Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Update! Walls, Electricity, and What We've Been Up To

Blog world! We are still here!

Bus update:
Walls are framed! We used 1x1s, [edit: I mean 2x2s!] and will provide structure for our insulation and for finished walls.
Wall framing!

Pretty beetle kill pine.

We will insulate with 3/4" [edit: 1.5"!] polyiso foamboard after we install all the inner workings - electric, plumbing, all that good stuff. Some spots took us forever to figure out. The driver's side rear window will be in the bathroom, and is going to get blocked off for a toilet vent. Rounded back corners were tricky. We had to decide how we were going to do window framing, and window sills. I think we have a clear path ahead though once we're ready for the final look.

We have made huge strides in electricity! Not only have we learned how to safely wire DC and AC, but we've installed our first AC outlet! The existing bus DC wiring is surprisingly simple, once we figured out that the interior lights are not run on a loop circuit (that was a puzzle for a while, we're learning!).
The first outlet!
Trying to figure out the interior light wiring.
We have a nice dimmer switch ready to go in for the interior lights. AC wiring is roughed in and receptacles are mounted for all the outlets. We have 5 outlets total: bathroom GFCI, back passenger side, kitchen counter, kitchen table, driver's area, and the utility cupboard. That will allow us more than enough configurations for everything we might need AC juice for. The goal then is for everything without an AC plug to run on DC (lights, water pump, vents, etc). Fridge and water heater will be propane.
Scheming the electrical layout.
The plan is to run the electricity fully off-grid with solar power, so we are researching panels and inverters and charge controllers and all those good things. The front runner so far is stuff from Go Power! (you can find them on Amazon). They have a range of solar packages that come with everything we'd need for however much power we calculate we need to install, plus stuff like flexible panels and portable panels (so we could park in the shade on a hot day and still charge).

I'm getting ahead of myself though! The solar setup is the second biggest expenditure of this project, other than the bus itself, so it will probably be a while before we move forward with it.

Other happenings:
Have you guys seen this book? Teff Love! We are in love. I recipe tested for this book, and did you know that our staple weekend breakfast is now Ethiopian sorghum porridge with spicy berbere oil? Holy crap you guys that stuff is GOOD!! My other favorite is anything tibs!

We celebrated Christmas and New Year's and our 6th anniversary! We toured wedding spots and did other wedding planning stuff (websites and guest lists and lodging and catering, oh my)! Erik started a new semester at school and went on a bunch of work trips, we planned a trip so Southern CA for next month, I joined the local volunteer fire department then dropped out (renting is sad sometimes). We hiked and snowshoed and birdwatched and survived snow storms.

Deep snow hiking - Kita taking a break.

RMNP from the northern boundary.

Adorable pair of Pine Grosbeaks.
We cooked a lot, we cursed satellite internet, we watched Doctor Who, we researched bus toilets and hot water heaters and water tanks and plumbing and bed designs and OH YEAH WE GOT A TUB!!

Til next time!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gettin' Down on the Floor and the Mountain

Today, we finally finished the sub-floor.  The joists are down, insulation is in, and the OSB frosting is layered on the top.  This has all taken quite a while, but not because we have been lazing about. No siree Bob!  We've been hard at work; traveling to West Virginia for a wonderful thanksgiving feast with great company, and climbing our way to the top of snowy Mt. Princeton in the Sawatch Range in Colorado.  More on this at the end of the post.....

Cammy cutting the foam board.
Method = measure, draw, and slice with a knife.
After installing our sub-floor joists, which consisted of a series of 1x2 and 1x3 furring strips (Douglas fir, of course), we installed the insulation.  We went with a 3/4" poly-iso rigid foam board, which snugly filled the void. We are supposed to be building green, right, you ask? Well, what is heck is this polyisocyanurate crap then? Truth is, we thought about using wool (but decided to spare the sheep) and recycled blue jeans (but decided we'd rather not have water logged pants behind our walls, in case they ever got damp, and we will just assume that would happen).  However, the R-value (the metric for how well the stuff insulates, duh!) of poly-iso is fantastic; making it far superior to other more natural insulation. The way I see it: the poly-iso will keep our bus warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. My point being, it will ultimately reduce our energy consumption and save......the.....entire.....planet! Yay!

 Space foam, er, I mean...foam board complete.

