Depending on who you ask, converting a skoolie is either an easy task or hard as nails. We have provided a guide to help you find the right way to convert your dream home on wheels.
I come from a background of building houses. For me and my friends, converting a school bus into a home was a relatively easy task. It was fun and I felt a sense of accomplishment after the first time I had done it. For those without the construction background, it may take a lot more elbow grease than you would expect, but don’t worry! Every problem has a solution and anything can be figured out.
It took us a while to find our perfect bus. We wanted something used without a lot of miles. School buses can have relatively higher miles as opposed to a regular car or sprinter van. They are built to be rugged and the engines are made to last. We lucked out when we spoke to a festival friend during one of our routes. He sold us a 2005 GMC Type A bus for $5k. He bought it with 65k in miles and sold it to us with 75k in miles on it. Nothing was done to it. It was a basic school bus and we were thrilled. Depending on who you know, this might not be the case. You may have to look longer or drive further in order to find the bus you are looking for.
Rebuilding a school bus isn’t just making the inside look nice. Have you ever watched “Pimp My Ride”? Yeah, those guys just made whatever jalopy they had to look nice. They did nothing to improve the quality of the vehicle. Be ready to invest some money into rebuilding the function of the bus. We swapped out the starter, starting coil, alternator, and battery. I was under a bus, laying on a crushed gravel driveway with second-hand hippie tools. I got it done, but man, it was tough. The plus side was that all the items that we replaced had a lifetime warranty. If anything happens to our bus, we have it covered.
We used angle grinders to grind the seat bolts away. This was one of my favorite parts, but also one of the most tiresome. Sitting there hunched over for a couple of hours a day can really put the strain on your back (well, it did for mine) so it might happen to you as well. Thankfully, my hippie roommate let me blast some heavy metal while we were doing this and the whole process sped up.
The second hardest part was removing the wheelchair lift out of the back. That thing weighed over 400 lbs. We had to be careful to not damage it either as we had found a buyer for it. Let me tell you something, removing that thing with just two people carefully is a task.
The third part was stripping the flooring out. School buses are designed to take a beating. The floors are particularly durable. This is to ensure there is no long-term damage from passengers and wheelchairs. A typical school bus has about 3-4 layers of flooring that requires stripping. Once that is out, you have a fully skoolie.
We used spray foam in order to maintain longevity for our insulation. Regular house insulation will absorb too much moisture and eventually deteriorate, thus you must do it all over again. If you have ever looked at a school bus, you will notice that there are THOUSANDS of screws that require taking out in order to pull out the top panels of the bus. Remember spending hours a day down on the ground removing bolts? Imagine spending a couple of hours a day with your arms up in the air. Once it is removed and the spray foam has been installed, then you have the choice of putting those panels back up or using hardwood ceiling fixtures. This is your Skoolie. The choice is yours.