FAQ

No conversation or blog post about our living situation is without a lot of questions and comments about the ins and outs of living in a bus with our family. These can range from the How-To questions from people who are contemplating a similar lifestyle to the curious and incredulous comments from people who are being exposed to a way of life far different from anything they’ve experienced before. I accept all of these as valid and legitimate and I’m happy to respond to some of these here for easy reference.

Some good places to start before I delve into specific questions are my previous posts:

How We Do It – some of the reasons this lifestyle works for our family

Why We Do It - some of the reasons why our family chooses to live in a converted bus

Enough – contemplating the idea of having enough, where do you draw the line between necessity and excess?

Leaping – a brief story of what it’s like to take a leap off a cliff and go after our dreams

 

I am concerned about gas prices – how much does it cost to travel?  Doesn’t all of your stuff fall around when you drive?

Eliza Brownhome is not currently outfitted for traveling. We are dependent on the grid for water, water pressure, power and waste disposal. The conversion process took far more time, money and energy than we initially realized and it was further compounded when we decided to have a baby so we never quite got to the off-grid part of things. Our intention is to eventually add solar panels, pumps, storage tanks, and batteries to facilitate some travel plans when our youngest child is older.

Our bus does run and we have moved its location a couple of times, but before we are to undertake continuous travel some engine work will be needed, and we need to set ourselves up with more portable incomes. When we have moved the bus, of course, we’ve had to take down photos etc. to make sure it is safe. The fridge and cabinets all have locking mechanisms so the doors don’t fly open when driving.

 

The cabinets look heavy – are you concerned about weight?

One advantage of converting a bus is that the chassis is built super heavy duty so we’re fairly confident that at the time we pursue RV licensing, weight will not be an issue. Furthermore, our cabinets were built specifically to be durable and light. See here for comments on the kitchen cabinetry. Because most of the time, we’ve been parked in semi permanent location, weight hasn’t been a huge concern for us.

 

Where do you park?

I think this question is also geared toward the question of mobility so not really relevant to our particular situation. I assume this is about the relative difficulty of finding safe places to park such a big vehicle in new, unknown cities. However, just to show that you don’t have to be in a rural environment to find a parking location, we spent five years parked in my sister’s back yard right in the middle of Vancouver, BC. If you can believe it, my sister didn’t even own the house. She was renting and we had permission from the landlord to be there. If you go about things the right way and find the right people, a lot of things that you might not think possible can work out.

Currently, we are parked on a farm on the east coast of Vancouver Island in exchange for providing regular farm labour.

 

What part of the country are you in? What about the winters? What about insulation? What about condensation?

As mentioned, we live on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. The climate is very similar to Seattle’s. We expect rainy mild weather between September and April. Over the winter, we get temperatures near 0°C with the occasional bout of snow and freezing temperatures. Summers are mild with temperatures in the mid 20s and we are lucky not to have very many bugs for the most part.

That said, it is far nicer being in the bus in the summer months. Because we don’t have many bugs, we tend to just throw open all the windows and doors and make ample use of an oscillating fan and the roof vent/fan in our kitchen.

Our bus is slightly insulated. There are a couple of inches of pink fiberglass insulation in the roof. We also added 1 inch pink foam insulation to the walls. The windows are single pane and we kept almost all of them in the interest of letting in light. That’s been a trade off for temperature moderation of course.

So, how do we keep warm and dry?

  1. Because we tend to stay in semi-permanent locations, skirting the bus is vital to create some dead airspace under the bus. This helps keep the floor a little warmer.
  2. Our woodstove really gets the whole bus cooking hot. Plus, it helps to dry out the bus. The lack of insulation, single pane windows, small space, and propane cooking, all  result in a lot of condensation in the winter.  Cooking in general causes a lot of condensation but propane itself creates condensation so we are really happy to have the dry heat of the woodstove.
  3. Every winter we put plastic on our windows. From what I remember, a single $20 roll is all it takes to plastic all of our windows. That really helps cut down on the condensation.
  4. We have an excellent two-way vent/fan in our kitchen ceiling for expelling condensation caused by cooking.

 

What kind of appliances do you have on board?

We have:

  • a full size 3 way fridge with freezer. 3 way means that it can run off propane, DC or AC power.
  • a Suburban propane DC furnace (for backup for the wood stove and to keep an ambient temperature overnight after the fire goes out)
  • a 3 burner propane stove with oven
  • a Bosch inline propane water heater
  • DC lights throughout
  • a converter to convert AC power to DC for running the lights, furnace and fridge.
  • a wood stove
  • AC plugins to run computer, lamps, toaster, etc.

 

What about a shower?

