We are Adam & Rachel with Soulful Bus Life and we converted a retired school bus into a Tiny Home on Wheels. We are on our journey towards living our life authentically. We believe in compassion, kindness, fun and following your dreams.
We bought our 1999 Bluebird All American school bus in September of 2017 and did the entire conversion ourselves.
The conversion was completed and we hit the road in September 2018. Currently, we live in the bus full time and are traveling through the US. Our goal is to prove that with a bit of hard work and determination you can achieve your goals and dreams.
We want to show that you can live your true authentic life and feel more fulfilled because of it regardless of the status quo .
There are so many lessons we learned from converting our 1999 Blue Bird school bus into a Skoolie. Lessons not only in construction, but life in general. Building this bus and living in it for the last 6 months has taught us so much about the world we live in, life, but most of all, ourselves.
Scrolling through Tiny Bus Living Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Pinterest accounts makes converting a bus look so glamorous and easy. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the whole building process is far from easy or glamorous.
In this article I want to share a few things that I wish we would have known going into the conversion process. I hope this article will save you time, money and keep you from making the same mistakes.
10 Lessons We Learned While Converting Our Bus
Time of year to work on the conversion
This lesson is kind of a double edged sword.
We purchased our bus at the end of September 2017 with the intent on finishing the conversion by the following May. Within the first week of having the bus we were able to completely remove all of the seats, ceiling and wall panels, old insulation, as well as the old floor.
Entering fall, we were hit with more and more rain which made it difficult to get work done. It was a blessing in disguise. The rain showed us that all of our windows leaked, including both emergency exit hatches in the roof.
As it continued to get colder and colder we were able to do less and less inside the bus since many building materials like Henry’s Tropicool, Liquid Nails and POR-15 need specific temperatures in-order to cure properly or even stick.
Had we known better, we would have started the conversion in the spring, which still would have allowed plenty of rain to show where the leaks were, but would have provided us with warmer temps so that we could stick to our build schedule.
Every project will take twice as long as you originally planned
Let’s face it, many of the folks looking to build a Skoolie or Tiny House are venturing in with little to no construction experience. Every step will most likely take longer because of never having done anything like it before.
Fortunately for us, I spent the last 8 years running a home theater installation business, so I did have construction and wiring experience.
Even with that experience, most of the projects took longer than anticipated. Working on a bus is very different from working on a home that is built to specific building codes. Most things in a bus are not straight, the roof is curved and you are building an entirely custom floor plan.
Do yourself a favor and plan for things to take longer and as a result probably cost a little more than anticipated.
Have a budget
When we started our conversion we had a general idea of how much we wanted to spend, but not knowing the actual cost of some of the building materials or how many screws, nails and tubes of sealant we would need made it difficult to stick to. We ended up going over our initial budget because of this. The more you can plan and solidify your building list ahead of time, the more money you will save in the long run.
Make a list and a building plan
This is one area where we failed miserably.
We had a general idea of everything we wanted in the bus from solar panels, water tanks, a shower, composting toilet and so on, but failed to make a parts-list of all the things involved in each individual project.
By making a step by step list of your build you can save yourself a lot of wasted time and gas money driving back and forth to the hardware store to get parts and materials. If you create a list of everything you need for each step of your build, things will go much smoother.
Also, if you can purchase most of the parts and pieces ahead of time for each project and have a place to store them, that would also make the process go quicker.
You will get overwhelmed and frustrated
Due to the combination of lessons above, the building process will challenge you in many ways that you will not expect.
Projects not working or coming out the way you planned. Products being out of stock or on back order. The weather not cooperating. It will all cause you to get frustrated and overwhelmed.
There were several times throughout our build where I was ready to call it quits because of the amount of stress and frustration caused by things not going as planned and juggling the build with work and social life.
Do yourself a favor: take time away from the build to recharge your personal batteries.
If you run into a project that is not going the way you want and is starting to cause you to get overwhelmed and frustrated, walk away or move on to a different project. By coming back to it a day or two later allows you to look at it with a new perspective and most likely solve the problems quicker than if you kept pushing through while feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
Purchase or rent the proper tools for the job
This lesson is something that will drastically affect the timing and outcome of your build process. Using the right tools for each job will make things easier and go quicker than if you tried and made do with what you have.
Almost every big hardware store, like Lowes and Home Depot, have a tool rental department. If you need a special tool, but know that you are only going to use it once, it is much cheaper to rent it for a day or two than to buy it out-right, only to have to lose money when re-selling it, or having to find a space in your tiny home to stove it.
Know when to hire a professional
This lesson works off of the previous two.
If you are not a paid diesel mechanic / fabricator and welder / carpenter / woodworker / etc, there might be several parts of the build where you simply NEED professional help to get the job done safely and properly. The last thing you want is causing damage and harm to your new home and yourself.
If you do not have the skills or knowledge to do certain aspects of your build, such as electrical or mechanical items, spend the money and hire a professional. This will save time and money in the long run because someone who does a certain trade for a living will be able to do a faster and better job.
It will also save you from having to re-do things multiple times and ruining precious building materials trying to figure things out.
Don’t cut corners
This is something that I have noticed on many builds where people think they can cut corners because they only have a certain budget or want to get it done fast.
Remember that this home will be moving and bounding on the road (if you plan to travel) which means that things can shift and move at any time. Cutting corners could cause things to come apart and break by not doing it properly. Later down the road you're spending more money and time re-doing or fixing something you could have done right the first time..
If you don’t have the money or time at that moment to do it properly, move on to a more affordable project and take the extra time to save more money and wait until you can make the time to do it right. Follow lesson 7 and hire a professional to ensure that things will work right.
During the process process, we had about 10 different floors plans.
We spent much time in the bus contemplating exactly how we wanted it and discussed different ideas. Through doing that, we discovered several things which were not going to work as well as we thought.
For example, we originally planned on using a 14 cubic foot refrigerator. After bringing it into the bus, we realized that once our walls were in place, we would not be able to get it back out if it ever needed to be replaced.
So we switched to a 10.1 cubic foot model that fit through the emergency exit door when it was time to replace it.
By being flexible, you will save yourself from future headaches and have a better build in the end.
Remember why you are choosing to build a Skoolie
Don’t forget to have fun!
Most of us choose to build a Skoolie for the freedom that it provides. Being able to take your home anywhere along the road and travel, while saving money by not having a mortgage or paying rent.
Living in a Skoolie is a wonderful experience and should be fun!
If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many people doing it.
Sometimes it helps to reflect back on your reasons for buying your school bus in the first place. Thinking about the time spent researching buses, and then actually buying your bus and how happy you felt might help re-energize your dream and motivate you to finish,
Remember to have fun throughout the building process and continue that fun once you hit the road.
I hope you can take these lessons, whether you are almost done, mid-build or are still in the planning phase and apply them to save you time, money and frustrations.
Living this lifestyle can be so rewarding in many ways, but most of all it can give you the satisfaction of building your dream into a reality.
It isn’t always easy, but in the end, it is definitely worth it.
Make it a wonderful day!