thank you for your support!


Buy Now!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Living with a Water Trough Bathtub


We get more comments on our water trough bathtub than any other part of the bus so I’d thought I share what it’s like living with one. The idea to use this kind of tub came to me one morning as I was drinking my coffee (as most good ideas do).

Shortly after we got the bus we discovered that a traditional shower wasn’t going to work. Although Chris can stand up straight in the middle of the bus, he has to duck when he gets to the sides since the ceiling curves. With the added height of a shower pan and tile, he wouldn't have the most comfortable bathing arrangements. We brainstormed various ideas of solving this issue and came to the conclusion that a tub would be best for our space. We would sit down in the tub and use a hand held shower nozzle so we wouldn’t have to take a full on bubble bath every time we bathed. I’m not sure what caused me to search images of “water trough bath tub” but when I found the pictures below and learned the price compared to a traditional tub, I was sold.

That same day we went to our local feed depot and purchased our new 48”, 100 gallon water trough bathtub.


Water trough’s go by various names including stock tanks, horse troughs, livestock tanks, and galvanized metal tubs, among others. For the sake of this post I will just call ours a tub. They also come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. I recommend visiting a feed depot or local hardware store and trying out the tub you’re interested in. We almost purchased a tub that was about a foot shorter than the one we got to save space but changed our mind and opted for the wider one as we felt it would be more comfortable to sit in.

Here are a few examples of how others have used water troughs in their bathrooms.

(Source)

 



After about 8 months of living in the bus I thought I’d share our personal pros and cons about using a water trough bathtub.


Pros:

  • Inexpensive: We bought our tub for around $100 at the local feed store. They had one in stock so we were able to take it home that day. Similar sized claw foot tubs can go for over $1000!
  • Easy Install: To install the tub we drilled a drain hole, two holes for the faucet and attached the tub to the wall with 2 bolts. It’s nestled between our closet and kitchen counter so we’re not worried about it shifting during travel.
  • Light Weight: These tubs are considerably lighter than traditional bathtubs. I’m able to lift the tub on my own. It’s a little big and bulky but this is a huge plus to those who are weight-conscious when building. We were also able to store it in the bus while building and use it as a makeshift bench since it was so easy to move around.
  • Stylish, for some: I’ve seen a big increase in the number of people using these tubs and we always get compliments on the chic, rustic look.
  • Durable: Though they’re available in plastic, our tub is made from galvanized metal and meant to withstand abuse from livestock. We don’t have to worry about it chipping or cracking like a traditional porcelain tub.
  • High Sides: Since the tub has such high sides, we don’t have to use a shower curtain. Though we could easily spray water on the floor with our handheld claw foot tub shower nozzle, we’re careful and aware. Any spray is quickly and easily wiped up after we’re done showering.
  • Great Storage Space: When we travel we store many things inside the tub including a basket full of small, semi-fragile items that normally live on the counters. Our vacuum also lives in it from time to time. Additionally, we planned to install a foldup countertop over the tub for additional counter space, though we’ve found we don’t really need that space right now.

The tub was a great counter space for tools while working on the bus

 The Tiny House Conference
 Photos by Christopher Tack
Cons:
  • Alterations Necessary: The tub came with a drain plug in the side, about an inch from the base so we had to drill one in the floor. They’re also flat bottomed so we designed our tub nook to have a 1-inch slant so the water would flow toward the drain.
  • Not built to bathe in: If you’re looking for a luxurious bubble bath then a water trough probably isn’t for you. They’re straight walled and high sided so getting in and out may be difficult for some and if you want any sort or recline you’ll have to install a seat of some type. Additionally, they’re made of thin metal so the water stays warm for a relatively short period of time. Since we only really take showers in the tub, I hit the sides and bottom with a spray of warm water before getting in so that I don’t have to sit on the cold metal and that usually does the trick.
  • Not that easy to clean: Though the tub rarely looks dirty (and I suppose that’s a pro) it has a rubber seal around the base and up one wall that seems to be a magnet for soap scum. I’m constantly scrubbing it clean but do so very carefully as this seam keeps the floor and wall waterproof and I don’t want to damage it. The strange curves to the walls also make it a little awkward to scrub.
  • Negative stigma: I’ve seen these tubs referred to as “Red Neck Bath Tubs” but I suppose it’s up to you if that’s an insult or not.
  • Placement: These tubs take up a lot more floor space than a shower pan. To keep the open feel in our bus we essentially bathe in the kitchen/living room. I understand this may be a con for some so that’s why I included it here. However, it’s really no big deal to us. Just the two of us live in the bus and we can easily shut the curtains and the whole bus becomes our shower room. To be honest, this is the case for every room. We have a 200 square foot kitchen when we’re cooking, bedroom when we’re sleeping and bathroom when we’re…well, you know.


