Home Life on the Road Bus Projects

One Year Later: Bus Renovation Recap – Our 5 Favorite Upgrades

Can you believe a year ago this week, we were pulling out of Master Tech RV in Elkhart, Indiana – after having spent over 3 months in the shop being repainted and upgraded?

We weren't quite confident we'd ever get Zephyr back.

We weren’t quite confident we’d ever get Zephyr back.

What a saga that was. We reported in weekly towards the end as we moved on site to take charge of the situation and get back on the road.

And honestly, there were times we weren’t sure we’d ever get our bus back.

It was emotionally stressful, that left scars for months afterwards and put us waaaaay behind on other commitments.

Thankfully, by the end of 2015 the wounds had started to heal, we caught back up on life and we started to shift to thoroughly loving the upgrades!

To mark the 1-year anniversary of leaving the shop, we decided to turn on the camera and talk about the experience, the healing and share our top five upgrades that have had the biggest impact on our quality of life:

Or: Direct Video Link (Length: 12:53 m)


For those who like to skip the video, here’s the list of the top five:

Dometic 9500 Power Case Awning

IMG_2722Switching from an old style manual awning, to an automatic one without arms has not only added a sleeker look to our RV and safer side mirror views  – it’s super easy to deploy and take in.

We’re loving it, and have had no problems with the Dometic 9500 16′ Power Case Awning thus far. We use our awning far more often than we did before just because of how easy it is.

We can fully deploy it for a shady patio, or we can put it out just enough to provide shade on our windows. It has a wind sensor to automatically bring the awning in (but we always close it before leaving the bus, or before bed – just in case.)

For the price point (around $1500-2000), we consider it worth considering over more expensive options on the market. And we did talk to all of the other options, and none of them wanted to touch a curved vintage bus roof. Master Tech RV excelled here, creating us a custom fabricated mounting bracket for the awning (that cost more than the gifted awning’s worth.)

Improvements for the Cat

This is how they clean my box now (more often please!)

What bus project would be complete if it wasn’t for the cat?  To cover up the old awning arm scars in our aluminum, Master Tech RV had the idea to install folding steps which could be used for cat leash hooks.

We also regularly use them for locking up our bikes at night by securing our bike locks to them (shhh.. don’t tell Kiki).

Also, the private litter room has been a HUGE improvement for all three of us.

Kiki shared about these projects:

Creating a Pet Leash Hook on an RV

A Cat’s Purrrrfect RV Litter Box 

Precision Temp Jr. Propane Hydronics

Our magical little box of heat.

Our magical little box of heat.

To say that we love our hydronics system, would be an understatement. We’re so glad we bit the bullet and tackled this dream project last summer.

Not only did replacing our old 10-Gallon traditional hot water heater allow for the cat potty room in our hallway, having all our heating centralized into one unit has been so amazing.

The boiler in our hydronics system can provide us hot water for dishes & showers (almost instantly, and continuously), furnace throughout the bus, engine pre-warming and hot water for making tea & coffee. And because the engine heats the water while we’re underway, we always arrive to camp with ‘free’ hot water ready to go.

Going back to using some propane hasn’t been too huge of a deal. We carry enough on board to keep us going for several months at a time. We’re glad we made the choice, over spending considerably more for a diesel hydronic setup – and we have no ongoing maintenance to worry about.

While in ‘summer mode’  (the furnace loop not on), the propane usage is super low. However, we got a little too fancy trying to tap into the bus’ original heating system, and need to provide a shut off valve to prevent excess heat loss when we don’t need to use the front radiator (thus causing crazy amounts of propane use). Hopefully we can resolve that before the next time we need ‘winter mode’.

All and all, we could not be happier with our hydronics.

Tank Upgrades & Plumbing

All new plumbing bay

All new plumbing bay

We felt forced into the decision to replace our water tanks – it wasn’t on our original project list. But somehow we ended up with larger tanks and a completely redone plumbing system throughout the bus.

We were initially bitter over the un-expected $6000+ price tag for this upgrade that we hadn’t really authorized or budgeted for.

But ya know what? We absolutely love the flexibility this upgrade has given us. And bitterness can be washed away with our abundant water system.

We regularly go 3-4 weeks without dumping our tanks, which gives us a lot of park-hopping ability without needing to worry about dump stations or sewer. And we can go 2 solid weeks between fresh water refills. All without being conservative in our usage.

Our entire plumbing setup rocks actually – from the tanks, the SeeLevel tank monitoring, the whirly things that clean the tanks, the ‘cold water return’ on the shower and the ability to suck in fresh water from containers when needed.

Suffice it to say, even though we didn’t plan this upgrade – we’re kinda glad worked out this way. Because we’re certainly basking in the abundance.

Living Room

The jackknife sofa in bed mode - ready for snuggling and movies!

The jackknife sofa in bed mode – ready for snuggling and movies!

