"view from the eGypsy" byorigamidon is licensed underCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Pandemic increases Sales

As more people are turning toward an unconventional, affordable, and socially distant way of life, "skoolies”, aka school bus conversions are becoming more popular as they provide options to do those things. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed a lot of people out of their jobs, their regular 9-5, and has given them fewer opportunities to be outdoors. With a growing interest in a simpler way of living, the bright yellow vehicle sales have risen in many places across the world, also circulating their use in an eco-friendly way, as the sellers were experiencing great recessions due to schools being shut down and limited tourism.

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The Skoolie - is it the future for Tiny Homes?

RV and Bus conversions have been happening for decades, but social distancing and the recent restrictions have pushed more and more people to get involved and learn about this way of living. As a fact, skoolies were widely used as homes in the 60s and 70s era, as it was not unusual for hippies and travelers to turn them into their permanent homes. The recent trend also taps into a very hot topic of the last decade, sustainability. Natural resources no longer need to be abused at the expense of our taste, as the world can offer a lot of second-hand alternatives. When new trailers can be expensive to buy and not eco-friendly, used school buses can be converted into tiny living spaces that can be renovated for a cheaper price and help the environment. Experts claim that buyers frequently find retired school buses at auctions soon after the vehicles are taken out of service by school districts. Depending on state laws, schools normally stop using them after around 20 years of use. Skoolies can make the best tiny houses, offering an affordable start and a lot of space for customization. It is the perfect combination of a trailer and a ready-made tiny house, as you can modify every corner of it without spending a fortune!

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Tiny House Conversion Process

Whether you are in the research stage of deciding if you should buy a retired school bus or bought it already and looking for simple steps to convert it into a tiny home, this article is going to equip you with all the useful information you will need to know.

1.Demolition & Preparation

Creating a clean slate for your future tiny home is important, to be able to customize it to your preference as much as possible. First, you will need to remove any non-essential items that are denoting your skoolie used to be a school bus, such as school bus wording, stop signs, and reflective tape. Drafting a starting floor plan is also essential from the very start, as it will define what you can and can’t do in terms of design. When you get to demolish the bus’s benches, you will be presented with two options: building your tiny house on top of the existing floors and walls or removing the wall panels and floor, to ensure you are not covering up any mold or rust. Then, the preparation process should also include wiring! Speakers and lighting wires are essential in the early steps of construction if you are looking to conceal them rather than having them hanging out.

2. Construction

One of the most important steps of building your perfect tiny home is construction. After revealing interior space and with a clearer view of the problems that may have appeared such as rust or mold you can prepare your blank canvas for the finishing design. First, you should start with the flooring, ensuring that any rust is scraped and grinded off. Any glue or dirt should be removed too. The next step is to fill up with silicone any patches that create uneven texture or holes you found in the process. Good oil-based paint is also helpful to cover the whole floor, as it will protect it from all types of weather. After the floor is done, walls, ceiling, and windows should be handled with the same care. You can test if your windows are leaking using a garden hose. Emergency ceiling exits should also be leakproof, so you may consider replacing any old rubber or glass that is damaged.

3. Flooring and Insulation

An insulated interior will help you avoid using the bus heater (and engine) to keep your home warm overnight. You can choose a thinner insulation panel and foam to preserve as much space as possible. To insulate your windows, you will need a plastic insulating film that will cover both sides. An easy way to apply it is by using a heated blow dryer to make an airtight seal. Resealing your doors is also essential as it is a major heal/cold loss area. A fresh layer of caulk around the door should do the work! If you are still noticing humidity in the interior space, you can also cover your vents with spray foam or fiberglass foam. The choice is yours but note that fiberglass foam expands when it gets warm, so you will have to replace it after a few years. For flooring, the most common solution is sanded plywood, in your preferred color. To secure the subfloor to the floor you can use tape and wood-to-metal screws. Vinyl-click flooring is the perfect finishing touch, as it is not expensive, is relatively thin and you can install it easily. 

4. Designing and Innovating 

The last part is also the most fun. If you love DIY (you probably are already familiar with it) this is your time to shine. You can put all your creativity into your tiny home and creating a bed, a kitchen, storage, and a cozy living room. Your question might be - Will all those fit into my skoolie? – Yes! Begin by building your layout and prioritizing the things you want the most, their order, and the overall floor plan. You need to measure the floor dimensions, walls, windows, ceiling, driver’s compartment, stairwell, and emergency exits. Accurate measurement is a key to a smart skoolie and will help you avoid unnecessary mistakes that could cost you. Start thinking compactly and your tiny home will not look so tiny after all.

