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Author Topic: typical conversion component costs?  (Read 6071 times)
busproject
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« on: January 15, 2014, 08:42:44 PM »

Hello all. This is my first post. Please feel free to correct me if I'm doing something stupid, such as being in the wrong place on the site.

Iím considering doing a bus conversion. I have more than a few questions about design strategies and costs. I did a search and there have been threads from newbies asking questions, but none that I can find addressing the ones I have. Iím trying to get a ballpark idea on costs before purchasing a used coach, because then Iím committed. (No comments from the peanut gallery.)

I hate most professional coach conversions, otherwise Iíd have bought one, Iíve seen some in nice shape that are probably equal to what it will cost doing it myself. I like the quality, but not the dťcor. Too fancy for me personally; Mirrors on the ceiling with extravagant lighting, overstuffed couches, weird cabinet colors, wild paint job. (Probably why the examples I saw in my price range were going cheap.) An exception is Bruce Coaches in BC Canada, Iíve seen some very tasteful conversions from them, but they are priced out of my reach. However if Iím going to go to this much trouble, Iím going to use a good chassis. Either a Prevost H3 or an MCI 102D3, most probably the former, theyíre just starting to get attractive in pricing with 4 stroke powerplants.

The next two paragraphs are just general info about my goal, then specific questions follow.

What I want is an interior that is clean and simple in style, but looks professional in quality of execution. A quality hardwood floor, probably walnut stained oak, from stem to stern, with modular attachments so I can attach what I need, but change it over time. I may cover that with nice throw rugs to reduce noise, but no wall-to-wall carpeting. This is both for style and utility, easier to keep clean, but a bit classier than vinyl or other sheet flooring, and warm under foot. The walls will be covered in a fabric-covered panels or dense short-pile carpeting, probably slate blue or grey, Iím just personally not into the imitation wood paneling look.

The layout for the aft half will be fairly conventional, tasteful quality, but minimal in style. No giant mirrors, nothing gold plated. The aft area will be the bedroom, nothing fancy, just the bed with nightstands, perhaps large storage drawers underneath, then a nice bulkhead wall with door, then head/shower on one side and clothes storage on the other, then another wall, then a small galley. The rest of the area forward, about 40-50% of the bus, will be open and modular, easily changeable. To port will probably be a workbench, to starboard a table and chairs or single couch, all easily latched in place or removed, assuming the coach has easily opening large windows, I think that may be the case for emergency exits, but I still need to check. If not, I will design those items to break down easy for entry/exit via the front passenger door. Iím pretty familiar with the costs of the above, I donít expect them to be that much. Here are my questions (and if there is anywhere a checklist with typical costs for all of this, kindly point me in that direction, thanks):

1) I want it insulated for cold weather. For the hardwood floor, will I also require insulation underneath? I would expect so. Does it go above the structural floor or beneath? Is standard polystyrene sheet stiff enough to go on top? How thick do I need? Whatís the best way to do the floor, foam sheet covered by plywood sheets, through bolted, to which the hardwood floor is nailed? Or is the foam not stiff enough for that, does the foam need to be spray foam underneath, sprayed on the ceiling of the cargo compartments?

2) Is anyone doing radiant floor heat on conversions these days?

3) Do most modern buses typically have enough roof insulation from the factory? Iím thinking of a mid-90s Prevost H. What about the walls below the windows?

4) Can I simply leave all the stock windows in place, and use curtains, or will I lose too much heat/AC through them? Is it necessary to remove and pan off most of the windows and insulate there, or is that only necessary for structure to attach things to, like a fridge? What if I keep everything (all installed components) below the window bottom? Again, mid-90s Prevost H. Do the stock windows on an H hinge open for emergency egress, or are they fixed? I would need opening windows for ventilation, and it would make installing large items easier, I think, than trying to fit through the passenger door.

5) What are the typical costs for the ďsystemsĒ parts? i.e., fresh water tank, gray water tank, black water tank, hot water system, heater (and do you recommend propane or diesel powered?), air conditioning, toilet system, shower stall, stove, fridge (three way power?. Does anyone ever use the original coach air conditioning, or does that require the engine running or it takes up too much cargo space? On the Prevost H, the stock AC is installed to starboard in the same #2 cargo bay as the fuel tank, the latter to port. So if that AC is removed, it would seem logical to put the fresh/gray/black water tanks there, to leave the other cargo bays unobstructed. But would that put too much load on the front axle? Would it be better to relocate all of the above, including fuel, to the #3 compartment (further aft), which would also result in shorter plumbing runs to the tanks?

