Turn your tiny home ceiling into a starry night sky with this step-by-step guide
We are Nat and Don and we travel with our two pups, Kona and Bandit. We live and travel in a renovated retired school bus we have named, “Caroline”. While our bus is just shy of 32’ she can comfortably entertain and seat up to nine adults inside. She is a Thomas flat nose bus with a rear Mercedes/Detroit MBE 906 engine coupled with an Allison MD3060 transmission. What that means is that she will take us anywhere we want to go.
We decided to live tiny about five years ago when we started to consider what life would look like for us after our children grew up and moved out. We loved our home on the water in Florida, but the idea of living in a four-bedroom, two-bath house with a double garage didn’t make much sense to us. We really liked the idea of living in a tiny home but weren’t too keen on the idea of being geographically anchored to one spot
We started to look into living and traveling in an RV, but the cost of a well-built and reliable motorhome was not what we envisioned for our life of travel. We didn’t want to take on an RV mortgage to travel. To us, it seemed counterproductive.
When we first came up with the idea of renovating a retired school bus into a functioning and livable RV, or skoolie, as they are affectionately called, we knew we wanted to incorporate some unique features that we had not seen in other RV, skoolie, van or tiny homes.
Other Fun and Ambitious Projects for our Tiny Home on Wheels
We knew we would have to keep our king-sized bed for our RV. After sleeping on a king for the past three years, sleeping on anything smaller was simply out of the question. We also built an 80 sq ft rooftop deck that has a marine hatch sky-light access from the inside of the bus.
We built a removable and storable 28sq ft “doggie deck” off of the right side handicap door so our pups would have their own deck to lounge and enjoy some warm sunshine on nice days.
Natalie is the one who came up with the idea of installing a different and unique light texture to our ceiling in addition to our 12v marine puck lights. Her inspiration came from a friend of hers who saw an Instagram pic of the fiber optic lights in a limousine. When she forwarded the pic to me and asked me what I thought, I told her immediately, “It’s on!”
Starry Night Lights
We started where we usually do for instruction, inspiration, and information: YouTube
We couldn’t find anything that remotely related to putting these tiny but awesome little lights in the ceiling of a skoolie, motorhome, or even a van. There were a couple of videos on the installation in a home theater room in a house and a few on how they looked in a stretch limo, but nothing that really gave us any instruction on a process for installing in a tongue and groove wood ceiling in a bus or skoolie.
Together we masterminded the only solution we thought would give us the results we wanted. We would drill individual holes for each fiber optic thread into the wood ceiling planks and then install the individual tongue and groove wood pieces to the ceiling.
We looked on Amazon to see what products were available. We found this set of lights and they have been perfect for us!
Not even halfway through the installation, we decided we wanted more than the 220 lights we purchased. We bought another set of fiber optic strands and another light engine and quickly realized we had just doubled our work.
The process of installing a tongue and groove wood ceiling into a skoolie is difficult and frustrating enough, considering nothing on or about a school bus is “square” or consistent when measuring; couple that with installing delicate and tiny fiber optic strands without crimping, screwing, or cutting through them while maintaining the design and look that you want, it can be quite a feat to accomplish.
Starry Night Ceiling Step-by-Step Guide
*Disclaimer: We are not responsible for the dissolution of any relationships as a result of taking on this project.
There were several times throughout the week it took us to finish the project we questioned our sanity, faith, relationship, and desire to finish the project. It really was both physically and patiently exhausting. If you want to test the mettle of your relationship with your significant other, take on this project.
All joking aside, it is installed now and we are absolutely loving the effects, relaxation, and peacefulness these 440 fiberoptic threaded lights are in have offered us in our tiny home on wheels.
Depending on the type of ceiling you have, your installation may vary. For us, we used 6-inch pine tongue and groove ceiling boards.
*These are quick Amazon Affiliate links but check at your local hardward store first to support local.
Light engine(s) and fiber optic strands
1/16 drill bit (x 10-20, because they will break 😊)
This is how we installed our lights. Installation may vary. We had never done this before, so we were learning as we went.
Setting up Lights
Position your centerboard where it will be permanently attached. Do not attach it yet.
Place your fiber optic light engines with the strands attached to the place on your bus where they will be permanently housed. For our location, it is the cabinets above our sink, which we had yet to install. So, we simply made a temporary structure to hold the light engines and fiber optics into their spot.
Provide electrical power to your light engines.