Highly technical circular saw cutting in progress.
Next, we slap the actual flooring in.  Plywood? No. OSB? Yes! OSB whaaaaat?  Yeah, it stands for oriented-strand-board, for the way that small strands of wood fiber are oriented in a generally perpendicular pattern to give the panels super strength. Sometimes, OSB gets a bad rap; being compared to particle board and inferior OSBs of the past.  However, much is this is more myth than reality. Actually, forestry practices for obtaining OSB raw materials are considered much better than plywood, which requires older, larger trees to be harvested. We found a brand of OSB called Advantech, which is not only great quality, but it uses a soy based glue to bind fibers together rather than formaldehyde, which may cause cancer and, potentially spawn mutant zombies. And no, we did not try to make any tofu from the OSB!

Tomorrow, we start our next phase of construction: the walls.  We plan to use 2x2 studs to save space, but still allow us to install adequate insulation.  Things will start to get interesting as we will then begin to install our systems like electrical and plumbing.

Cammy: ready to fight-off formaldehyde spawned mutant zombies
with her anti-zombie caulk gun  (which actually contained adhesive for
 bonding wood to wood, along with screws of course)  

Mission subfloor complete:
 Approximately 5- 4x8 panels were used to complete the floor.
That's the equivalent of about 160 square feet of floor space.

Now, what is this about an expedition to the top of Mt. Princeton?
Let's let the photos tell the story:

First off, the dogs have had their style cramped for months now, teetering on the brink
of husky depression.  We haven't been on a hiking adventure with them in a while.   So,
we loaded the 4 Runner, the dogs plunged  into the back, and off to Buena Vista and the
Sawatch Range we went.  As you can see from  the photo; any husky depression was
instantly cured once on the mountain.

Then we put our boots to the ground and began our 9 mile trek to the summit.  The hike starts near a communication tower off County Road 322 which follows a steep 4x4 road through a unique Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine forest.  We tried to drive the road up to the comm. tower the previous night, at midnight, but were turned back by a thick crust of hard packed snow and ice that sent the 4 Runner sliding backwards.  This was a little nerve-racking at the time, but we managed to find a camp spot along the road without the 4 Runner sailing down into the rocky gulch below.  Princeton summit is at the top right of photo.

Panorama of the Sawatch Range and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness from the top of Mt. Princeton: one of our favorite places in Colorado.  

Summit selfie.

I actually had ulterior motives for doing this particular hike.  Yes, the dogs were depressed and we both needed some adventure as well as a break from the bus.  My real reason was to ask Cammy to marry me, Colorado back country style.  I asked her at 14, 196'.  She said yes :)  

I like this photo.  She is either really happy about the proposal, or she is delirious from the lack of oxygen at the summit.  I suspect it was a little bit of both ;)

Inspiration for the post title:  weird video, but great song.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

So you want to live in a bus?

Ok, so I know what many people are wondering: why a bus?  Why not a trendy little tiny house?  Or for that matter, why not just settle down and buy a regular old house already?  These are all good questions, and ones we've thought about extensively over the past few years.  Cammy and I are both gainfully employed, educated, and desire a place we can call home.  However, we both also have similar ideas about living more simply, creating less of an impact on our environment, and living in a "non-traditional" way that allows us to be free from the burdens of a massive mortgage, ginormous debt, enormous electrical bills, and the weight that comes with buying to many things.   

Cammy and I saw this graph the other day.  It blew our minds. 

Don't get me wrong, I see the advantages of buying a house.  In many ways it's a great investment.  I am not questioning anyone else’s decision to own their own home and their own property.  After all, this is the American Dream, right?  I have had dreams of owning my own house; perhaps a place outside of town with a few acres where we can grow our own food, harvest our own wood, and call our home.  But at this point in my life, I have come to realize that home to me is not a geographic place, tied to space.  More than anything, home to me is a feeling.  It’s the feeling you get when you wake up to family on Christmas morning, share a Thanksgiving meal together, or are greeted by your loved ones after a long day’s work.   Sometimes, I think it’s just the feeling of having a place of personal solitude: somewhere to get away from the hubbub of life.

Cammy and I have had some long conversations about what we want and where we want to be in 2, 5, or 10 years so on and so forth. This is where our ideas become murky, and in many ways ambivalent.   We both love travel.  We love the feeling of seeing, experiencing, and even living in  new places.  As a wildlife biologist, I have many opportunities to travel for work and we could live a nomadic lifestyle if we so choose.  But we also feel a deep need to be somewhere and to have a place that is ours, a place that is comfortable, and a place that makes all of the feelings of being home meld together.  After many deep discussions about what we want with our lives, we came to a few realizations that ultimately led us to buy the big old tortoise shell of bus.

