When we started thinking about what was most important for us for our school bus conversion, a bathroom with a toilet and a shower was high on that list. Unfortunately, the way our bus’s wheel wells fall created a difficult challenge and limited options for how large our skoolie bathroom could be. Below you’ll find how we built our wet/dry bathroom from scratch including the materials we used for our shower pan and tiling.
Reasons Behind a Wet / Dry Skoolie Bathroom
As previously mentioned, our bus layout was challenging. Charlotte’s a medium-sized bus which limited our options in regard to where we could place things. Once we realized that composting toilets work well in a wet/dry environment, it was a no-brainer that we had to implement one in order to get both a shower and toilet in our build.
Some Perks: We get to go to the bathroom AND shower at the same time! All jokes aside, it allowed us to have the best of both worlds without having to give up one or the other.
Some Disadvantages: If you have to use the bathroom after someone showers, you’ll have to expect a wet floor and wet toilet. We’ve put a bath mat inside of the bathroom that does help with the floor issue. And, of course, showering right by a composting toilet isn’t always the most favorable thing, but we make it work and can’t complain!
How We Built Our Shower Pan & Floor
Since we were limited on space, we wanted to create a seamless floor without a noticeable drain so that the bathroom could be comfortable to use as both a shower and toilet. One of the first questions we get asked when someone sees our bathroom is always, “Wait, so where and how does your water drain?”. We do have a drain that is towards the corner closest to the shower. To make our custom shower pan, we started with installing plywood on an angle so that water would flow toward the drain. Then, we topped that with a rubber shower pan liner to make it 100% waterproof. Finally, we used UltraShield Naturale composite deck tile for the floor from Home Depot. They are super easy to link together, take apart, and cut for that custom fit.
Some Perks: We LOVE the way the wood decking looks in our skoolie bathroom. It fit perfectly and helps give the bathroom an attractive appearance despite the toilet being right there. They’re also easy to take apart in order to clean the drain and floor. We haven’t had any issues with our floor pan draining. While we still use a bath mat while showering to collect excess water, we really don’t notice too much water coming OUT of the shower.
Some Disadvantages: Scum and dirt do build up under the composite decking and it’s not the greatest to clean. It can be a pain to pull up all of the deck tiles, especially with the toilet over some of them. However, we really only find ourselves needing to clean it once a month.
Building the Walls & Ceiling
The walls of our skoolie bathroom were built with a cement backer board and the seams were covered with mortar and fiber mesh tape to reinforce the joints. For the ceiling, we used Cedar that we got from a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for an awesome price. Then, we sealed any noticeable gaps with clear silicone to prevent future water damage.
The Perks: The cedar has worked great in the shower as it’s waterproof and smells good So far, everything has held up great.
The Disadvantages: We decided to be overly ambitious and chose a gray/black caulk after tiling. The caulk is definitely not the easiest to get off of the cedar and requires sanding. What we learned…ALWAYS use painter’s tape!!!
Tiling the Bathroom
When we started this build, I told David over and over again how badly I wanted the bathroom to be tiled. Despite the space being so small, the tiling took forever and we needed help from a few friends to get through it all.
We used ceramic Subway tiles from Home Depot since it was the most cost-effective and simple option. Before even beginning to tile, we measured out everything to ensure our tiles would be level. We then used a trowel to apply a basic mortar and water mixture to about 2 or 3 square feet of the cement backer board at one time. We focused on one wall at a time since the working window for the mortar was about 20 minutes. While applying each tile, we were sure to use our 1/8th inch spacers (we found a ton of these at our Habitat Re-Store) and level to make sure everything was being applied evenly.
The mortar and tile process took a couple of days (and a HUGE mess) to finish. We gave it a few days until starting the grout on the tile. We chose a flexible, epoxy-based charcoal grout from Home Depot that reduces cracking during travel and heavy movement. This stuff was incredibly messy, but so far our bathroom tiles have held up great!
Possibly the most painful part was applying a great caulk to seal up the corners of the bathroom. As with the entire tiling process for the bathroom, it was messy and dark. As previously mentioned, always use painter’s tape. Trust me, it’s going to save you a nice headache if you’re using a darker caulk in the long run!
The Perks: We love the way the tile came out. It definitely makes the bathroom feel a bit “homey” and you almost look forward to having to use the composting toilet or take a shower!
The Disadvantages: While there are no disadvantages of tiling the bathroom currently, the process really did take forever and made a HUGE mess. We’d be lying if we didn’t say it was a headache. If we were to do another build, we may look into adhesive, waterproof tiles (similar to what we did in our kitchen). They can be more expensive but would allow for a much easier install.
Some Other Misc. Aspects of Our Skoolie Bathroom Guide
We struggled for some time trying to figure out what to do about our bathroom door. We had to factor in the size of the entry-way, the height, and just the overall position of our bathroom. Originally, we wanted to implement a glass sliding door but realized that it wasn’t realistic if we wanted to save space. We wound up finding a compact folding door from Home Depot that we used as both our bathroom door and “garage” door in the back.
We also installed an exhaust fan onto the ceiling of the skoolie bathroom to help reduce moisture and get rid of some smells that may resonate after using the good ole composting toilet.
AirHead vs. Nature’s Head Composting Toilets
To start with, we wanted to avoid having the need to dump a black water tank. We looked into a few different options but found that composting toilets were the way to go to avoid smells and a black water setup.
Our next decision was to decide between AirHead or Nature’s Head toilets. Both composting toilets are very similar in functionality but definitely differ in price and design. The AirHead toilet is slightly more expensive ($1,029) than its Nature’s Head competitor ($960). The AirHead also has more of a round shape as opposed to an oval shape, as well. If none of those specs really bother you, let me tell you why we chose AirHead over Nature’s Head composting toilet:
-It contains a larger urine tank that removes without having to disturb the main waste bowel. If you’re living on a school bus or RV full-time, you’ll be filling up that urine bucket A LOT (unless David and I just go to the bathroom way too much…). If you’re only planning to use your skoolie bathroom on rare occasions, then this may not be as much of an essential for you.
-The toilet has gaskets on their seat and lids to prevent insects from getting into the compartments and reduce odors if the fan may stall.
-The mixer crank on the AirHead (as well as the overall toilet) is better suited for small spaces. If you have to work with a smaller area and want something more compact, then I’d highly recommend the AirHead due to its round base as opposed to Nature’s Head square base and wider top of 16.6”.
-One of David’s favorite features: You can lift the seat and pee for all those out there that would prefer to stand up!
-AirHead comes with a 2-year warranty over Nature’s Head at 1-year. This was a big plus for us since both of these systems are expensive and you just never know.
In the future, I may create a more in-depth comparison between the 2 toilets. Overall, it’s based on your preference and budget. Maybe you have the room and would prefer a toilet with a larger seat. Or maybe, you’d like something more compact with a few more design enhancement. Regardless, both toilets have ultimately the same function.
The Perks: The positives for our AirHead composting toilet is pretty much all listed above. The toilet rarely stinks and emptying the wastes is not as bad as you’d think. It functions exactly how you’d expect.
The Disadvantages: It’s still a composting toilet. If it gets too full, you can 100% smell that wonderful “earthy” smell coming out of the exhaust fan (which can be embarrassing if you’re around other people). The urine container does fill up really fast, even with 2 people. Dumping that urine container is less than favorable and grosser than the solids. If you can handle all of that though, having a composting toilet over a black water tank is a win!
Want to see the rest of our skoolie conversion? Check out the following link to see “Charlotte”!