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Building a natural home in an old bus  RSS feed

 
Althea Lilley
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I am in the process of refitting an old school bus into a home. It runs great. I have been researching ideas for fitting it out and would like to hear what you would or wouldn't do or would or wouldn't have (plumbing, insulation, etc.) I have been thinking about using slip straw for insulation but am concerned that would add too much weight? Any input would be helpful.... or if there are any threads that answer my questions please point me there!
Thanks so much!!
 
r ranson
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How about wool for insulation. It has a pretty high R value, is renewable resource, and is naturally flame retardant. There are a few places that sell wool insulation, but you should be able to find it free. Since the sheep need to be shorn anyway, and since they raise 'meat' sheep they don't imagine the wool could be used for anything of value, then the farmers compost or burn the wool. You can stuff it lightly in whatever you are using for walls, or go medieval and create some beautiful tapestries and wall rugs.

As for the other questions, I don't know. But I'll be watching the thread with interest.
 
Rhys Firth
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Give wool away? Compost or burn?

Even "Strong" wool is worth around a dollar a pound, up to around 6 dollars a pound for good medium fibre from a texel terminal sire meat cross, on a 400 pound bale you're looking at anything from $400 to $1200 from the typical meat breeds. If you find a farmer composting or burning his wool, you've found a fool burning money. The meat meal and blood n bone companies even mechanically pluck dead sheep before grinding them up to make their fertilizer...


A good wool breed such as a Merino can easily surpass $10,000 a bale for fine wool, through there's not much of that being grown in the US. MacKenzie basin NZ and Darling Valley Australia superfine have gone for as much as a million dollars a bale, hand selected by reps from Italy for Armani suits and other high end luxury goods.



Yes, use wool by all means, but budget for it, don't expect it to fall into your laps for free.
 
Burra Maluca
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Rhys Firth wrote:Give wool away? Compost or burn?

Even "Strong" wool is worth around a dollar a pound.


That depends where you are. A few years ago in Wales the wool was fetching less than the cost of shearing. The farmers ended up shearing just for the sake of animal welfare and there was a huge upsurge in sales of less highly bred sheep breeds like Shetlands that will shed their fleece naturally if left unsheared.
 
Rhys Firth
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That's happened here too several times over the years, and you're even LESS likely to get free wool then.

If a farmer has to pay $2.50 a sheep to have them shorn, and only gets back $1.50 per sheep for the wool, he's loosing a dollar per sheep and he has 2000 sheep, would he rather sell the wool and be $2000 in the red for that transaction, or burn the lot and be $5000 in the red? That's an extra $3000 he'd have to make up in the meat schedule...


Farmers are practical economists, as opposed to the airy fairy theoretical ones in the academic world.
 
Rose Pinder
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The thing that makes wool insulation work is the wool's ability to trap air, so you want a fairly structured material that won't compact. Wool will compact, esp in a moving vehicle, and then you have gaps in your insulation and are losing much benefit. This is why commercial wool batts manufacturers put a small amount of synthetic in the batt so it holds it's shape and doesn't move.

I'd be concerned about straw slip moving and compacting too (and yes, weight). I used commercial wool batts in my housetruck, very effective (I used a 50mm stud so it doesn't have to be thick). If you are not in a hurry you can probably pick up bits and pieces left over from house builds/renovations. I would highly recommend some form of insulation in a bus because it's basically a metal and glass box with a lot of passive heat loss (good curtains will help too). There are some issues to do with the metal siding and condendation and insulation. Have you been to the Skoolie forum? Lots of experiences and idea there.

The other insulation to consider would be hemp panels, but if you have a curved roof then wool batts would be easier to work with. Don't forget to insulate the floor, it makes a huge difference.
 
R Scott
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Some of the new school buses are coming with wool batt insulation as a factory option. Hypo allergenic and better sound proofing.

Keep It Stupid Simple.

I would want basic plumbing to live in full time. I would use pex pipe, even for drains. Easy to run, can freeze without breaking, fairly low footprint. Bucket toilet or small composter like nature's head if you want fancy.
 
r ranson
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Wow, you are most definitely in a different part of the world.

Here's how it is HERE. We pay minimum $7.50 per sheep to the shearer (minimum price $75 for coming out to the farm, so if you have less than 10 sheep, you're paying a lot more per sheep), and that's for a quality of shearing that is inappropriate for mechanical processing. For those of you who don't work with wool or sheep, what happens is the shearer takes second cuts, cuts twice in the same place, so that you get uneven fibre length and all these nasty little bits that creates noils and pills. It can also clog up machinery. You often have to pay more for 'fibre' quality shearing, or have an in with the good shearer.