Extra credit for anyone who can identify this raptor I am holding!
How about this one?  Hint: the top photo
is a male and the bottom photo is a female.
They are both approximately the same size....
but they are in fact different species.
Here's what we have come to realize:

(1) Right now we don't see how buying a house is going to improve our quality of life.  We want time to hike, travel, see family, and just simply enjoy life rather than working all the time so we can pay our mortgage and other debts.  We will have plenty of time when we are older, to settle down and give all our money to the bank if we choose.

(2) We still have a desire to have somewhere we can call home, be it a bus, a yurt, or a hobbit hole.  It’s important to have a comfortable, simple dwelling for us and the huskies.  But we want to be able to build it, customize it how we want it, take it off grid, and simply take it with us wherever we wish. If we want to buy 40 acres in the hills, we can, and we’ll park a bus on it. If we both get laid off at work and need to move, we’ll take the bus with us.  If we want to travel and visit family for extended stays, we will always have a place to sleep, a chill spot for the huskies, and a wicked bus to call our home. 

(3) We don’t want to throw our money into rent anymore, because that’s just paying someone else’s mortgage.  
Maybe THIS is why home prices have
become so ridiculously expensive.
Just sayin'

(4) Buses are awesome.  Yes, they are huge vehicles, but they make for incredible tiny houses.  A few solar panels, a wood stove, and some ingenuity and you’re off grid in no time.  The size of the average American house grew from 983 square feet  in 1950 to about 2,500 square feet today, and with it so did urban sprawl and the human footprint on the planet.   Our bus will be about 180 square feet.  How’s that for reducing our footprint? 

(5) Everyone I have ever known that has built their own home alleges that it gives one a sense of accomplishment and pride like nothing else.  In a world where our professions, our work, and our ideals seems so abstract at times, being able to build a real, tangible home with a little sweat and blood (both of these have already happened by the way) just seems like something I shouldn’t just want to do, but have to do. Also, I should mention, we are keeping a tally of how many time we each bang our heads off of something in the bus while constructing it.  So far, it is a dead heat: 10 to 10. 

I leave you with a quote, that as a wildlife biologist, I particularly appreciate:  “Here is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes.” Henry David Thoreau – Walden, 1906.

Ok, here is you last chance to redeem yourself. Name
THIS species, and yes I am talking about the spindly tree.  Triple points if
you can name the National Park where I took the photo. 
Hint: Some of these trees are old than Jesus himself.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Weekend Report! Floor Part 1

So, the plywood was exposed and all the interior stuff we wanted gone was gone. Next step was to cut out the warped spot of plywood and patch it with new plywood. Little did we know what was to come and how DIRTY we would get...
Warped plywood
We used the sawzall to cut out the warped area, since the circular saw wouldn't have been able to make such a shallow cut without hitting the sheet metal underneath. The sawzall worked surprisingly well! We marked the cuts out straight, though cutting it straight was another story. We did our best!

We pried up the warped plywood, and found rust. Nothing unexpected, and we swept and cleaned up the exposed metal. It was pretty gross under there....were we ok with that being under our floor and under our housebus, walking on it all the time and knowing it was there? Hmm....maybe not. Well, looks like we're pulling out all the plywood so we can clean the metal! Plus, we'd save almost an inch of headroom!
Prying up the warped area, about to unleash the rust dust!

Rusty floor. Ick. We don't want that under our nice housebus interior
Side story: we worked on cutting out the plywood early in the morning, and it was chilly. Lucky for us we have a propane heater in the bus. Yay! It was blasting away and warming us up nicely.....until a horrible smell reached us. What was that?! Heater off, vents disassembled, and what did Erik find? Oh, just a mouse in two parts, cooked medium rare. Very, very gross!! It made me even more glad we were going to rip out all the plywood just so we could be sure everything got cleaned!

