When we converted our bus, we worried about the inside of the bus. Only 0.01% of our time was spent thinking about what it would be like to spend time outside it. For people with a tiny home, outdoor living is equally important to that of the indoors. Mother Nature is in yo’ face when you step outside and she bestows a lot on you!
Most people think sunny weather is the greatest. I do prefer it, but constant sun can dehydrate you and make you as miserable as a never-ending winter. The intensity of the sun can burn your feet in a matter of minutes! Ask me how I know and I’ll recount the time Michael needed me to hold a pole in 103ºF High Noon temperatures without shade while he fastened our tarp.
Anything that falls from the sky can put a damper on the furniture or equipment you leave outside. Waterproof furniture can arguably be the answer and be left outside despite the weather, but maybe you couldn’t afford such pieces nor have the room for them. You could transfer every item inside every time it rains, snows, or hails. Or you could prepare a cover that protects you as you sip your coffee on a rainy morning and protects your bikes that don’t fit inside the bus during a snowstorm.
Do It Yourself Awning Prototypes
A trip to an RV store in Northern California deterred us from buying a commercially made awning. The cost was more than what we were willing to pay for something we had a feeling we could make and install by ourselves. We didn’t really take the awning seriously until we took our first weekend trip in our half-completed bus. On the eve of our departure, Michael headed to Home Depot at 30 minutes before closing and returned with a hodgepodge of 1-1/4″ PVC pipe, fittings, bolts, nuts, and fat washers.
What he concocted was a canopy that held up for the weekend and for our first few months full-timing. Three poles, inserted into grommets on the tarp and tied down to 2 stakes each, held the awning to the ground. Parachute cord secured the tarp to brackets welded to the roof. This prototype didn’t last long because all the resistance to wind relied on those three pole connections and the several roof brackets.
The second version involved adding a beam connecting the poles to laterally distribute the uplift force. The roof brackets were still the points of connection topside. Despite this reinforcement, windy days still created worry in us. When gusts came our way, the entire tarp acted as a sail pulling the poles and stakes into the sky. Setup and Tear Down was a bear of a chore that if a new campsite was in the same campground, the kids and I would “walk” the awning. By holding the poles and walking the pace of the bus (as if we were pallbearers and the bus were a coffin), we didn’t have to detach the poles nor the tarp from the roof brackets. After much battle against the wind, the PVC beam started to bow.
DIY Awning 3.0
We dealt with the bowed beam for about one year. As our second Winter approached, Michael wanted to improved the design before the snow arrived. Our main issues were:
- prevent the beam from bowing
- allow wind to escape
- collapse easily when traveling on the road
Michael solved all this with the latest version by making a truss beam for the bottom of the tarp and adding another beam on the roof. The truss system stiffen the bottom beam. The top beam and our cord attachment system (seen below) allowed the tarp to release passing wind. With these two beams in place, we now just detach the poles, roll up the whole works and secure it to the roof with … yes, you guessed correctly … parachute cord.
Roof brackets: (To be done very early in the bus conversion, before applying bus roof paint) Remove rivets. Manufacture a bracket attached to a plate that is slightly larger than the area without rivets. Bolt plate to roof frame through old rivet locations.
The Roof Beam: Construct a PVC pole a little longer that the length of the tarp. Attach pole to brackets with a parachute cord winding through bracket hole and an eye bolt attached to pole. Use more cord to loop through tarp grommets and around the PVC pipe. The cord should not be snug – the distance between the tarp and pipe allows the wind to escape.
Tarp to Truss Attachment: Screw eye bolts through truss’s top chord and attach tarp to these bolts with parachute cord. Also shown is an intermediate post. We should have had a total of 3 (instead of our current 2) intermediaries across the 10-‘0″ span between major posts to prevent the slight bowing that has occurred. It’s not terrible, but the perfectionist in Michael is frowning.
Beam to Large Post : Note that the post attaches at a “Tee” on the top cord of the truss. The flex from wind forces can twist on the elbow to tee fittings without disturbing the large end posts too much. The large middle post, however, does attach to the truss bottom chord.
Frame to Stake: End posts of truss and at the middle of the truss beam have large eye bolts screwed through it at the top. With our trusty parachute cord, we secure the frame to the stakes.
Large Post End Detail: The large posts spanning from the truss to the ground terminate with a long bolt secured to it with a nut and wide washer. Pierce this pointy end into the ground to prevent the large post from sliding. If your site is not level, you can use a piece of wood with a notch drilled in to elevate the posts lacking in height.
DIY Awning Complete!
Share your thoughts on this project in the comments below. What have you done to construct your own awning? We look forward to hearing from you!