My mom told me that when she was little, her family used a bathtub to water their horses because they were cheaper and easier to find than horse troughs. An image of a horse relaxing in a claw foot tub immediately popped into my head when she said this.

Overall, we’re satisfied with the tub. It gets the job done and is a great conversation piece though I don’t think I would put one in my home if I had space for a standard shower. A water trough bathtub is not for everyone but it’s Just Right for us.

What kind of tub or shower would you build in your tiny home?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Swooning over Tiny House Swoon

We're so excited to share that our lovely bus has been posted on the Tiny House Swoon website! This site was one of our major sources of inspiration during the design phase of building the bus and is a continued source of awe and admiration. It's an honor to be included among the other Tiny Homes of the world and we've received some very encouraging and thoughtful comments from fellow Tiny House Swoon followers.

For all of our new friends, welcome! Sadly, I'm not as good at posting blog updates as some of my fellow tiny house bloggers. So if you'd like regular updates on the bus I recommend you like us on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JustRightBus .Also, to anyone who may be interested in converting a school bus or is already in the process, please feel free to connect with us directly. We'd love to help in anyway we can!




Sunday, April 27, 2014

Just Right Bus Photos



We were very lucky to finally have some professional photographs taken of the bus while we were at the Tiny House Conference. Christopher Tack did an excellent job of capturing what it feels like to be inside the bus and it could not have been a more beautiful day. Enjoy!






















































 The Tiny House Conference
 Photos by Christopher Tack

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March Update on the Just Right Bus

Well, it has been busy as usual around the bus and we have been working hard to get ready for the Tiny House Conference, which is now just TEN days away! I want the bus to look as finished as possible as this is truly its debut to the world. Not only will this be the first time strangers get to see the bus, it's the first big road trip it has taken. To prepare, we made a long list of things that have to get done before we can leave, we hope to be on the road on April 1st. Here's some of what we've accomplished so far:

We turned the space in our closet wall into a medicine cabinet and put a lid on our hamper. This helped to clear out some of our closet drawers which were holding a lot of our toiletries.

Before



The hamper was horribly inefficient and frustrating, it was basically just a bag sitting on the ground in a space and you could see it from the top and the side and clothes frequently missed the bag opening and ended up on the ground in the corner. You could also see the wheel-well and insulation beneath it. It bothered me every time I walked past it.





After!



We put a hook in each corner of the hamper to hang the clothes bag on. Such a simple solution to a problem we'd been living with for months. My mom gave us the hamper bag and it just happened to fit perfectly, a Just Right Hamper.


We also added some additional lighting to the front of the bus under our overhead cabinets. We bought these lights from Ikea a few months ago and just hadn't gotten around to installing them.



It was a fairly simple install, in fact I did it all by myself. Chris is typically the one to mess with wiring and electrical so this was an accomplishment. The nice thing about a lot of Ikea products is they run off of 12v with a 110v inverter attached so it can be plugged into a house outlet. We just cut the wire right before the inverter and wired it directly into our 12v battery system. The lights didn't have a switch on the 12v side of the wiring so I added one that we bought from home depot. We ran the wires for these lights way back when we did the electrical so all it took was adding a fuse to our breaker box!



I made a little square aluminum plate for the switch to latch on to and then attached the plate to bottom of the cabinets.


At 1.5 watts each, all four of these LEDs together use half as many watts as one of the six lights on the ceiling of the bus (which use 12 watts each). Way more efficient!


They really help us to see the grime when washing dishes
Another big task completed that couldn't have been possible without the help of my amazing mother was covering our couch cushions and pillows. We had denim fabric from my awesome cousin Kim (who sewed our curtains) and we used that for the base couch cushion. Originally I was going to use the same fabric as our curtains for the back of the couch but we were concerned it would be too much of that color. Chris and I went to the fabric store and found a pattern we both absolutely loved and my mom worked her magic.

First she covered the foam cushion with a case she made out of white sheets.

This "pillow case" will help keep our foam clean.

She made us several pillow cases out of the extra pattern fabric and extra curtain fabric. They all blend nicely on the couch and are super comfy to snuggle in.









The couch gets a lot of use!

A lot of our followers have asked about how Chris' hand is doing. Fortunately he is making a wonderful recovery. In fact he just recently finished cutting the piece of wood he was cutting when he had his accident. There's some sort of romantic happily ever after in there for the tale of his finger.