6) In terms of power (when parked), heat and stove will be the main consumers, and those will use chemical energy (fossil fuels). With electronics, especially lighting becoming much more efficient with LEDs, consumption there should be down, if Iím not on the internet or TV all day. Whatís a recommended diesel generator and cost? Not sure if I need that, might be able to just get by with a small quiet Honda portable, but diesel would mean I donít need to go fill the gen with gasoline in the middle of the night, and be safer because no need to carry more volatile gasoline. Recommended location? I would figure to mount the storage batteries near the gen, so that combined is some concentrated weight. I would think you could put the rack of batteries low on one side of a storage compartment, then perhaps the gen on slide-out rack above those, for best space efficiency. Flexible, durable solar cells are coming, I would figure to eventually cover the roof with them when the costs are decent.

Well thatís enough for now. Many thanks to any and all who contribute to answers. I expect to be on this forum either a very short time (if material costs way more than I expect), or become a regular. It's not that I don't have the money to finance a conversion, it's just a matter of priority; I only want to sink so much into this vehicle, and if it's more than I want, I may just look for a used VW Eurovan Westy-Bago, although since they quit making them, they seem to be not any cheaper than a good used coach!
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dukegrad98
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« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2014, 08:48:56 PM »

So many thoughts...

Where are you located?  Let's start there.

Cheers, John
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« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2014, 08:55:48 PM »

Dukegrad98,

I'm currently on the west coast, I'm retired and still looking for a place, and that could vary a great deal. I'm asking the questions above because this will also factor into my house hunt, whether or not I need the space for the conversion, and for storage. I don't want to have to rent space, because unless it's right down the road, I won't be there often enough to do the conversion on a timely basis, and I'm already blowing too much rent on storage space while I'm house-hunting. If I'm going to do this, it has to be on-site.
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« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2014, 08:58:40 PM »

....(additional)

I don't just jump into things. I plan, plan, plan, plan....plan, then execute. There are always surprises, but with me, they are usually minimal if I have done a good job of investigation and planning.
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busproject
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« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2014, 09:07:10 PM »

Oh and I have already seen past posts with regard to Prevost H chassis in particular, what's good, what to watch out for, so I'm on a bit of sound footing there. The newer ones with the more desirable features are still more than I want to spend (which is why they are still desirable as first-line coaches), so I'll have to settle for a bit earlier one.
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« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2014, 11:31:37 PM »

Flexible, durable solar cells are coming, I would figure to eventually cover the roof with them when the costs are decent.
For now it's either flexible or durable (choose one).   "Real" PV panels are still dropping in price  -  I paid $0.81/watt for UL-listed made-in-USA Sharps last year.

Don't ignore the cost of miscellaneous nuts 'n bolts 'n widgets etc.   I'll have easily spent over $1000 just on them when all's done with my conversion.   All those little things add up fast!

John
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« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2014, 03:48:46 AM »

Professionally done motorhome conversions can tend to look like whore houses but what makes them an excellent platform is they have systems that have evolved over the years and make living in those coaches enjoyable. I am easily satisfied and far more tolerant of having primitive conditions and systems, but my wife is not and she deserves the comfort and ease of a professional conversion.

The electrical systems are excellent. The plumbing system is well conceived. The heat and AC systems will satisfy anyone. For a homebuilder to design and build the equivalent would be a daunting task and it is likely the end result still will not come close to the highly evolved professional conversions. I hear a lot of "I don't need that" from home builders, but once you have all the comforts and ease of use I doubt anyone would go back to simple systems. Don't confuse the systems with excessive maintenance. The systems in my three coaches have been nearly bulletproof and almost all my maintenance and repairs is on the chassis.