Planning Your Design
Know what kind of pattern you want for your lights prior to installation. If your lights are going to be a replica of a star system, constellation, or galaxy, then draw it out on paper. If it is going to be randomly placed lights for stars, no need to draw it out on paper prior to installation, simply drill the 1/16 size holes randomly on the ceiling pieces.
If you have a constellation or galaxy planned, attached that drawn-out design (we used brown paper and spray adhesive on reflectix that we installed over our spray foam).
Once you have completed your design, you will know roughly how many stars/lights you need to accomplish your design.
If your design calls for 200 lights, then you will need to separate those fiber optic strands out across your design area to accommodate the amount of stars/holes you will need to place in your ceiling boards.
Place the centerboard up on the ceiling where it will be attached. If any of your planned constellation stars fall on that board, mark their locations with a pencil or light-colored pen.
Putting your Plan into Action
Now, you will be drilling your first holes in your wood ceiling. Using the 1/16 drill bit, drill from the backside of your board and make a clean smooth hole for your fiber optic lights. Depending on how many stars fall on that piece of board, you will drill that many holes.
Once you have all your holes drilled, place your board in the general area of where it is going to be attached. Note: from this step on, you will likely need at least two people to accomplish this project. Four people is ideal.
Placing the Lights
Pull aside the number of threads of fiber optic for that specific board and feed them through the holes. Allow enough slack so when you attach the board to the ceiling that it does not tug on the wire.
Once you have the fiber optic lines pushed through their holes for each board, anchor them with silicone caulk or your favorite adhesive.
After you anchor your fiber-optic threads, it is time to attach the board to your ceiling using your chosen method.
Allow the caulk/adhesive to “set up” before attaching your ceiling furring strips.
Attach the board to the ceiling of your vehicle. Be careful not to pinch, crimp, or nail/screw through any fiber optic threads on the underside of the ceiling board.
As you continue attaching boards, pay special attention to the remaining fiber optic threads so they have enough slack to fill in the area of ceiling lights you are planning for.
Periodically test the lights to ensure you have not “pinched or crimped” any of the fiber optics during your installation.
When you have completed feeding the fiber optic threads through the pin-holes in your ceiling boards, cut away the excess fiber optic threads hanging from your newly installed ceiling.
To get a different lighting effect from each fiber optics strand, cut them at varying lengths and angles with a pair of sharp scissors. This will allow a slightly different effect on how the light shines through the end of the fiber optic thread.
Sit back and enjoy your new starry night ceiling!
If you have any questions and feel motivated to install a similar design in your RV, van, or tiny home, feel free to reach out to us on YouTube or Instagram.
Take a look at our bus, Caroline, and let us know what you think of our ceiling. You can follow us on:
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley
Four fail-safe tips to help you prepare for your next family road trip
By Lana Daniels
To say that living a nomadic family lifestyle is an adventure is an understatement. Getting to visit new places and take in every inch of your surroundings is exciting, especially with your kids. In a previous post, the Bratcher family notes that taking a road trip with your kids can turn them into lifelong explorers — and who doesn't want that?
However, as with any other excursion, a road trip requires planning to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your trip.
Make a checklist of essentials
When it comes to preparing to hit the road, it's sometimes better to over-pack instead of under-pack. Real Simple's packing list has the basics like spare changes of clothes and first aid kits, but you can also be a bit more creative when it comes to the activities you bring. Aside from relying on electronics, you can bring pads to doodle with, book tapes to listen to, and even postcards that your kids can send to their loved ones from any destination.
Come extra prepared with snacks
Hunger pangs are unavoidable, so it’s best to be prepared and avoid any potential "hangry" tantrums from both your kids and your partner. In Jane Adamson’s lifestyle guide on preparing for a camper trip, she points out that lightweight tableware and shelf-stable food is your best bet. This is a good general rule to keep in mind, even if your camper has a built-in stove. If you find yourself running low on snacks, don’t be afraid to have a pit stop and refuel. Having lots of snacks on hand also means that if you pass by a particularly picturesque site, you can have a scenic meal right away!
Don't feel the need to travel too far
Even if this is your first time planning a road trip, don't feel pressured to travel too far or see too many things right away. Travel writer Andy Cochrane recommends keeping your trips as local as possible. This is especially important as lots of bigger parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone are operating on limited capacity due to the current health crisis. Wherever your starting point is, traveling to nearby locales is a great way to make sure you're really getting to know the ins and outs of each place while also giving your kids ample time to run around and explore.
