Maria Jose and Chase’s home is elegant and comfortable. They lounge on the sofa in their living room next to a little wood-burning stove while they watch a movie. Chase’s guitar hangs from a mounting on the back wall. It may surprise that the couple’s home is a school bus they renovated themselves. The two have been traveling in their tiny home since 2018 when they built their “skoolie.” Now, these nomads control their days from start to finish, work from wherever they are, and watch the sunset from a different place every day. Here’s a breakdown of how much the conversion cost them according to their website Tio Adventura.
- Used School bus: $3500
- Tax and registration: $300
- Storage for six months: $100
- Tow kit: $502
Maria Jose and Chase bought their bus from a family dealership in Nashville near where they live. They were careful to pick a bus from a mild climate and flat terrain. Areas with steep hills wear down buses more quickly. Their bus had good tire tread–replacing bus tires costs about $500 each and school buses have six tires. That means that replacing all of them costs around $3000. People buying school buses should also check for rust since it can be costly and difficult to remove and repair.
During my walk through Ridgefield neighborhood, I ran into Emily & Benton who are retrofitting this school bus into a tiny home. After 4 months & $10,000 invested in the retrofitting, they’ll soon drive to TX w/ Cha Cha and plant themselves in Austin. #affordablehousing #skoolie pic.twitter.com/JRULBh987Y
— Susan Romaine (@Susan4Carrboro) November 9, 2020
At first, the couple didn’t have anywhere to park their new bus. They weren’t allowed to leave it at their house and their families didn’t have space. They reserved a storage area for the first six months. This is an expense that many people forget to factor into their renovation budget.
The nomads wanted to add a tow kit to their skoolie so they could travel with their jeep. That way they can stay outside of big cities in their bus and travel in on their vehicle. Not everyone chooses to add a tow kit, so many renovations won’t include this cost. The couple saved more than $500 by buying their tow kit used.
Kitchen And Bathroom
- Kitchen: $1837 (This includes a two-burner stovetop, cabinets, fridge, counter, and sink.)
- Bathroom and holding tanks: $1850 (They used a traditional RV set-up with gray water and black water holding tanks.)
This is where the advantages of choosing a skoolie over an RV become apparent. Builders can make their bathrooms and kitchens as big and luxurious or as small and simple as they want. For example, Maria Jose chose to include a full-size fridge in her kitchen.
She regrets having included pre-fab kitchen cabinets purchased at a chain hardware store. The cupboards weren’t designed to move around and the hinges and drawers ended up looking wonky after a few trips. The couple suggests buying wood and building more durable, custom cabinets.
Plumbing, Electrical, And Heating
- Plumbing: $508
- Solar set-up: $1000
- Electrical: $1696
- Generator: $650
- Wood-burning stove: $650
Since skoolies move around, it makes sense to choose the highest quality and most durable elements for plumbing and electrical fixtures. Otherwise, travelers may find themselves having to constantly repair things.
- Wood: $1275.28
- Flooring: $280
- Insolation: $75
- Thermal fabric for curtains: $80
- Fabric for sofa coverings: $450 (The couple recycled an old mattress to create their sofa.)
- Hardware and screws: $442.50
- Paint: $605 (exterior and interior)
- Spray foam and caulk: $68
- Miscellaneous: $1767
The Grand Total
When Maria Jose and Chase started their skoolie project, they budgeted $12,000 for the conversion. In the end, they spent nearly $16,000. People building skoolies often spend far more than this with final price tags of as much as $50,000 or more.
As the couple points out, there are plenty of ways to make bus renovations cheaper. Chase did most of the work on the bus himself and borrowed tools instead of buying them new. Fundamentally, they thoroughly researched each aspect of their build before investing.
The pair also saved by buying some of the items like the shower floor and tow kit used. They didn’t raise the roof or tear out the walls to replace insolation. People who do either spend far more. Maria Jose sewed the curtains and did most of the painting both exterior and interior. They didn’t get the bus painted professionally. Chase worked on the bus build full-time until it was finished. He used YouTube and other online resources to learn how to do all the necessary work.
How Long Does A Bus Renovation Take?
Maria Jose and Chase started their build on the 6th of April and finished the initial phase on the 28th of August. That’s just five months. Many bus renovations take far longer, but Chase spent every day from morning to night working on the bus build and Maria Jose helped after work.
Many romanticize building and living in a skoolie. Skoolie fans love the nomad life and the creativity it takes to renovate a bus. On the other hand, this lifestyle can end up being more expensive and exhausting than expected. Renovation may take longer than anticipated. It can be complicated to license and insure new skoolies. Finding places to park is often difficult and parking fees can add up quickly. Gas mileage is lower than in many traditional RVs. Parts and tires are expensive when they need to be replaced. Skoolie life is amazing, but it has its obstacles, too.
After living in their skoolie for more than a year, Maria Jose and Chase decided to sell it. In 2020, they bought a Sprinter van and converted it into a tiny home as well. Campervans get bet gas mileage and are much easier to park. Campervans can also travel on more difficult roads and steep terrain. Both of them loved their first mobile home, though. It’s how they first discovered the nomad lifestyle.
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