Skoolie Prices: How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost?

how much does a school bus conversion costLike tiny homes, whenever skoolies come up in conversation, one of the first questions is how much does a school bus conversion cost? Often, people see a bus for sale and assume they can get a great deal—a tiny house for cheap!

While I live in a more traditional tiny house, I’ve done a lot of pricing on skoolies and research on the costs of a bus conversion. Skoolies tend to be slightly less money than a tiny house because the bulk of the structure is already built-in (as the bus). But before you take the plunge, there are a lot of other factors to consider.

Don’t buy a used school bus before you explore the full cost of a school bus conversion. Here’s what you need to know about the school bus conversion costs and expenses. Consider everything before you buy!

NAVIGATION

How Much Does a Skoolie Cost?

How Much Does a Skoolie Cost

The short answer is $20,000 to $30,000 for the initial build-out.

But before you take the skoolie plunge, there are a lot of other factors to consider. Today I want to break down those considerations, so you know exactly what you’re getting into, should you decide that a school bus conversion is the best option for your situation.

hanks skoolie interiorThere are two major cost-benefits of converting a used school bus, the first I mentioned above—you already have the bulk of the structure in place. A school bus provides shelter, and even without much conversion, it’s livable.

The other benefit is that you’re also getting a reliable tow vehicle in the deal. A tiny house requires a tow vehicle because it’s typically built on a trailer. The nice thing about a school bus is that the whole outside is already built. For a tiny house, you might spend $4,000 or more on the trailer alone (not to mention the truck), whereas a $5,000 used school bus includes the house, tow vehicle, roof, walls, and basic structure.

So at first glance, a house on wheels—a skoolie—sounds perfect, but there’s a lot to understand and figure into your budget. We’ve previously discussed the pros and cons of living in a converted school bus (a.k.a. a skoolie). We’ve also shared where you can find a used school bus for sale. There are many additional factors to consider, and the first is the size of the school bus you’re looking for.

The Average Price Of Used Buses By Size

The Average Price Of Used Buses By Size

school bus conversion

THE AVERAGE PRICE BY BUS SIZE

  • 13 window / 40ft (full size) – $5,000 to $10,000
  • 11 window / 35ft (full size) – $5,000 to $8,000
  • 7 window / 25 ft (mid-size) – $5,000 to $7,000
  • 4 window / 20 ft (short bus) – $3,000 to $5,000

Once you’ve found the perfect bus for your needs (you can decide on the right sized skoolie using this calculator), then it’s time to look into material costs for a school bus conversion. With a tiny house, you might spend $3,000 on a roof, $2-3,000 on walls, and an additional $200-300 each time you move the home (or more). Plus, there’s also the cost of the trailer, the need for a tow vehicle, and general expenses of building a tiny home.

For a school bus, conversion costs will be similar, but you’re going to save on the basic structure since it’s already part of the bus. Plan on an additional $15,000-$25,000 to build a nice, comfortable living space inside the used school bus. For additional resources, don’t miss the Skoolie conversion cost guide from my friends at Skoolie Livin’.

Material Costs for Converting a School Bus

Material Costs for Converting a School Bus

The materials for converting a school bus are similar to those for any interior build. I recommend you shop around and compare commodity costs. Some materials are cheaper if you’re on a tight budget—for example, opting for vinyl flooring over tile.

School Bus Conversion Costs Break Down

skoolie flooring cost

Flooring

For flooring, you’re looking at a cost between $2.75 and about $6.80 per sq ft. Sealer is about $0.15 per sq ft, and insulation is around $0.62 per sq ft. With subflooring, if you use OSB, you’re looking at about $1.03 per sq ft. Finished flooring will range between $0.95 up to $5.00 per sq ft. Again, it’s all dependent on the materials you choose.

With any tiny home build, I recommend going with the highest quality you can afford. Not only will it last longer, but it’s often much less than outfitting an entire “standard size” house. Keep in mind, though, flooring and other materials will contribute significantly to the weight of your skoolie.

insulating costs for a skoolie

Insulation

I’ve broken down all the details about tiny house insulation in this post. The same concepts apply to insulation for your skoolie. You’re looking at a cost of $0.50 to $3.65 per sq ft if you decide to do it yourself. Be sure to pay attention to the R-value and do research on what that means for your build.

