Completing the ceiling was the next big step in getting the bus to look a lot more like a home. This process meant making definitive choices about where our wires would be running, organizing and taping them, and filling all gaps with our Rockwool Batt Insulation. We had to decide where on the ceiling to start installing the boards, how to attach boards where metal ribs weren’t available, and how we were going to get our wide boards to fit the curvature of the bus ceiling. Like everything in a bus build, it was a lot of customization but the result left us smiling.
In this post: Getting Started Using Blocks Fitting the Curve Running the Wires
We used 12 foot shiplap boards that are 1/2″ thick and 5-1/4″ wide. Choosing our individual ceiling boards took some time even after we decided to use shiplap. A lot of the boards had imperfections such as cracks and gouges. The paint on them wasn’t great either so we painted them again with white gloss Rustoleum paint. Kara was apprehensive about painting the boards with glossy white paint because she wasn’t sure how she would feel about a reflective ceiling. It actually looks more reflective in pictures and videos than it seems in person. Now, she’s happy with the decision and is glad that the ceiling will be easy to clean up whenever it gets a little grungy.
We eyeballed what we perceived to be the middle of the bus and put our first board there. Miraculously, it turned out to be straight enough that full, uncut boards fit on both sides of the ceiling emergency exit. We decided to start in the middle of the bus because we figured that as the boards get further and further away from the first board installed, the spacing can get out of whack and it may not look as good. To standardize the amount of space between each board, we used a pencil.
However, we agreed that if we did this again with a similar floor plan, we might start installing boards from the passenger side to the driver’s side for a couple of reasons. The first reason is because the driver side of our bus is mostly covered up by cabinets and a closet, so the furthest boards from the starting point aren’t going to be very visible anyway. The second reason is due to the nature of the shiplap boards. It’s much easier to install shiplap in the direction where you’re placing the next board directly on top of the last board (with board lips overlapping) than it is to try to shimmy a board underneath another. Of course, starting the boards on the passenger side may have had its own downfalls because starting with the curve in the ceiling could be a little tricky (I’ll explain later on).
We used the full length of the boards starting from the front of the bus, screwing them into each of the metal bus ribs. This left one seam across the ceiling right before our bed which will eventually be covered by a white valence piece. We pre-drilled both the boards and metal ribs. We also countersunk the screw holes so that (1) the screw heads would be flush with the boards and (2) the tapered screw heads wouldn’t crack our thin boards when drilled in the full way.
We used a router to cut circular holes in the boards where our cabin lights (above the driver and passenger seats) and puck lights would be installed and put the wiring for the puck lights through the holes. The two cabin lights are the only original interior bus lights that we decided to keep because they were already wired, worked well, and are perfect to use when driving.
One of the issues we ran into is how to install a board that doesn’t have a metal rib to attach to. This happened in several places such as the seam of boards right before our bed. The 12 foot boards from the front of the bus are secured to the metal rib. The next boards that need to be butted up against these boards now had nothing to screw into. Our solution was to screw wooden blocks into the side of the metal rib so the next row of ceiling boards could be secured to the blocks.
Fitting the Curve
As you can see in the picture above (right), there is a significant curve where the ceiling meets the wall above the windows. Building the wall out to accommodate our 5-1/4″ wide boards would not only have been difficult but also a waste of space. We therefore decided to cut the ceiling boards to half of their original width and continued to use the block method on a board-by-board basis to fit the curve as closely as possible.
Although this method sounds pretty straight forward, it’s actually more involved than you may initially think. Each shiplap board comes with one overlapping lip and one underlapping lip. Once you cut a board down the middle, both halves of the board only have one lip (one has the overlapping lip and one has the underlapping lip). To recreate the missing lips, we ran each board through the table saw a few times to cut off a strip wherever a lip was missing. The newly cut thin boards were then painted white before installation.
Running the Wires
And that’s the general process of how we did our ceiling! The channel above the windows on the passenger side was not boarded up because we planned to build a shelf there instead. We also decided to run all of our ceiling wires (lights, solar, and fan) to this channel and then along the channel into the back passenger side corner of the bus. They will go down this corner and under the bed to our fuse block and charge controller. Initially, we thought about running the wires down between the windows but this would have meant building out all of our window frames if we wanted to keep it looking uniform. That seemed like a big, unnecessary task so we simplified the plan to just running the wires down the back corner where they can be consolidated and easily covered up. More on that in the Electricity blog post!