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Your Complete Guide To Renovating A School Bus

This post was updated on March 15th, 2024

More and more people are turning to bus conversions and van conversions for tiny home living. There’s a reason why they’re growing in popularity: unlike manufactured RVs, they have a completely customizable floor plan built to suit your specific needs and interests.

Retired buses also tend to be relatively affordable and they’re almost always well-maintained. Schools typically maintain their buses as a fleet, so they’re more up-to-date on things like routine oil changes and inspections (something you cannot always count on when buying a used RV or trailer).

However, unlike buying an RV or trailer that is already built and ready for camping, bus conversions take a lot of time, work, and money before you can hit the road. There are several Youtube videos as well as discussion forums like that will help answer your questions every step along the way.

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Skoolie! by Will Sutherland ($25, Amazon). Photos by Nikki Cleveland

This new book published in October 2019 is another great resource to keep on hand. Skoolie! How To Convert A School Bus Or Van Into A Tiny Home Or Recreational Vehicle by Will Sutherland will guide you through the whole process—from choosing and buying a bus to gutting out the interior and rebuilding it as your dream tiny home.

This large, 207-page book is beautifully illustrated and very comprehensive. It covers every step of the bus conversion process, including:

  • Why a school bus? The first chapter (after the preface) details the benefits of school bus conversions over other options like RVs.
  • Choosing and buying a bus. Learn how to choose between full-size buses, mid-size buses, short buses, and flat-front buses; where to buy a retired school bus; how to inspect your bus before purchasing (rust, tires, engine, etc); what you need to do before taking your bus home.
  • Layout and design. How to measure and divide up the interior space for your floor plan; storage ideas that work well inside buses.
  • Demolition. Everything you need to know about ripping out the bus interior. This includes tearing out the seats, the wall and ceiling panels, and what to do with all the “bus guts.”
  • Exterior makeover. This chapter focuses on repainting the bus, including prep work such as removing old stickers and decals, sanding, and taping off.
  • Prepping for construction. Prep work includes cleaning the floor, sealing your walls, windows, and ceiling, and checking for leaks.
  • Insulation and flooring. Learn what kind of insulation is best, as well as installing sub-floor and flooring.
  • Interior framing and finishing, This includes wall and ceiling framing, and building a bed frame to put your mattress on.
  • Skoolie kitchens. Every part of the skoolie kitchen is discussed: cabinets, countertops, choosing appliances, and outdoor kitchen ideas.
  • Skoolie bathrooms. Learn your options for portable toilets, showers and tubs, and outdoor showers.
  • Off-grid power. Power basics include gas generators, bus engine power, solar power, and batteries for power storage.
  • Climate control. For those hot summer days and cold winter nights, your bus will need climate control. This chapter covers the different heating and cooling options as well as venting your skoolie.
  • Water and plumbing. This includes water usage, storage, and supply; how to make plumbing connections, hot water, and dealing with waste water.
  • Detailing your skoolie. The last chapter focuses on the final touches depending on your preference. This could include a bike rack, an awning, a roof deck, back-up cameras, privacy & security features, and having an escape plan for emergencies.
Their Book Bus completed

The author, Will Sutherland, bought an old bus of his own and remodeled it for the book. His bus, dubbed the Book Bus, is one of many skoolies (among other popular Instagram bus dwellers) who are featured in full-page photographs between each of the chapters for design inspiration. Their budget for the entire Book Bus, as well as a few useful resources, are also listed at the end before the index.

The hardcover book, published by Storey Publishing, is about $25 from Amazon.

Thinking about renovating an Airstream? You may also like this book for DIY guides and inspiration