As to gaudy, that is where the home builder can exercise his creativity. Start with a good platform and redo the interior. Trust me, the effort to do the interior will be a significant challenge because the converters have also done a great job there also but a lot of owners of used coaches modify the interiors to suit their tastes.
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« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2014, 04:20:41 AM »

Buy a converted shell with low miles then remodel one can buy a H-40 VIP from the 90's fairly reasonable now under a 80 grand you are going to spend that much anyway,tour operators and bus line sell off the buses for one reason the maintenance and the bottom line are not in sync 

I would take a 150,000 miles over a million mile shell any day JMO 
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« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2014, 05:16:12 AM »

I think there are two ways into a converted bus - make that three ways, but only two count...   Way number three is buy new.  Someone buys the new ones, but no one I will ever know...  Way one is buy a retired service bus with a million or two miles one it that needs a lot of mechanical work, maybe a new engine, and fix it up and put your conversion into it.  I really think that for many who take this route, the journey is the goal, not the end result.  It can take many years to go this route, and cost as much in the end as an already converted or pro-converted bus, but you spend the money in nickels and dimes rather than a big check.  Way two is what others have proposed - buy a good quality, well maintained 20 year old pro conversion that you can expect to be mechanically very good, 150K miles as an expectation, with all of the basic conversion upfitting done but needing both systems and decor updating.  You'll put a tasteful modern simplistic interior in (BTW one reason they tend to look like rolling brothels is that is easier and cheaper to do than modern tasteful) into it by changing finishes and trim, you'll put modern electronics, inverters, control systems in, and you'll have what you want in a low mileage good condition shell.

I think that conversion costs will vary wildly depending on your personal views on what is appropriate.  Buy all new "RV" stuff, use household appliances and be all-electric, buy a wrecked RV trailer and transfer everything at 10 cents on the dollar of new, etc.  I would personally put things in big blocks - bedroom, kitchen, lounge, electrical system and batteries, HVAC,  electronics (many cool new WIFI controlled switches and controllers these days), plumbing and tankage, and put a $5K bill against every block.  Adjust up or down based on your ability to economize vs your desire for upscale taste.  Things like laminate countertop vs granite make a big difference...

Edit:  FWIW I am doing Way 1.5 - I bought a 90% converted bus with a couple million miles on it, put in a new engine, have been doing major work on the running gear, and I've been working on finishing the 90% left to do after the first 90% was done - most of the plumbing has been redone, all of the electrical system, inverter, AC and heat, etc...

Brian
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« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2014, 05:22:45 AM »

Busproject (name?),

I love that you are taking the time to lay everything out.  You can never plan enough with a project like this.  To keep this brief I'll give you some quick answers to your questions from my own personal experience.  Others opinions may differ -

1. Yes.   My sub flooring is on top of the Metal Frame of my bus and there is 1.5" foam insulation underneath inbetween the frame and underneath the sub flooring.  This is not enough for us.  As we are now living on the bus we notice on cold nights and warm days that there are air gaps and can feel where the heat/cold come up through the floor.  I am planning on sealing up the underside (in the bays) by spray foaming all the cracks and covering with another layer of 3/4" foam board insulation.

2.  Yes   - there are a few that I have seen and read about who have radiant heat flooring.  I would like to add this to our conversion and if I did it would just be down the center aisle of the bus.  Pretty much with our layout all the cabinetry, furniture and beds are on the sides of the bus with a center aisle so thats where I'd keep our radiant heat (would come from the webasto and/or engine heat)

3. No and no. (from my experience) Not that what is existing isn't enough but you can never have enough insulation.  It also depends on how and where you are using your bus.  If you live in moderate temp weather and are only occasionally using your bus for recreational use then you could probably get away with that but if you plan on living on it and will be in 90+ temps or sub 30 temps then I would add more insulation. Besides adding insulation it will give you a chane to get a look at the frame of the bus and check for damage and rust in the frame.

4. Yes you can leave the windows in.  You can insulate them from the inside and have the walls on the inside go over them.  There are quite a few converters on these sites that prefer the "original" bus look with windows in tact as opposed to large sheets of metal covering the windows from the outside.  I guess that you could make a sub frame that runs from floor to ceiling or off the side frame of the bus that you can bolt stuff to or slide your components in between.  Most of my stuff is screwed into the bus frame (walls) or bolted to the frame (floor).  All our parts and pieces went through the front door on our bus.  Although I am sure that the windows on the H3 open for emergency access.

5.  Costs for system parts vary greatly depending on new or used.  ( I recommend diesel as a single fuel design so that you only need a single tank to run generator, heater, bus engine)  As far as the coach AC, most recommend leaving it if it works and pulling it when it fails (beside the gained space it costs a lot of money to upkeep and keep running compared to costs of other AC systems) Those who have it love it and those who dont have more bay space.  It is smart to plan the weight of heavier components on the rear axle.

