We were very excited to work on the floor because we knew it was one of the major steps in the transformation from a passenger bus into a living space. Although it was a lot of work, this was one of our favorite steps in the conversion because it was something we could both work on independently and simultaneously, so progress came quickly and was very satisfying to see.
In this post: Epoxy & Pennies Rust Treatment & Painting Subfloor Floor Tiles Stairs Co-Pilot Seat
Epoxy & Pennies
After the demolition, we scrubbed and washed down our sheet metal floor. We then decided to go with a tried and true skoolie floor repair method: epoxy and pennies. We filled a Tupperware container with old pennies and used epoxy to glue them down to all the little screw and bolt holes.
Tip: In this case, epoxy is used as a strong adhesive to secure little bits of metal (pennies) over small screw holes in the floor. Epoxy usually comes in 2 tubes of resin and hardener that are dispensed simultaneously so that they can be mixed together before use. Once the components are mixed, it hardens quickly so it needs to be used right away.
Some of the holes were bigger than a penny could cover, so we used quarters. Even then, some of the holes were bigger than a quarter could cover, so we bought a sheet of metal at the hardware store and cut it into pieces to cover the big holes.
Travis insisted that we glue all the coins down heads up for good luck.
Rust Treatment & Painting
Once the epoxy had fully hardened and all the holes were patched up, it was time to treat any rust. First, we scrubbed and rinsed the sheet metal floor and let it dry. Then we used a gravity fed air spray gun hooked up to an air compressor to spray the floor with Ospho, a rust converter.
In hindsight, there really wasn’t much rust to be converted and we probably could have skipped this step. However, it did give us peace of mind that any rust that may have been harbored there was completely doomed.
Tip: Before Ospho is applied, the rusty surface needs to be wire-brushed to get off as much surface rust as possible. Once the surface is clean, Ospho can be applied and has to sit overnight. Rust turns black once Ospho has done its magic. Most importantly, the surface needs to be sealed after treatment. If whatever you spray with rust converter is not sealed soon after with paint, it will end up converting back to rust.
After the Ospho dried, we sealed the floor by rolling on a few coats of white gloss rustoleum paint.
Something we were initially unsure of when we were planning the subfloor was whether or not we needed furrings, or thin strips of wood, to line the metal floor between blocks of foam board insulation. We first decided to only put foam board insulation on the metal and then plywood on top, which is referred to as a “floating floor,” but then we became worried that the foam board insulation would not do well with weight-bearing and could compress at pressure points over time. This was especially a concern in places with heavy cabinet corners or bed supports. The thought of having our floor sink in these important areas was enough to convince us that we would rather be safe than sorry with using the furrings.
We tried to plan the layout of the furrings according to the key elements in our floor plan: the batteries, the water tanks, the cabinets, etc. Of course, as you continue the build the floor plans seem to change over and over again. Although we feel better that we used furrings for the overall structure of our subfloor, some of the positions of what we had planned for those furrings changed around anyway.
We decided on 1/2 inch furrings and foam board insulation in an effort to conserve headspace in the bus. We secured the furrings with liquid nails and screws. To insulate the seams between the foam board insulation and the furrings, we used reflective insulation tape.
Tip: When making new holes in your floor for any reason, you can prevent future rust by finding where the screws poke through under the bus and spray painting them right away. This seals the new clean screws and makes them much more rust resistant.
Is this insulation going to be amazingly effective? No. The idea is just to put something between your plywood and the sheet metal so the plywood isn’t immediately touching the metal and heating up or cooling down as much with weather changes.
Once the furrings were done, we screwed 3/4 inch plywood to the furring strips. Now, here is something we regret: when we screwed these plywood pieces down, we did not take enough precautions to make sure they were completely flush with each other. We assumed that because the plywood pieces all have the same depth of material under them, they would be flush.
Unfortunately, and I’m not completely sure what the culprit of the situation was (uneven plywood pieces?), but some of our plywood pieces seemed to secure down a little more than others. This created a few uneven creases in our floor that to this day, still annoy us. If I could go back, I guess I would pay more attention when we were putting the plywood pieces down although I’m not really sure what we could have done differently. The plywood pieces don’t necessarily sit where they will before they have all the screws pulling them down, so until you put in the all the screws and compare neighboring pieces, you can’t really be sure if it will be flush. At that point, it’s a little late to pull them all out and try again since you just made a ton of holes in both your plywood and your furrings.
