Turning an Old School Bus Into a Home on Wheels
Why Does the Challenge of Bus Conversion Captivate So Many?
We’ve all seen magical transformations of shipping containers into beautiful tiny homes. But another equally passionate group of builders has settled on those ubiquitous yellow buses as the perfect template for producing breathtaking conversions into beautiful homes on wheels.
So-called skoolies share their plans and designs on social media, blogs, and forums. In contrast to the stereotype of bands of hippies in flower-decorated buses, the modern wanderer could just as well be a young professional who has rejected a life of mortgage payments and taken their laptop office on the road.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Why go to the effort of converting a school bus when there’s such an abundance of motor homes? Firstly, there’s the affordability factor. Buyers can find used buses for under five thousand dollars, whether from a public auction, Craigslist, or National Bus Sales. The sturdy metal framework supports a simple, spacious interior that DIY enthusiasts can easily convert to suit their plans. Recovered building materials and up-cycled furnishings and appliances offer more cost savings during renovations.
Compared to RVs, which are geared towards leisure and have a one-size-fits-all quality, a converted school bus offers an opportunity to make a unique home with furnishings that reflect the owner’s personality. When starting from scratch, it’s up to the individual to choose layouts and color schemes that best suit their style of work and play. It’s easier to make space for familiar bits of furniture and family heirlooms. The result is a more authentic home, rather than simply somewhere to spend the summer holidays.
It’s a great feeling to know you’re benefiting the environment by reusing something that has plenty of life left in it. Additionally, some bus owners have added eco-friendly modifications like solar panels and composting toilets. Some have even converted their engines to run on biodiesel or vegetable oil.
Traveling cross-country in a bus does consume a lot of fuel, which can be a concern for climate-conscious wanderers, but pales next to the energy consumption of a larger conventional house. Of course while not being tied down to a single location is a great feeling, mobility can be a challenge when getting around and finding parking in a city.
There are also unique regulatory concerns around school buses. Aside from a new paint job, different jurisdictions require specific modifications, such as removing signage and safety lights. Owners may need a special diver’s license as well, and should consult their state or provincial vehicle authority. Online forums such as skoolie.net can offer advice, as well.
After enjoying life on the road in a minibus, the Thompsons decided a full-sized bus was the ideal option for settling down and starting a family. Their award-winning tiny house bus includes a removable wall section, should they choose to expand in the future. (Jeremy Manry/YouTube)
Conversion Game Plan
Removing the seats and stripping the interior down to the frame is relatively straightforward but labor-intensive, followed by insulating and installing flooring. Careful mapping out of the interior follows. It’s helpful to look at other people’s floor plans to see what works before starting, rather than go back and change things afterward. Blogs like wegotschooled.com offer lots of ideas. Every square inch is precious, so it’s essential to make use of all space. The space below benches and beds provides room for storage, while foldaway beds and tables allow areas to serve multiple purposes and keep things secure when it’s time to hit the road.
When buying appliances, there are many compact and energy-efficient options to choose from. RV and marine suppliers are a good source, as well as specialized sites like Buses101.
Faced with space restrictions, some ambitious bus owners have chosen to add rooftop platforms or even to increase the vertical space by raising the roof and adding a loft. When it comes to school bus life, the conversion is half the adventure.