Is that a Sprinter Van? A Box Truck? An Airstream?! No, it's a converted Short School Bus!
“We had no idea that Skoolies were a thing until we were nearly done with our build, we just did it because it made sense! Come to find out, people have been converting school buses for a long time.”
~School Bus Conversion By: Brett and Jade Evans ~
~Interview By: Patrick Schmidt ~
-Make: Ford - Collins Bus Body – 23 Pax w/Wheelchair Life
-Model: E-450 Dually
-Motor: 7.3L Diesel w/ 230k miles
-Interior Square Footage: 115
-Current Location: Private plot of land in the jungles of Hawaii!
-Purchased From/Location: Craigslist! Met a guy who bought busses at auction, did a little bit of work on them if needed and flipped them. We paid too much I'm sure, but it was ready to go with new tires and all.
-Cost in materials for the conversion: $10,000 - Bus $4,500 / Materials $5,500
Insurance was easy. Showed them pictures of the completed build and answered a few questions. Received a very cheap rate that same day and off we went! They didn't physically inspect it, pictures were sufficient.
Did you title it as a Motor Home?
Yes we went to the DMV in Arizona and had it inspected. We this and insurance only after the complete conversion. It was a very easy process at least in AZ, they looked at the manufacturer gross weight stickers and such, looked around inside real quick and that's it.
Let's meet Bruce and Expedition Evans!
If you haven't heard about Brett and Jade, you are missing out! Lucky for you, we had the chance to interview these two DIY’ers. They completed their Shorty Bus Build in only 6 weeks, and the outcome is PHENOMENAL! Serious Bus-Home envy over here!
Their artfully painted Shorty shares its name with the original Bus Life Adventure Bus – BRUCE. We fell in love instantly. A legitimate Tiny Home with some incredibly unique things that we have not seen in many Skoolie builds: a cement like counter-top, rain catchment system, and the idea of building all cabinets outside and then installing them into the bus. Imagine that – the “ Assemble-Your-Own-Skoolie-Interior-Kit” shipped right to your door.
Let’s get into our conversation with Expedition Evans.
So Brett and Jade, why a school bus? Why the Bus-Lifestyle?
Because Sprinter’s are too freaking expensive!
Our nomadic dream began with us wanting to do something a little unconventional. From early on in our dating and courtship, my wife Jade was following people building Tiny Houses on flatbed trailers. The concept seemed absolutely crazy to me! I had little to no desire to ever do anything of the sort. I was much more conventional in my thinking. (Get married, get a little house, have a couple kids, 9-5 etc.)
Throughout our relationship, she had planted the desire for ‘more’ in me. So I spent hours and hours over countless weeks researching how to build a Tiny House on a trailer, and decided we could not do it. We didn’t have the space, the time, the resources, and nowhere near the skills I felt were required. I was confident that we would get seriously hurt or killed if we tried to do it.
So we looked for other Tiny Living options.
We were pretty sold on renovating an Airstream for a while and actually bought a big 4x4 tow ready Nissan Titan to do it. But life happens and we never found the right Airstream.
So the tiny hunt continued, this time in the form of Van’s. We looked into full size Econoline vans, Sprinters, how to raise the roof, how to be stealth and so on. Eventually, not sure how, but I had the idea to look at a van but with a bigger body- like a Uhaul box truck, shuttle, or SCHOOL BUS! That’s pretty much how the thought process went.
You mention "no experience" Could you explain a bit how little/how much you knew going into this? Knew your way around tools?
Neither of us has worked construction, and I have minimal experience helping with home repairs. I had seen my dad do a little bit of plumbing, drywalling, but the most experience we’d really had was painting in our houses growing up. I will say I came into this project with some useful skills though. I have been a diy mechanic for many years and in my late teens was an apprentice mechanic in a busy automotive repair shop. I am very handy and thrived on the required tasks necessary to make the bus “work” as a home. I spent hours pouring over youtube and google on how to wire solar, how to mount water tanks under the bus, etc. I loved it, and still do. We have both learned so much from this build, that we hope to take with us to future projects. We now know about 12v wiring, distances, gauges, fuses, solar in series vs parallel, mppt vs pwm, grey water vs black water tanks, how much water do we need to live, and so so much more.
