Last August we helped @naturalstatenomads install a Dwarf 4kw in their school bus conversion "Stormy." We love their bus, their family, and their lifestyle. Recently we caught up with Zack and Annie to hear more of their story:
Nomadic at Heart
We're Annie and Zack from Little Rock, Arkansas.
We got started into the tiny house movement when I saw a video about Travis Burke and his life living in a van. I worked remotely at the time of viewing the video and immediately thought, "Hey, I could do that!" So we started researching into different ways to live a nomadic lifestyle. A converted bus crossed our paths one day and it was immediately set in stone; we would convert a school bus to travel in.
Before traveling full-time Annie and I would travel cross-country and rent a vehicle and live out of it for a week at a time to see some of the different places on our bucket list; so we knew that we could live in a bus easily. That set the wheels in motion and a couple of months later we had sold our home and we're driving a 32-foot school bus back from Tampa Florida to Arkansas in order to convert it into our new traveling home.
Our transition to the "tiny lifestyle" was extremely easy for us. We didn't hit any rough-spots at all, we were already living somewhat of a minimalist lifestyle and didn't really buy into the idea that material possessions were something we needed in order to "feel good" so living in a bus came naturally to us. We got rid of any extraneous possessions we had at our home before selling it, so when we sold it, we were already prepared to make the transition from 1300 square feet to 220.
We began our travels at the end of 2016 and spent all of 2017 traveling the states. We started out west, traveled around the southwest, then made our way to Montana where Annie worked for a couple of months at a hostel just outside of Yellowstone. Thereafter we made our way back east to Wisconsin, and finally back home to Arkansas where, unfortunately, our bus engine came to an untimely demise which ended our travels! (Only temporarily of course, we plan to convert a step van or similar so that we can continue to make smaller trips to individual locations that we want to see around the states.)
Stormy the Skoolie
Our bus "Stormy" is a 2001 Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX. It is a rear-engine flat-nosed bus that is driven by a 3126b CAT engine with an Alison MD3060 push-button transmission. The livable space is 220 square feet and we tried to utilize every square inch of it to maximize our storage and livable areas.
Building in a school bus had its challenges but compared to building a tiny house, I feel like we saved a TON of time. A bus comes with floor, walls, and ceiling, all you have to do is tear all the old out and build anew. The process was daunting at first, but looking back, it was a fun challenge and we learned a lot along the way.
Stormy is 100% off-grid and due to our engine troubles, we've purchased land and currently have her parked in north central Arkansas along the Buffalo National River. Having a home that was 100% off-grid made this move super easy for us. The land we purchased was completely undeveloped, which meant no water or electric. For a lot of land-buyers that would immediately close the deal, but for us, it made it even more exciting! We're in a location that is seldom visited so it's nice and quiet and we get to enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets along America's first national river. Since we've settled down in Arkansas the Dwarf Tiny Stove has become an even bigger asset for us than when we were on the road.
Tiny Wood Stove Installation
Originally we had planned to visit some colder climates to do some winter sports activities, so a tiny stove was a must for us. However, now that we're in Arkansas and stuck in one location, the stove has been essential for keeping us warm during the cold winter Arkansas weather. We have thoroughly enjoyed the wood stove and couldn't be more thrilled with its performance in our space.
We spoke with Nick at length about the different size stoves and ultimately settled on the Dwarf 4kW, due to the space we intended to install it within, the size of the stove itself, and the heating capabilities of the stove for our 220 square feet of space. While we do have full 2-3" spray-foam insulation in our bus, we chose to keep ALL of our bus windows, so we lose/gain heat very quickly through them. We needed a stove that could keep up with this heat loss and the Dwarf 4kW fits the bill perfectly. We have been able to keep the bus a comfortable 72-75 degrees in temps all the way down to 18 degrees with extended periods of 30 and below. The stove has been essential to our comfort through this past Arkansas winter.
We faced a couple of challenges installing in an already converted school bus: primarily, where to install given that we hadn't initially planned for a wood stove and where to vent the flue. Originally we had planned to vent out of a bus window, but giving it some thought, we decided against that, because we would have to tear down the flue each time we traveled, which, while we were on the road, was at least once a week. That would have become a major pain. So, we decided to vent through the roof, which provides its own challenge in a school bus. Our bus has ribs evenly spaced at about 16" so, you guessed it, we had to work around a rib. It didn't prove too difficult, however, because we were able to install two 45's inline in our flue to get around the rib and it actually adds a bit of character to our stove installation.
For installation, we worked directly with Nick at his shop in Idaho and both he and I working together made the install fairly easy. If I were doing the install by myself, I would probably rate the installation a moderate; but only because of the challenges provided by installing within a bus as noted above.
Some consideration for those thinking of installing a tiny wood stove in their bus is, where is the flue going to route? If through the ceiling make sure you are installing your stove beneath a void in the ribs of the bus; it will make the installation easier. Also, in such a small space, give due consideration to tolerances to combustible surfaces. These stoves can get REALLY hot so be sure to provide ample tolerance to combustibles and install an appropriate hearth for the stove to sit on.
Wood Stove Performance
The longest burn we've been able to achieve is approximately 4 hours with a very hot bed of coals from burning all day and a fully stocked and closed down stove right before bed. It kept the bus warm all night. We may try coal next year during the winter months, but considering how happy we've been so far with just wood, that's up in the air for now.
We have spent zero dollars on wood for our stove, our land is fully wooded with hardwood, so I never see us needing to purchase fuel for the stove; unless we desire to use coal down the line.
Our stove takes up about 4 sqft of space in our bus, but its location is perfect because of our side-door. We can easily load more wood in through the door and also dispose of ash very easily this way. It worked out perfectly! We are extremely pleased with both the heating capabilities of the stove and especially the aesthetics. The Dwarf 4kW is one of the most beautiful wood stoves out there in the Tiny Market and we're so happy to have one in our bus. We have no regrets with our stove after having used it consistently for the past three months.
If I were going to offer a suggestion to others who are looking to install a wood stove in their school bus, I would highly recommend the Dwarf 4kW or the 5kW. We are fully insulated with spray foam but have all of our windows, and the 4kW is able to keep the bus comfortable during very cold days and nights. We are in a 32ft bus, a 40 footer would definitely benefit greatly from the extra fuel a 5kW stove would provide.
We love the tiny house community because of the amazing people who are a part of it! Zack and Annie, caught a vision, acquired resources, and made it happen......in a relatively short amount of time. Along the way, they overcame challenges, endured setbacks, and adapted to their new environment better than most in our opinion. We hope you have been inspired by their story to go out and create the life you want.
Interested in a small stove for your tiny space? Contact us on the form below and we can help you sort through all the details in getting the perfect stove and installation configuration for your unique space!