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5 Tips For Building A School Bus Conversion

Photo by Austin Pacheco

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If you are looking to build a skoolie, here are some tips to build a school bus conversion for the most important skoolie floor plan features and utility options.

Tips to Build a Skoolie

The following tips have been both collected through building the Skoolie Livin skoolie build and picked up through the countless hours of research to successfully convert a school bus into a tiny house on wheels.

Although this list might not be comprehensive, the items on this list will highlight some items to pay attention to when building your skoolie. The goal is to help you not waste money through making mistakes during your build by making a list of tips to help your build, while also providing some additional resources for you to get more information.

So, without further delay, let’s dive on in!

#1 – Decide on the School Bus Size to Convert

The most agile skoolies are the shorter skoolies with 4-6 windows. A short bus is from 20 – 25 feet in length. This makes it a perfect choice for those looking to be able to go and park anywhere a larger truck can park. However, you are going to have to sacrifice some features that you might be able to build in a larger sized school bus conversion, such as a separate shower and toilet room, kitchen counter space, a larger sized bed, closet space, fridge and freezer space, and skoolie floor plan layout options.

Mid-sized skoolies with 7-9 windows benefit from the added space, but begin to have a disadvantage of taking up more space when trying to park. A mid-sized school bus is from 25 – 35 feet in length. Although you can get almost every feature commonly found in larger skoolies into a mid-sized skoolie, you will be much more compact in design. In order to have an open design concept, you would have to eliminate some features.

Large, full-sized skoolies with 10+ windows benefit from have enough space to do a variety of different floor plans, but are the most limited on places to park when travel. A full size school bus is any bus over 35 feet in length, with most between 40 – 42 feet in length. With a full size skoolie you can get very creative. Some choose to pack in a bunch of different features and skoolie storage options, while others make a more open concept skoolie.

For more inspiration on which sized school bus you should get based on layouts, check out the Top 15 School Bus Conversion Design Ideas.

#2 – Know How Much Does a School Bus Cost

“How much does a school bus cost?” is a loaded question. With various sizes, models, engines, and different model years, the price varies significantly. A used school bus can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 or more, depending on the age of the school bus and number of passengers it is capable of holding. Many other basic car buying factors are at play, too, such as the amount of rust, if any, number of miles on the school bus, mechanical problems, and life remaining on the tires, since tires are a major expense for maintaining a school bus.

Generally, if you are looking for a used school bus for sale to convert into building a skoolie, you can safely stick in the range of $2,500 to $6,000.

#3 – Know Your Skoolie Conversion Budget Well

It is very easy to go way over your skoolie build budget if you didn’t create a detailed budget in the first place, or if you don’t track your spending and strictly follow your budget.

We planned on spending $20,000 on a school bus conversion, but we went several thousand dollars over our skoolie budget plan as we added features, finishing touches, and more robust systems to go off-grid for an indefinite amount of time.

The most expensive items in a school bus conversion are:

  • Building Materials: (plywood, 2×4 studs, insulation, etc) $3,000 – $5,000+
  • Electrical: (especially a larger solar system) $1,000 – $5,000+
  • Exterior Paint: (most states a bus can’t stay yellow) $1,000 – $3,000
  • Heating Systems: (Cubic Mini wood stove, RV furnace, etc.) $400 – $2,000
  • Skoolie Refigerator: $200 – $1,200
  • Toilet: $200 – 1,000

#4 – Search the Best Places to School Buses For Sale Often

When searching for a school bus to convert into a skoolie, Craigslist and eBay Motors are the first places most people go. However, you can easily fall into a trap of looking at some bad options or have trouble weeding through all the different listings. It also becomes a battle of finding to a good bus by just looking at pictures, which can be very difficult.

There are many more efficient ways to finding your perfect school bus that you can turn into a skoolie, or even find a completed school bus conversion that you can simply buy and move into.

We created an complete Guide to Finding a Good School Bus to Convert or Finished Skoolie that explains the best ways to navigate through finding your school bus to convert.

#5 – Tape Out Your Skoolie Floor Plan on the Floor

One of the most fun things to do once you decide on the size of bus and figure out your budget is to draw up your skoolie floor plan. Drawing up a plan on paper, on a computer, or on an iPad is a great exercise, but you won’t know the true spacing of items and get a feel for it until you tape out the plan on the floor, either in an open space or in the school bus itself.

You will want to make sure your skoolie kitchen, appliances, couch, entertainment area, desk and table areas,  skoolie bathroom, and all the other items you want to include in your basic layout of the skoolie floor plan have enough space. This can help prevent a good amount of wasted time and money by allowing you to make changes to your design before purchasing or building different items that may not necessarily work with your specific skoolie design.

Hopefully these tips to building a school bus conversion will help you jumpstart your skoolie build and help save you money down the road by preventing some common mistakes made by people who just jump in and buy a school bus without any proper planning.

For more tips, check out the full original list of school bus conversion tips.

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