This scar on the wood is the damage it suffered from Chris' accident. Poor wood!
Scardy Willow cowers under Chris' chair during a thunderstorm

I also finished painting some areas of the bus that were never finished including the front above the windshield and both of the closets. I'm not the biggest fan of painting and I especially hate using oil-based paints as they're a pain to clean up and they always end up in my hair. I believe I'm done painting for a while now though, thank goodness!

Before, we ran out of paint 8 months ago when I first painted the ceiling
so some streaks were left green.
During...


After!

Another big change was to the outside of the bus! We had to sand off the name of the school district the bus came from when we first got it and I always hated the big grey splotches on the side. Also, we haven't had to chance to cover the 5 windows that we blocked off with our closets and fridge so this whole time you've been able to see our insulation through them. What an eye sore!


After some research I decided the best and most affordable method to make these windows attractive would be to spray paint them black. I bought a can of Rustoleum metal spray and prepped the windows by using painters tape and plastic bags and gave them a nice even double coat. I then did a couple of coats of Rustoleum clear spray paint to hopefully help keep the black from chipping or wearing off over time, at least until we can get them covered permanently with metal. This was a simple, $10 solution!


I learned the hard way a while ago that spray paint can go everywhere so I was extra careful








To clean up the side of the bus where the grey splotches lived I decided to paint a stripe of color down the side. Chris and I agreed that this royal blue Rustoleum paint was acceptable, though we may change the color when we get around to painting the entire bus. I just used a peanut roller and two coats, less than 1 pint of paint total. It was easy breezy!











Our supervisors for the day










We also finished most of our cabinetry work adding overhead cabinet doors, handles and catches. The catches hold the doors closed so that we don't have to worry about things falling out of them when driving.




These handles were just $.25 at the habitat for humanity restore

Some little touches
 On our list of stuff that has to get done before we leave is to mount a passenger seat for me. We bought this red seat off craiglist for $70 a few months ago and quickly figured out it's much too large to be a passenger seat, it nearly blocks the entire doorway. So Chris cleverly removed the original seat and mounted this one in its place. It can also slide forward and backwards much further than the original seat and will make it much more comfortable for me to drive (as I'm particularly short).


The original seat will be mounted here when we're traveling and removed when we're home. It can swivel so when we're not moving it can be an additional seat for the living space.




Other small touches we added were this tabletop on my side of the bed. It helps to contain the air conditioner pipes and hides the hot water heater pipes. It's carefully designed to be the perfect width to hold my lap top and the cup of coffee Chris delivers to me each morning (what a guy!)



We also used 1.5" strips of cedar as moulding to help finish off the floor. It's a subtle difference but we love it! All of our moulding cost less than $6!










We also prepared by purchasing some roadside assistance through Good Sam. For just $80 a year we have unlimited: distance towing, lockouts, battery service/jumpstart, tire service and delivery, emergency fuel and fluid delivery, locksmith service and RV mobile mechanic dispatch. They'll also cover up to $1200 in costs if we have to spend a night somewhere that's more than 100 miles from our home due to a breakdown! From everything I've read, Good Sam is supposed to be a great service for school bus conversions and yes, they're aware we're not a "typical" RV. Hopefully we will NEVER have to use them!


Left on our list before we leave includes the following:
Secure everything
Restock groceries, cooking/hot water heater fuel
Checklist of bus things (fluids, tire pressure etc)
Mount passenger seat
Finish securing screens
Test water system (pump, tank, greywater storage)

Hopefully it's a smooth adventure and nothing goes wrong. Luckily, we both have some time off where if something does go awry, we will be able to make it work. One thing I'm certain of is that we will learn a LOT while on this trip and have a wonderful time. All we really need to be happy is each other and our dogs and building this bus made it possible to have all of those things while still traveling.

The last thing I'd like to reflect on is our one year anniversary with the bus.


The day we bought the bus


1 year later, what a difference
It's strange, in some ways it feels like we've been living in the bus forever, yet I can so vividly remember the day we brought it home. The way sounds pinged off of everything inside and that rubber musk smell that didn't dissipate until every inch of rubber was removed and metal painted. It was scary, it was exciting, it was so much work but it was SO worth it. We've never had so much pride in anything before and although it has some quirky uniqueness to it (like a bathtub next to the kitchen sink), it feels so much like a part of us. I don't know how long we will live in the bus or if it will have a "resale" value but I do know that I'll look back on this part of my life as a great, happy, loving time where we weren't afraid to do anything.