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lainchan archive - /diy/ - 2924

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So I'm thinking up a couple different ways to make a cheap mobile home and want some advice. Whatever I pick I'd be putting in most of the modern comforts like a stove/oven, refrigerator/freezer, rv hookup, sink, small shower along with fresh and gray water tanks, plumbing, small water heater, portable toilet, propane, electrical, insulation, cheap hardwood flooring, a window ac unit, a desk with computer stuff, bed, storage, couch, etc. Looking for something on the larger side or long term comfort. Basically a inexpensive tiny home on wheels. I’d be doing all the work myself. Here's what I've come up with.

1) Buying a used school bus and converting it into an RV. They're built like tanks and will last a million miles if well maintained. Once you remove the seats and flooring you have a relatively empty layout to work with. They're cheap (~3k) and still get decent enough mileage. While they're very reliable, when I do run into a problem it's going to cost a small fortune. Even something as simple as having to replace a tire. If it breaks down I could loose my house temporarily while it's being fixed. Headroom is lower than some of the other options. Lots of floorspace.

2) Buying a used box truck/moving truck with around a 20 foot box. They're more expensive, but they'll last 300k miles if well maintained and aren't as expensive to fix. A 20'ish foot box gives you a nice, empty layout to work with and have more headroom than a school bus. The downside is that they're pretty expensive (~8-10k for something decent). If it breaks down I could loose my house temporarily while it's being fixed. More headroom than a bus but less floorspace. Reason for going with this over a bus is that ones under around 20 feet tend to use standard truck engines and drivetrains making them cheap to own. Once you get over 20 feet they start to be built around commercial grade trucks which are expensive to maintain.

3) Just buying a used RV. This would be the cheapest overall (~6k + another ~1-2k for renovations. Most of the work is already done, I’d save a lot of time and effort. The downside is that they're built cheap and not meant to be lived in full time and expensive to maintain. I’d also loose a lot of choice and wouldn’t be able to fully make it my own. Like anything else if it breaks down I could loose my house temporarily while it's being fixed.

4) Buying a used truck and trailer and building a 24 foot or so house on wheels. You can do whatever you want and can park it somewhere and use the truck to get around. If the truck breaks down you still have your house. Downside is the cost.

5) Buying a used shipping container and turning it into a house. It'd on the pricier end but super schway. They’re extremely durable , you can ship them almost anywhere, and you have a open layout to work with. Downside is they’re expensive to ship and you loose the ability to move whenever you want.

What do you think? Trying to keep this around 10-12k US. I'll add solar and a battery bank later.


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I wouldn't be living on the road. I'd be staying at one place and moving a few times a year.


Building on a trailer makes sense for your use case I think. You don't have a bunch of mechanical components in engines and drive-lines just sitting for months on end that way. Just be aware that more normal house building techniques aren't really meant to stand up to the kind of vibration and flexing that driving down the road causes, so you're going to have to get a little creative. Tile and sheetrock are both going to be avoids, for instance. I've always thought that maybe using stuff like UDPE for the walls and say, plastic outdoor decking for the floor might be cool, and durable to boot. As far as the wall structure itself goes, remember that while wood is cheap, it is very heavy for its strength, so personally I'd try to use it as little as possible. Plus its dead tree carcass which is just gross.

I don't think the shipping container thing makes much sense myself, they're very expensive for what they are, and expensive to ship as you say.

If you're hellbent on the more RV route, a stepvan might be another option along the box truckish route. They tend to be cheap, and the walk-through to the driver seat is cool. Plus most of them are basically just chevy trucks underneath so parts and repair are cheap. You can get them with high tops and barn doors on the back if you look around for a few months, I've seen them for 2-8k in my area in decent shape.


Maaaaan I'm not even OP and you got me looking at stepvans rn. Guess I know what I'm doing after I'm outta the Air Force my dude.


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>Plus its dead tree carcass which is just gross.
But trees are nice.

