Winterizing the Bus

Hello! It’s been a few months since we’ve posted and it’s hard to believe we’re coming up on 7 months of living in the bus full time!

It’s officially winter and while it’s definitely more mild in this part of UT than other places in the country, there has still been a learning curve to bus life in a cold climate. Even though we built our bus with the intention of living in cold weather (insulated with spray foam throughout), it only took a few days of temperatures in the 20’s to realize the gaps in our build/insulation. The first cold snap we had in the bus was at the end of October and we quickly realized how much heat we were losing through the windows. So we started by getting reflectix to put in our windows (looks like metallic bubble wrap) and insulating tape. The reflectix was cut to size to fit in our windows and we eventually cut a big piece to fit inside the windshield. Amazing what a difference that made!

During that first cold spell we had a brief delay accessing water due to a frozen pipe. There is a section of pipes that run under the floor along the emergency exit door in our bathroom; and because those pipes are so exposed to the outside temperatures they froze. Paul used the insulating tape to wrap them up, which has helped but they are still the most likely to freeze when the temps get really cold.

One thing we didn’t anticipate during our build is how much we would use our mini split air conditioner. We thought and planned to use it mainly for the warm months and use the wood burning stove to heat the bus in the winter. While the wood burning stove does warm the bus really well, especially the front half; it’s been easier to use the mini split for the majority of our heat needs. Since we typically need some source of heat on a daily basis, we usually have the mini split going and will use the wood burning stove when its really cold or when we want to have a fire. It also helps that we’re plugged into the grid, which allows us to use the heating unit without concern for power consumption. Our room in the back of the bus is typically on the colder side and as the weather got even colder we ended up getting a space heater for that area.

We had our first guest to stay in the bus for the week of Thanksgiving! That was the first time we realized how exposed the piping under the shower is, to the elements. Paul’s brother took a shower only to find the water wouldn’t drain. As the day went on and the temperatures heated up, the ice in the p-trap eventually thawed and the water drained. This only happened one other time and that resulted in Audrey under the bus with a hair dryer to get the ice to melt. Since then we are more mindful of the temperature and often will pour hot water down the drain just to be sure!

Before we really caught on to how important the temperature is to our water use, we had a fun time figuring out that the washer/dryer should only be run when the temps are above freezing. Audrey put some clothes in the dryer late one night and because our unit uses water to dry the clothes, we woke up to the sound of the pump cycling on and off. Inside the washer/dryer had filled up with water because the pipe where the water normally drains had frozen. To make sure the drain wasn’t leaking on the floor, we had to pull out one of the pantry drawer so Paul could access the back of the machine. Fortunately it was not leaking and we were able to get the water drained out through the drain hose inside the access panel on the front of the machine.

One project that we finished since the weather has turned cold is our in-floor heating. When we got on the road we had not put water in the piping of the floor figuring we would do it when we made it to UT. Cold weather was just the motivation we needed to get it up and running! As it turns out, the floor heating hasn’t worked out as well as we would’ve hoped. Mainly because it’s not all that efficient at heating the floors. Looking back at the project and the layout, we should’ve run the piping closer together to have more piping and shielding in the floor to disperse more heat. If you want to look back at our floor heating set up check out this post.

Live and learn. We’ve stayed warm enough without it and the silver lining is that we had a secondary water heater in the bus when we needed it; and that came sooner than we expected. With the temperatures frequently getting below freezing at night, we started leaving our sink faucet dripping. One night the water was left dripping in the cold position instead of hot. No big deal right? Wrong. With the dripping water coming through the cold pipes there was no water running through the water heater lines so they froze. The next morning we got up and left the bus pretty quickly so when we got back, Paul noticed something was leaking underneath the bus. A quick search inside the bus led him to the cabinet underneath the sink where the water heater was leaking water. The internal components of the heater were damaged from being frozen and it was not something we could fix. Fortunately we had the second water heater that Paul was able to switch over fairly quickly. So needless to say, we’ll never make the mistake of leaving the cold water running at night, again!

Now we have pretty good systems in place and know what to look out for, with staying warm in the bus. We will eventually insulate the area under the shower better and this summer our plan is to replace the original bus doors with a regular door. We have a curtain hanging inside the bus door which helps keep a lot of heat in, but it’s still common for us to find frozen condensation inside the door on cold mornings.

We enjoyed celebrating most of the holidays in the bus for the first time. While we didn’t have Thanksgiving dinner in the bus, we did all our cooking in the bus and it worked out great. We also cut down our own Christmas tree and had fun getting the bus decorated for the season.

In celebration of our 6 month milestone, we thought it would be fun to do a Q+A about life in the bus. So if you have questions about our build, travel or living in a bus we would love to answer them! Leave them in the comments below and we’ll answer in our next post.

Instead of our usual Skoolie share, this time we’re sharing a fun interview we did with an online magazine about our build. Enjoy!

One thought on “Winterizing the Bus

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  1. Great update Audrey. Hope you guys are doing well. If you had a choice would you prefer to stay away from the colder climates in the bus or are you just happy to experience winter in the bus?


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