Now, if by some miracle, you got your nutrition right for wool production - Which is NOT necessarily the same nutritional regimen and shearing schedule as for optimum meat production - and the fibre does not have a 'break' or is not 'tippy' then you may be able to sell your wool to the wool board - who on a good year pay 20-50 cents per pound for a 'meat' wool. Break or tippy wool is where the animal experienced a time of stress, both good or bad stress, or a change in nutrition, both good or bad, and the individual wool follicles didn't grow as thickly as normally do, so that the wool breaks when pulled on, or processed, creating a fibre that will pill easily or even jam up some of the more sensitive wool processing machines.

To sell to the wool board, you have to have access to the bailing machinery (another expense), and more importantly you have to have enough wool to make a bale. 400 pounds of wool? I get an average of 5 pounds per sheep for my fibre breeds, I would need minimum of 80 sheep, more like 100 because the wool needs to be skirted (dung removed) and sorted (undesirable fleeces removed) prior to packing.

And then there is the great fun of dealing with the bureaucracy of the wool board or coop - quite often they are government sanctioned and you have to jump through that red tape as well.

And then there is getting the wool to the centralized wool sorting stations. Shipping is usually more than the price paid - so leaving the wool on the farm we are only losing a bit, moving it from the farm we are loosing a lot... hmmm, yes, farmers are a practical lot. That's why a lot of them compost or burn their wool here.

That's what selling a bale of wool is like here. Most years it costs more to sell, especially wool of inferior quality, than you get for it. "Unless we are growing a wool breed, why pay to send the wool off farm when they can just burn it for free?" say the local sheep farmers.



A great deal of farmers don't have that many sheep. These farmers are a lot like the people you may find on this permies forum. We have small plots of land, and even if we had enough land to raise 100 plus sheep, we wouldn't necessarily want to.

So, basically small farmers, with only a few dozen sheep, don't have access to the same resources as industrial scale farmers - One of these days, I'll wake up and this statement will be obvious to the world... but until then, I'll be a broken record on the subject.

A few are clever enough to have duel or even tri purpose breeds (wool, meat, milk), and are self reliant enough to either process their own wool, contract with a local, small scale mill to process it for them, or knows the local fibre artists market who will pay upwards of $4 a pound for unwashed wool, and upwards of $12 for processed, ready to work with wool. Then again, most farmers here don't have a way into that community and it's all about who you know when selling direct to the customer.

On top of that, a lot of farmers who grow sheep for selling lamb meat don't realize their fibre can be used. They are informed that these are meat sheep, and other well meaning farmers tell them to toss the wool. People have forgotten that wool can be used, no matter the quality.

These are the people who gladly give away wool. They usually have less than 100 sheep and are under the impression that their wool is a financial drain, not a resource.

Of course even meat wool can be used for carpet making or felting, even if it's not strong enough to undergo the rigors of industrial or mechanical processing (ie, tippy, second cuts, &c), it can still be hand worked.


If I was using wool for insulating a moving object, I would definitely wash it and felt it in big giant sections. So that each wall is one large felted section. This is much larger than what most machine felting can do. But is not all that difficult by hand. Or, I should say, by foot. Search Traditional Yurt Felt Making and you should be able to see the method I mean. It helps to have friends. Cook them a nice lunch while they do the felting for you.

Carded wool batts would work well too, but I agree, it would probably compact over time. A felted wall covering could be decorative, then it wouldn't need to be hidden between walls. Faster to make than a woven one, but then again, woven wall rugs and tapestries have their own charm.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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​Hello All,

First I have to back up what Burra shared. There are areas where wool is often "thrown away." I am not stating this is a common occurrence, yet it is far from being rare, as I have seen wool composted here in Vermont every year I have lived here.

Now that leads me to the next aspect of wool as an insulation. I like wool insulation...this is not the same material that comes off the animal...by a long shot. It is highly processed and condition, as raw wool would never last as an insulation under the best of conditions, and the cleaning and processing that it would require is far outside the scope of a DIY project. So whether making felt for a Ger or Yurt (which I have done) or possibly specing wool batts for a structure I design and build...raw wool...as would be thrown away...is not going into either without lots and lots of processing...