>I don't think the shipping container thing makes much sense myself, they're very expensive for what they are, and expensive to ship as you say.

You're right. More of a semi-permanent option.

A used travel trailer seems like the best option. A decent one is 4-5k + ~1-2k in repairs, a high end, like new one is around 15k. It'd also save me months of work building it myself. Just worried about quality. These trailers really aren't built to be lived in full time. Worried the built-in fridge is won't last long being run 24/7 (which isn't cheap to repair), the wallpaper is going to start coming off, the plumbing is going to leak, laminate is going to separate. Most of these trailers have cheap sinks and faucets and lots of particleboard and vinyl. Leaks aren't that uncommon. The insulation is a lot of them is mediocre. Also worried about the reliability of slide outs. It might end up being a money sink. If my fears aren’t much of a concern then it could turn out really cool. It’d be cheap to renovate ahnd make my own. Thoughts?


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>If it breaks down I could loose my house temporarily while it's being fixed
Someone intelligent told me the very same thing when I was making the same consideration.
>I wouldn't be living on the road. I'd be staying at one place and moving a few times a year.
In this case you may instead want to look into a portable outdoor shelter that you can set up and take down on-site. Will save you fuel/maintenance costs in the long-run. Look at something that's suited to the worst weather you're likely to experience in the areas you plan to be living.



mobile hacking station tbh.


I've been researching alternative living situations for a while now and I've settled on a covered cargo trailer.

In general you want your living quarters separate from your tow vehicle. This adheres to the Unix philosophy of modularization. Your trailer may appreciate in value while your tow vehicle depreciates.

This also allows you to sell, upgrade, repair, etc. your tow vehicle without changing or being without your house. or forgo a tow vehicle altogether and hire someone whenever you want to move. This is very common in RV communities that migrate North/South every year.

Originally based on these thoughts I wanted a teardrop camping trailer, but these are meant more for temporary camping trips and are more expensive than cargo trailers for less space. A moderately sized cargo trailer will allow 6'-7' ceilings, enough for most adults to fully stand. Make sure you buy a insulated one or insulate it yourself, as they are often uninsulated.

For power I would start with a 300 watt, 300 amp hour solar setup with AGM deep cycle batteries. Make sure to get a high amp capable solar charger if you want to upgrade your power production in the future. This can run a Dometic fridge, laptop, wifi hotspot, lights, and charge your phone. It won't run an A/C unless you upgrade to around 1000 watt, 700 amp hour system AFAIK.

For your soykaf you are going to want a composting toilet. These run about $1000 but are totally worth it. They allow you to dispose of your soykaf practically anywhere after decomposition and don't smell. A black tank RV system requires emptying at specific locations, sometimes for a fee, and will drain your water reserves every time you flush.

Let me know if you want me to keep going. I've thought about this a lot but obviously this is all conjecture as I live in an apartment at the moment.


I thought about that but doing the conversion yourself takes a long time. Still leaning towards buying a used travel trailer with a slide-out and renovating it, mostly due to the amount of money and time I'd save. Still have some concerns about quality for full time use >>2932

>For your soykaf you are going to want a composting toilet. These run about $1000 but are totally worth it. They allow you to dispose of your soykaf practically anywhere after decomposition and don't smell. A black tank RV system requires emptying at specific locations, sometimes for a fee, and will drain your water reserves every time you flush.

You can also do the 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat and saw dust/peat moss approach and empty it once a week. Literally just soykafting in a bucket and covering it up. From what I hear the smell is pretty much non-existent.


You'll find that anything in the rv/travel trailer market are built in such a way that they're pretty...fragile. They're just not made to last. I'd be more inclined to convert something like an enclosed landscaping trailer than buy a purpose built travel trailer.


