- Written by Adam and Rachel Carbary
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!
- Written by Chris Penn
My name is Chris with TheOffGridSkoolie and I been living and adventuring in vehicles for over 10 years. I began in a self converted camper van and currently live full time in a 2002 Blue Bird Skoolie.
After spending 3 years in a 2008 Class A motor home, I knew something had to change. The depreciation, lack of build quality and limited weight capacity were signs that a new rig was on the horizon. I began searching for the next platform and overtime I realized the Skoolie was the best route.
As many people reading this know, the popularity of Skoolie Conversions has grown dramatically over the last few years. Many people have gone before me and proven that Skoolie builds can be beautiful, energy efficient, long-term homes.
I am so incredibly thankful for this recent explosion of interest in Bus Conversions.
Not only was I able to learn from previous builds, I also got encouragement to try my own build.
I spent countless hours, (seriously more than is worth mentioning) scouring the internet for build videos and informational articles.
Since then I’ve made it my goal to save others their time and energy when it comes to research so they can devote their time to the actual building process, which is incredibly grueling and time consuming all by itself.
The build process was long and difficult but I would not change it for the world. This has been the greatest project of my life and I've learned so much throughout the conversion process.
We wrote this article, among many, to easily share those insights with you.
When and if you decide to take on the monstrous task of converting a School Bus into a Tiny Home on Wheels, we're here to help save you time and money.
Straight from our online course, Skoolie Academy, the following list covers some of the most important aspects of purchasing a Skoolie.
Top 5 Things To Know & Do
Before Purchasing a School Bus
1 - Buying An Auction Bus? Contact The School District Directly
When I first began this Skoolie journey, I nearly made a huge mistake that could have cost me dearly. A friend of mine who works at an auto auction yard in Indiana said he would keep an eye out for any school buses that came through his yard. About a month later he contacted me to let me know that 5 Thomas rear engine diesel buses came on the market. One of these gems was an activity bus with only 75,000 miles on it. I was stoked, the bus I had been dreaming about was finally within reach! My friend said he would bid for me being that Indiana requires a dealer license to bid. He said the auction would go anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000.
At that point I began researching the drive-train of the bus. It had the Allison 3060 transmission with the DT466E diesel engine. The Allison transmission had amazing reviews and is the transmission in my current bus. However, the DT466E had some issues I wasn’t aware of. During certain years, 1999 to 2004 specifically, the manufacturer used sub-par seals within the engine. If a tech did not use the correct coolant, the seals would deteriorate and water would seep into the engine. Water in a diesel engine might as well be a pound of sand because the engine would need to be completely replaced. My “perfect/dream” bus was a 2002.
I called the school districts administration office and asked to be transferred to the bus maintenance department. The operator paused as I assume not too many people try to be transferred to this department. My first attempt was fruitless as the main tech was not available to answer my questions, so I said I would call later. This is important because the lead tech typically files the paperwork to bring in new buses and auction off the older ones, but I will go into detail on this later. After a few more calls, I was finally able to connect with the head tech. From the picture I was able to give the tech the buses district number and he was able to confirm that this bus did indeed have water in the oil.
After a few simple phone calls I not only saved myself the cost of a lame bus, I also saved the cost of a new engine.
Lead with your head and not your heart when it comes to a school bus purchase… Call the school district and do your homework on what you are buying!
2 - Buying From A Dealer Can Save You Time & Money In The Long Run
I get it, most people who want to build Skoolies are incredibly budget conscious. They’re also looking to build their tiny home on a solid platform. This value/performance push and pull is a game everyone buying a school bus to convert plays. I rolled the dice and purchased a bus from an online auction site. For me and many others, buying a bus with a lower price tag at auction ended up costing more time, money and energy in the long run, so please let my lesson help you make a more informed decision.
In a perfect world, the bus you purchase from auction is very well maintained and was on the road up until the day it was decommissioned. The bus was not taken off the route because of a mechanical issue, rather, it was decommissioned for age only. Unfortunately, this is the exception and not the rule. If you find this bus with a desirable drive-train as well as low miles… Buy it yesterday!
My bus was purchased for $3,050. To buy a similar bus at a dealer, I was looking at $7,000-$9,000. Now, let’s play out the total cost for my bus (not including renovations… Just to get it drive worthy).
