If you leave all the windows as simple large single glazed panels in your bus you will come into big problems with insulation down the line. During winters it will be freezing and in summer it will be boiling. (I can testify to this as my last campervan had no insulation and full length windows down each side of the bus – had temperatures in central Spain in the bus of 60 degrees and got Pneumonia living in the bus in an English Winter!)  In your design stage you need to decide which ones you want to keep and which to frame and insulate over, to reduce the heat loss/gain. You can pair the considerations for heat gain with possibly adding an awning, so you can park with one side facing the sun and then shield with a large awning perhaps!?

 

Anyway, back to the framing! So in total we used about 30 pieces of 2.4 metres 2 x 1 inch pine for the framing of the bus for GBP 3 each, which came to a total of about GBP 90.  We used the 2inch side lying flat against the frame work with the 1nch side sticking out.  be aware that this meant our outer layer of insulation would have to fit into 1 inch. (Also note that different Builders Merchants will stock differing thicknesses of 2 x 1. Some may be 38mm x 19mm and some 40 x 21mm. Make sure you buy all timber from the same place!) You will need a really good drill for this as drilling into bus steel framing is a nightmare, we lost many drill bits and screws in our battle of man against steel!

 

  1. Covering unwanted windows

We decided to keep 2 large windows in the lounge / Kitchen area along with one small sliding window above the kitchen for ventilation. We also kept one window in the bedroom along with the top windows of the back entry doors. We looked into the cost of buying window tints and it would have come to GBP 120! So, we experimented spray painting a piece of glass with Black Painters Touch Spray paint and that seemed to work very well, and we opted for this method instead. You need to spray very light gradual layers to avoid dripping, be warned from the inside of the bus it will look messy, but as ours already had tint on the windows from the outside, it completely blacked out the windows and the glass gave them a lovely high gloss sheen.  As we are building frames over the inside of the windows it didn’t matter that the final spray wasn’t perfect on the inside.

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Essential Equipment for this stage: Painters Touch Black Spray Paint (we used about 4/5 cans), Masking Tape, Wide Roll of Plastic, Big sheets of old cardboard for masking out areas/parts of the bus

 

  1. Framing

We decided it would get confusing to measure and cut each piece of wood in advance of installing, so we just measured and cut the wood as we went. You want to put in enough framing to support your wall cladding effectively, so be sure to add extra framing in areas that are going to support more weight. (EG: if you are putting a cupboard on the wall or its where a bathroom wall will be). This stage certainly takes a lot longer than planned, especially if you are drilling into thick box-steel members. For this you will need a decent quality corded drill (don’t use the hammer setting as this will blunt the drill bits). You will want to invest in some quality Cobalt drill bits. We dipped our drill bits into grinder Diamond Oil to make the drill bits last longer, and we still went through about 15 of them (cost around $25 just in drill bits). When cutting your lengths of wood to size (we mainly used 2 x 1’s) for this framing, if you can measure and cut them accurately so that they need a gentle tap into place, it saves having to hold them whilst attaching them and makes for stronger framing. This isn’t necessary just frees up a hand for drilling and screwing in.

Once you have the correct length of wood, decide where you are going to drill into the frame, avoiding welded joints, and then drill through the wood. Use a countersink drill attachment to sink the holes and this will make sure that your screws sit level at the end.

Once the wood is drilled and countersunk, then put in place a drill through the frame slowly and dipping the bit in some oil between each drill. Also give the drill bit time to cool now and then. Use correct length metal self-tapping screws to screw into the frame.

(TIP: make sure you buy the correct length metal self-tappers and make sure that you buy the correct drill width that matches your screws, as too small a drill bit will mean screws wont self-tap and too big will mean screws are too loose in the hole.)

Put up the frame verticals and then screw in horizontal lengths and different heights so that you can access the screwing in of the horizontal lengths. We used 30 lengths of 2×1’s and despite the cost we were a little concerned about the unnecessary weight. We therefore didn’t add as many struts as some people have, but decided we would settle for slightly flexible walls in parts over added weight.