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i've been thinking about converting a bus or buying a rv for some time now. some of the things i've learned along the way are:

* solar power -- just isn't feasible to power your home with it. yes you can power some lights and possibly your phone or laptop, but for the rest.. fridge, microwave, tv, desktop pc, a/c, etc. it just isn't cost effective or reliable enough to use solar to do it. plus, the nature of solar panel is dependent on the light you can only get during the day and only during good weather conditions so it can be very difficult (not to mention costly) to try and add or rely on solar power for your skoolie or rv home.

* a/c & heat - the first thing you want to do is insulate everything you can, as much as you can. the second thing you want to do is determine where you will be spending most of your time (climate wise) and what your a/c or heating requirements are going to be. my ideal setup would be a: mini split ductless heat pump air conditioner condenser type unit rated with however many btu's i'll need to be in my chosen climate. do some reading on "heat pumps" if your into efficiency

-- another option i looked into is radiant heated floors, which is when you run copper or PEX tubing in the flooring of your rv/skoolie and then pump a liquid through it that is heated by a heating element. the heated liquid then warms the floors which radiates up through them into the cabin of your rv/skoolie. you could hook a system like this up to an already existing heater core that came with the vehicle, as a supplementary heat source (who wouldn't like warm toesies on a cold morning) or get creative and make some type of radiator that sits in / over / under a stove or even a wood fire furance powered one. you could try doing some type of solar heating system on your roof where you put liquid in black metal tubes and have the sun warm them up or whatever.. there's all types of ways.. it's really up to you.


( continued )

* fridge / microwave / stove - you gotta eat, and if you aren't planning on eating cold beans from a can or getting take out every night, you will more then likely need a refrigerator and a way to heat up that cold food. you can either run these off of you alternator/generator, use a propane system or plug into someone's mains when your not boondocking, but solar cannot handle this type of electrical load. plan on designing your system so you can at the very least spend 1 night off the grid and have enough energy to power your fridge + cooking apparatus.

* batteries / power - i would recommend an appropriately sized onan generator + a dual alternator setup, with your second additional alternator being a high end model that puts out some extra amperage. with a dual alternator setup you can isolate your starting battery from your charging system without having to mess around with isolators/echo whatever and other type things to separate the electrical systems. you always want that starter battery to be able to do its 1 and only job.. start your vehicle (which also happens to be your home in this case).

-- additionally, if you have an engine that can generate some power you might as well utilize it, hence the second alternator which you can hook up to your battery bank. i would also go a step further and add a low voltage sensing relay that would monitor your house battery bank and in the event the voltage gets too low it can start up your rv/skoolie/whatever and recharge your batteries a bit (with another relay that will automatically stop it from idling more than say.. 30 minutes at a time)

--- as for batteries, this will depend on how much power you will be planning on using. in my case my power usage will likely be enormous as i like having a lot of tech and the like on when i'm around, so i'd probably get myself 6-8 t105re trojan 6v golf cart batteries and wire them up so 2 are in series (bringing the voltage to 12v) and then the 4 pairs of 12v (2x 6v batteries) are wired up in parallel which combined the amps. this will give you a mighty large reserve of energy for all the shiny lights and toys. it's important to note that depending on the weather conditions of where you are traveling, you may want to insulate and build a battery heating system to prevent them from freezing in extreme temps.

anyway, i could go on, and i suppose if anyone's interested just reply and i will...


You can JUST about get away with solar if you heat, cook, and run the fridge on propane and just deal with vent fans for cooling. That's still going to take a decent sized system to keep up with power demands if you don't want to have to really ration electricity. And realistically you're still probably going to want to use shore power any time you can, its just living for extended periods without it becomes reasonable so long as you can keep your propane tank full. A small supplemental generator is a nice addition, even one of the tiny little 1-2kw homegamer units from honda or whomever is a nice addition to top up batteries if you want to go a longer time without shore.



if you are hooked into shore power that often you are better off investing the money you would use on a solar system (panels, charge controller, etc) instead into a larger battery bank.

if you just want to power some LEDs and a phone, yeah solar will work great. other then that, and i'm as sorry to say it as you are to hear it, solar just is not yet the cost-effective solution nor has advanced to the power density required to generate power for a modern nomadic-tech lifestyle.

also to note, just using a vent also won't do you much good as solar panels require you to be in direct sunlight to work, and obviously can't heat your rv/skoolie. of course, it's up to you what you consider comfortable but with a little planning and a honest account of what your lifestyle's energy requirements actually are there is no need for guess work, it just becomes math.