I don't always buy a school bus, but when I do, I wear a shirt to match.
Where did you convert it? Looks like some sort of build yard? Backyard?
We did most of the demolition in Jade’s sisters side yard. The bus fit perfectly behind the RV gate, and that is where we did all the demolition and laying the flooring. We then moved the bus to a house that we were house sitting, with permission from the owners of course. They had a big back/side yard that was perfect for us.
The bus cost $4,500 (so did mine!!) How much did everything else cost? Did you have to buy any tools? Or mostly material and Amazon boxes?
After purchasing building materials, mostly the MDF wood boards, as well as appliances, etc... we spent right around $5,500 for stuff, so a total of $10,000. In hindsight, the MDF was not the best purchase, but it got the job done.
We sold off the seats and the wheelchair lift and anything else we could (including scrap metal).
We didn’t have to buy any tools. We are blessed to have a lot family who willingly lent us all their tools, which keep in mind, none of our family members work construction so the tools lent were not professional quality anything. We used a compact portable Ryobi table saw and basic skill saw for almost everything!
You mentioned the floor was donated to you?
Yes the floor was generously given to us by the same cousin which we house sat for and did the majority of building in their yard. They do home renovations and had a pile of wood flooring in a shed. It had been there for years and they told us to use what we want, sell what we could after that, and toss anything left over.
Looks like Jade is the painting expert?
Jade is actually an art major and more specifically, a painter. So yes, she is absolutely the expert painter! I did a decent job with a spray gun to paint all the cabinets, but anything that wasn’t just bulk application was delegated to her!
Hardest thing about this whole lifestyle change/ living in a bus?
Hardest thing is probably just the lack of personal space. Our bus is very small and really the only time you are “alone” is when you are in the bathroom. But even then, you are only about an arms reach away! Other than that is really isn’t bad. We both loathed and rejoiced downsizing our wardrobes and accumulated stuff. We moved into our bus from a 2 bedroom 1100 square foot apartment, where the second bedroom was full of boxes of stuff.
Having it be ours and not having neighbors above, below, and beside us. It is nice to come home and have it be our home. Not a rental, not a mortgage- ours.
Did you at any point feel like quitting? Backup plan if this didn't work?
Right now where we are parked it is very muddy. And that is by far the hardest part. Just keeping things clean in general. Because it is so small, if something gets dirty, everything feels dirty. It only takes 1 dish out of place for the bus to feel like a pig sty. We most certainly have the option of quitting anytime we want, and sometimes even talk about it. We know we could get an apartment or even start renting a small home/condo. But every time we do, we remember what that life was like, and compare it to this life and realize this is better. At least right now. We have no plans to move into a home anytime soon. In fact we have plans to change what type of tiny home we are in, but no plans to go full size. Later in life, who knows though, I sure don’t!
Has your relationship changed from before the Bus Build?
Before building the bus our biggest “building” accomplishment was assembling a 6 piece IKEA TV stand. It’s funny, but I will say that successfully building that IKEA furniture without a fight gave us a lot of confidence to build the bus! If someone is wondering if their relationship has what it takes to build a bus together, maybe start with IKEA, call it a litmus test.
Has our relationship changed? Absolutely.
We have become a lot closer, and not just physically because of the reduced quarters! We had a lot of challenges, hurdles, and hiccups. We had a couple weeks there where we slept maybe 2 or 3 hours a day trying to get it done. We saw the good the bad and the ugly in each other and loved each other more in the end. I’d say we are stronger as a couple, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally from building the bus.
Getting used to the toilet? How is that coming along?
The toilet has probably been the hardest part to get used to, and we aren’t there yet. I’m proud of the hard work and ingenuity it took to build ours, but it’s just more convenient to use public toilets when we can. Since we are away from home.
Ours is fine, but eventually I might buy a Nature’s Head or something similar, if I can find a really good deal on one.
How/where did you get the idea for the countertops?
They say “necessity is the mother of invention” and that pretty much sums it up. Like most of our ideas, it came from trying to solve a problem without spending a bunch of money. We wanted something solid, but didn’t like the butcher block we’d seen in other tiny house builds, and refused to do laminate. So we brainstormed. I came up with the concrete counter-top idea, but it was thrown out once I realized how thick (and heavy!) it would be. Then Jade found people using Ardex on a Pinterest post, giving looks similar to concrete and so it came to be!