My bus was purchased for $3,050 at auction. New tires cost me $3,150, repairs to get it on the road cost me $1,020, transmission flush and filter change cost me $1,300 and this doesn’t include the diesel to get it from Florida to Arizona.
When all was said and done, I put $8,700 into a bus that still had mechanical issues that needed to be dealt with. Since then I’ve had the the rear main seal, differential seal, air filter and engine seals replaced adding another $2,400.
If I had purchased the bus from a reputable dealer who had fixed all of these issues beforehand, I would have saved about $2,000 and days worth of stress, energy and research that could have been spent elsewhere.
3 - Have a Place to Work on the Bus AND a Backup Plan
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but this is a very common trend I see. People get excited about a Skoolie conversion and make the purchase without really considering where they will do the conversion.
I can think of multiple instances where someone started a build on their property, only to have the neighbors call the city. This forces them to move to someone else's property, possibly rent a storage location or having to sell their bus only weeks into the build.
My bus was actually called in even though I wasn’t building or even living in the bus. I spent the holidays with family back in Indiana and my aunt got a knock on the door after I was home for less than a week from a city employee.
Luckily, being that I wasn’t actually living in it, the city employee couldn’t force me to move the bus.
The worst part is, the bus could only be seen by 3 or 4 houses as it was in the backyard. Do not assume your backyard is suitable for your build. If you’re planning on renting a spot to work on the bus, keep in mind those monthly payments add up.
These Skoolie builds typically take twice as long as you plan for and will cost three times what you expect. Make sure you have multiple backup locations to build your bus!
4 - Have you considered purchasing a Half Converted / Fully Converted Bus?
I totally understand the idea behind building a bus to make it your own.
However, after spending 1.5 years building my bus, I realized how massive of a project it really is. When buying a half converted bus or even fully converted bus, you “purchase” the sweat equity that someone else put in, as well as the already installed components. If you're lucky enough to move right into the bus, this could save you money from not paying anymore rent/mortgage, since you won't need a space to actually build a bus.
Check out our Classified Section
As detailed in the course, there is actually a demand for half converted buses. You can buy buses from people who started a project and got in over their head. They realize how much time, energy and money that goes into one of these builds and they jump bus. If you are someone who keeps a keen eye on Skoolie sale websites and craigslist ads, you can swoop in and purchase one of these buses for pennies on the dollar.
Along the same lines, purchasing a fully converted Skoolie is a great option as well. You get the benefits of purchasing all of the sweat equity with an added bonus of a bus that has proven itself on the road. It is common for those who live full time on the road to go through the “break in period”. This is where the weakest links of the drive-train are stressed due to full time use and the previous owners worked out all of those kinks in order to drive it themselves.
With this option you can let others put in the sweat equity, money and road time that is needed for every conversion and move right in!
5 - Do Your Research!
Wess with the TranscendExistence bus, one of the co-creators for the Skoolie Academy, was an early builder in the Skoolie game. He, like many others, saw a school bus, got excited and went all in with little to no research. He is now in the process of swapping out his engine and transmission in his rig, which is an incredibly expensive process.
Like many, he is committed to the bus due to his extensive interior and exterior build, so selling and buying a new bus isn't an option. If he would have researched the best engine and transmission option prior to buying, he would have saved himself anywhere from $7,000-$10,000.
Do your research! Watch YouTube videos, read blog posts and articles by fellow Skoolie owners, google what you don't know or don't yet understand. Know exactly what kind of bus you are buying, since it might soon be your only home. Buy something that will work years into the future.
What you don't know now, could possibly cost thousands you in the future.
Do not think that just because a bus runs when you pick it up, it’s good to go. If you have a bad cylinder, pressure pump or weak transmission, you are going to be in a world of hurt.
Each one of those repairs will cost you anywhere from $2,000-$4,000 in parts alone.
In addition, if you don’t have the skills to work on the bus yourself, (most people don’t) shop time for most shops is $90-$150 per hour.
Save yourself the heartache and put in the legwork to make sure you’re getting a bus that won’t quit on you.
Join the Skoolie Academy
Frequently Asked Questions
When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.
Thanks for stopping in for our first article.
We wish you the best of luck buying your own bus!
Make it a wonderful day.