While the metal of a bus is conductive to heat, the insulation material will help you combat that heat transfer and loss. If you hire a professional to install your insulation, you’ll look at $3.65 per sq ft. Painting and resealing the roof with elastomeric paint can help reflect heat from the sun. You will typically find this paint at the local hardware or RV store (it’s commonly used to seal RVs’ roofs as well).

interior walls in a skoolie

Interior Walls

Like pricing out flooring for your skoolie, interior wall costs can vary. Depending on the finishing materials, you’re looking at a range of $300-1,000. The least expensive option is reclaimed or recycled lumber. As with flooring, you should also keep in mind that certain materials—like tile or hardwood, for example—are heavier and add weight to your skoolie.

A note on the walls of your skoolie—it’s essential to use the right types of materials for your walls. When you choose a grout for tiling a backsplash or shower, for example, you’re going to want a grout that allows for flexibility and movement. Look for materials with an ultra-strong bond. On the road, your school bus will experience movement, no matter how strong the walls are.

school bus ceiling

Ceiling

When you’re converting a used school bus, can’t you just leave the ceiling as is? While yes, it’s possible to leave it, I would not recommend that path because the ceiling isn’t insulated. Remember that the shell of the bus is made of metal. Even if you paint over it (at about $0.50 per sq ft), it’s going to be conductive.

painting exterior of skoolie

Exterior

If you aren’t attached to the idea of a yellow exterior, you can paint your skoolie, but keep in mind that will significantly add to the school bus conversion cost. Some skoolie experts recommend using truck bed liner spray, which will run around $1,800 for the materials. It’s rugged and durable, but it’s also costly. If you decide to use regular automotive paint, you’re looking at $3-400 plus materials (like a paint sprayer). Some people use home exterior paint, which is a less expensive way to paint your skoolie but doesn’t prevent rust.

pro tipSome states require you to repaint old school buses from their original yellow in order to register for title and tags.

— Chris and Sarah From Skoolie Livin

A professional exterior paint job can get very expensive. You might be looking at at least $4-5,000. Some skoolie owners even commission murals or specialty paint jobs. If you’re building a skoolie on a tight budget, then exterior paint is a cosmetic cost you can put off or skip at first. But if you want to invest, a nice paint job can really add to the look of your new school bus home.

learn more about skoolies

Electrical & Plumbing Costs for a School Bus Conversion

Electrical and Plumbing Costs for a School Bus Conversion

Two areas that present a challenge for any home builder are electrical and plumbing. When calculating school bus conversion costs, it’s essential to keep these two areas in mind. Now, you can hire experts for these more challenging tasks, but many skoolie builders decide to go the DIY route.

I’ve written two posts extensively covering the details of tiny house electrical and tiny house plumbing. Both of these translate to skoolie builders and will help you figure out the details of these more complex home projects.

Skoolie Plumbing Costs

Skoolie Plumbing Costs

tiny house plumbingPlumbing is unique for a house on wheels. The costs can vary widely, and it really depends on what you’re comfortable with and how much you plan to travel. Some folks prefer composting toilets, which make it simple. You may opt to have a blackwater tank (which you do need to empty regularly, which is a consideration).

If your converted school bus is mostly going to be stationary, you may have the option of hooking it up to a permanent system or a sewer connection. Skoolies are similar to RVs in that way—like an RV is primarily tanked but can hook up to a sewer connection, you can create a similar system for your skoolie plumbing.

Cost To Run Electric in a Skoolie

Cost To Run Electric in a Skoolie

For your electrical, you’re looking at $1-3,000 plus the cost of solar. You’ll need a breaker box at about $100, wiring at $500, fuses and breakers ($300), and other miscellaneous electrical items for about another $750.

The big difference between electrical for a tiny house and electrical for a skoolie is the 12v electric wire, and components are more automotive (or RV) based. For a skoolie, you’ll use 12v wire, a 12v fuse hub, and often small 12v LED deck lights and light switches for the ceiling.

tiny house electricalMost people go the DIY route when it comes to skoolie electrical, as it’s a risk for electricians to wire an unregulated conversion. Most skoolies have a hybrid 12v, 24v, and 120v, so many electricians won’t deal with it.

