Every day for over 2 years I wandered around the RV internet. I knew almost nothing about RVs when I started. Now I know a bit more.
My dream of what I want changed significantly over the 2 years - on everything from toilets to tires.
I am just at the beginning of my build. Here is what I think I want.
I bought a school bus and not an RV. The decision came down to the weight capacity of both. RVs are built on light frames and me and my wheelchair riding friends would have problems with our 250+ lbs. wheelchairs (that's their weight when empty). The bus has insulation on the floor and lower walls. Everything else is up to me.
I bought a 2001 International Bluebird with a strong engine/transmission combination. How do I know it's a strong combination? Because of the wise folks at Skoolie.net
Some things that made this the "right" bus for me:
* Age of bus. I wanted to get a bus from 2004 or earlier to avoid the engine restrictions caused by post-2004 regulations.
* Wheelchair lift door. The bus has one and it's near the front door. This gives me a lot of flexibility with my interior design. Many lifts are in the back side corner, a spot most people use for a bed.
* Flat face on the front of the bus. Many school buses have a "dog nose" meaning that the engine is in the front of the driver. The flat nose design puts the engine at the back of the bus so it's "pushing" the bus down the road.
* The flat face design also means more interior space in the same 30 feet of length.
I want to add underbody storage to the bus. John, my bus guy, says that carrying water (which weighs 8 lbs a gallon) below the frame is much easier to drive than having it inside the body of the bus.
Also underbody storage would be great for all the outdoor stuff (table, chairs, rug, canopy), spare parts, off-season stuff, etc.
INSIDE THE BUS
I am hoping to mix staying in campgrounds and boondocking. In campgrounds I will have electrical and water hook ups, folks nearby, and some amenities like a small store, recreation area and maybe even a swimming pool.
Boondocking means parking the bus in a rural area with no hook-ups. The bus has to be complete self-sufficient to do this. My goal is to be able to boondock for 2-3 weeks at a time without needing to leave to get water or supplies.
The goal is for me to be able to live in the bus by myself for weeks at a time. I cannot find anything designed for one person who uses a wheelchair. These are my current ideas and assumptions about what will work.
Actually being in the bus, figuring out where things need to go and how I can do things independently will inevitably change the designs and my decisions. As I make final decisions I will post about them in detail.
I need power 24/7 even when I am far from an electrical outlet. Every day I need to run my CPAP and charge the wheelchair battery. The need for heat/cold, lighting, cooking, etc will vary.
In order to have reliable power every day I need a generator and lithium batteries to store the generator's output. Lithium batteries are an expensive option but also offer more power in a much smaller footprint. I am looking at solar and wind options as well.
In a regular school bus there is one heavy-duty lift (often Braun) that works only when the bus engine is running. It cannot be operated independently by the wheelchair rider either going in or out of the bus.
That obviously won't work for me. I don't want to have to run the engine just to work the lift. It is impossible to run the engine while I am sitting outside the bus.
I am looking at adapting an industrial crane. I am hoping to have 2 options on the crane. One option would be using an electric motor for the lifting. The other option is a pulley system that is easy enough for my arms to operate the lift.
I got some great minds thinking about this. I'll post our ideas and progress as we go along.
* Heating / cooling
I love the heat. I am hoping to have two openings in the roof of the bus. Each opening will have a skylight that opens and a fan. For most days that air flow should be enough. This is Plan A. If I get on the road and really need air conditioning (and have the off-grid power to support it) then I will look into it.
For heating I will use something connected to propane. I prefer something built in so that I keep my small open areas clear for me to get around. Haven't done enough research to know what products to consider.
At home I have a 2 burner cooktop and a convection/microwave that I don't use much.. For the bus I am getting two IKEA conduction cooktops. The IKEA brand tests high (usually 1 or 2) in most reviews. I'm not sure if I want a stove. If so, I will probably get a toaster oven (cuz I love toast).
* Counter / table
In my very rough design, there is one long counter running along the side of the bus. I'm planning for it to be 18" deep and have a sink installed at one end. The rest of the counter is open with some electrical outlets near the wall. I plan to use the counter for drying dishes, cooking, computer work, art making and sewing.
I envision that underneath the counter (which will be 30" high at the top) there will be 12" deep storage areas. I measure my knee clearance and only need 6" from the front edge of the counter. So I know the storage area can be a maximum of 12" deep for an 18" deep counter.
Still exploring whether I want the counter hinged at the back so I can lift it in sections to reach the storage areas - or - whether I just want to put all the storage areas in columns on lockable rollers.
In my research I found the table of my dreams. It's a table on a post but it has 2 points where it can turn 360 degrees. Plus you can install multiple bases and move the table from place to place.
I found out that a Consumer Reports study showed that large bodied side-sleepers like me are happiest with a Sleep Number bed. The bus will be my full time home for many years. I want a comfy bed. Still trying to determine if Sleep Number beds need continuous electricity or just intermittent. Planning on a twin or full.
For horizontal partner activities that require more space, I will either get creative or just check into a hotel.
* Water in/out
I got a huge (100 gallon) fresh water tank with the bus. I also got a 45 gallon grey water tank as well. I doubt that the grey water tank will be large enough for 3 weeks of boondocking when it's likely I'll have 2 of us in the bus. Thinking about adding a second 'overflow' 45 gallon grey water tank.
I am still trying to figure out what size on-demand water heater and what kind of water pump I will need.
Entire books (and many internet fights) happen when the subject turns to RV toilets. After extensive consideration I am getting a composting toilet. Not sure if I will buy one or make one - but either way it will have a urine-diverting system and be easy to move to different parts of the bus.
Some folks like to sit on their beds and do stuff. Not me. I am a sit-in-a-chair kind of gal. I am hoping to design a stable rolling chair that can be locked in place during transfers (bed, toilet). I don't want to use my manual wheelchair indoors because it's much longer than a regular chair.
In addition to a work-at-the-counter chair, I want a put-my-feet-up chair, perhaps a recliner or separate seat and ottoman combination. Some folks use put the driver's seat on a base so it can turn around.
Guests will have portable seats (perhaps even an anti-gravity lounger) as well as at least one regular chair for sitting at the counter. I am hoping to store these extra chairs under the bus when not needed.