As an insulation for a "metal skinned structure," that I would have to give a great deal of consideration to. I think wool could be (has been?)..."made to work." I am not sure of its long term durability or ability to maintain its R value. Metal is very efficient at condensing moisture on its surface, and there will be a far amount of this on a bus converted to living space. So unless there is a specific "venting air space," such as found in a "rainscreen" designs, there is all likelyhood that any wool insulation will have a degrading moisture accumulation in just a short period of time. This can actually go unnoticed for a very long time as often is the case in the interstitial zones of any wall.

So, what would I use (have used)?

First choice would be to actually design some form of wall venting on the outside of the thermal envelope, and then I would use a mineral wool board and/or batt material as my first choice. Now my next choice is less "permi focused." I validate this as a bus isn't the most "permi based" of architectural forms. So, it being a metal bus, I probably would employ one of the greenest foams I could find for the roof and floor area, was both of these are going to see a lot of moisture from both sides.

Now let me stress...each year I dislike foams more and more. So if I had a bus...and I had to covert it to a living space, I have to acknowledge that the greatest "R factors" I can achieve currently are going to be with foams. But...I would, if it was my own bus...probably forgo inside living space and create a "shell within a shell" of wood and not use foam but "mineral wool" and probably wool felt and wool rugs as well for some of the floors, and many of the walls and roof. I then probably wouldn't drive it much either, so this entire notion is academic for me.

I hope my perspectives were of some value, and if there is any "technical" building knowledge I can share, please do ask...

Regards,

j
 
Althea Lilley
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Thanks for all the input... Wool was my initial instinct. I actually have a couple sheep and work with wool quite often so I have many connections for free wool in the area. It has be quite interesting listening to how different each area is with shearing.
I know a bus probably isn't the best choice for most but it was really the best option for me at this time in my life.
I haven't seen the skoolie boards... Are they on here?

Any input on electricity or plumbing? I don't plan to use much of either at all ( composting potty, grey water, etc) but wondering it would be worth it to install just a little solar power?
Thanks again for all the advice... It really is so valuable!
 
r ranson
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Completely fascinated with your personal experience making a yurt. Jay, maybe we could start a thread about wool insulation and different techniques for processing it? I can wax poetic about wool for hours. I would really like to pick your brain on the other aspects of yurt building too.

Good point about the wool and moisture condensation. I would definitely put good ventilation high on my list for any small living space. I wonder how other natural insulation materials would hold up with that problem? I've seen wool batting between two metal walls, but I don't know if it's air tight or given breathing holes - if the former, it would have to be VERY dry before sealing off. Perhaps wall hangings that can be taken down and washed? But that's added maintenance... Going to give this more thought.

Thanks for the great thoughts about insulating the bus.

What are your thoughts on a cooker inside the bus? What kind of cooker would you go for? What other things do we have to consider like the moisture from the cooking, or the airflow to stop us gassing ourselves?



Now that leads me to the next aspect of wool as an insulation. I like wool insulation...this is not the same material that comes off the animal...by a long shot. It is highly processed and condition, as raw wool would never last as an insulation under the best of conditions, and the cleaning and processing that it would require is far outside the scope of a DIY project. So whether making felt for a Ger or Yurt (which I have done) or possibly specing wool batts for a structure I design and build...raw wool...as would be thrown away...is not going into either without lots and lots of processing...


I do hope I'm allowed to both agree and disagree at the same time. I know the forum rules say we aren't to say, "I agree with you, but..." so hopefully this won't come across that way. There is definitely merit to what you write, however, I wonder if the method you use to process wool isn't the most efficient thus making it seem like a difficult task when it needn't be?

I totally agree with you that raw wool isn't appropriate as insulation. For those of you new to wool: Raw wool attracts moths, often has dung tags, and there may be bacteria on it that encourages the wool to break down. Besides, it's all lumpy. It can also stink.

Clean wool seldom attracts moths - they are attracted to the dirt first, then the larvae eat the wool. Clean wool smells better, in fact it smells great (to me). And can last hundreds/thousands of years when well cared for.

Full agreement with the needing to process wool part.


With regards to the amount of work involved in cleaning, picking, carding, and felting wool... I've noticed that some people find this a lot of work. I had a lot of trouble figuring out why.

A 5 pound fleece can be washed, picked, carded, and spun in under two weeks - on about an hour a day. I once did two fleeces washed, picked, carded, blended, re-carded, spun and knit in under 10 days, but I had two hours a day to work on it, so it doesn't count. This is all using hand tools, not even a drum carder.