If you’re planning to be off-grid, it’s important to consider what you’ll need power-wise and plan so you can stay as efficient as possible. You don’t want to put too many items requiring 120v through a power inverter when off-grid (you’ll lose energy when inverting from 12v or 24v). I really like Schneider inverters, although Outback is also a popular brand. Plan to keep as much of your electricity as possible 12v or 24v, depending on your power bank voltage. Use the inverter wired into a breaker panel that branches out to standard house outlets (with 10/2 or 12/2 wire) to power the limited 120v items.

If you’re planning on going off-grid at one location or traveling to different RV parks, it might be cheaper to go mostly 120v standard house wiring and appliances. It all depends on your plans and lifestyle. Depending on your location, you’ll also need a plan for running heat and cooling in your skoolie.

Installing Solar for Skoolies

Installing Solar for Skoolies

I have a guide to solar set up for tiny houses, which can walk you through everything you need to know to set up solar for your skoolie as well. The process is essentially the same, and you can even run air conditioning through your solar. Having worked with solar for years, I’m a huge proponent of it. Yes, occasionally, it’s a pain to clean panels in a snowstorm, but overall, it’s well worth the time and investment.

For solar costs, you’re looking at $2-4.00 per watt of system production. Without battery backup, it’s about $2.00 per watt. With a small battery backup (2 hours of runtime), you’re looking at $3.00 per watt, and with a more robust battery backup (about 4 hours of runtime), expect the cost to be around $3.00 per watt.

pro tipThe typical battery bank installed in a skoolie is between 200-600 amp hours costing between $1,000-6,000 depending on battery type. A 600 amp hour battery bank allows most people to last up to 1-3 days through poor weather.

— Chris and Sarah From Skoolie Livin

The advantage of battery backup, is of course, that the sun doesn’t shine all day, especially in cloudy areas, in the winter, or wooded areas. So having a battery allows you to dip into that power when you need it. I have enough battery backup for my tiny house to run for about two and a half days. The drawback is that batteries are costly and heavy. If you go with the lighter lithium-ion batteries, you’re looking at about four times the cost.

solar power for tiny houses

How Much Do Furnishings for a School Bus Conversion Cost?

How Much Do Furnishings for a School Bus Conversion Cost

Now that you’ve figured out the school bus conversion costs, you’ll want to furnish your skoolie! Occasionally people think they’ll just throw in found furnishings and items they already have on hand. While that can work in some cases, it’s important to note that you’ll need some different types of furnishings for a tiny house, especially a tiny house on wheels like a skoolie.

Here, I’ve broken it down room by room to help you calculate the skoolie costs:

Kitchen

Cost of furnishing your skoolie kitchen

THE COST OF FURNISHING YOUR SKOOLIE KITCHEN

  • Fridge: $100 to $500
  • Stovetop: $75 to $900
  • Sink & Faucet: $50 to $600
  • Counter tops: $300 to $2,000
  • Cabinets: $60 to $200 per linear foot
skoolie kitchen
Depending on your power setup, you’ll need to look for specialty 12v appliance options for your kitchen unless you convert to 120v. There are also propane refrigerator options out there. I have a guide to tiny house appliances that can help you find the best fridge for your skoolie. The skoolie site, “Skoolie Livin’,” has an extensive guide to refrigerators as well. If you go with a 120v, you’ll need a larger inverter (and it will be less efficient since a power inverter is only about 80-95% efficient), but your appliances will cost less.

Many smaller skoolies and van conversions opt for a 12v chest fridge. Yes, these can be more expensive when purchased new, but they also have a very low power draw. Consider all your appliance needs in planning for your skoolie kitchen.

A propane range (with a battery to ignite the flame) and on-demand propane water heaters are good options for skoolies. If you choose an on-demand water heater, I recommend Renai, which I use for my house.

Bathroom
bathroom and fixture costs for a skoolie conversion

  • Sink: $150-450
  • Shower Stall: $400-1,000
  • Mirror: $50
  • Cabinets: $60-200 per linear foot
  • Tile: $2 to $4 per sq ft
  • Plumbing: $1-3,000
  • Toilet: $25 to $850
  • Freshwater tank – 100 gallons: $295
  • Tankless water heater: $560
  • RO water filters system: $250
  • Water pump: $95
  • Pex & Fittings: $350 to $500
See the plumbing section above for more on the toilet considerations. You’ll need to remember that hot water is also necessary in the bathroom, so consider an on-demand water heater. An electric water pump will need to be figured into your power usage, but you can often find 12v options.

