Two days ago I tried to cut the plywood for the walls and only got as far as two before what I would consider complete disaster struck. Today however, I cut 8 walls out and not one was a wasted piece.
To cut these panels the right size I used a cardboard stencil of the curve in the ceiling and traced it onto the plywood. Our walls are as straight as we could get them but, not perfectly straight as I found out last time I tried to cut the walls. This time, I used only a stencil of the angle with a line drawn on it to show the line of the outside 2x2 and drew in the lower part of the wall by using a lot of measurements. Above is the disastrous wall panel from the other day, I cut it for one side, re-cut it for the other, and then attempted to fit it in above the wheel well… i'm still not sure what went wrong with the measurements for it but it just never seemed to fit anywhere.
Today went much smoother however, I focused on one side of the bus, and as you can see, banged them out one after another.
Well, Phil, I hope you like the new walls :)
Filling and sealing the ceiling
When Phil's away Vanessa will play! Haha, I wish. Phil left a few days ago to drive his dad back to Quebec and visit with friends and family. We're on a tight timeline to finish our project and so I've been working hard to make up for the loss of him. Over three separate half days I filled weak spots under the tongue and groove and caulked all the gaps and knots.
For a small ceiling it was quite a time consuming task. Probably being a novice and perfectionist didn't help speed up the process much either. I started by using canned foam to fill spaces in the ceiling that weren't stiff due to a lack of framing as well as places with large cracks/gaps.
Then, I used latex caulking to seal each piece, knots, and where pieces of tongue and groove met.
Constructing Interior Walls
For one day only, we were extremely lucky to host Phil's dad, Sylvain. What an amazing treat!! He drove all the way from Sherbrooke, Quebec to help us construct our interior walls and got them all framed in a single afternoon -- something we figured would have taken us 3 days and would have been half as nice.
We have 7 interior walls enclosing our utility closet, toilet room, shower, pantry, and fridge. Sylvain, a contractor by trade, came up with what we consider a revolutionary plan by using 1.5" metal track framing studs. Everything we had seen on the internet had people attaching small pieces of wood to the ceiling where the studs would be going up. Before Sylvain, we made a sample interior wall copying this and looking back now it was rather comical thinking copying what we had seen would actually hold up a sturdy wall.
The best part of Sylvain coming to visit I think was Phil getting to be with his family a little bit. He's been so great to come and share my home while we work on this project and I know he was very excited to get a chance to see his dad and share this experience with him as well.
Thank you for all your hard work the other day with us, coming all of that way, and really transforming our bus. You did so much work, and we are so grateful! Safe journey home and please join us anytime!
PAnelling the ceiling
This one day project spanned 3 days and plans changed everyday. Many people building houses out of school buses don't need to take down the original ceiling and re-insulate because they live in a much warmer climate than we do. We didn't have the luxury of keeping the metal panels already fitted to the ceiling and ideas are limited on the internet. The major website on skoolies that we've consulted during this whole process had post after post about wooden tongue and groove; saying it was the, by far, best option. As budget conscious young people however, tongue and groove was not our first choice because of money alone.
We found some 8X4 sheet 1/8" hardboard that seemed to be able to take the curve when we tested a piece of it. We came up with a plan to cover the ceiling with it that should have installed in just a couple hours and brought home all of the supplies. The full plan is mentioned in the post, Day Eighteen, as well as the details on how we framed the ceiling to fit these panels perfectly. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned and when we actually went to put the first piece up, it cracked at the curve in the ceiling and the whole plan went down the drain from there. We trouble shot by adding plywood across the curve to lessen the angle, we considered using strips of the panels, and even considered dealing with an ugly uneven, patchy mess, if it meant we could just put something on the ceiling. Truthfully, it was an extremely frustrating and crushing moment to have something we had been building up to for so long, to not be able to happen.
After a few deep breaths, we were calm enough to make a clear and intelligent decision, we headed into town to check out options and surprised ourselves by bringing back 19 packages of pine tongue and groove as well as some more 1x2s to add to the framing.
To save wood we used 6-11" pieces of 1x2 to go width-wise between most of the length-wise boards attached to the metal frame. As well, we added two more full length-wise sections of framing. With this addition we got enough coverage to attach the tongue and groove and FINALLY began work on the ceiling.
Insulating the Ceiling
We've seen online that a lot of people use styrofoam insulation for the ceiling but that it ends up being a real headache cutting it into pieces ranging from 3-6 inches and fitting them to the curve of the ceiling. To avoid this trouble we thought we would use spray foam. A do-it-yourself kit at Home Depot cost about $350 and would be able to do the whole ceiling at 1". The kit as well advertised closed cell insulation meaning it would be rated higher and not need an additional vapour barrier.
We purchased the kit and were so excited to use it, until we opened it and read the finer points. The kit seemed easy enough to use, however, our current wintery conditions were far from compatible; everything the spray foam required, we had the opposite. A warm surface; not in winter with a metal roof. A dry surface; not with a heated bus and cold outside. A ventilated space away from gas sources; not with a bus in need of an open-flame propane heated and all doors closed just to make a comfortable working environment.
It was a sad fact and harsh reality, finding out that spray foam was not in the plans after all when we had planned for it for weeks, bought the kit, and hurried through the wall work to finally get the ceiling insulated. Thinking quick though we opted for a 4" fibreglass insulation and got the whole job done quickly in an afternoon, including stapling up a vapour barrier.
Closing in the Walls
Full disclosure, not all of this work came together in one day, but for simplicity sake I've put it all in one post.