How to Make Your Skoolie Bigger?

A mid-sized skoolie with 8-9 windows is preferred if you want to have a lot of freedom of designing. However, any size would benefit from some construction upgrades that will make it look bigger. Using double-duty furniture such as sofas that fold into a bed or considering a single sink instead of a double, will save you significant space. Instead of a king-sized bed, you could opt for a double size or even better, custom size your own foam mattress to fit into the measurements of your skoolie. Another smart way to create a bigger skoolie is by managing your storage. Storage space under the bed or sofa is ideal for clothing, kitchenware, and any type of tools that don’t need to be in plain sight. Shelving is also an excellent idea for using the windows around your skoolie and storing a lot of things. Also, we couldn’t miss the oldest trick in the book – mirrors. Hanging a few wall mirrors can make even the tiniest living space appear bigger and are at the same time a nice décor for your living space adding a nice touch to your cozy tiny home.

How to Create Separate Rooms in a Skoolie?

It is possible to create separate rooms in a skoolie, with good planning. You'll need to build some basic framing to separate the bathroom/shower or bedroom and consider having an extension in your counter instead of a separate kitchen table. You can also install water and gas plumbing, as well as a tankless water heater and separate tanks for potable water once the framing for your floor plan is finished. Another useful idea is to create an outdoor shower that will be attached to one of the doors that opens to the outside to save on interior space. Installing a bunk room with a room divider is also a nice idea if you want to create more than one sleeping space, ideal for families and for hosting guests.

Skoolie Storage Space Ideas

The way to make your skoolie bigger and more functional is organization. Anything that can be hung should be hung. You can create your own DIY macrame hangers for plants, books, and shoes. Shelves are also essential as not only do they provide you with lots of storage, but they can also be stylish. Repurposed materials are your friend! A lot of cool shelves can be made from wood pallets or plastic bottles. Try converting your sofa’s feet and place the sofa frame above a storage box. Drawers under the sink and under the counter space extension can also optimize your storage spaces.

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How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost?

Going over budget is common with school buses, especially if you haven’t planned how to find a good deal. The average conversion that includes equipment, tools, materials, and appliances is around $15,000 to $30,000, depending on the size and condition of the school bus and your spending limit. Hiring a plumber, a welder, and other professionals will increase the overall costs but using recycled material can significantly lower them. These prices do not include buying a used school bus. The price range to purchase one currently fluctuated between $4,000 and $20,000 based on the year it was made, the model, and the condition. The annual maintenance cost of a Skoolie is approximately $2,000 per year. An oil change, gasoline filters, a coolant cleanse, and one semi-major repair are all included. However, if the transmission or engine breaks down, the total cost for the year can easily increase by $5,000 or more.

Material Costs for Converting a School Bus

The materials used to convert a school bus are comparable to those used in any other interior design project. It is advised to compare the prices of various commodities around your area and online as you might find better prices. If you're on a budget, some materials are less expensive, such as vinyl flooring instead of tiles.

For flooring, the prices are between $2.50 and $7 per sq ft. Sealer costs about $0.15 per sq ft and insulation prices are between $0.55 and $1 per sq ft. If you opt for a professional to insulate your skoolie the price would be around $3.70 per sq ft. For the ceiling, it is recommended to paint and reseal the exterior with elastomeric paint, to reduce reflection of the sun and heat. This extra coating shouldn’t cost more than $30 to cover the whole roof. The wall costs can vary. If you plan to replace them it might cost around $300-1,000. The materials you use should be sturdy with an extra-strong bond, as your skoolie is going to be on the move. The exterior is totally up to you if you want to change it as it is for aesthetic purposes, but looking at the options available, a truck bed liner spray will run around $1,800 for all the materials while simple spray paint will cost you $3-500. Home exterior paint is not recommended as it doesn’t prevent rust.

