Steering toward the future

Science teacher builds eco-friendly, livable bus for family

Laura+Knochenhauer+works+on+the+interior+of+her+family%27s+bus.+Right+now+it+appears+to+be+nothing+more+than+plywood+and+tape%2C+but+soon+it+will+be+a+fully+functioning+family+home.
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Steering toward the future

Laura Knochenhauer works on the interior of her family's bus. Right now it appears to be nothing more than plywood and tape, but soon it will be a fully functioning family home.

Laura Knochenhauer works on the interior of her family's bus. Right now it appears to be nothing more than plywood and tape, but soon it will be a fully functioning family home.

Emma Manzo

Laura Knochenhauer works on the interior of her family's bus. Right now it appears to be nothing more than plywood and tape, but soon it will be a fully functioning family home.

Emma Manzo

Emma Manzo

Laura Knochenhauer works on the interior of her family's bus. Right now it appears to be nothing more than plywood and tape, but soon it will be a fully functioning family home.

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The sun rises over an off-white school bus, its energy absorbed by the solar panels on the roof. This electricity allows the bus’ owner, science teacher Laura Knochenhauer,  to switch on the light inside. Throwing on her coat she steps outside into the brisk morning air with her poodle Winnie.

Soon, her husband, Kase, emerges from his office followed by her son, Alton, racing to stomp on the straggling snow piles. They smile, remembering two years earlier when their bus was rows of seats and reflective tape.  

This is how Knochenhauer and her husband imagine their life after completing their new home. Since May 2019, the couple has been redesigning a 40 foot Thomas flat nose bus. They plan to live in it along with Alton, their baby to be and Winnie. Their goal is to live a simpler and more environmentally conscious life. 

It makes you aware of the resources that you’re consuming, I think it makes us a little more grounded in where we are, and reminding ourselves of what really matters.”

— Laura Knochenhauer

“I’m excited for our son to be able to have that opportunity too because it’s something a lot of kids don’t get” Knochenhauer said.

It was the Knochenhauers’ dream to live smaller ever since getting married. in Laura’s Earth Science class, she asked her students what they could change about their lives to live greener. That weekend her and her husband found and purchased a bus, joining the growing “skoolie” trend. 

https://www.buslifeadventure.com/index.php

Previously, they tried renovating a 5th wheeler and an RV with little success. A school bus provided them the space for their growing family and gave them the opportunity to gut the entire interior and create their unique vision. 

Unlike the average bus, their model will have two doors allowing  them to create a separate work space where the driver’s seat and original door would be. The second door, in the middle of the bus, leads to the main living area.

In addition, the home is being equipped with almost all renewable energy, including a 1200 watt solar panel system for electricity. The roof is made of rubber, decreasing the inside temperature by 40 degrees. 

The bus will also contain a composting toilet,which allows liquid waste, along with shower and dish water to travel to a grey water tank, while solid waste is composted with sawdust, eliminating the need to empty a black water tank. All of this results in decreased water usage.

“It’s one of the two and, to me, this is like the less of the two because what ends up happening is that the waste just essentially breaks down and creates this powder type thing that you can use in a garden” Knochenhauer said.

Emma Manzo
‘BUS’TING CARBON EMISSIONS: The exterior of the bus will be painted an off-white color. The family hopes to complete their sustainable bus by Dec. 2020 or early 2021. “It will give us mobility… we could travel in the summer,” Knochenhauer said.

The project became a learning experience after Knochenhauer’s students asked to participate over the summer. They were invited on Tuesday nights until mid-August. Bates said it inspired her to plant a garden. Sophomore Kassidy Bush, another of Knochenhauer’s students, cut down on plastic use.

“I think it’s an awesome way for her to actually apply what she’s teaching in the real world and show her students that there is a way that we can make a change and reduce our carbon footprint,” sophomore Olivia Bates, one of Knochenhauer’s students, said. 

Downsizing to a school bus is a tremendous change, it requires slimming down on material goods and adapting to less space. Gone are the days of long showers and space to entertain guests. 

For the Knochenhauers, living a more mindful life justifies the sacrifices.

“We probably don’t know all the changes we’re going to have to make until we start doing it, but I think being more conscious of what we buy and what we bring home” Knochenhauer said.

Emma Manzo
SIMPLE LIVING: This is the floor plan for the family’s bus. They hope to live inside once it is completed. “I think people that live simpler lives are often enjoying life a little bit more,” Knochenhauer said. “Because they’re not distracted by everything that they have and own and they don’t feel like they have to live up to the standards of society.”

Deciding what really matters also applies to possessions. They’ve already started getting rid of unnecessary belongings, discovering that possessions do not equate to happiness.

“I think people that live simpler lives are often enjoying life a little bit more,” Knochenhauer said. “Because they’re not distracted by everything that they have and own and they don’t feel like they have to live up to the standards of society.”

The goal is for their sustainable and eco friendly bus to be completed by Dec. 2020 or early 2021. They plan to live on family property here in West Michigan. They also hope to enjoy the fact that a more mobile and efficient home will allow them to travel.

“It will give us mobility, and we can bring our house places, you know, we could travel in the summer and go somewhere” Knochenhauer said. “And it just gives us more freedom to do that.”

Laura encourages anyone intrigued by the idea of skoolies, or simpler living in general, to start researching and contacting people who have made the transition.

“It makes you aware of the resources that you’re consuming,” Knochenhauer said. “I think it makes us a little more grounded in where we are, and reminding ourselves of what really matters.”