Is Living in a VW Bus Green?

a vw bus tearing up the grass in Belize


And by green, we’re not talking sticky buds or rudimentary colors of course, we’re talking Mother Earth, that plump little mistress we all so sometimes lovingly neglect. I don’t have specifics, no hard data (as I’m posting via my phone), but I’ll do some comparisons based on my general knowledge and monetary equivalents.


We use electricity from the grid about 3-4 days a week. That’s plugging the Bus into an RV park’s outlet and powering our refrigerator (smaller than what you’d find in a college dorm) and charging an iPhone or two. And that’s not 24 hours x 4 days, that’s about 14 hours per session, so we’re using around 40 hours worth of electric a week.

The average home will no doubt have, 24/7, a large fridge, several digital clocks (mic, stove, regular clocks), two or three TVs and accompanying DVD players/Playstations, computers and rooms full of lights on.

So yeah, in the electricity department, we’re pretty much well below par. Probably still able to measure it in candlelight power, and since it’s just included in campground fees, it’s basically free for as much as we can use ben we do.


It currently being summertime, our heating usage is essentially zip. Even when nights get chilly, as even they do on a summer on the coast of Maine, say, a hoodie followed by a handmade patchwork blanket will easily suffice.

In colder climes, however, we’ve been faced with firing up the old Coleman. A permanently installed and well ventilated heating device the original manufacturers of our Riviera Campwagen included in her camper renovation, it keeps the Bus well heated even on a night in the low teens. In Colorado’s December, accompanied by Jameson and blankets, I’ve survived a night without too much trouble; tossing, turning or otherwise. She’s even come in handy in deep desert winter nights, though a source of electricity is required for it to even work, given the exhaust and heat distribution network’s requirements for a fan. That all said, she comes packed with a 2.5 gallon mini propane tank, which is a mere fraction of the size of a standard 30lb. tank like you’d hook to your grill. 2.5 gallons lasts 3 nights max, and you’ll be reaching for extra blankets at the end of the 3rd for sure. The tank costs about $7 to fill, so in the coldest months you’re looking at $350 at least to keep warm day in and night through.


Were I a better mechanic, or were the year currently 1978, we’d be talking maybe 35mpg. My technical skills and the millennium it is, however, and given that she’s not only VW Bus but also a camper conversion fully loaded with two adults and a child’s worth of lifestuffs, we’re talking 21mpg on a good day, closer to 19 on average. When all is added up, the average miles per year in her are hellabove average though, with 19,000 logged in a total of 10 months active Bussing. I think 12,000 is average for the American driver.

So at approximately 1,750 miles per month and even at an average of $3.50/gal we’re talking about just over $300 / month gasoline.


Aforemost, I should mention that, when in a stick house, I consume amounts of water easily deemed copious. We don’t use a dishwasher, and probably do an average job at conserving water in most other ways, but I personally have been known to, on those rare true hangover days, fall asleep laying down in the shower. Sometimes I’ll do it just to pass a Sunday afternoon. I know, there are people in the world living in desperate want of a sip of water. I feel for them. But I have lived in snowcaps and rainforests and Western PA, all of which have been abundant as an understatement plentiful with agua.

In the Bus, however, we are rarely to seriously, rarely, ever plugged into water. The old girl, fancy lady that she is, can plug in, in fact she can store it onboard and relieve it to us at command via a handpump faucet at the sink, but we just don’t use it. A camp sink here, a campground faucet there and we’re good on dishes. Laundromats with industrial sized, profit-based amounts of water dispensing machines take care of our every week or so cloth cleaning needs. We shower maybe three times a week. Judge us as you see fit.

So on water, well below the American average. Probably more on par with Sudan. Total actual dollar cost, about $20/month in laundry. Maybe $30 in large bottled gallons of water for supplemental drinking/cleaning.


We purchase nearly 99% of our goods from non-chain, local markets. Most of that is likely still imported from a distance, but we always go organic and/or local when possible. We eat whole, simple foods and buy our meals daily, rarely wasting more than an extra half onion or carrot every few days. We spend a lot on food, but moreso because we buy the good stuff than that it’s difficult to live cheap in a Bus va. a regular house. I’d say $900-$1200 a month, including eating out, road coffees and beers. Maybe an extra $300 for beers actually.

Another factor with food is firewood for cooking, which costs about $10/night though we perhaps splurge.

Rent & Mortgage

The Bus cost $4000 when I got her, and we’ve put at least another $5000 into her (including minor repairs, some home improvement, a new engine and new tires). A mechanic better than I could’ve shaved that down to less than a grand, but so are my skills with a wrench…

Even at $9000 though, that’s a cheap home.

Add in “rent”, ie. campground fees, and you’re talking between $15-$40/night, with $25 being closer to average. I figure we spend about $650/mo on camping fees, and another $300/mo on hotels (when we’re in cities or just drove all day and need a break from setting up the Bus). That puts our “rent” right around what it was for our house in Oregon (which was 3 bedrooms worth of significantly larger).

Car Payment & Insurance

I paid cash for the Bus, so we have no monthly car payment. Most people who do spend around $200/mo on that. When I first got the Bus insured, GEICO gave us an RV rate which was only around $450/year. This time around they made us insure it as a vehicle, and it’s closer to $1400/year. Big jump, but apparently without a built in bathroom, it doesn’t make the RV classification anymore.

So all said and done, it costs about $3100 / mo to live on the road, in the Bus. That included everything we spend cash on except for cigarettes and miniature golf (etc). We use significantly more fuel than the average American, but we also use only a tiny fraction of all of the other resources. I’d say we’re doing alright with ol’ Mammie Natural.