When it came time to choose our flooring, we decided on Peel & Stick floor tiles. These tiles are only 1/8 inch deep, have a sticky backside that adheres right to the plywood, and can be cut easily with a utility knife. We liked this option because it conserves headspace, it applies readily, and we could make custom pieces quickly and easily.
To protect the plywood and to help with floor tile adhesion, we painted the floor with leftover Rustoleum paint. Unfortunately, the leftover paint we had was blue and white from paining the exterior of the bus. Now blue and white are the colors we see if there’s ever a small gap between floor tiles. If we could go back, we would have bought a new can of black Rustoleum paint and used that instead.
For the stairs, we repeated the same process we did for the rest of the floor: furrings, foam board insulation, plywood, and floor tiles. We added two more special touches. The first was metal edge guards to protect and hide the unflattering edges. We chose the satin nickel finish for the edge guards because it was the only finish we felt would look okay.
Secondly, we wanted the first step of the stairs to be a spot where we can wipe our dirty shoes off before fully entering the living space. We searched for an outdoor welcome mat that was roughly the size of the first step. Because the step is not a perfect rectangle and has quite the slope to it, many patterns and designs would have looked uneven and odd. Eventually, we found one we could make work. We cut up the rug using a utility knife, slashed up the bottom tread of it, and stuck it down with liquid nails.
Once again, we painted the plywood white before sticking the floor tiles down and because of the little gaps, we definitely regret not painting it black.
You might be wondering what this has to do with our flooring. Installing the co-pilot seat and finishing the floor had to go hand-in-hand due to where we chose to put the seat. Firstly, let’s talk about the issue of even FINDING a co-pilot seat as this was a difficult one for us.
We searched online for a new seat that we could install in our bus but the prices were ridiculously expensive; we were looking at a cost of about $1,000 or more. We also needed a seat with a seatbelt already built in since we didn’t trust ourselves to safely install one separately but these seats were pushing $2,000. We knew there had to be another way.
So we went to the local scrapyard. Actually, we “shopped” around at a couple. We ultimately found our co-pilot seat in an old beat up truck, seatbelt and all, for $75. They offered for us to take both front seats for $75 but we knew we had no use for another seat and declined.
We tried the seat out next to the passenger door and right next to the driver seat. We decided to put it next to the driver seat because we wanted to be closer together when driving and we wanted to save the space by the passenger door for other purposes. However, this placement had its own issues due to the floor’s structure.
The sheet metal floor stops right behind the driver’s seat and switches over to lower corrugated metal. This is where the Chevy van front end is attached to the body of the bluebird school bus and why short school buses with van front ends are called “cutaways.”
Tip: The van front end is exactly like the front of any Chevy Express van except that the top of it is made to fit the rest of the bluebird school bus body. The roof in this part of the bus is fiberglass. The roof of the bus from behind the driver's seat to the back is metal. This is a key difference when you're working on the roof (or when dealing with bus leaks).
We needed to install 4 bolts to secure the seat: 2 in the front and 2 in the back. We set the co-pilot seat back a little from the driver’s seat to allow space for the cup holders and easy movement. This allowed us to attach the 2 back bolts for the seat through the regular sheet metal floor. We drilled through the floor and stuck bolts up through it. Easy enough!
However, the more difficult part was figuring out how we were going to install the front 2 bolts on the uneven corrugated metal. The only spot we could do this on was the metal beam in the middle. We drilled through the beam but the bolts were too long to fit under the metal lip and turn up. The bolts had to be long enough to go through the metal, furring, plywood, floor tile, and seat rails so we couldn’t just get shorter bolts. Travis took the angle grinder and cut a little channel into the beam so the bolt could go through it and pivot. The washers were also too big for the beam on one side, so again, Travis used an angle grinder to cut the washer to the appropriate shape.
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Epoxy Air Spray Gun Ospho Foam Board Insulation Liquid Nails Reflective Insulation Tape Peel & Stick Floor Tiles Metal Edge Guards