We initially planned to build a shower beside the bathroom, but as we were living in my sister’s back yard and we had a private entrance to the house with the use of our own bathroom, the project inevitably got put on the back burner. Then we decided to use the space for a dresser/change table for our oldest when he was a baby. I do wish we had prioritized a shower, but then again, we definitely need the space right now for the kids.

That said, here are my thoughts on our culture’s obsession with showering, from my post Enough:

Personally, I think we all shower too much and I find it a bit wasteful. I do find it inconvenient to not have a proper shower right now and I don’t mean to pretend that I’m some kind of saint or martyr. But consider this: in Little House on the Prairie, Laura’s family bathed once a week, on Saturday night. They didn’t have showers. They didn’t have running water. They had to heat all their water on a wood stove. It is possible to keep a family of five clean without a shower. You can swim in a river (we have a  couple clean beautiful rivers in our area). You can shower at the local pool. You can shower at a friend’s house. You can wash up at the sink. You can bathe children (and yourself) in a Rubbermaid bin or a wash basin. You can reduce how often you think you need to shower.

 

You all sleep in the same room!?

From my post, How We Do It:

We have always slept with our kids. We co-slept with our babies, and we often let them come into our bed even when they got older and had transitioned to their own bed in their own room (or slept in their beds if they wanted us to). We realize that this musical beds and sharing sleep with our kids is only going to happen for a few years. We can live with that. We’ll have lots of time with our beds to ourselves in the future. As much as we can, if our children express a wish to be close to us, we try to say yes. And as for parental intimacy, you can always google cosleeping and sex to find out that there has been a lot said about this even in the context of house dwelling. For a little laugh, I’ve always liked the t-shirt that says “Cosleepers do it in the kitchen.”

Still, I recognize that our current sleeping arrangements aren’t ideal in the long term and I’m thankful that they are temporary.

 

This is fine while your kids are little, but what will you do when your kids are bigger?

In general, we approach our life with the idea that we can grow and adapt as we need to, which means that in all likelihood, by the time our kids are teenagers, we will have moved on to some other type of home, but you never know what could happen. We are open to a lot of different ideas. (There is a family with three teenagers currently living in a bus, traveling and blogging about it – the unschool bus).

Our original purpose in converting our bus was to have somewhere to live while we built our own home because otherwise, you’d have to rent one home, while also paying a mortgage for property and incurring the costs of building. Eliza has always been intended to be part of the puzzle, not necessarily the house we live in forever. Though, now that we’ve had her for 10 years, and our oldest baby was born on the bed in the back, I think she’s with us forever, even if she takes on different roles over the years. I can’t imagine ever selling her. Aaron and I imagine it would be fun to live in the bus again after all the kids eventually leave home. The space really is ideal for two.

 

Won’t your kids suffer for play space in the winter?

My oldest child is 7 and he goes to school during the day. My other two children don’t take up a lot of space, and they have plenty of toys and play things to keep them occupied. We live on a farm so they play outside quite a bit, though yes, I’m sure we may feel a little more cooped up during the long gray rainy winter months. We can plan for that with outings like the library or community center.

I’d say the one area where I really agree with this idea of suffering for play space is the fact that the bigger two kids can’t really get away from the baby where he can’t get into their puzzles or lego or drawings, because he just climbs up and joins in on whatever they’re doing. This is a bit of a problem and I recognize that and do my best to help by setting them up on those activities while he is having a nap, or taking him outside to play to give them some space, or otherwise accommodating their need to occasionally play without a baby getting into everything. The flip side is that it also doesn’t hurt them to learn how to accommodate the baby’s need to learn and be curious sometimes.

 

Who would live in a bus? I look at that and start to itch all over. You know there is a lot of Xanax and wine involved.

These are all real comments I saw on posts featuring Eliza Brownhome and I love them. I love that they are genuinely funny while still being honest that this life isn’t for everyone. However, it also gives me the opportunity again to mention the word perspective. As I said in my post Enough, it helps to remember that families around the world, now and in the past, have lived with far less than we have at this moment. Families have historically lived in one room homes for a very long time and somehow children still made it through the winter without dying of boredom or fratricide. Parents still managed to create more children, and to keep everyone clean.

We are lucky. We are warm, our bellies are full, our beds are comfortable (and full). Our children have toys and books and 100 acres to run through. Our children can visit a dog, barn cats, sheep, pigs and chickens daily. We can afford to send our son not just to school, but to an expensive private Waldorf school (because we reduced our expenses by living in a bus). We have been married for 10 years and we still like hanging out together.

There are worse things in life than having to share a small space with the ones you love.

————

Please check out this excellent article on reasons that living in a tiny home is good for the environment–it has a lengthy section with advice for those who may be considering this life for themselves.