- Written by Patrick Schmidt
While spending several hours on Instagram this week and ignoring most of life’s responsibilities, I came across quite a few posts and accounts of Bus folks struggling through the winter.
"We nearly considered selling the bus and quitting bus life altogether after wintering in Seattle. It was simply too wet and difficult. Our sheets were cold and damp, and the mattress seemed to get heavier the longer we lived there. Then we found mold in our bedroom."
My wife and I have been living in our 189 square foot bus for the last 4 years, and have found several “necessities” for comfortable bus living.
Throughout the article, we have attached Amazon links to purchase items similar to what we are using. Most of the items you can find at your local big box hardware store (we are partial to Home Depot).
Any purchase made through one of our affiliate links shares a small monetary kickback with Bus Life Adventure for recommending an Amazon product to you. At the very least, clicking the link will provide you with more information about what products to look for.
From #BusLifeAdventure to #BusLifeResponsibilities
Here are 10 crucial products and ideas that we have found to make Bus Life "better" and healthier.
Through torrential downpours and sticky icky humidity in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana to constant foggy mist in Oregon and Washington, a dehumidifier is on the top of our list. If you live in a bus with 110v power, and have the ability to run and store it, a dehumidifier is a must.
While wintering in Seattle, we were constantly running our unit. It was simply too damp. We had several mold outbreaks because of the wetness and had to entirely re-adjust our thought process on living in the bus. Cooking, breathing, showering - just living in the bus creates moisture and humidity. Add to that the constant drizzle and water vapor in the Seattle air, a dehumidifier is just about the only way we could stay dry and comfortable. We bought our unit on sale at Target before moving to Washington. There are different sized units, your need depends on how large an area you intend to keep dry.
We have tried and used all theDamp Rid products. We really like the large RV bucket version (which does take up quite a bit of floor space) and we really love the closet hanging ones. They take out a great amount of moisture from small areas like closets. Beware of leaking bags/rupturing them as you are in motion. The water solution it produces is nasty and will stain your clothes and ruin your building materials. They are useful, but not comparable to a Dehumidifier. We cannot run the unit unless we are plugged in to shore power. It draws quite a bit of electricity and would drain our house/solar batteries in minutes. If you are constantly in motion and off-grid, this would not be something for you.
On a side note, the way the Dehu's work, they don't function well under 55 degrees. So in order for the unit to function properly, you'll need a way to heat the surrounding area. However! Another positive of the Dehu is that it pumps out dry, warm air, which warms up your space while drying it out. It kind of becomes a balancing act of dry/damp/cold/warm. We were constantly amazed how fast the water container would fill up after a few hours of run-time. We could feel the wetness in the walls and then we couldn't.
2. HyperVent material underneath the mattress
We nearly considered selling the bus and quitting bus life altogether after wintering in Seattle. It was simply too wet and difficult. Our sheets were cold and damp, and the mattress seemed to get heavier the longer we lived there. Then we found mold in our bedroom. We talked to a friend of our property owner, who used to build boats and furnish the interiors of them. He told us while sleeping, the human body releases around 2 liters of water – breathing, sweating, etc. All that gets released into the air and, yup, into the mattress. He told us to drill holes into our wooden bed frame as well as buy “HyperVent”
This stuff goes between the wood/mattress platform and your mattress and expels any extra moisture that's being introduced. My wife was able to buy scrap pieces of it from a local mattress store for $20, after being quoted $100+ for a single piece the size of our queen mattress. We also drilled several small holes into the wooden boards underneath the mattress.
THIS IS A MUST HAVE FOR ANYONE THAT SLEEPS AND LIVES IN A SMALL, ENCLOSED ENVIRONMENT LIKE BOATS, VANS, BUSES, RV’S, ETC
We immediately noticed a difference and have not had a soaked mattress since. We do still spray a bleach/isopropyl alcohol solution onto the bottom of our mattress and bedroom area. This HyperVent stuff is magic and absolutely worth the price! It works!
If you’d like to read more about the process of installing and using this wonderful material, check it out here.
3. Bubble Wrapping windows during the winter
This is a trick we learned about at the Tiny House Living Festival in Portland before we moved to Seattle for the winter.
If you live in a bus or any sort of vehicle with single pane windows, you WILL experience condensation. Looking through all the posts this week, I have seen an increase in the conversations and complaints about the single-pane bus windows condensating.
