News & Blogs Why a Converted School Bus Makes a Great Home (1 Viewer)

Matt Derrick

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by Will Sutherland

Converting a school bus into a skoolie offers a comfortable, affordable living space that can go anywhere the road might take you.

When you think of a school bus, you might not consider it as a potential dwelling. That’s understandable. We are familiar with pull-behind campers, motor homes, conversion vans, and tiny houses, so why consider a bus instead? There are four very good reasons.

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Photo © Eli Meir Kaplan, excerpted from Skoolie!

Owning a skoolie is a wonderful lifestyle.

It gives you the freedom to roam. “Home is where you park it” is just one phrase that summarizes life in a skoolie. Unlike most dwellings, your skoolie will be unique and customized to your needs and preferences. When you embark on a road trip and reach your destination, your home will always stand out rather than blending in, making it feel even more special. Also, you will make skoolie friends! When you meet a fellow skoolie owner, there is a connection like no other. You will speak the same skoolie language, share the same experiences, and, most important, have a similar view of how to live alternatively.

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A propane Camp Chef oven fits perfectly alongside a dresser that has been repurposed as a kitchen base cabinet. Photo © Will Sutherland, excerpted from Skoolie!.

A school bus is extremely durable.

A vehicle designed to transport 72 young lives is built with safety and sturdiness in mind. School buses are constructed on heavy-duty commercial truck frames by bus manufacturers such as Blue Bird and Thomas. The school bus body itself is framed with steel tubing and covered with steel paneling. On the exterior, there are additional thin sections of corrugated steel: known as rub rails, these are designed to minimize body damage from sideswiping and add to the structural integrity of the bus.

On top of a school bus, you will find a steel-framed, rounded metal roof designed to withstand extreme pressure from a rollover accident. Inside, light-gauge steel panels on the walls and ceiling are most commonly attached with rivets, but sometimes (especially in older buses) they are attached with regular screws. Under the hood, nearly all school buses feature diesel engines, which are known for their commercial-grade durability and power. Needless to say, a school bus is built tough!

By contrast, regular campers and RVs are constructed with affordability and weight in mind. A quick Internet search of “RV accidents” will give you an idea of what happens to them in a wreck. RVs are largely constructed with lightweight wood and fiberglass for the walls and roof. The roofs are flat, making them prone to water damage if they are not sealed and kept under cover regularly.

Tiny homes are solidly built and typically feature the same materials and construction as regular-size homes, but they are designed more for a permanent location rather than frequent travel. Tiny homes typically are mounted on trailers as a way to avoid building code restrictions and to make them technically movable (as in nonpermanent dwellings). They’re not really designed to be routinely out and about on the highway.

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A bedroom at the back of the bus allows for storage space under the bed that can be accessed through the rear emergency door. Photo © Will Sutherland, excerpted from Skoolie!.

School buses are well maintained.

School systems maintain their buses as a fleet. The phrase “fleet maintained” seen in ad listings is a good thing! Each bus gets routine oil changes and thorough inspections, and repair and maintenance costs are pre-budgeted, so issues are quickly taken care of. By contrast, if you’re shopping for an affordable used RV, it’s possible the previous owner neglected to repair an issue in a timely fashion, which could lead to more wear and tear on other parts as well as a compromised overall mechanical function — problems you will have to face as the new owner.

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Photo © Will Sutherland, excerpted from Skoolie!

School buses are affordable.

Most school systems retire some buses each year based on age or mileage. I have found that most buses are kept in service for up to 10 years or 250,000 miles. Retired buses are usually auctioned off or sold in bulk to a dealer. A typical school bus may be auctioned for roughly a tenth of the cost of a used motor home or a tiny house.
Used RVs and tiny homes simply cannot compete with the value of a used school bus. Sure, there are many happy folks traveling in traditional motor homes and sleeping in trendy tiny homes, but maybe you don’t have that kind of budget, and maybe you want to go enjoy your life and independence sooner rather than later.