Did I see you at the postal service workshop at the 4:30 plaza this year?


Location is a heavy factor in power needs. If you're in the desert, for example, solar is an excellent choice. Not just because of prime light hours. The solar panels also shield against the sun. Set them on risers so that there is an air gap, and also put other material on risers to cover the surface of the trailer.

Conversely if you are in the north, consider gassification. It's a bit tedious and fidgety, but you can get both electricity and heating out of it.

Third, I think a lot of people are getting their power consumption numbers from 120v devices. If you're building from the ground up, you can purchase 12v systems. This will greatly reduce the amount of wattage you will be using. You won't be running a microwave on it, but you can still get hot water, refridgerator, lights and a laptop.

Finally, not a lot of talk about this, but water storage. Water is heavy and voluminous. While there are places where you can pull up and get water, they're less common than gas stations. (Some gas stations do have this service for RVs. If you're doing the 8ft trailer, where are you going to keep this? What other methods do you have for aquiring water? What about off grid situations?



a good answer to getting your water on the go is to build a small purification system into your rig. something like activated charcoal water filter + a uv light disinfection system.. or if you can afford to go all out a reverse osmosis system. this gives you to option of pumping water from almost whatever source you come across and it being fit to drink. if your worried you wont find anything to pump, you could invest in building some type of portable well drilling apparatus (not sure they exist as a commercial product), condense water from the humidity in the air or soykaf if your running an air conditioner, just collect the water that drains from that.

if you don't want to mess around with water purification the answer is: larger tanks. double up on 100 gallon tanks (if you have the space). soykaf that's why camels have 2 humps right ?

$100-$150 usd 100 gallon water tanks are pretty easy to come by online


There is a lot of concern about powering a fridge but you really do not need one. A fridge will consume huge amounts of power and without it you should be able to get away with solar for a laptop/other small electronics and to trickle charge a battery which can be used for heavier applications like a hotplate.

You really don't even need a heating device for food but that is really rough living. Think minimal, about what is the least you can do and still get by.

t. A lainon who has not used a fridge (it is unpluged and is storage shelving) for about 2 years. fuarrrking thing cost me about $20/month in electricity too.


what do you do instead of a fridge, do you only eat pot noodles and corn flakes or something?
joking but genuinely curious.


Let the market cool stuff for you. Buy as you need for such items. Your home is mobile so you could even park in front of a food store or something.

I usually eat rice and something else. Rice and other dried foods preserve well and just need water and heat or in some cases only water to return them.

As an example today I had water, soup, crackers, fruit juice/pulp drink, and currently working on some rice and lettuce. The lettuce was purchased yesterday and is only starting to wilt today.


Is the hassle of constantly having to go to the store and limiting your food choices really worth $20 a month? Buying smaller portions repeatedly is going to end up costing more than that.



in my situation, i find myself hunting for food (with a bow or by fishing) or (more often) scavenge road kill (deer mostly if it's fresh) and need to quickly store sometimes vast amounts of meat very quickly so a refrigerator with a freezer is pretty much a necessity. it's a great way to both help myself by having a free protein rich food source (that isn't supermarket bought) and help others by clearing roadkill from the roads. it was personally a difficult habit to acquire and for me to accept that roadkill can be edible (it's somewhat taboo to some people, and even to me still) but it helps me to rationalize the poor animals death as not being a senseless accident/death by putting their remains to good use and providing an essential service to whatever community i happen to be passing through.


Oh man, dis gon b gud. Keep going lainion.