Two hammers and some extra 1x1s will go far in a quest to pry up 26 year old plywood that is copiously screwed and nailed down and all that hardware is rusted to the floor. This day made me very sore afterwards!
Plywood coming up and exposing the sheet metal underneath

Just a small portion of the sea of rusted hardware holding the plywood down!
More sawzalling (I'm just going to assume that is a word) the plywood around the built-ins we left in place, and around the driver's area edges. Then the hammer, to yank out all the nail heads and screws, or hammer them until they broke off. Oh my, sooooo many nails!! That floor was quite the danger zone as it was a swath of rusty, sharp hardware. The angle grinder took care of any big remaining hazards.
We are so glad we got rid of plywood so we could clean!
We decided a course of action to tackle the rust: we would use a wire brush type attachment for the angle grinder to grind off as much of the flaky rust as possible. This endeavor took 3 days and two HEPA dust masks each! And EVRYTHING was covered in a fine red rust dust. This was such a dirty job, we needed Mike Rowe. Mike, come work on the bus with us!
Flaky rust before grinding
 Alright, well all of THAT took a while. We then purchased an air hose since the dust was so fine there was no way we could get rid of it with sweeping. And really, how do you sweep all the window frames and in all the little nooks and crannies? The bus engine has an air compressor, so woohoo! After 3 bus blowouts over 48 hours, we finally had a clean floor and the dust under control!
First set of dust masks. We upgraded to heavier-duty ones.
Except, that floor was full of HOLES. Remember all those nails?! Unless we wanted a sieve for a floor and the lovely draft that would come with it, we had to fill 'em. A combination of Bondo and construction adhesive worked pretty well. I would estimate there were over 200 holes, and that was just the open ones! There were way more nails that we had cut off with the angle grinder and left stuck in place.

Bondo to the rescue!
FINALLY, we could start with some actual construction! Almost a month after buying the bus! And quick tangent: what is with lumber measurements and standards? I know the industry has probably been standardized for a long time, but what is up with calling something a 2x4 that is actually 1.5x3.5"? Or a 1x3 that is 0.75x2.5"? Why do they do that?! Yes, I brought a ruler to the lumberyard....
We debated coating the floor in anti-rust coating or paint or something, but after reading some labels and reviews, realized just how toxic and scary some of that stuff is. It was concerning for such a small space, so we decided to leave the metal as-is, rust spots and all. The metal will continue to rust, but for now it is primarily on the surface and the metal is solid and sturdy, so it could be 15 years or 40 years before the rusting is actually a problem.

Framing the floor! We are using a combination of "furring strips" (what kind of name is that??) that are 0.75x1.5" and ones that are 0.75x2.5". We put the skinny ones all along the perimeter, around the wheel wells, and around the built-ins. The fatter ones are placed across the width of the bus where our subfloor panels will meet, so we have enough space to screw everything down. Then the skinny ones will go in between the fat ones, to make each widthwise board 24" apart. I sure hope that makes sense to someone besides me! Maybe I will draw a diagram for the next post. We use Teks self-tapping screws for attaching the lumber to the metal, and those things are awesome! Also, we only had to unscrew and reposition two boards for the whole floor, and I thought that was pretty great.
Floor, framed!
Everything takes a long time, since we are learning as we go. Framing a subfloor isn't too intimidating to learn how to do, and neither is learning to use the Miter saw or impact driver. Neither is learning to use the angle grinder and which attachments to use. But once I start thinking about all the things that are left for us to tackle without any prior knowledge I get intimidated. I have to calm myself down a bit by looking an everything I have already learned! I just have to take each task one step and a time, and it is totally doable.
Miter sawing
Floor part 2 will be insulation and subfloor. We found really cool stuff for the subfloor that is not just your run of the mill plywood, I am excited about it! But, next time :)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Husky Management

The Kita in the snow
I'm going to tell you all about the huskies in this post!

The pair of them can be quite the handful. They are escape artists, they are loud, they can pull like nobody's business, they can jump fences, one has separation anxiety, if given the opportunity they will run and run and run and never come back, they have strong prey drives, and they don't get along with other dogs (well, they kinda do, they are just very excitable, play rough, and the prey drive kicks in around little dogs. So they only get along with very specific other dogs). They are far from perfect, though quite typical for their breed (RESEARCH before getting a husky)! Of course, we love them a whole hell of a lot. They've undergone extensive training and have a solid routine that helps immensely. Also? Exercise! Exercise! Exercise! I thought I'd tell you about some of the fun stuff we do with them.

Kanook hangs out at a summit
Kita is a much better trail-finder and trail-follower
than Kanook. Neither dog understands
switchbacks, however!