We talked earlier this year about how the combination of our new jackknife coach, pull down movie screen, projector, book case and folding coffee table has felt like adding 5′ of usable space to our bus.

We still feel that way. Several nights a week we cuddle up on the front bed and watch a movie or TV show. And we love having space to host happy hour, meals or game night.

The couch is holding up great too, and is super easy to convert from bed to couch mode. Again, this is an upgrade we didn’t have on our radar, but it just worked out this way.

For more on this upgrade:

How We Added 5 Feet to Our RV – Without Adding Slides


And for a thorough re-cap of all of the upgrades (updated with statuses on many of the items):

Summer 2015 Bus Renovations Tour & Project List


All and all, we’re thrilled with the outcome of the entire project and we long ago moved on from the stress of last summer. The experience truly has become a memory in the rear view mirror. *whew*

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18 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Your reflection on the 3-month renovation process could not have come at a better time for me – and has given me exactly the boost I needed. I have been stranded since the 1st of May (3 1/2 months and counting) while major repairs are done on my motor home. The repairs morphed into renovations since my travel plans for the summer were shot anyhow, but the work has dragged on and on with days and weeks of little progress. While I chose the shop, the experience has been like yours in many ways, and the location as a place to dwell has definitely not been by choice. Your update helped me put things in perspective and reminds me that a year from now I’ll be enjoying the results of these unanticipated renovations and this will all be just the memory of frustration rather than an on going reality!

    • I was watching a youtube video of Gone with the Wynns and what a time they have had with their sailboat repairs. To top off all the repair costs it was $65/day for dock fees. They had almost 3 months in port. Ouch!

      I don’t have a link to the video but it is painful to watch.

  2. I do so enjoy your writing style and your Travel-Logs… I am soooo awaiting with baited breath for your August 2016 “5 Year update” on Solar/Lithium that y’all promised. That is a strange expression. Don’t you think? — Baited Breath” – I’m gonna Google that.
    You two be careful, have lots of fun, stay healthy and – Thank You for your posts, Cheers…

  3. You two look so much more relaxed now and even younger. I watched you go through the upgrade and you could really see the stress it put you thru. Looking forward to your blogs and videos.

  4. I’m so glad you are loving it now! In the picture of the water system, your first stage sediment filter looks way past time to change. I have been in some places where the park water supply was so bad I had to change after 36 hours.

    • Thanks… that picture was actually taken a year ago right after the plumbing bay came back together. We just snapped the old filter back on initially for testing. It’s been changed many times since 🙂

  5. Great recap and honestly, your bus remodel and not leaving it would be the same at most homes, I wouldn’t leave my sticks and bricks and just let someone come in and remodel (or build) with me away where I couldn’t manage what they were doing. Same goes for estimates. Live and learn though and the best part is you got great upgrades that now you love! YAY!

    • Living in a regular house while there’s remodeling going on is a bit different than trying to live in an RV while major projects are going on (in this case, our RV was completely unlivable for most of the 3 months).. so it is a bit of a different contemplation. We have lived in our RV through past projects where it was doable – this one definitely was not.

      It ‘seemed’ like a good idea in the beginning to combine the major projects with a non-RV adventure, as other wise we would have needed to find temporary housing (we did look, very limited options and all super expensive) in the area to monitor the work in a town we wouldn’t otherwise want to be in.

      We were so blessed that when we decided we needed to be onsite those final weeks that we were able to borrow RVs to move into onsite.

      But the estimates? Yeah.. we should have never embarked on our trip without getting those in writing. And Master Tech also should have not started several of the projects we asked for quotes on first without getting our approval.

  6. Yep! I remember your nightmare and unfortunately we had one as well (of course on a much smaller level) with our custom desks. To me it’s unacceptable the behavior of said companies when dealing with custom work. Like you asking for quotes and not getting them or us being quoted certain work and not receiving it. You’re a much nicer person to still recommend (so to speak) Master Tech RV as I will never recommend Davis Cabinets (out of Oregon) just based on principle.

    All that being said, you do have nice upgrades. Cheers! ~M

    • To be clear, we didn’t say we’d recommend them. Just that we ourselves, would consider going back to them for certain unique projects (and with eyes WIDE open).

      Sorry your desk build didn’t go smoothly.

  7. We are going through a condo renovation and experiencing identical issues. This condo is a 1959 which coincides with your vintage bus. My thoughts have become: a check will usually heal most situations. Renovation is more costly than new build, trust me.

    Considering their expertise with unique needs, you were fortunate you had chosen them for your work. We have had to change contractors, tile setters, and painters so far. The light at the end of the job is coming closer and relief is on the way for us. As Cherie said look at the long term. Great advice, Cherie.

    Now, to get your winter propane use issue resolved and things will be wonderful. Have a wonderful time with the rest of your fall travels.

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