Essential Equipment for this stage: Electric Drill and steel drill bit, Screws for Steel)20170430_09402920170510_135919IMG_3986

We bought a 200W Solar Panel kit that included 2 x 100W Panels, wiring and a basic, but hopefully adequate, Solar Charge unit. We got this off eBay for about GBP 220. We also decided to install two skylights to add light into the bus and to encourage air flow and provide ventilation.  We bought a very basic Fiamma Skylight/Vent for GBP 50 on eBay for the lounge area and an Omnistor 12V fan vent for the bedroom for about GBP 65 also on eBay.

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  1. Installing Solar Panels

When installing the solar panels the temptation will be to glue them or bracket them directly to the roof, to avoid wind disturbance underneath, but if you are going anywhere warm – DON’T DO THIS! The air underneath the solar panel that is trapped in there can’t circulate and can become extremely hot, which can seriously damage your panels.

Instead when installing the panels make sure to use brackets (ours came with some) to lift the whole solar panel aluminium frame off the roof.  You can either try and attach these brackets to the bus steel frame, or the aluminium roof skin, and some people even just use the Sikaflex as they have faith in it’s adhesion properties. In the end we went with Sikaflex on the brackets and bolting the brackets to the aluminium roof.

Attach the brackets to the panels first. Mark out where you want the panels to sit (bear in mind cables coming through the roof) and drill through the roof – making sure your holes won’t affect anything inside the van/bus. At this point it is important to bear in mind that the thin aluminium roof could easily cut the solar cables, so smoothen the edges of the aluminium with a small needle file. We were also concerned that this still may damage the cables so decided to make a little scrap wood block to ensure no movement or rubbing could take place on the cables. To deal with this we got a wood block and drilled a 45 degree angle hole through it and fed the cable through here to ensure they could not rub on anything. We then threaded the wires through the block, Sikaflexed this down, and covered all of the wires and block in Sikaflex. We then used Gorilla Duct Tape to tape down the wires from both panels to the roof just to stop them flapping around in the wind. The solar cables have water proof attachments but I also duct taped over these just in case.

Essential Equipment for this stage: Solar Panels, Solar Cable, Cable Connectors, Ladder (or precarious Stool on Chair on Table arrangement, Electric Drill, Sikaflex, Needle file, Spanner, Bolts, Scrap Wood, Gorilla Tape, Pencil

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  1. Installing Sky Lights and Fan

When cutting the roof vents find the middle of the roof panels, measure half the required width both sides of the middle and mark it out. Ensure the square it is precisely located before doing any cutting. This is probably a good time to remember the old phrase: Measure twice – Cut once! We always mark waste-lines (diagonal lines next to our measured cut-line) whenever marking anything out, so we know which side we are removing.  Next drill a hole in the middle of each drawn line on the ceiling large enough to get your jig saw (with metal blade) through the aluminium panel. Cut from the centre of each line into the corners to ensure that you have an accurate square. The panel can vibrate a lot on the last cut so a bit of tape on each line will hold the metal square in place whilst you finish your last cut. Then simply cover the underneath of the skylight (the ribbed area that will sit on the roof) with 221 Sikaflex, climb onto the roof and place the vent on and through the hole. Screw through the holes in the vent with the provided screws and this will pull the vent tight to the roof skin. Smooth of the Sikaflex that has splodged out of the gap inside and out of the bus so that it is sealed and water tight. Cover all screws inside and out of the bus with extra Sikaflex just for good measure. The inside cover can then be added whenever the internal ceiling is completed. {Caution: most vents have a maximum roof thickness of around 50mm, in our case our roof was thicker than this, forcing us to have to raise the ceiling around both vents to reduce roof thickness – not something we had initially wanted to do at all.}

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Essential Equipment for this stage: Electric Drill, HSS Drill Bit, Jigsaw with sheet metal blade, Sikaflex, Self-tapping metal screws, Ladder

 