Felting takes a different concentration of effort so we can ignore the spinning and knitting bit. It also doesn't require the fleece be carded - but that does help. Basically, the prep work and time requirements for felting is usually considerably less.

Why does it take me that little time, and others 5 times as many hours? I'm not a fast worker by any means, I'm a plodder. I follow the way of the tortoise and say the heck with the hare.

Maybe it's because I'm lazy. I do things the simplest way that gives the best quality results (I'm lazy and a perfectionist - it's not an awesome combination). For example, cleaning the wool I don't use dish detergent like other fibre artists, that has too many additives in it and requires extra rinsing, sometimes up to 4 washes and 6 rinses. I use a product designed for agricultural use called Orvus paste which gets the wool remarkably clean in one go, but may require a second application for especially stubborn wool. But only one rinse. Orvus is designed to be used on living animals, so it's also designed to be rinsed off quickly. It's also considerably cheaper to wash a fleece with than dish detergent. What's more, it biodegrades so that takes care of some of my ecological soppyness. (Orvus isn't perfect however, but that's a topic for another thread).

Once you know the tips and tricks, processing a fleece is fast and easy.

But (a 'but' to negate what I just wrote, not a 'yes...but' intended to negate anyone else) felting for insulation is not one fleece. It is a lot of fleeces.

A traditional mongolian yurt can have multiple layers of felted wool, half an inch thick each and takes 60 to 190 fleeces - or so the book says... still gathering fleeces to make my first yurt, so I can't wait to find out how many it actually takes. The same book also says that only the outside of the felt is washed. So, to make the felt, you lay down a layer of washed fleece, lay down many layers of unwashed, picked/fluffed fleece, lay down a final layer of washed fleece - again going by that book I got from the library. (Yurts; Living in the Round by Becky Kemery). I'm not certain I fully agree with this book on this or many other issues - but not having made my own yet, I can't really justify my position.


I've helped make a few felted wall hangings with friends before. It took about the same time to make the felt as it did to cook a meal for them. It would be quite daunting to make even a moderate sized one on my own. With friends and some good wine, it's fast and easy. Friends with kids make it faster because kids seem to love making felt.

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi R. Ranson,

I will engage your last post here on the other post you started...Great stuff...another yurt and felt lover!!

What are your thoughts on a cooker inside the bus? What kind of cooker would you go for? What other things do we have to consider like the moisture from the cooking, or the airflow to stop us gassing ourselves?


Perhaps a small "shepard stove" or portable RMH. I have cooked in several buses, trailers, (self propelled, tanks, jeeps, hummers, 813's, etc.) Most of the time...just a plain old alcohol stove, and few time a wood burning zip stove on a shelf out a window...My last wook travel trailer had a propane stove and I have seen home methan types as well...

Hello Althea,

I don't think and this time I can really add to much about electricals and plumbing. There is hours of reading and video on the subject all over the net. I do encourage the installation of solar panels if you can. I will follow along and do my best to address any direct query.

Regards,

j
 
Rose Pinder
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http://www.skoolie.net/forums/

Mr Sharkey has some good resources on electrics. http://www.housetrucks.org/

Things you might use solar for: water pump, laptop/cell phone charging, lights, radio. You can set up a basic 12V system for those pretty easily (panel, deep cycle battery, regulator). 12V is more efficient, but you do need to think about what you would run on it. Water pumps are easy to get 12V, laptop and phone need car chargers etc.

Plumbing depends on where you think you will be parking up. Are you going to travel? Or be on your own land? If you are travelling, then self containment makes things easier. If you are parking on your own land, then it gets easier eg you can do a Humanure bucket toilet with outside compost, and set up your kitchen water to go to trees or wherever. Neither of those are easy options on public land or even some private land.

I use an LPG gas stove, unvented. Put it by a window that opens if you are worried. I also have a wood stove, and think this is essential in a bus because of the condensation issues and difficulty keeping metal warm.
 
r ranson
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Great thoughts on cookers.

Question about woodstove heating/cooking. What about Carbon Monoxide? I know with the woodstove in our house, the city requires us put CO detectors next to each bedroom and special vents in the wall. Of course, being a gas that sinks, the city demands that we put the detectors at eye height or on the ceiling.

Just imagining in a small space, it may be more of a problem? I don't know much about CO gas, so maybe it isn't an issue for this instance.