The Back Wall
The back wall of the bus was especially difficult to deal with. We both though finally admitted to have been avoiding bringing it up for weeks and decided it needed to actually be dealt with.
The back door we had already decided to leave as is. Currently we won't be using it for any reason but we like the idea of having the additional exit and maybe one day using it somehow.
As you can see from the photos above, the other three sections that make up the back wall aren't ideally shaped. On either side of the door, the wall is curved outward like a narrow chevron, as well, the windows are built into the back wall in such a way that if they were removed, there would be a whole, and if kept, framing around them would be a nightmare. To remove the inside wall panel we had to use the grinder to simply cut around them; this left sharp and uneven metal edges.
The third section, above the door and the width of the bus was the only place on the bus without an exterior metal wall. It was only fibreglass and had in it the large stopping lights used for school pick-up. The most difficult part of this section was the arch, thinking of closing it in with plywood would really put our carpentry skills to the test.
After a lot of discussion and brainstorming, we decided with our skill set, and with an internal push to get the walls finally done so we could tackle the ceiling, we would simply cover up the back windows, running plywood interior walls straight down and covering the angled wall. We insulated all three sections with 6inch pink fibreglass insulation, framed them with 1x2s and covered them with 1/4" plywood, same as the walls. This made the two side sections a dream, but the arch above the door was as daunting as expected. Not being professional carpenters, we came up with what I think was a pretty good idea of how to trace the angle and measured the height of the upper section every 3 inches, then marked the heights on the plywood and connected them with slightly angled lines.
Framing the Ceiling and Running Electrical
Another HUGE change to the appearance of the bus! This did not come together easily, but we were lucky to have the help of the family again.
To frame the ceiling, we first needed to decide how we would cover the ceiling. There is a lack of thorough tutorials on this topic and with the curve of the bus ceiling, its a unique challenge for the 'skoolie' crowd. The most popular way to cover the ceiling is with strips of wooden tongue and groove running from front to back. This is a simpler approach, that allows you to overcome the issue of the curve. Tongue and groove unfortunately though is currently out of our budget.
Looking for other solutions, we've seen some people use different types of large, flexible sheeting. The most ideal sheeting we could find was a flexible, yet stiff, vinyl… also, unfortunately out of our budget at $60 a sheet.
What we ended up finding, you can see a piece of in this photo, its 1/8 inch MDF sheeting. We brought a piece home to try it and it seems to take the curve of the ceiling well. Better yet, we found it with a white finish meaning we won't need to paint it.
Knowing what we were going to use on the ceiling helped us make a plan for framing. We would run the 4x8 sheets, length-wise, on either side with a 15" wide strip down the middle. As the sheeting is pretty heavy, we decided to screw it in with wafer-head screws and washers, creating a wider hold and making sure the screws won't just pop through from the weight. On either side of the middle strip we will be using a plastic trim to cover the seams.
The last part of the framing project you can see in the top photo, it was the piece in between the windows. With the two screws and washers, to get the trim to lie flat and cover up the metal well, we had to notch of each piece individually, making room for the screws.
My dad is taking lead on the electrical side of this project for us as it is way beyond our knowledge. There is a thick group of wires which lead from the front of the bus to the back for the various lights (inside and out) emergency exit buzzers, and in some cases leading no where. To shrink the thickness of this group of wires which will be running behind our ceiling, he and mom sorted the wires out and removed the ones we no longer needed.
We no longer needed the wires running to the interior lights, the speakers, the stopping lights, and the emergency buzzers so these wires were taken out and re-used for our 12V needs within the RV/house. We will be using a standard RV electrical set up with 12V batteries, an inverter and converter, and the option to plug into 120V.
When I did the layout for the bus, I also taped off where every outlet, light, light switch, and 12V wiring would be. Once the framing was done we then ran the salvaged 12V wires to the various locations and to where our utility closet will be.
For the 120V system we bought 14/2 BX cable and ran two lines from where our fuse panel would be. The only thing on the 120V system will be 6 receptacles and because none of our appliances will run on 120V, two lines, with two 15 Amp fuses is all we will need. Above you can see one of the receptacles. I was explaining earlier about the wall framing that we left a gap for electrical on one side, but not the other. This is because one side of the bus has receptacles above the window and one has them below.
It took a little creativity to stabilize the receptacles, but dad figured it out. Its looking more like a house everyday!
Insulating and framing the Walls
Insulating the walls was a pretty easy task as the wall cavities are wonderful rectangles. We decided to leave the lower part of the wall 'as is' because we didn't want to jeopardize the frame of the bus any more than needed.
We used the yellow insulation to push down into the bottom of the walls… plus some of the insulation on the ceiling, making sure to get as mud has we could into it. Then we cut sections of 1.5 inch pink styrofoam to fit very tightly into the upper wall.
Framing the walls can be done a number of ways from what we've read about on the internet. Some people are more willing to lose width, but for us, we wanted to keep as much space as possible and so we opted to frame the upper wall and around the window with 1x2s. Using 1 1/4 inch self-tapping screws, we measured sections of 1X2 to meet at half way between the steel bus frame. There isn't anything substantial along the windows to screw into except the metal ribs. The framing had to go in after the insulation because it covered over it partly. The 1x2a lined up with the top and bottom of the window.
The last part of the wall framing was the vertical 1x2s. On one side of the bus we ran electrical for the receptacles along the wall and so our framing has a break in it which allows the wires to run behind the plywood wall. This you can see above. On the other side the 1x2 runs the full length, from the bottom window trim, down to the railing in which the seats had previously been attached to. Again, we simply attached these pieces of the frame to the metal ribbing of the bus with self-tapping screws.