Stage 3 – Design

Once you have pulled everything out of the bus and made it water tight, you can start designing the type of layout you want as you will have more accurate measurement now. We used a free version of Google Sketch to make our plans. We found this programme easy to use with lots of tutorials online. Initially we took the measurements of the bus and drew out the empty shell. Save this as you may change our design and you need to come back to the shell. We ended up designing twice. The first was a very rough drawing of how we wanted to use the space. The second one was more of an evolving drawing that developed and changed as the build went along. We found it very useful to  make separate components (these are like items instead of single lines) for the timber dimensions we had. Then you can cut and move and rotate these around your empty shell drawing, and effectively BUILD your internal framing in the drawing the same as you would in reality. This really helps by considering how all the various framing/wiring/plumbing will go together and how you can add various space saving elements into your design.

(TIP: work in mm in your drawings not in cm, as this will help increase precision)

 

First thing first – you need to strip your bus to an empty shell. There is a lot more work involved in this than you would initially think.

  1. Stripping out all the unneeded frames, chairs and lifts67c385baff2c28220a48eaf637f49137.jpg

This was hard work as our bus is over 10 years old and a lot of the bolts were rusted tight.  We still managed to take out all of the chairs in about 4 hours and sold them the same day on eBay for GBP45 for 14 of them, just to free up the space, as they had quickly filled up the garage.  We then took out all the big yellow metal bar frames from the bus, which came out fairly easily.  The lift wasn’t too difficult to take out, but be aware they tend to be very heavy so you will definitely need two people to do this. We sold the lift for GBP60 on eBay very quickly too.

(TIP: If the bolts require an Allen Key to undo, spraying them with WD40 helps loosen them sometimes. If you can find a thin steel pipe or something similar (we used a long screw driver with interchangeable heads) you can place this over the Allen Key and this will create force multiplying effect and give you much more leverage and torque when turning the Allen Key. If that fails, it’s time to get out the angle grinder I am afraid.

Essential Equipment for this stage: Spanners, Allen Keys, Allen Key Extension, WD40, Gloves, Possibly Angle Grinder.

  1. Stripping out the inside window frames, ceiling panels and wall panels.

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Taking out the inside windows frames is very straightforward – you just need to unscrew them. In our case they were simple fibreglass frames covering the joints of the glass to the steel frame. It is essential to really strip the walls back as far as possible to search for any leaks underneath the frames. (In our case I would say that we had around 40-50 leaks at this stages of varying sizes!)  We removed the side panels and then the ceiling panels, which came off quiet easily. There was a lot of dust and mould underneath so I would suggest using a mask here.  The centre part of the ceiling, which had a large metal light fitting running down it, was a lot harder to take off. We had to use the angle grinder to saw into the bolts and then chisel them off with a screw driver (ideally a Cold Chisel would be better) and hammer. We pulled off all the fabric on the side walls so that we could get to the pop rivets underneath and then drilled out the aluminium side panels, using the chisel method again to get behind the metal as they were also glued in place! We did the same for the aluminium sheets on the ceiling, and took out the polystyrene insulation – which was soaking wet in some parts.  Stripping it all the way back like this enabled us to find the leaks and fill them. in but also gave us a good idea of where the steel box frame lay, so that we could build our timber frame secussefully on top of this.

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(TIP: For removing pop-rivets choose a HSS (High Speed Steel) Drill Bit slightly larger than the centre shaft of the pop-rivet. As you drill through this the rest of the front of the pop-rivet will come loose.)

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Essential Equipment for this stage: Electric Drill with various HSS Bits, Angle Grinder, Hammer, Screw Driver, Masks, Stanley knife

  1. Taking out the flooring (optional)

We did not take out our flooring as it was in relatively good condition. We could not get the metal chair track system out of the floor without someone getting underneath and holding the bolts with a spanner under the bus, which given the tiny clearance of our bus just isn’t possible. This is a shame as these tracks, even though they are aluminium, do weigh a considerable amount in total. However with some buses it is a lot easier to take out the floor, especially ones with frames above the wheel arches, and we would highly recommend removing any track systems (and potentially even the wood base as these can be inches thick in some cases). If you are looking to downgrade the weight category of your vehicle as it is potentially a great deal of unnecessary weight. We decided to build our floor over the track system, and insulate them as they will surely act as a cold bridge across the wooden base.

