Posts Tagged bus conversion

Skoolies: Surprisingly Beautiful Mobile Tiny Houses (Not Just for Hippies)

Skoolies: Surprisingly Beautiful Mobile Tiny Houses (Not Just for Hippies)

skoolies mobile tiny homesDo you have wanderlust? Do you want a tiny home to take with you as you explore the world? A converted school bus (aka a skoolie) might be the right answer for you!

Here’s the deal with skoolies. I started out as a skeptic. I had this vision that skoolies were old dilapidated buses with cramped, dark interiors. I thought they were strictly for Deadheads on their way to their next concert. Then I met my friend, Hank.

hanks skoolie interior

I was interviewing Hank for my book, Tiny House Living. His bus was beautiful, like jaw-dropping beautiful. It showed me that you can have a big, open, very good-looking space filled with natural light. It was Hank’s bus that won me over to the whole idea of skoolies and I was sold. Now, I’m seeing a whole new era of skoolies that embrace open spaces filled with light and great, aesthetic details.

So, before you dismiss skoolies as a tiny house option, check out how you can live a great tiny life in a school bus tiny house.

What Is a Skoolie?

what is a skoolie

In the simplest of terms, a skoolie is a used school bus modified for living. Skoolies are converted into RV homes for living the tiny life on the road.

Now, skoolies have been around for a long time. In fact, I remember going to college in Asheville, North Carolina and seeing old hippies living in converted school buses. The buses would line the roads all over downtown and you’d see these old guys out there playing music—busking for gas money to carry them to their next destination.

school bus turned skoolie

While bus conversion life has come a long way in terms of design and possibilities, the principles still remain the same. Skoolies are perfect for those who love the freedom of a tiny house on wheels! Converted school buses are wonderful for adventure, travel, and exploration. Plus, living in a school bus is quite comfortable. With smart planning, a skoolie will easily accommodate a family, a couple, or a single person on the road.

My friends Chris and Kelly from The Just Right Bus came to our annual conference twice, and I got to see their awesome skoolie. Their bus has a whole bathtub in it! They have AC! It’s roomie and beautiful! Kelly is a potter (I have a skoolie magnet she made for me on my fridge in my tiny house) and Chris is a medical student. They both live in the skoolie to save money as a way to keep costs down during Chris’s med school training. Skoolies can literally be the perfect tiny home for anyone.

skoolie kitchen

There’s also a big DIY element to converting a used school bus. You see, the bus itself has great bones to start with. Typically, all a skoolie owner needs to do is rip out the seats and customize the inside to their desired specifications. As soon as it’s set up, you’re ready to hit the open road.

Used school buses are perfect for conversion because they have diesel engines built to last a very long time. School systems “retire” buses early, usually when they hit about 100k miles, but often there are (hundreds of) thousands of miles left in the engine. Plus, diesel engines are easy to rebuild, making skoolies an investment that keeps on running for years and years.

Many school systems sell their used buses to countries like Mexico, where they’re used for years. There are several places to purchase used school buses for private use (as I’ve outlined below). From there, building your school bus tiny house is similar to any tiny house build.

If you’re experienced with building or customizing your tiny home already, skoolie conversion is fairly simple. Besides the obvious limitations of the shape and shell of a school bus, you can really turn these into almost any type of home you’d like. Skoolie living is great for those seeking the simplicity and customizability of a tiny home, but the mobility of an RV.

ask the experts

Why should someone consider a skoolie or bus conversion over a camper or RV?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“Our main reasons for choosing a skoolie over an RV were cost and the endless possibilities for customization.”

skoolie homes
Skoolie Homes website
Jeff & Missy Miller

“Skoolies are designed to carry our most precious cargo: our children. Thus, they are built strong and sturdy. Skoolies are customizable to each owner allowing more space right where you need it instead of predesigned RV’s. In addition, a converted bus cost less for more space and design appeal than on RV.”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“The customization aspect. You get to build it exactly as you want it instead of how a RV manufacturer wanted it. They also handle being in a crash much much better and can generally hold more weight.”

How Much Does A Used School Bus Cost?

how much does a school bus cost

So, of course, a big question when it comes to converting a school bus into a tiny house is how much does a used school bus cost in the first place?