A windy ridgeline!

Skijoring near Gould, CO

What, exactly, is THAT?! Why, it is when you put a pulling harness on your husky, put a pair of skis on yourself, attach a line, and let the dog(s) go! You do your best to stay upright. Forget about stopping (brakes = your body hitting the snow as you deliberately throw yourself to the ground). Watch out for trees! In other words, it is a total blast! Our favorite place is go is the Moose Visitor Center in Gould, CO. There are flat cross country trails and hardly any other people in winter. Michigan Ditch trail at Cameron Pass is our favorite for backcountry. Definitely rougher, and more hills, but also deserted whenever we've visited.

Lucky for us, we can do this activity November through May!

Taking a break, huskies on the lookout for stray snacks

Our setup is:
  • Custom-made pulling harnesses for the huskies, made by Alpine Outfitters in San Clemente, CA - surprisingly affordable!
  • Skijoring harness for the human that is similar to a climbing harness, but sits a bit lower. We got this second hand at a local gear shop.
  • Bungee line to protect the dogs and human from sudden jolts. Came with the second hand harness.
  • Whatever skis we can rent cheap and nearby.
  • Cold-weather clothes for humans.
  • Durable gloves for humans.
  • "Snack water" for huskies - it is extremely important that the huskies are well hydrated prior to undertaking this activity! We make a tasty water concoction for them that usually involves soaked kibble, broth, and/or whatever tasty snacks we might have around submerged in their water (veggie bits, chunks of stale bread, that kind of thing).


Summit huskies! On top of 13er Mt. Sheridan
We do a LOT of hiking with the huskies. With spectacular hiking just minutes away from where we live, this is the main activity. They have summited 4 mountain summits over 14,000 ft plus a handful of 13ers, they've done extensive backpacking (more about backpacking later), and plenty of day hikes.
Our main concern with the huskies while hiking is looking out for other dogs. Kita and Kanook are ALWAYS leashed. The only exceptions are on difficult river crossings and occasional steep snow slopes with no one and no other dogs anywhere. And in these cases, there is always one of us waiting for them on the other side to tackle/catch and re-leash them!

Kanook thinks birdwatching is pretty lame,
unless he gets to chase the bird

If we encounter other dogs (or horses), as we often do, we move well off the trail and make the huskies sit. Usually other dogs pass by and there is nothing but a whimper from a husky. Sometimes, off leash dogs approach and are either far ahead or behind their owner, or just don't listen to their owner. Not ideal, and it happens more often than we're comfortable with, but we live with it. No room to move off trail? Grab a collar and keep them on our side farthest from the approaching dog, and keep moving.

So, how do we backpack with huskies? Well we've done enough of it that both humans and huskies know how it goes! Huskies get dog packs to carry their own food, food and water bowls, tie-outs, and sometimes a bit of water. Huskies are leashed, I keep control of Kita and Erik handles Kanook. Leash ends are looped through the hip belts of our packs to keep our hands free.

Huskies on tie-out at camp at the base of Mt Zirkel.
Near Steamboat Springs, CO
When walking is done and it is time to camp, we trade leashes for a tie-out line. We string the tie-out between two trees, and each husky has a short lead that allows them to touch and interact, but not get tangled. This sometimes works better in theory than it does in practice! We try to keep the tie out very close to where we will be sitting/cooking/hanging out, since Kanook get upset when he is too far away. Did I mention separation anxiety?

If we are backpacking with the huskies, we bring the tent. At bedtime everyone snuggles together in a pile of sleeping pads, sleeping bags, clothes, and random other stuff. The huskies try their best to push us off our sleeping pads, and/or lie directly on top of us.

Kanook LOVES the tent. As soon as it is set up all he wants
to do is hang out inside, expecting snuggle time.

Car Camping
"Car camping" has two meanings for us: camping in the tent with the car nearby (no backpacking involved), and sleeping in the car due to cold or road tripping. We own two vehicles, a Subaru Outback and a Toyota 4Runner, and luckily both accommodate the two humans stretched out to sleep. With huskies in there too it is usually a bit cramped, but we do fine.

Here are more pictures of huskies!

Ready for adventure!

Off-season training
Long-haired Erik! With huskies, of course
Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming
Backpacking Lone Pine Creek near Red Feather, CO

Human viewpoint - onward, huskies!