In addition, skoolies are simply cool! Skoolie owners soak up frequent thumbs-ups and peace signs from other drivers and enjoy giving the inquisitive couple at every stop a glimpse into their creative, unique, and liberating skoolie lifestyle.

Regardless of how large or small your budget is, how many windows your bus has, how elaborate your interior is, or how large your solar array may be, owning a skoolie promises an adventurous life in a comfortable home that’s also a reliable vehicle.

Text excerpted from Skoolie! © 2019 by Will Sutherland. All rights reserved.

 
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Matt Derrick

Matt Derrick

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It's a bit short and simplistic article excerpted from a book, but it does make several points that I often find myself making to others when asked why I would choose a school bus conversion over other methods of travel, so I felt like it would be relevant here.
 

roguetrader

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cheap buses and coaches straight outta service used to be a great way of getting 'on the road' in England - nowadays though it's a ball ache getting certified as a motorhome conversion and nigh on impossible to get insurance, due to weight and engine size restrictions....

is it straightforward getting legal in a school bus conversion in the US ?
 
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Matt Derrick

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Yeah it's pretty easy here in the states, hardest part is getting insurance. It's only hard tho because you have to call a few different companies until you find one that will do it. Fortunately I've never heard of anyone not being able to find skoolie insurance, you just gotta meet some basic guidelines.
 

Groundscore

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I've thought about upgrading from my cargo van to a school bus, but the windows hold me back a bit, as there's a lot to insulate. I do love how well they are built however. I keep toying with the idea of a box truck as well, as I really would like more storage and the ability to stand up. So I may yet go for either a short bus or a box truck.
 

Hobo richard

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Lots of folks love these school busses, and they seem reasonable as an rv, but I would urge caution. Same with these wooden tiny home on trailers... they are way too heavy, and modern rv have figured it out already for decades, so why reinvent the wheel? Yes, I know, used busses can be cheap.
I was a school bus driver for a number of years, so I can tell you good stuff, from my experience with them. Most are diesel, many these days have a propane conversion that makes them gutless on hills. The point is the fuel, in the long run is cheaper than diesel. Firstly, school busses are under intense federal regulation, and so they are made to protect kids. To do that you armor plate here and there. Yellow busses with those black strips down the sides? Those black strips are heavy duty steel. A modern 40 ft bus weighs an amazing 63,000 pounds empty of fuel and passengers. I could be wrong about that figure but it is jaw dropping. Modern rvs have addressed weight issues very well. My route was 50 miles a day; out in morning to pick them up, the take them home after school. The rule was you could not leave the barn with less than a half tank of fuel, so every 4 days i would top off the 100 gallon tank with 50 gallons.
You do the math, I suck at it, but the weight of these things make them expensive to run. Would be great if you parked and didnt have to drive. They are fun to drive however.
I had a bus that was good, never left us anywhere due to break down, one burst a coolent hose and we had to get another bus, but generally they seemed reliable. Most maintenance visits were about bulbs and routine stuff. The batteries are huge, can't imagine they would be cheap. The seats are bolted down with seriousness, so they can be a chore to remove. I was always amazed me how you would need to floor the bus, for long seconds to get it rolling from parked, and stand on the brakes sometimes with 2 feet to get it stopped on hills. There is very little visibility out the back, so backing is sometimes a 2 person job. Nice thing is, tailgaters are invisible. Those rattly side windows are not energy efficient. There are vents on the roof big enough to go out of. They do go fast once you get the weight rolling, and I got one to 80 on the freeway. I never wrecked one or knew anyone who did. Most issues are slipping off the road in snow.
So for me, I would come up with cash for a cheap rv instead of a school bus. Be careful, cheap rvs and trailers can have leaky roofs and resulting mold. This can be invisible. I lived in a 35ft Avion trailer for 10 years in Seattle and loved it. I paid about 7000 for it.
 

jimi

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I also wonder about how difficult it is to service them. For those of us who don't have shop space/tools/time/experience, is it difficult or expensive to find reasonably priced mechanics who can work on them if and when they need repair? Are parts easy to find?
 

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