Treat it like an adventure
Last but not least, the best way to instill a sense of excitement in your kids is to be excited yourself. Each road trip is special, and you can never fully account for what you might see. It's good to have an itinerary, but don't feel pressured to plan out every second and every minute of your trip. In fact, why not ask your kids for some activities they might want to check out during your trip? Giving them this choice makes them feel a little more grown-up and involved in the decision-making process, while it makes you see the trip from their point of view.
And there you have it: four fail-safe tips to help you prepare for your next family road trip. While there are definitely going to be unexpected bumps on the road (pun intended), this is an exciting experience that your family will remember for years to come.
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley
A bus bathroom journey from floorplan to full-time to remodel.
Tawny and Mike have lived full-time in their skoolie, Oliver, since May 2019. After realizing they felt trapped in their “normal” life, they sold their house and business to hit the road with their two teens and haven’t looked back since. They document their adventures and the nuances of bus life on their blog, www.sincewewokeup.com, and share photo and video content on their Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube channels of the same name.
Wet Room Concept: A Love Story
Our bathroom was actually the first part of our build that was set in stone. I’d seen a photo on Pinterest of a concrete wet room-styled bathroom while the bus was nothing but a dream in our heads, and nothing could shake me from the vision. One of Mike’s big design criteria was that the bus not have a center aisle floorplan with a split bathroom, and I was happy to comply.
A wet room wasn’t just aesthetically appealing to me, it seemed practical. After all, how much more space-saving can you get than to combine all the elements of a bathroom into one space with no additional walls to interfere? But the concrete look had two problems – poured concrete weighs a ton, and with the constant shifting of a moving vehicle, would likely crack.
After some research, we found Ardex feather finish concrete, which became not only the solution for our bathroom, but a handy solution for our kitchen counters and our wood stove surround and firebox. This veneer product is lightweight, easy to use, and after a year and half of use and travel, we can confidently say it holds up to the movement of bus life.
This was our process.
Step One: Create the Forms
We used hardwood plywood and 2x4s to create the foundation for the concrete. The floor, walls, and counter were built entirely out of wood. We even created little built-in shelves on one wall that would later hold our shampoo and soap.
The hardest part of making sure our homemade shower pan had the proper slope to ensure good drainage – not an easy feat when your home is a bus that isn’t always parked on level surfaces!
Step Two: Make it Watertight
Wood is porous and prone to rot, so we needed to make sure our forms weren’t rotting away underneath the concrete. First, we used bathroom silicone to seal every single screw hole and seam. Next, there are paintable rubber products that create a thin, waterproof barrier. We recommend several coats over the entire surface. Finally, we laid a heavy silicone mat designed for tiled shower floors and sealed the edges with more silicone to add extra protection to the floor, since it would be in more constant contact with water than the walls.
Step Three: Concrete the Forms
The feather finish concrete was incredibly easy to use. Using a concrete spatula, we spread uniformly thin layers one at a time. Between each layer, we would allow it to dry completely, and then sand down any edges we didn’t like. We originally planned to make the concrete smooth but decided after the first few layers that we preferred the texture of the freshly finished layers to the sanded-down ones and left our last coat slightly bumpy and ridged.
Step Four: Waterproof the Concrete
As concrete is also porous, it required further waterproofing to ensure water wasn’t absorbing into it. In the bathroom, we used two coats of a heavy-duty concrete sealer made for concrete floors. In the kitchen, on our counters where food would be prepared, we used a food-grade concrete sealer.
Maintenance and Questions
We frequently get asked how the concrete has held up, and if it requires maintenance. While we’ve noticed some small, hairline cracks here and there (generally at seams in the wood), they’re easily fixed and few between. We’ve actually been really impressed with the durability of this product. We do perform maintenance on it in the way of resealing the concrete annually as a precaution, but other than that both the bathroom and counters have been easy to use and care for.
Remodeling the Bathroom to Fit Our Needs
The rest of the bathroom came easy after the concrete. I knew I wanted copper fixtures to gleam against the concrete, a composting toilet, and a small sink with a utility closet for our water heater underneath. Initially, I was positive that we would absolutely need a washer and dryer unit, so that was part of our original design as well. We placed the toilet on a wheel well behind the shower area, and a large vanity that contained our combo washer/dryer unit sat opposite.
But as bus life will teach you, you don’t know what you need or what will work until you’ve lived with it! A few months later we realized we hardly used our washer/dryer unit because it required us to be plugged into shore power, and I missed being able to take a bath. So our first remodel commenced – we removed that large vanity and replaced it with a smaller one, moved the toilet to sit beside it, and created a concrete built-in tub over the wheel well the toilet had been housed in.