Finally, the other primary consideration in bathroom furnishing is weight. If you tile in a shower or choose a vintage tub, you’re going to be adding additional weight to your skoolie. This can make your travel less efficient, add to the wear on your tires, and increase costs down the road.

tankless hot water heater

Living Areas

cost of furnishing living areas in a skoolie

When it comes to furnishing your living areas, the sky’s the limit. When you look at the really high-quality skoolie builds online (like on Instagram and Pinterest), you’ll see some fantastic custom DIY furnishings. Many school bus converters get really into finding new, innovative, charming ways to furnish their space. As with a traditional tiny house, many builders prefer to create custom, built-in furniture.

skoolie interior

OPERATING COSTS FOR A SKOOLIE

  • Couch/Bench: free to $1,500
  • Recliner: $300 to $1,000
  • Rugs: $150 to $400
  • Bed or sleeping area: free to $1,500
Of course, sometimes you’ll see a skoolie with a recliner or a standard couch too. While it’s not the norm, there are plenty of people who make do with found furnishings and find a way to make them work. The most significant point to keep in mind is that a bus is a moving vehicle, and if you have loose furniture, it’s a hazard. Most pieces need to be secured and built-in if you plan to take your skoolie on the road.

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

What Will it Cost to Live in a Skoolie

Once your school bus conversion is complete, you’ll still need to plan for costs (as with any home). The unique part of a skoolie is that you’re also looking at vehicle maintenance in addition to standard home upkeep. Often, people assume that it will be less expensive than a tiny house, but it’s important to consider everything.

Because you’re on the road a lot, you’ll have costs associated with travel (fuel, oil, filters), and there will be some exterior wear and tear. For example, my tiny house roof will last me 50 years, and my siding will last me at least 10, but if I were in a bus, the constant movement and wear would significantly shorten that lifespan.

school bus turned skoolie

OPERATING COSTS FOR A SKOOLIE

  • Oil
  • Filters
  • Tires: $2- $3,000 (most need tires replaced)
  • Batteries: $300-500
  • Diesel fuel (expect about 9 miles a gallon)
I recommend that anyone who wants to undertake a school bus conversion should be technically inclined. You don’t need to be a car expert, but you should know how to do a basic oil change, coolant flush, and how to check tires. It’s a good idea to inspect the skoolie before every drive to ensure nothing is leaking or amiss. Listen for hissing noises from the air ride suspension or air brakes. It’s essential to make sure everything is working to ensure the safety of your passengers. Plus, should you breakdown, it’s nice to have enough knowledge to diagnose the issue and potentially do some light repairs.

how to find a used school bus to build a skoolieOf course, for larger maintenance issues like a transmission or a major engine issue, you should take it into the shop (unless you’re truly familiar with school bus mechanics). School buses have diesel engines, and most of us don’t have the skillset to deal with those (nor is a diesel engine overhaul something you can fumble through). Keep at least $3-5000 in your budget for repairs, especially if you plan to travel frequently. When your home is on wheels, a breakdown can leave you stranded (and you can’t always sleep in the back of the mechanic shop).

Finally, there may be other costs like RV parking costs and, of course, insurance. Remember that most insurance companies won’t cover a skoolie during the conversion process (you may need to get commercial vehicle coverage).

If you’re looking for a used school bus to buy and convert into a skoolie, go in with your eyes open to the full cost. People often focus on the deal they’re getting on the used bus and gloss over the other costs rolled into the conversion. If you’re not careful, you can blow through your budget very fast. If you’re working on a tight budget, planning will help you avoid surprises, especially if this is your first time with a DIY school bus conversion (there will definitely be mistakes and redoes).

At the same time, don’t dismiss the idea of living in a skoolie. The options and freedom of taking your house on the road are fantastic. Explore the country in the comfort of your own home (on wheels)! Converting a used school bus is a great project to explore; be sure to budget for the most success.

Your turn:

  • What are your most significant cost concerns with a skoolie?
  • What budget will you need for your dream school bus conversion?

Leave a Reply