Has anyone ever tried vegi-oil stoves? I saw that there was a flare up in them in the early 20th Century, but they didn't last very long. I imagine oil stoves produce a lot of smoke and soot. But there is something alluring about being able to grow your own oil crops or fuel your cooker with leftover cooking oil and fats.


To the OP, what electric gadgetry would you want to run in your home? For my own needs, I would want lighting, phone charger, laptop charger, and e-reader charger. I could go for electric water pump (to pump water from storage tank to sink) and electric water heater - or I could just get a manual pump if they still make them and my cooker to heat the water. I imagine a solar charger, maybe even a small wind generator, all producing trickle charges for the battery since none of my perceived electric uses would be fast draining. So long as I have a way to cook stuff, I can't think of any other electric device I use often enough to want it in a small living situation... but others are different. Some people even know how to use the microwave. I don't, so there is no point in installing one in my fictional small home.

So what are your electric goals? Make yourself a list of what you expect to use, the absolute maximum you could imagine... then double that number. That's the system you need (or that's my opinion - more experienced voices please tell us your thoughts on this).

 
Rhys Firth
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NZ certainly is a lot different than up there in the polar wastes of Canada...

Even lifestyle blockers with only a dozen sheep usually manage to break even on the shearing costs having the small block block come around and shear them. There are guys with a trailer set up with a fold down side for a shearing platform and a handpiece. Often older retired shearers who may not be able to gun through 100+ sheep an hour but get bored sitting around while all their mates are off on the big farms.

My mother has approx 30 sheep, not enough to bother baling up but she just picks up a couple of wool sacks for the different types (romney-x and perendale-x) and they fit loose in the back of the van when she next goes past the wool brokers place.

The wool brokers are used to tipping out partial bags from smallholders, sorting, grading and combining fleeces into larger bales.

Down the village, one of the holiday home owners there has a few sheep to keep the grass down between visits, he just loads them on a trailer, drops them at a local sheep station on shearing day, runs them home after and the sheering gang sort and grade the wool and he gets a cheque from the farmer after the farmer gets paid by the wool broker, less the per head shearing costs of the gang.

No co-ops, no govt boards, just private brokers collecting wool from clients and putting them through auction.





Getting back to the insulation debate. other than felting, another way to keep it all from moving and shaking down is quilting. Old worn bedsheets, sew up 3 edges, stuff with wool, sew up the 4th edge and sew zig zags all over the sheets with the peaks interlocking. For extra warmth take two and overlap so the peaks on one are in the hollows of the other and hand stitch the two together. This was commonly done using old opened out wool sacks to line high country shepherds huts made of a single layer of planking over a frame, and it kept them warm through deep snow and winters, albeit the huts didn't move.
 
Rose Pinder
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R Ranson wrote:
Question about woodstove heating/cooking. What about Carbon Monoxide? I know with the woodstove in our house, the city requires us put CO detectors next to each bedroom and special vents in the wall. Of course, being a gas that sinks, the city demands that we put the detectors at eye height or on the ceiling.

Just imagining in a small space, it may be more of a problem? I don't know much about CO gas, so maybe it isn't an issue for this instance.


From what I understand it's a problem in modern houses that are sealed (non-breathing walls, tight windows etc). Wood stoves need air for the fire to burn, and that air has to come from somewhere. It's easy enough to design for this. I use a wood stove in an 18m2 space and it's fine. I built my truck to breathe.

I also recommend having the flue go straight up (no bends).
 
r ranson
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Rhys, that sounds like a wonderful system you have for wool buying and selling. I often wondered why farmers from NZ had so much more motivation to produce quality wool fibre (thinking of the stuff Ashford exports, beautiful wool) than we do here. Now I see, you have a system that not only allows small farmers access, but actually encourages them. Our nearest sorting station is over 20 hours drive...

Great idea with the quilting. We would value your antipodean point of view at wool insulation thread.


Back to CO gas. Do other combustible fuels produce CO Gas or just wood? Are there low wattage fire and CO and whatever else detectors specifically for small spaces off grid, or would they be undesirable because of the something (it's pre-coffee, so words are lost) it is said to emit?
 
Rose Pinder
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Plenty of small wood stoves designed for small spaces. Or you can get someone to make one. The Skoolie and Housetruck/RV communities have been doing this a long time, and there are plenty of examples/designs online. But really the issue is about ventilation. If you don't have air coming from somewhere you get problems with gases. (LPG is also a problem).
 
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