Electrical & Plumbing Costs and Considerations

To be more sustainable and cost-friendly many skoolies are powered by solar panels, which require basic wiring. Lights, electrical appliances, and a basic HVAC system need to be connected to the wiring. For the electrical, the cost is around $3,000 plus the solar cost. A good breaker box costs around $100, wiring runs around $500 and the rest of the electrical items such as fuses will overall cost $700. Most skoolies have a hybrid 12v, 24v and 120v. However, if you’re traveling a lot it is recommended to keep most appliances at a lower vol to stay efficient. For solar costs, the prices are around $2-4 per watt of system production. Some are coming with a battery backup, something that is really useful if it doesn’t shine a lot in your area. For the plumbing, you need to start with a layout of all the pipes and connections. A smart trick to identify the pipes is to color-code them. For example, buy a red PEX line for hot and a blue line for cold water.

For plumbing and bathroom costs the list below highlights the most important:

  • 25-foot roll of red & blue PEX: $20
  • Shower faucet: $100
  • Kitchen faucet: $100
  • 20 feet schedule 40 PVC drain line: $12
  • PVC pipe cement: $10
  • PEX pipe cutter: $9
  • PEX deburring tool: $10
  • Sharkbite removal tool: $10
  • 50 pieces nail clamp: $12
  • Sink: $150-500
  • Shower Stall: $300-1,000
  • Mirror: $20
  • Cabinets: $60-200 per linear foot
  • Tiles: $2 to $4 per sq ft
  • Plumbing: $1-3,000
  • Toilet: $25 to $900
  • Water tank – 100 gallons: $300
  • RO water filters system: $250
  • Water pump: $80-100

Max Plumb costs: $5,667 

How Much Do Furnishings for a School Bus Conversion Cost?

When it comes to furniture for your skoolie the prices may vary, based on your preference. DIY furniture is a good option that will save you a few bucks and can also be very creative. A standard couch can be replaced by throw pillows and couch cushions. A wood stove is also a common idea for your kitchen, as it doesn’t require electric power and it is also eco-friendly. Prices for a wood stove are around $1,500- 3,000.

Future Costs: What Will it Cost to Live in a Skoolie?

The general costs of a skoolie will most probably be associated with usual vehicle costs, such as fuel, oil, and filters. The exterior might need extra care as it will be exposed to weather changes, but the interior could last for many years, like any other type of tiny home. For small maintenance issues you can always do them by yourself, but it is advised to see a professional if you feel you are not equipped with the right knowledge on the matter. A budget of $5,000 is enough for any repairs needed along the way.

"Skoolie Conversion School Bus Living" byLauren Gardenbelle Fritts is licensed underCC BY-SA 2.0 

Skoolie Floor Plan Resources & Ideas

Building your skoolie from scratch can be nerve-wracking so here are some excellent resources that will help you plan:

r/skoolie: Reddit is known as a good source of first-hand advice, as the online community can solve most of the common questions that you may have.

Skoolielivin.com: This website is dedicated to skoolie lifestyle, including tips, building guides, and kickstart secrets to help you with your bus conversion.

Skoolie.Net: This platform is an unofficial Skoolie bus conversion community. 

Skoolie.Homes: a platform for skoolies, with school bus conversion tips, guides, and useful services.

Thetinylife.com: a useful site for tiny homes, including skoolies.

Scoolbusconversion.net: a website dedicated to skoolies in the UK and US.

Vanclan: a website about van life.

This floor plan is excellent for a full-size bed and lounge plus 2 bunk beds (4 people in total).

Another useful floor plan is this one, showing in detail the storage spaces, including a toilet, closet, fridge, shower, beds, table, and chairs.

These floorplans are having 4 different options for you to choose from, all including all essential features, in a different order. 

Where to find Used School Busses

When searching for a used school bus, Craigslist and eBay Motors are common places to search. Facebook Marketplace and government auction sites are also valid with proper research. In any case, it is always advised to ask a lot of questions when buying your first used school bus. If you have the chance to inspect the vehicle before the purchase is also advisable. In all cases, you need to find a seller you can trust and that is willing to answer all your questions.

Here are some useful auction websites: 

  1. GovDeals.com
  2. PublicSurplus.com
  3. WisconsinSurplu.com

Living off the grid and in a sustainable way is a tempting way of living for a lot of people! The trend is not only eco-friendly but comes with many benefits such as a healthier way of living and mental health improvement. It might be a lengthy process to convert a school bus into a tiny home, but the results will absolutely pay you off!