Keep in mind, there are a lot of cost factors to consider when you look at buying a used school bus. It first depends on the type of school bus, the mileage, and the condition of the bus. If you plan to gut it and rebuild the inside, then you’ll often find a good deal on the shell.

Another piece to consider is the engine. Because diesel engines are easily rebuilt or refurbished for a few thousand dollars it may be smarter to opt for more miles and a lower price. All other factors being the same, you can still do a lot with a great shell and frame.

There several styles of school buses as well. The standard school bus is 34 feet (a 72-seater). Flat-front buses are referred to as pullers (front engine) or pushers (rear engine). School buses with a more traditional “nose” in the front are referred to as dog-nose buses. Dog-nose buses are said to be more accessible for engine work. You’ll also want to assess what size bus you’re looking for. There are many people who prefer short buses or mini-buses. With the right interior work, small buses are quite beautiful and livable.

skoolies - school bus conversion

The basic answer to the school bus price question is buses range from under $1,000 (for a real fixer-upper) to $20,000+. It seems the mid-range of $5,000-$10,000 is a good starting point to aim for (but realize it may require additional funds and sweat-equity to become livable).

There are great resources to help you decide what type of bus to buy such as:

ask the experts

How much should people budget for buying a used bus?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“Our total costs, with the purchase of the bus was around 20k. I have seen people spend a range from 10k all the way to 40k on these things. I think a lot of it depends on the size bus you’re building out, your previous knowledge level/skill set, and how much of a perfectionist you are.”

skoolie homes
Skoolie Homes website
Jeff & Missy Miller

“The costs of used buses is on the rise. When we bought our first bus it cost $750, the second was $1800 and the third was $4500. We tell people to budget between $4500-$7000.”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“Probably about 3-5 times as much as you think it’s going to cost – then if you actually guessed correctly you will be excited about all the money you have left over for your travels.”

How to Find A Used School Bus

Once you decide a skoolie conversion is within your price range and fits your lifestyle goals, it’s time to start looking. I would research the type of used school bus you’re looking for first (size, make, model, year) and then you can search for a bus almost like a car. There are used school bus dealers online that are easy to work with.

Online retailers of pre-owned and used school buses are:

Of course, eBay and Craigslist are also great places to start searching for used school buses as well. If you are open to any type of bus that comes your way, then you may find a great deal—even local! I’ve seen quite a few buses for sale, now that I’ve become aware of the whole skoolie phenomenon.

skoolie interior

Finding a bus to buy in town or nearby is helpful especially if you’re planning to rebuild or refurbish the engine. (Keep in mind, transporting a school bus by towing isn’t always cheap, so look for something you can drive, at least a short distance or plan accordingly.)

Depending on your comfort level with DIY work, check the body for issues like rust and other concerns, but I would recommend you don’t get too hung up on aesthetics because there are a lot of possibilities once you’ve purchased the basic used school bus to work with.

You’ll also want to keep the length of the used school bus in mind. There are short, mid-sized, and full-sized options. How comfortable are you with driving a full-sized bus? Since it’s not for commercial use, a CDL isn’t typically needed, but some states may require you to complete additional driving tests for “heavyweight” vehicles. Check with your local DMV so you’re prepared to drive your skoolie when it’s ready to hit the road.

How to Convert a Used School Bus into a Skoolie

how to convert a bus into a skoolie

So, you bought a used school bus, now what? The process of converting your new school bus into your new tiny home follows similar principles to any other tiny home build. You’ll want to look for inspiration, find and/or design a layout, and plan carefully. As I’ve said many times, great tiny home building starts with great planning.

There are many guides out there to help you through a school bus conversion. Most school bus conversions cost between $5,000-$30,000 (similar to a tiny house with an existing outer structure) depending on how much DIY effort you’re willing to put in and your familiarity with the tiny home building process. You’ll also need to figure costs associated with upkeep for a road vehicle (tires, vehicle maintenance, etc.).