6. Thinking of fuel - This is a good thing to plan on the front end.  We went all electric with Diesel for generator and (eventually) a webasto heating system.  We have no propane.  This of course is up to the individual to decide how they want to setup their coach.  We only have to fill one tank. (we do have a small grill that uses propane but it is not part of the bus system- a single tank is stored under the bus for this).  I recommend a generator with wattage enough to power (2) roof airs/heaters and have some power left over and also capable of being wired to a 50 amp panel .  I think to get the 50amp panel up you need to be looking for at least a 6000w generator.  We currently have a 15k but ideally an 8k would be perfect for us.  You'll have to ask around to see what works best for you.  We are trying to keep as much as we can on 12v (TV, Lights, fans, fridge, charging phones and computers) and eventually a battery system and inverter big enough to match our cooking needs so we can go 24 hours without needing the generator.  Currently if we are boondocking we need the generator to cook.  It would be awesome to have enough battery/inverter to run the air conditioning off of that.  

Its not cheap to do a conversion especially if you are doing it all at once.  But the most expensive part of the conversion is your time.  Its going to take a lot longer than you think it will.  Figure out all your costs and multiply by 3 then estimate the time it will take and multiply that by 2 and you'll be close to what its going to take.  But the experience of doing it is priceless.  We have enjoyed every minute of it and have not regretted a single penny or hour spent on this project.

-Sean


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« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2014, 05:39:02 AM »

I have a 1989 Prevost that I have been working on since 2005 and I am still not done working on it part time. Even though we do use it as is on occasion and with what I see now on ebay and other sites going very resonable I wish I could just buy one and make a few modifications and go out and enjoy instead of having to get spare time to work on mine. Back in 2005 most were out of my price range so I went with the use bus, but now that prices have dropped and diesel going up again my advice would be to find a very good one already converted by Liberty or one of the better companies and just make some modifications. You will save money and work and start enjoying it immediately. With what I have in mine money wise now I could not get even half back if I were to sell as is. Spent $30,000 initially and have about another $30,000 into it already. Some decent Prevost's on ebay right now in the 50 to 80,000 range. Good Luck in your venture.
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Steve Canzellarini
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« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2014, 05:49:19 AM »

There were several converters that did Prevost with out all the bells and whistles Angola was one just a good solid coach even Country Coach some of theirs were just basic coaches
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« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2014, 06:14:33 AM »

Here is something for you to think about all the converters of Prevost that I have spoken with always told me it takes 4000 man hrs to convert a bus and that is doing one with a bunch of prefab work and with a sprayed foam shell with RV windows installed from the factory

good luck
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« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2014, 07:32:38 AM »

Here is something for you to think about all the converters of Prevost that I have spoken with always told me it takes 4000 man hrs to convert a bus and that is doing one with a bunch of prefab work and with a sprayed foam shell with RV windows installed from the factory

good luck

Holy Buses Batman.  Thats 100 weeks or almost 2 years of 40 hour weeks (with 2 weeks vacation) for one person and that 4000 hours is a professional using all the pro tools that go along with it!  And I am sure that includes very little mechanical work to the bus itself.

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« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2014, 08:24:12 AM »

Hi busproject, sounds like you got alot of decisions to make and you are the decider. Look at as many buses as you can, drive as many as you can, of all different types, you can learn as much from bad as you can from good. Ace has a prevost for sale and Gary the publisher has a log cabin (moose) like pro conversion and is pictured in an earlier edition of the current generation of the BCM, you might want to look at. insulation, no 1, radiant heat great idea for cold or wet climates. Window glass can be replaced with a plastic or non see thru glass, you dont want to see the wires or interior light from the outside, skinning over however is prefered by most. I looked at 12, examined 9, drove 6. Mine is a proconversion from 1986, a Canadian company that was heavy on insulation, back up systems, oak everything and after two updates everything still works well, and mostly within the frame work of the original conversion. My livingroom and bathroom are in the middle, a floor plan that caught my eye from the begining. My wife can get up to make tea or popcorn while were traveling and still talk to me (a mixed blessing! Just kidding). If your gonna stay in the southwest or anywhere inthe southern 1/3 of the US pay more attention to AC than heat, good luck, its a daunting task but fun and interesting, lvmci...ps, whats your name, or should we just call you bp, location and where do you think youll end up with your conversion?...
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