While I truly loved that big tub, a few months after that we wanted to expand the closet area in our bedroom, and we realized that if we were willing to downgrade our tub we could absorb that wheel well into our bedroom. While I was loathed to say goodbye to the beautiful concrete tub we’d just put in, I also really wanted more space in the bedroom, and removing the tub used once a week versus expanding our bedroom in a way that was more livable every day was a no brainer. Then I found our current tub, an old wine barrel that was cut in half, and I knew we’d found the perfect solution.
Our Bathroom Today
In its final state, the layout of the bathroom is exactly what we need. It measures five feet by five feet, with a small 2x2 section cut out of one wall where the wood stove sits on the other side. We laid Acacia wood tiles on the concrete floor so that we weren’t standing in water after our shower while we got ready and to help prevent slipping.
The wine barrel tub isn’t plumbed in, which allows us to bring it outside. It drains through a small hole we drilled into the bottom onto the shower floor and through the tiles, and the hose attachment of our shower means we can fill it inside or out through the bathroom window when it’s outside. Because the hallway outside the bathroom is too narrow to bring it through the bathroom door, we created a hidden door that looks like a wall of shelve behind it. When we want to move it in or out we unlatch the small hook, pull that wall open, and bring the tub in and out through our bedroom where there’s plenty of room to maneuver it.
In our final remodel, we sunk our tiny white porcelain sink with its copper fittings into the countertop to create a flush farmhouse-look sink and added shelves behind the toilet for extra storage. A shower curtain hangs on a rod that circles the shower, allowing us to keep the water contained but move out of the way to reopen the space when we’re done.
The bathroom has changed several times over, but each change is better than the last and has led to a functional space that we adore. One of my favorite things in the world is a Sunday morning bath in our tiny bathroom, little bus window thrown wide to the big world outside while I’m cozy inside with a hot cup of coffee.
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley
Let's get cooking with Number Juan Bus!
Roadside recipes to stay nourished and ready for adventure
We’ve been living and traveling full time in our skoolie (@numberjuanbus) for over a year and in that time we’ve made a lot of delicious food. We often get asked, “What can you cook in your bus?” The answer is pretty much anything! However, when it comes to living in a tiny space and living off-grid you do want to choose meals and snacks that don’t make a lot of dirty dishes or require a lot of water. Wraps, sandwiches, bowls, burritos, and one sheet pan meals are great ideas for lunch/ dinners. Here are a few of our go-to bites to eat!
Cucumber Lime and Sea Salt Snack:
Kinda sounds weird but it’s one of our favorite snacks. It’s quick, easy, healthy and everyone in the family loves it!
Gather ingredients: 1 cucumber, 1 lime, sea salt
Peel the skin off the cucumber
Thinly slice the cucumber
Cut the lime in half
Squeeze the lime juice over the cucumbers
Sprinkle with sea salt to taste preference
Enjoy! It’s an ideal refreshing snack
Buffalo Cauliflower Wraps:
This meal happened on accident one day when I was trying to use up random ingredients I had on hand. It’s quickly become a staple meal and works for lunch or dinner.
Gather ingredients: frozen cauliflower, cooking oil of choice, Frank's Red Hot Wings Hot Buffalo sauce, cucumber, tomato, ranch, wraps. (Optional: add spinach and avocado to fancy up this wrap.)
Preheat oven to 400°F
Toss frozen cauliflower in cooking oil (I normally use ev olive oil)
Place cauliflower on a baking sheet and cook for 20mins or longer for crispier cauliflower.
While cauliflower is cooking cut up your veggies.
I like to cut my cucumbers in “stick" shape for this wrap
I prefer cherry tomatoes but any will work.
Place baked cauliflower on a wrap
Drizzle Frank's hot sauce to preference
Drizzle ranch or blue cheese to preference
Wrap up, serve with chips or fruit and enjoy!
Jackfruit BBQ Sandwich:
This meal is so quick, so easy, and so delicious! This is healthy BBQ and also works for Lunch or Dinner.
Gather ingredients: 1 can of Jackfruit, Favorite BBQ sauce, and buns.
Rinse off jackfruit and shred with a fork or by hand
Sauté the jackfruit over medium heat for 5-7 minutes
Add sauce and sauté for 1-2 mins
Remove from heat and stir until cool enough to eat.
Load up a bun, serve with your favorite BBQ side, (ours is mac & cheese, but coleslaw or baked beans are also great options) enjoy!
To see a few other of our favorite meals to make in our tiny house you can watch this video we made.
Join our journey by following along on YouTube & IG:
More Articles By Elizabeth Hensley