When you think of how you’d like your converted school bus layout to look, it’s important to consider not only the aesthetics of your skoolie, but the functionality. You’ll need to consider insulation, plumbing, electric (and if you plan to use solar, how to power up on the road). Will you connect to shore power or do you plan to boondock (when you camp/park without a nearby power source)? These factors will also need consideration when you plan for water and plumbing.

skoolie bathtub

There are so many great resources to help guide you through your school bus conversion. A few helpful skoolie conversion resources I’ve found are:

If you aren’t the DIY-type (or if you would like help designing your skoolie floor plan), there are companies who specialize in building and customizing skoolies.

Like any tiny home build, you’ll want to consider all the needs of your family as you design the skoolie layout (or work with a converted school bus floor plan designer). If there are multiple people living on the converted school bus, how will you plan for privacy? Consider bathroom, kitchen, and washing needs. How will you set up for relaxation and make the bus feel like home? A unique challenge of buses is that there are lots of windows—this is great for light, but not always great for privacy, so consider how you will plan around the windows.

ask the experts

What was the hardest part about building your skoolie?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“Can we say everything?! We had no experience in anything related to construction, metal work, plumbing, electrical or mechanics, so every step was a big one for us. I would say the hardest part was the plumbing, though. We struggled with planning the plumbing, deciding where to run pipes and hang the tanks. We put this part off until way too late in the build which complicated things even further because we had already built most of the furniture and walls.”

elizabeth spenccer
Making Me Brave website
Elizabeth J.W. Spenccer

“Our skoolie was converted by Wind River Tiny Homes. They did an amazing job and took lots of the frustration out of the building process for us. The big learning curve came for us once we had the bus converted and were on the road, in the winter, trying to maintain the engine and keep the systems from freezing!”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“Everything had to be custom made from cabinets to couches to bed frames to curtains. Everything is an abnormal shape or size and therefore had to be created accordingly … allow that’s also half the fun. Making our wet bath waterproof was also a huge pain in the ass.”

Skoolie Regulations

skoolie regulations

Regulations are often sticky territory. As I’ve discussed in my post Tiny House Building Codes: 5 Myths Busted, there are often grey areas when it comes to tiny house coding, rules, and regulations. The same applies to skoolies.

For example, the issue of a CDL varies state-to-state and depending on how many “passengers” you’re driving. BUT if your skoolie functions as a home and not a bus, then technically you aren’t a commercial driver. So, again, check with your DMV to understand the guidelines on school bus RV conversions. There are also rules on modifications required to ensure the bus can’t accidentally get mistaken for a school bus.

skoolie with a view

There’s also the question of where to park. RV parking rules are the best guidelines to follow since skoolies are essentially the same as an RV. So, any place you can park your RV should also accommodate your skoolie. You may need the same permits for campgrounds, RV parks, and temporary parking facilities.

Other spots with skoolie regulation information and resources:

Skoolie life is a great option for people who want the ability to explore the world on wheels. Of course, the option to move your home around is convenient for many reasons as well. It may seem like a quirky choice, but if you’re looking for a DIY tiny home option within an existing structure, a school bus is a great way to go.

ask the experts

If you could go back and do it all over again, what would you do differently?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“We have talked about this a lot and we are actually really happy with our bus and don’t truly wish to change anything. If we are being very picky, I would say we would have made our bed larger, made our kitchen counter a little less deep, and left our base-boards a natural wood color so they don’t show so much dirt. That one is an easy fix though.”

elizabeth spenccer
Making Me Brave website
Elizabeth J.W. Spenccer

“We would insulate the floors. We did spray foam insulation on the walls and ceiling as well as replaced the windows, but a fair amount of cold still comes through the floor. We would also install a propane heater. Before you convert a bus be sure you are aware of the problems of carrying insurance. We were shocked that we could only get liability insurance to cover our converted bus. I have done extensive research and talked with a lot of other skoolie owners who have had the same problem. It is my only complaint with skoolies.”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“We wouldn’t put in a shower. It was a lot of time, hassle and money and we never ever use it. We’re either trying to save water or somewhere that has showers that you can stand up in.”

skoolie travel

Your Turn!

  • Would you consider living in a converted school bus?
  • What are your biggest concerns with school bus conversion?