When the warm air of the interior meets the cooled windows from the different temperature outside, water droplets will form on the inside of the windows. There is no way to mitigate this happening, it’s simply how it is always going to be. My wife and I had a tight regiment of wiping down the windows every morning with a towel and an RV Mold Spray / light bleach mixture to combat the growth of mold. Then we tried the Bubble wrap method.
At first we were skeptical, but it truly works! The air gets trapped between and inside of the bubbles, so it helps warm the cool air from the outside, and puts a barrier against the warmer inside air. It helped tremendously with condensation.The windows still got a little wet, but nothing like it was before we taped the bubble wrap onto all the windows. We only had to wipe the bubble wrap lightly some mornings/after intense cooking. It seemed to help keep the bus a few degrees warmer. It made so much of a positive difference with wet windows that we will ALWAYS do this during the winter if we are permanently parked in a wet and cold climate.
The downside to covering all your windows is lack of sight to the outdoors and letting less light in. We felt more trapped in our tiny space than at any other time living in it. It felt small with all the windows covered, permanently parked in the middle of the woods. It did not help that we were in Seattle where it rained/misted everyday. We definitely experienced our fair share of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder.) To combat that, we used a light box during the day.
4. UV Light Box
This box puts out light that mimics the Sun's Rays and color spectrum.You only need to have it on for an hour during the day somewhere in your tiny home, you do not need to be looking right at it. Through science, it activates the happy chemicals in your brain, and helps you deal with the depressing blues while going without less sun in the winter.
Our unit also comes with an ionizer, which discharges electrons into the air that binds to dust particles, pollen, smoke, pet dander and so forth and makes them heavier, so they fall to the ground instead of floating around and end up being inhaled. It basically helps clean the air. Many electric air fresheners have built in ionizers as well. My wife and I highly recommend having a light box on a few hours during the day during the dreary winter time.
As for the ionizer, you do not want to be in the bus when that is on, as the extra electrons floating around can give you a headache and make you sick. Sit with the light on for an hour, and when you leave your home turn the ionizer on.
5. Several layers of curtains
Along with bubble wrapping, this winter we have come up with a curtain system that consists of several layers.
Against the windows (not pictured) we have a thin white polyester layer. Then we have two layers of wool felt, which has been lined with a plastic sheet/vapor barrier and stuffed with a layer of quilt batting.
On the inside of the bus, we have a separate set of curtains, to add some texture and color to the interior.
We velcro'ed the thin white curtains right to the gray wool felt. They are attached on one set of steel cables. These are our first contact to the windows, and are there to take on any of the condensation. These can be easily removed and washed/replaced. We would like for the middle layer/gray curtains to stay dry and free of funk.
Then we installed a second set of steel cables for the green curtains. These can be easily changed out to different materials and colors. All of it can be rolled up, or tucked behind our "crown molding."
So far, driving from Vegas to Florida, we have noticed that they make quite a difference combating cold drafts and keeping the cool window temperatures outside, and leaving us warmer inside.
Most underutilized material during Skoolie Builds we’ve seen, including our own build.
We’ve had several mold outbreaks and needed to replace wood paneling all throughout the bus. Utilizing plastic sheeting as moisture barriers when attaching any wood to the interior metal of the bus is a must. That includes the ceiling, and some moisture barrier material underneath the floor.
Any metal throughout your bus will sweat with different temperatures/humidity changes and will rot your wood over time. Metal sweat is water droplets forming on any metal surface, basically like condensation on windows, caused by different air temperatures. The cold metal coming in contact with warm interior air. Moisture on metal will ruin the wood that's attached to it, if it's not separated by a moisture barrier of some kind.
Also make sure ALL YOUR WINDOWS ARE SEALED. Leaks can and will ruin your entire interior wall structure. Vapor barriers, treated/painted wood is super important in these builds. You will experience every kind of drastic climate.
While I loved and highly recommend the Cuisinart two burner hot plate, it’s difficult to store and you have to wait for it to cool down to put away. It also draws too much electric power to run without being plugged in to shore power.
While on the road, to cook simple meals I bought a cheap camp stove which uses throwaway butane canisters. It worked great and heated up my stove-top espresso maker quicker than the hot plate. I don't enjoy the idea of the throwaway canisters, and the other week, the butane leaked while it was installed in the camp stove, while the burner was lit. A large flame shot out, nearly catching the nearby towel on fire. So we trashed that thing.