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Essential Equipment for this stage:  Huge Allen Keys, Spanners, Bus ramp.

Choosing the right bus!

Hi, welcome to our first blog post.

We are Amy & David, a young couple with a passion for travel and building.14570474_10207523258183493_5956886072803577776_n

After too many years of working for other people we decided that we want to set up our own business. We searched all over the world for interesting opportunities but found that property and business ownership laws in most of the places we wanted to explore were making it extremely difficult for foreign investors to set up companies.

So after living and working in Dubai and then Antigua for several years we decided to pack up, move back to the UK and make a Bus Conversion Camper Van with the aim of traveling across Europe in search of the perfect location for our guest house, eco resort, farm or restaurant to start.  So we said goodbye to the Caribbean and headed back to start the next chapter of our lives.

First thing first, we needed to find the perfect bus for our conversion. We also explored the options of vans.  Mercedes Sprinters are a very popular choice but we decided they were too small for what we wanted to achieve, especially in width dimensions.  We also looked at Lutons, which have a great space if you put a mezzanine level in, but they are a bit old fashion and lacked the windows and airiness we wanted to accomplish.

Finally we decided on an ex-council high-ceiling mini bus.  The one we really liked was a 2006 Renault Mascott which we could get for GBP 4000 all-in.   We liked the look of the vehicle so we decided to book our train tickets down from Whitby to Bracknell to go pick it up.

David’s mum suggested getting an AA inspection done, so we went ahead and arranged one. The AA inspections are a good idea for anyone looking to buy a bus.  They are very comprehensive but bear in mind they cost GBP 200 each time you want to get a bus inspected!

Unfortunately the inspection came back with a fault in the rear differential.   This would have been thousands of pounds to fix so we decided not to take the vehicle. This meant we lost the GBP 200 on the inspection and also wasted 120 pounds on the non-return train tickets to Bracknell!

So we were back to the drawing board, frantically searching for new vans in that area we could pick up while we were down South. We came across a couple of “Wheeler Dealers” that were very eager to sell their vehicles to us, but when we looked closer we found that some vans had not had MOTs for over 3 years, and some people did not want to agree to AA inspections by saying “don’t need none of that I am a sound bloke me, don’t need mechanic, I basically am a mechanic !”

We decided to bite the bullet and go down anyway as my brother lives down there and it was his birthday weekend.   There were also two other vehicles near that area we liked the look of. One was a huge Fiat Ducato but as it was made in 2003, we decided at 14 years old we couldn’t risk it, although it was reasonably priced at GBP 3000. The next was a Mercedes 314 bus, but again it was very old (2004), however our curiosity got the better of us and we decided to go and view it.

It was an hour’s drive away and my brother agreed to take us there. When we got to the area on the outskirts of London we came to a large ‘permanent caravan site’ where the van was parked. We carried on driving straight past it, knowing  that it wouldn’t be the most reliable place to purchase a vehicle from! We had a laugh about it after but were all annoyed that we had wasted such a lovely day driving around for hours.

We decided to head to the train station to view another bus in Derby, which was a 2009 VW Transporter model for GBP 6500. This was really straining our budget and meant we would have a lot less money to spend on the conversion itself. The owner however told us to come back in a few days after he puts a new MOT on it. So we headed back to Whitby very weary from sleeping on the floor for days and with bad hang overs from a 2 day birthday bash at my brothers.

After a couple more days research we kept coming back to a 2005 Fiat Ducato Mini bus we liked the look of.   It was advertised at GBP 8000 but after some very determined negotiations by David we managed to get the price down to GBP 6500. We decided to book the train to Derby and check it out.

We arrived to see the bus and it looked to be in good condition generally.  As we really liked the space inside and the look of the bus we decided to go for it, so we went inside to exchange the paper work.