Saturday, January 26, 2008


The latest revelation: building in the Oregon winter is a serious matter. The rain is pretty manageable (except when we're trying to saw holes in the roof), but the bitter cold is a more formidable problem. The small space heater we've trucked in has been helpful, but even still we've had to learn to master the art of dressing in so many layers we start to look like marshmallows. It has been a day-to-day challenge, but one I feel like we're facing admirably (especially considering Erin's sunny California roots).

Considering these icy and clouded conditions, what better goal to set than install a warm and welcoming hearth in our home! The last couple of days we've been learning much about wood stoves. It's been important for us to keep in mind that our wood stove is going to serve more as a crucial tool, rather than a pretty showpiece, as it will be our only source of heat. We've been reading up on the guidelines for installation for our particular wood stove (Vermont Castings Intrepid II) in the manual that's online. We've been trying to follow the codes for safety as much as we can while also balancing the uncommon fact of being installed in a school bus. Here's what we came up with so far. Good thing that we scored our wood stove for free on craigslist because all of the other pieces ending up costing more than we had expected, almost $400 in all.

The stove is sitting on the bulky box built over the wheel-well across the way from the kitchen. We positioned it here originally because it would be right next to the shower for our wood-fired hot water heater plans and because it is pretty centrally located for more even distribution of heat. It also felt right because it sort of bridges the kitchen and living spaces (which seems appropriate for a working hearth). We need to send out many thanks to our friend Spencer for helping us get the 250 lb. behemoth in the bus - quite a feat indeed. We picked up some fire and heat rated 1/2" cement board at Jerry's called Wonderboard that we're using as a hearth pad and for the wall shields (eventually we'll tile over these). For the walls, we cut up some of our left-over copper pipe into 1" pieces and used those as spacers between the wall and the cement board. We also left a 1" gap at the bottom and top of the wall shields for air-flow. According to our manual, for a corner centered stove, we are supposed to position it 10" from each back corner to the walls. Since we have such a limited amount of space to work with, it was a bit tricky to get it in a good and safe position, but we worked it out in the end.

For our flue/chimney arrangement, we're using standard single-wall stovepipe going up to about a couple inches below the ceiling, then transitioning to special insulated double-wall chimney. The two are connected by a thing called a dripless chimney adapter. The hole in the ceiling has an extra 2" air space around the chimney for safety purposes. We are a bit concerned that if we leave the actual chimney at the height we had originally envisioned (2' about the roof), we will not achieve adequate draft for our stove to function properly. However, the kind of chimney we purchased (Selkirk Metalbestos) conveniently can twist on and off if we decided to have a removable extended chimney down the road.

We spent all day yesterday cutting a 12" hole in our ceiling. Erin used the reciprocating saw for most of it, but we also used a tin snips cutter and good old fashioned ripping with a wrench. It took a while and a lot of arm muscles. The edges of the hole are not the prettiest, but luckily it'll all be covered over over in the end. Next we secured the chimney to the roof using these special brackets and then waterproofed it all with hi-temp silicone. We finished this at about 6pm when the light and temperature started dropping precipitously and our fingers were not responding as well to the delicate job we were trying to accomplish. The top of the bus where we were perched started icing over as well. So we frantically got a tarp over the hole and called it a night. Of course when we woke up today it was raining! I suppose we'll have to wait to finish the chimney until it stops. In the meanwhile we'll get started on the propane.

Pictures of the wood stove set-up coming soon...


Erin's Update #1: In addition to rain it is now snowing here in Eugene. I mean, like, many inches, non-stop, covering everything. This forth-generation Californian is very impressed. It's magical and silent. I don't think we'll be getting to that chimney weatherization today.

Erin's Update #2: Our housebus compadre, Spencer, recently agreed to trade his help with the propane system (stove/oven, fridge) for a few hours of child care, burned CDs and a pool cue bag. =) We got together, planned out our system and bought all the components yesterday. Exciting progress on several fronts!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


We are back in action again after a restful two-week California vacation! We didn't wait more than a day to jump right into the next phase of construction on our bus: plumbing. After much debate about what would be easiest and most non-toxic, we decided to go with copper pipes for the freshwater (kitchen sink) system instead of galvanized steel. Since our goal of the moment is to finish the bare minimum basics of our conversion first, we decided to forgo the shower installation for this phase of construction. (Eventually we plan to install a wood fired/solar hot water heater!)

Diagram of our plumbing system (click to see a close up).

First we picked up all the tools and materials that we would need to do the plumbing at our local hardware store, Jerry's: a small propane torch, flux, lead-free solder, a pipe cutter, copper pipe and fittings, two dielectric unions, a check valve, a shut-off valve, teflon thread-seal tape and a few galvanized steel fittings for the 55-gallon drum and pump. To actually learn the technique, we found a couple of copper sweating demonstrations on YouTube that were highly informative. It turned out to be easier and less dangerous than we had expected and we got a water tight seal on our first try! In the end, it also turned out to be way less strenuous than manhandling the galvanized steel fittings with vise-grips and plumbing wrenches, etc.

Sweated copper joins.

Because our system involved such a variety of pieces (copper, steel, brass, threaded, non-threaded, dielectric, etc) that each have their own set of unique needs, the most challenging part of the whole process ended up figuring out which pieces to put together first and in what order so that it was possible to put them together at all. We were working in tight places and everything was all relative to everything else. But once we had thought it out enough, it all just sort of came together. It sure was satisfying to be able to pump water out of our faucet at the end of the day with absolutely no leaks!

Shut-off valve near tank.

Check-valve below water pump.

The other piece of the plumbing involved a pretty massive bushing/bulkhead contraption that will double as a fill hole and a vent for the tank.

Our 55-gallon drum freshwater tank.

Fill hole and vent.

To secure the 55-gallon drum, we screwed down 2x2's on either side to act as a sort of cradle. Then we put four hefty screw/eyelets in and secured two tie-downs across the tank. Eventually we will put in front and back supports as well. We also plan on insulating the tank with that thin foil-bubble wrap insulation to cut down on general condensation and the possibility of freezing.

Up next: propane and woodstove!