Left the ceiling alone? Insulation? Any leaks you had to fix? Mechanical issues? Rust?
To stay within our budget, we gave the ceiling a spray of silver to make it not feel like the plain old white bus ceiling. We had a small rain leak above the driver’s head, which we learned about the hard way driving through a storm. That was a surprise!
Knowing where we would be traveling and parking, we chose not to insulate any more than Collins did when they built the bus. Thus far we haven’t had any issues. Couple fans for when it’s hot, blankets for when it’s cold and we’re perfect.
Only mechanical issue we had was right before we left we went to get gas and couldn’t get it to drive again. It would start up fine and as soon as we put it in Drive with would turn off. Spent the next 12 hours or so researching, replacing a couple engine sensors, only to figure out it just the fuel filter. Turns out our 7.3L engine is very particular when it comes to this! Swapped out the filter (which is an easy job on a truck with the same engine, not so easy with a van nose!) and were good to go.
Other than that it’s a pretty solid bus, barely any rust despite coming from Colorado. There were a couple spots of rust on the exterior by the back windows which we ground down and painted with rust killing paint- fingers crossed.
Please explain the Rain Catchment system?!
Very simple system. We utilize a tarp strung up between the bus and a fence which runs down into a bucket. A pump mounted under the bus sucks it from the bucket through a couple of filters and into our water tank. It rains every day where we are parked, so we have plenty of water. It isn’t perfect and we’ll make it better someday, but it works! I would like to have a more legitimate water catch, which we plan to do when we build an awning.
How is your solar working out? Batteries? Fridge?
Solar is good, not great. It was fantastic when we were road tripping. We had plenty of sun and never worried about electricity. Now that we are parked, and with it being winter, we get a lot less sun. We have sadly had to resort to buying a small generator and run it about once a week to recharge the house batteries. We have 2x255ah batteries and from what I can tell, are holding up great despite this torture. Fridge is great and we’ve come to the point now that we don’t really think about it being different than a normal fridge. We have more food in it that we can eat and everything stays super cold. No complaints on the fridge! And if you’re curious, it is running on 12v. Only time we run the inverter is to charge laptops, run blenders etc.
Is there anything you settled on temporarily with the intention of upgrading soon?
Well, I am tinkerer and always want to work on something but I hate spending money and when something works, I hate to break it.
Some day I’ll get additional solar panels to utilize more of the sun and treat the batteries better; I hate having to run a generator.
And as mentioned before, probably going to upgrade the toilet at some point. But honestly, if nothing changes, we’re 100% content as is and it doesn’t need to change!
Tips/tricks to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this?
I wish I’d known how to weld. Probably the one skill that would have made this project so much easier. Having to bolt things together took so much more time than welding!
Other than that, start watching people’s YouTube videos. Look through Pinterest. Get inspired!
Get “the bug” so bad that you think about it all day and all night. If buses aren’t your thing, maybe it’s a van, or a car, or motorcycle, or boat!
Where will you be 3 months from now?
3 months from now we will likely still be living in our bus, still living our dream. But, if we play our cards right we’ll be working on our next tiny dream. We dream of sailing, and with the confidence and skills we’ve gained building this tiny house, we are ready for more. We want to buy a boat that needs some love and fix her up and sail!
In all seriousness, with hindsight and looking towards the future - Would you recommend this to people who are considering living in a Bus?
I wish I’d known (earlier) that normal people can live in a bus.
Seriously! I work a normal job and my wife attends a normal college; we’re pretty “normal”.
DO IT. That’s my recommendation, just do it. If you can, or even if you don’t think you can, you can! So do it! It has been one heck of a journey, and one that I’m glad we’ve been able to be a part of.
Link up with Expedition Evans through their social media!
INSTAGRAM : instagram.com/expeditionevans
FACEBOOK : facebook.com/expeditionevans
VIDEO TOUR : instagram.com/expeditionevans
PHOTO TOUR : https://imgur.com/a/yCMJc
BUILD SPECS : https://tinyurl.com/y9q78u8v
Make it a great, everyone!
Items Used By Expedition Evans