For those reasons, I am absolutely in love with our new built-in RV propane stove. Initially, I did not want anything to do with propane on the bus, for safety reasons. My dad and I could cut wood, install electric, run plumbing, but when it came to installing a propane tank and proper lines, we did not feel comfortable doing that work.
After living in the bus for nearly 4 years and seeing other people’s setup, I was less intimidated with installing a stove. So during our recent renovations, we decided to go ahead and get ourselves a propane stove. AND WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! At this point, I have no idea how I managed to cook before, because our stove-top/oven is amazing.
8. Waste bin for toilet paper.
DO NOT FLUSH ANYTHING EXCEPT YOUR WASTE. It will clog your system!
After wrapping a large trash bag around my arm up until my elbow to unclog our toilet plumbing three too many times, I did some research and found that many full-timers use a separate small trash bin with close-able lid for their paper waste. Since we started doing that, we have had ZERO plumbing problems. I know for folks just joining the mobile tiny revolution, this is an odd one. But trust us, it is a must! The specifically made RV paper that disintegrates quickly is hard to find and more expensive than regular toilet paper, so in the long run, it’s better just to use a separate waste bin.
9. Roof Deck
We were lucky enough to find a bus that already had a roof-rack structure. The church I bought the bus from had used two identical International 3800's to take rafting trips with the church kids. They used the roof deck to secure their inflatable rafts and other gear. When they arrived where they were headed, they used the air brake tank to fill up the water rafts.
Once my dad and I started converting the bus, he came up with the great idea to attach beautiful wood paneling around the existing bare metal frame. Then we added two-by-three's attached to each metal rib and covered it with treated plywood panels. Roof deck complete!
I am so glad that the bus already had a roof rack and a ladder installed. It is something my dad and I would not have been capable of building ourselves. So I took away this lesson, buy a bus that you know you can complete and work on. My dad and I are not welders or metal workers, and did not want to spend tons of money to have it made by someone. So I was looking for a bus that was rust free, enough headroom without a roof raise, and already had a deck.
The deck is excellent to use for extra storage, and is the perfect place for our Renogy solar panels. It is especially amazing at night, laying down with our blankets and staring endlessly into the sky. It has provided us some of the best experiences that bus life has to offer.
I could not imagine living in a bus without a deck.
10. Big(ger) Fridge
Downsizing is the name of the game for going tiny. BUT! After living 1.5 hours away from the nearest grocery store when Workamping in California, we realized that our little dorm sized fridge was not big enough.
As we were fridge shopping, we noticed that many of the fridges that were slightly bigger all had doors which were designed to mostly hold cans. While we love drinking La Croix and other bubbly water, we felt that the way many of the doors were designed was unusable for us. You can't really store anything in these plastic shelves that were designed to hold cans.
So we decided to go slightly bigger and get the next size up, which still has can storage, but also storage for every-day items we would definitely be using.
The bigger fridge allows us to meal prep larger meals, being able store more than one or two meals at a time. That allows us to shop in bulk/Costco for cheaper meals. The fridge we had before used 1.3 amps per hour, and the much larger one we have now uses only 1.6 amps, so negligible power usage compared to how much better this fridge fits our lifestyle. It is a 110 volt unit. We would love to get into a 12 volt unit, but for the price/size it doesn't make sense for our budget.
Since you made it this far on the 10 Essentials list, here's a reward! Let's turn it up to 11.
11.Miscellaneous Essentials / Must Have’s
When I first left my parent’s driveway in the bus on August 15, 2015 I had no idea what exactly I was getting myself into. I did not do a test drive with the newly built interior of the bus, and had minimal idea of how to work on a diesel engine. Luckily enough, everything went better than I expected!
3.5 years later, I have learned so much about the upkeep of a bus and home-ownership in general.
It is really important to have a good set of tools with you. Screwdrivers, all sizes of wrenches and sockets, Allen wrenches, pliers, vice grips, a hammer, etc. You WILL use all your tools, and you will be happy you have them when something goes wrong (and to keep things from going wrong) It's not a matter of IF, but WHEN.