>As an example today I had water, soup, crackers, fruit juice/pulp drink, and currently working on some rice and lettuce. The lettuce was purchased yesterday and is only starting to wilt today.

You need some protein and fat in your diet fam. Like ideally 25% of your total intake at least. Buy some garbanzo beans and lentils w/ goat cheese.


a lot of FUD about fridges in this thread. solar powered fridge is totally possible. look up the brand Dometic.


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Good premade water filtering solution: ceramic water filters. Berkey is the name brand in this, but I suspect this is one of those things where some off brand exists that works just as well. I haven't done enough research into it to point you toward it though. I would maybe add UV disinfection to this just for a belts and suspenders situation.


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Actually, an AC unit such as the link above would work perfectly for a well insulated small volume living arrangement.

I am building out my own van for permanent off grid living right now, and plan to use this ac in conjunction with 700 amp hours of battery bank plus 1000 watts of solar to keep everything charged and have two to three days of leeway in the event of total darkness or unfavorable parking location for my solar power.

In terms of insulation, I have put in 2.5 inches of polyisocyanurate rigid boards on the walls ceiling floors and doors in addition to filling every cavity I could reach with expanding polyurethane.

I will be cooking all my meals in a small microwave or with a toaster and using a composting bucket for waste.

I also have recommissioned a truck transmission oil pan as my sponge bathing tub.

Finally, I have purchased a hammock for convenient sleeping and will be using the space savings to support an electronics work area with a multi monitor desktop setup and VR capability.

just sharing my implementation, respond to me if you want more details :P

PIC related.


Show us more pictures. Really interested in the inside.


Tell me everything lainon


It is far from completion, i posted an alt life thread some weeks back. I have all the stuff except the batteries due to expense...It is all currently sitting in my friends garage waiting for me to finish the interior insulation and whiteboard walls.

Sorry to disappoint. I will likely be much farther along in about 6 weeks. I will check back then lol


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I cannot yet purchase a zero breeze, but when i can i will grab it and see if it is worth its salt.

As far as solar panels go, i bought 4 270watt panels off craigslist a few weeks ago and will be using them to get my 1000+ watt power requirement. I have a 600 watt 3 cubic foot microwave and a old toaster whose specs i do not know. The bucket is a 5 gallon paint and drywall bucket from home depot with the seal able locking lid, I use kitty litter to reduce odor and allow multiple uses before removal of a waste bag, wherein i will also store general trash items.

As far as the VR setup goes, I have the computer parts around, I just need to buy a good headset. I intend to setup the space inside so i can sit and use my VR headset to artificially expand my work space by moving my sleeping hammock up and out of the way into a corner or somewhere convenient.

I am using whiteboards to cover the bare insulation, because it provides light spreading properties and allows me to work physics and math problems on the walls and keep them there for a while as constantly changing interior decoration as well as reminders of the work i am doing and why.

for charge control I am using an mpt 80amp charge controller i bought used from a local place and a 2000 watt peak 4000 watt surge pure sine wave inverter from an old race car trailer in one of my neighbors yards.

A new idea i have picked up and credit lainchan especially for introducing me to, is ham radio setup in the van, so i can have internet access anywhere i roam. This is also part of what the extra electronics work space will be used for. antennae, transceivers and controllers ect.

As for bathing, the oil pan in pic related is what i acquired from a scrap yard. after some thorough cleaning i am willing to bath in it, and can sit down in it fully so as to contain any splashes of water when i am sponge bathing. It should also fit neatly under the counter i built.

Thats all the details i could think of, if i remember anything else or you want something specific. just ask. I am still in progress on the build, so it may be a while before i have any good photos or instructions. I am as new to all this as you guys.


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Something i have not yet done, is find some good batteries at a decent price.

I want 650 - 850 Ah of capacity, preferably sealed and deep cycle AGM but if there are some affordable lithium out there, I would go with those too.

For the OP, some battery info would probably be super helpful when you start getting 'settled in' to your new home.