07 Feb Converting a Bus: 7 Lessons Learned from a Professional
As skoolie owners and builders who love the skoolie lifestyle, we have learned that converting a bus into a home is not as easy as we expected. Managing expectations when converting a bus is discussed here. In this post, we would like to offer our advice on the lessons we’ve learned when converting a bus.
Skoolies are growing in popularity. Maybe you have spotted a school bus converted into a home on wheels as you have traveled down the highway. Each of these skoolies is unique and beautiful in their own rite. They start out a yellow bus and with lots of hard work, perseverance, and in time they are converted into a rolling home. During the process, several frustrations and challenges WILL arise. Below, we have shared with you several of the lessons we learned when converting a bus. As a bonus, the Skoolie Homes Team shared a few lessons each of them has learned when converting a bus for others.
1. Construction can be Challenging
Converting a bus is not exactly like building a home. Even if you have built homes before or work in the construction field, converting a bus is similar but different. When building inside a bus, nothing is straight. You will rely heavily on a line of sight, a tape measure, and a speed square.
One of the first things we explain to a new team member is to observe the work frequently. Look at one wall compared to the others. Don’t get in a hurry or you will end up redoing your work.
2. Tool Preparation is Vital
Using tools that are working properly and in good condition will speed up your workflow. We have included a tool list at the beginning of each module in our Step by Step School Bus Conversion Course. Check to see what tools you will need to purchase before starting work. Our home improvement stores have a tool rental program. Sometimes this is more cost-effective than purchasing a tool.
Once you have the tools you need, develop a system to keep your tools organized. It is a complete time-waster to get started on a project and realize that you can not find the tool you need to complete the job. Or better yet to find the tool only to get ready to use it and the battery is dead. We recommend buying extra batteries and keep on on charge.
When you are finished your project for the day, clean and store your tools.
3. Professional Help can be Beneficial
If you get to the point where you are unsure how to complete a task, you might need to hire a professional for some help. It is better to ask for help than complete the task only to have wasted your time and supplies when it wasn’t done correctly. Or consider purchasing our Step by Step School Bus Conversion Course
4. Supply Organization is Essential
Make a supply list a few days prior to starting your project. Purchase the supply at least one day before the project date. Once you have your supplies and you tools can look over everything to be sure you haven’t forgotten an item. This will save you from going to the home improvement store several times during your project day.
It is helpful if you purchase the supplies 3 days prior to needing them just in case the store is out of an item or it is back-ordered.
When ordering items like compost toilets, solar, countertops, or appliances these items could take 2 weeks or longer to arrive. Believe me, this happens all to often and really can delay a project.
5. Space Planning is Crucial
When thinking about a skoolie floorplan, consider practicality, function, and style. Now, see how your plan will flow with your lifestyle. Let’s chat floorplans for a few minutes. Hear me when I say, NO two buses are alike. You can have 2 Thomas buses that were both built in 2003, which are the same length but there will be slight variations in the interior structure. Even if you buy one of our floor plans, chances are you will have to make slight adjustments to the plan.
That said, make sure you have a floorplan. I am not just talking about marking off an idea on the floor. I mean an actual plan. You will want to take good measurements. When placing your kitchen, look for problems that may occur like the refrigerator door hitting a cabinet. Or when adding your doors, be sure they do not hit the inside AC cover. These are mistakes that will cause you to lose money and time. We learned this lesson the hard way during our second conversion. URGH…..
If you have defined your purpose and have a detailed floor plan to fit your needs, the adjustment to skoolie life will not be a roadblock to your adventures.
6. Timelines are Useful
Many wanna-be skoolie owners, purchase their bus and just get started with the conversion. This is great until the weather starts impeding into their plans and they need to be finished by a specific date. It is important to look at how the weather will affect your conversion progress. (Now, this is assuming that you do not have an indoor warehouse to work on your conversion. If you are indoors, you don’t have to be concerned with this as much.) It is difficult to gut a bus in the dead of winter. Your fingers are frozen, you can’t feel your toes, and your nose might constantly drip. Being uncomfortable takes all the fun out of converting a bus. Likewise, if it is too hot you will not be able to paint the exterior or may not want to be on the roof of the bus installing solar panels.
We have found that in TN it is best to start a conversion in late February and do our best to be finished by the end of November. This way once the bus is gutted spring will arrive. Then, it is onto the interior of the bus before summer gets into full swing. In Florida, January is a great time to get started with the conversion. The goal is to be gutting the bus while it is still cold but not freezing. Now, we realize that sometimes, you just have to do the best you can and convert the bus during extreme temperatures.
If you are working in your bus in the middle of winter, you can add heaters inside your bus. Be sure to have proper ventilation so the fumes can escape.
One of the things we do at Skoolie Homes is to get the AC installed as soon as summer is approaching. This way our team can use the AC while working inside the bus.
7. Bustrations are Inevitable
There will bustrations (frustrations caused by converting or living in a bus).
You may have to cut a board several times to get it to match the curve of the ceiling. Tools may need replacing. Supplies may not arrive on time. The weather may delay your progress or friends may not show up to help you when you needed their help.
All these little annoyances are just that annoyances. They are there to teach you that you can do this. You will look back in amazement with a great sense of pride once you get in the driver’s seat heading out for your first adventure. You will be better equipped for the frustrations that happen in bus life. Believe me, there will be some.
As skoolie owners and builders, Jeff and I have made mistakes. We have learned from them and overcame many obstacles. Because of the lessons learned when converting a bus, we are now able to pass along advice that will hopefully make your conversion process less frustrating. We wish you the best of luck during your school bus conversion. Consider joining one of our social media outlets and keep us up to date on your progress.
Bonus From the Pros: Lessons Learned When Converting a Bus
Spencer – “Your plan is always changing. Nothing is ever quite as it seems. Little things like if you think I have to cut this one piece that is going to fit right here. It might not always be I am just going to cut that one piece and it fits right there cause there is something you didn’t see behind that or around that. So, it’s always little changes happening.”
Daniel P – “I would have to say that you can not use a level. You can never use a level on a bus. Nothing is straight.”
Mark – “If you are attached to a lot of stuff, like a lot of things, then bus life is probably not for you. You are not going to get 3 bedrooms 2 baths in 200 square feet.”
Daniel K – “Patience and pay attention to the little things because they actually do matter. That is what people notice first – the little details”
Derik – “I have learned a lot here. It is totally different than building a house. Throw your level away and get your framing square.”
Jeff – “Do your research. Do your homework before you dive into building your bus.”