Open your hood and look at the engine everyday while on the road! Take a look around, wiggle wires, touch and feel hoses and sniff stuff. Get an idea of "What's it going to be today" to take care of your ride and your home. Check for leaks!
I always have extra fluids in my outside storage as well – engine coolant, diesel fuel enhancers, engine oil, distilled water for my batteries, etc. I also noted which belts are on the engine, which run the alternator and the engine fan, and have a set of those tucked away.
I also keep an air hose and some air tools on the bus. I am lucky enough to have air brakes, and an air tank that has a hook up for the air hose. Because of that setup, I am able to fill up my own tires.
And lastly, I have a few emergency items on the bus. That includes a couple flares, emergency triangles, a charged battery pack for my phone, flashlights, tape and zip ties.
That about does it. Thanks for coming through and reading the 11+ essentials list for successfully navigating the Bus Life. It’s always an Adventure, that’s for sure!
Make it a wonderful day!
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- Written by Brock Butterfield
The basic tools needed for a skoolie conversion.
In the four years and two bus conversions I've done, I've been wanting to share a basic list of the tools I find myself using the most. In my opinion you could easily complete a school bus conversion with just these basic ten tools and a little ingenuity. Skoolie conversions consist of a warfield on metal and a funky sawmill operation on wood.
The task of removing the seats is typically first on the "to-do" followed by removing the subfloors, walls and ceiling. After some preventative measures towards rust and insulating, the real fun begins with attaching wood to metal and designing a functional living space.
Here is my list of what I believe are the top 10 tools to get you started with a school bus conversion.
- Angle Grinder and cut off wheels
~This by far has been the most used tool. It will do just about anything you need done to metal and is a rusted seat bolts worse nightmare. I've been running a Ryobi angle grinder and have beat the snot out of it but it still keeps going. Dewalt, Porter Cable and a few others make angle grinders as well.
A angle grinder and cut off wheel will be the go-to tool for rusted seat bolt removal, rivet removal, rust removal, etc. I'd recommend getting a face shield, dust masks and ear muffs. I've seen cut off wheels blow up and send shrapnel in all directions. Last thing you need is your ugly mug getting any uglier...
~ I recommend the fiberglass handled hammers as opposed to wood. You'll be "hammering away" on a constant basis and having a hammer that can take the abuse will be worth it.
- Tape Measure
~If reading a tape is a daunting thing and calling out fractions sounds like a whole other language then I'd recommend getting one with the fractions clearly printed for you. Work smarter not harder.
- Speed Square or Building Square
~Ok, this could make you confused AF but yes, a "square" is actually a triangle. I presume it gets its name from helping you "find square" when building something that fits together as planned. Anywho, this will help you mark straight or angled lines.
- Rafter Square
~I find this square most helpful with laying out the floor plan or putting up a dividing wall in the bus conversion. If you use this building square throughout your planning and building, you'll notice things line up nicely and come together as hoped for.
- Chalk Line
~The obvious use of this is to mark large sheets for long cuts but you should also be using this inside the bus for things like marking a straight line down the whole length of the bus ceiling so that you have a line to follow when installing the first ceiling board whether tongue and groove or plywood.
- Circular Saw
~This tool if used right can do just about everything you'll need done with wood. With a few hacks it can easily serve the place of a miter saw (chop saw) and table saw.
- Drill Set
~You'll want at least two drills if you want to be efficient with your time. A regular drill and an impact or driver drill. Cordless is obvisouly the way to go but if you're doing a lot of drilling for the day then you may want to also pick up a corded drill for all your pre-drilling. The impact / driver drill will be another favorite tool you come to appreciate as you can pretty much drive a screw into anything.
- Cobalt Drill Bit Set
~Why Cobalt? Because you're going to be drilling into lots of metal and cobalt bits last the longest. Ordering a set as opposed to individual bits is the way to go and ordering a couple extra 1/8 and 7/64 bits is also a wise choice as you'll be using these the most.
- Orbital Sander
~Whether it's sanding the outside of the bus to prep for paint or sanding down cabinets, a palm sander will save you hours or work as opposed to hand sanding.
Now while these are just the basic top tools I'd recommend, there is definetly a much more extensive list of tools that will make your bus conversion much smoother if you have the budget to invest in. Guess I'd better start composing that article!
Top 10 Recommended Tools For School Bus Conversion
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