So I’m about halfway done with my bus conversion process and boy has it been an adventure! Here’s a breakdown of the steps I’ve finished, the money I’ve spent, and what I have left to do!
The steps I’ve finished:
Step 1: Planning and Research
So I started out this adventure with some basic research. I got a lot of flak from people for not planning out the entire project before beginning it, but that’s just not how I do things. I developed a basic guide and my plans have changed along the way. For instance, I wanted a VW bus, but ended up getting a short school bus instead. I wanted recycled barn wood floors, but chose tongue-in-groove tiles. If you’re going to pursue a large project like this, I recommend getting a basic idea in your head and going from there. If you get too wrapped up in the little details, you’ll just get overwhelmed.
Step 2: Buy the Vehicle and Develop a Step-by-Step Guide
I bought the school bus from a very nice gentlemen off Facebook Marketplace. I had my brother help me with the vehicle shopping because I’m no expert. I think I got a good deal on the bus, and aside from having to replace a starter, it’s given me no trouble so far. It’s a 2001 Ford short bus, 7.3 powerstroke super duty diesel, with 122,000 miles on it and I bought it for $5000.
Step 3: License, Insurance, and Other Legalities
I spent about $13 to get an inspection and an additional $100 to get the tags and license plates and everything updated. It’s currently insured as an automotive vehicle, but once the project is finished, I have to go back to my insurance agent and update the insurance to motor home. I also need to look into the weight and make sure I have the right license plates. Apparently, there are some laws regarding the weight of your bus, and if you get the wrong plates, that’s a hefty fine.
Step 3: Clean and Gut
So when I got the bus it came with some cabinets and an incredible counter top handmade by the previous owner. There was also a storage bench. My brother helped me take all of these out and we did a proper cleaning of the bus. Some people remove the floors down to the base whenever they convert a school bus, but I got a lot of mixed opinions about whether or not that was something I should do. I decided to leave the floor as is. Hopefully, that wasn’t a mistake.
Step 4: Bus Layout
The layout has been a little tricky. I wanted the bathroom toward the front of the bus. And then I changed my mind and wanted it in the back. Choosing where to put the shower has been a challenge, but I think I’m going to have a small section right next to the counter top that has a drain in the floor. With a space this small: 12 X 7 feet, I just can’t afford to waste any room.
Step 5: Flooring and Framing
I wanted barn wood in the bus, but unfortunately, the space from the floor to the ceiling is just barely over 6 feet, so a traditional floor would’ve lost several inches and everybody would have to duck. So I went with the tongue-in-groove flooring and it’s just perfect! You don’t have to glue it down because it just snaps into place which is perfect for a moving vehicle because things are expected to shift around a little bit. The flooring cost me about $340 dollars, but installing it was free.
The framing barely cost me $20 bucks. I just bought some 1 X 2 boards instead of the traditional 2 X 4 and some self-tapping deck screws. My brother did most of the work with the framing which I’m grateful for.
Step 6: Electrical Work
And finally, I just completed the electrical work. I wanted to find a contractor who could do it for me, and I even looked into doing it myself, but I’m definitely no expert, and this is a job for professionals. So I took the bus to Camping World and explained to them what I want, and they did an excellent job. Total cost including labor: $3400, by far the most expensive part of this project.
However, that price does not include solar panels which I still need to get or the generator. I’m currently looking into the best options for both of those.
I also got the windows tinted which cost me about $850. I hope I got a good deal on that. I just trust people when they give me a reference or who to go to.
Total Cost (not including the bus): Roughly $5000.00
What I have left to do:
So the electrical isn’t totally finished because I still need solar panels and a generator, and I need to research the battery and other details because I’m committed to taking care of these items. I tend to learn by making mistakes, and I wouldn’t want to do that in this case.
Step 7: Insulation and Walls
I’ve put up some reflective insulation along the walls, the same that I used on the floor. I asked a guy at Lowe’s which insulation he thought would be best and he said the thin, reflective kind actually works pretty well. I can’t use regular insulation because it expands and would take up too much room. I’ve also purchased the wall panels which ran me about $90. My brother and I are still getting them installed. I’ve gotten a lot of painting done, and I have a little more to do, but so far I’ve spent about $50 on paint.
Step 8: Water System: Bathroom and Kitchen
The bathroom and water is going to be a little tricky. I’m committed to having a compost toilet which I’ve gotten teased about. If you’re not sure how they work, here’s a good video explanation. I’d like to build my own because buying one new is crazy expensive:
I also need to get two water tanks that are small enough to fit under my bus. I want a basic water system, a sink, and a tiny shower space next to the kitchen cabinets. My brother thinks he and I can do it without the help of a professional, so we’ll see.
Step 9: Wifi, Security, and Other Details
I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do about Wifi yet. I have an account with T-mobile and I’m not sure what they offer as far as internet service goes. I don’t want to get suckered into another “hotspot” contraption that charges you based on how much you use. I have to have internet, so I really need to look into this minor detail.
Step 10: Furnishings
So I’ve already purchased some of the furnishings. I bought 3 storage ottomans which fit most of my possessions. I’m going to use these for seating. I still need to buy a futon, and I’ve picked one out already. I don’t want to move the furniture in until the paint and the walls are completely done. I’m on the hunt for a comfortable lounging chair and possibly a tall, thin nightstand or dresser. It depends on how much room I have. I’m also going to need to install shelves along the windows.
Step 11: Find a Place to Park and Stay Safe
This will by far be the biggest hurdle. I’m really concerned about where I’m going to park. And not just for the legalities and to avoid getting towed. I live in a high-crime city, and my parents aren’t too keen on my sleeping in a bus. So far, people have recommended Walmart parking lots because they have lights and security cameras. I hate the thought of having Walmart as my front yard, but my safety is important to me. I’m still working out this detail. I also want to install a security system. Nothing fancy. But if somebody tries to break into my bus, I want alarms going off.
Step 12: Make it Home
Finally, the last step will be moving in all my decor items, painting a world map mural on the wall, and putting up the magnets I bought (one from every country I’ve been to). I feel like I’m forgetting something important, but one step at a time. Here’s my updated shopping wish list:
- solar panels
- solar-powered lights
- solar-powered fan
- shelving brackets and boards
- water tanks
- plumbing, water pump, and parts
- lounge chair
- cork board
- medicine cabinet
- security system
- Odds and Ends (kitchen utensils, accessories, etc.)
It’s getting close!!!
Can’t wait til it’s finished!