~ Roof raise and all, this 1986 school bus conversion only ended up costing $10-$15k ~
Interview By: Brock Butterfield
School Bus Conversion and Photos By: Kyle Volkman
Kyle Volkman demonstrates that you only need a few skills to get started on a school bus conversion. Everything else will come later as you make mistakes and learn from them. Check out all of Kyle's unique ways of utilizing space in his bus conversion.
-Interior Square Footage: 200
-Current Location: Sandpoint ID
-Purchased From/Location: private seller, Sandpoint ID
-Cost in materials for the conversion: 10-15k
What made you want to complete a bus conversion?
I’d been living out of my Volkswagon vanagon for a couple summers and fell in love with the lifestyle. It was around that time that I started learning about burning used vegetable oil as fuel in diesel engines, and I had the desire to convert my van to veg but I would’ve had to swapped out the engine for a diesel. If I was going to put that much time, money, and energy into my van, I wanted to have a bigger space that was more home like and I could live through the winter in. I also had decided that I wasn’t going to throw my money away on rent or move furniture ever again, so I sold it all and started looking for a bus.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself along the way?
I had basic carpentry skills before I started the bus but I definitely picked up the majority of my finish carpentry skills by working on the bus. Renovating a vehicle interior like a bus is extra challenging because things are rarely ever square or level, and everything is built off of everything else. I learned a lot of things while building my bus.
What was the hardest part of the bus conversion and what guidance would you give others for that part?
There were many challenging tasks in my bus build, and lots of little tricks to make certain things easier/faster, but the number one memory of suffering was definitely trimming the spray foam insulation. I payed a local outfit to spray my interior but I chose to save money on labor and do the trimming myself. It was an arduous and messy task. In retrospect, I would’ve just paid them to do it, HAHA I know that’s not very inspiring for the DIY-er, but it’s real, the scars are real! The other thing I’d say is to make sure you keep track of your stud spacing. I used 2x3 studs and attached them to the metal ribs of the bus body, but the ribs aren’t evenly spaced so it can be difficult to remember where they’re at sometimes. Also, make sure that you plan the layout, size, and placements for all your electrical conduit and outlet boxes relative to your planned buildout, you’ll save yourself a major headache.
How were you able to get your bus registered as a motorhome or RV?
In Idaho (where I keep my bus registered) to qualify for RV registration, you have to have a number of things in your rig, like a toilet, bed, heater (separate from engine), water plumbing, etc. Once you have these things, they come onboard to check you off and then you’re good to go. RV insurance is cheaper and it offers the legal protections that come with my bus being considered a motorized home.
Who did you get insurance for your bus conversion from?
I’m insured through National General Insurance. They are very accepting of skoolies, however, if you want complete coverage, you have to get your bus appraised. I’m not sure how an RV dealer would be able to assign value to something thats custom built and thats not made of plastic and comes from a catalog. I use good sam for roadside assistance in the USA, Canada, and Mexico.
How did you complete your roof raise and are there any tips you would offer people looking to do the same?
The roof raise was the biggest single expenditure of my bus conversion. I do not know how to weld. I paid a welder friend to do the metal work. I would like to learn how to weld so I can do metal projects like this myself in the future. I did prep the bus for him by completely gutting the interior sheet metal and removing all the original bus windows. He made the cuts, raised the roof, and re-skinned the sides with sheet metal, then I installed the new double-paned tinted RV windows. When installing new windows, it’s important to leave enough space in the studding around the interior of the window frame so that you can replace the window if it gets cracked.
What make and model did you end using for the following:
- Kitchen stove- Atwood 3 burner propane with oven
- Kitchen sink, faucet and pump-ikea brand small sink and faucet, SHURflo revolution 12v pump, whale brand marine foot pump
- Toilet-airhead dry composting marine
- Shower or hot water source-7 gallon isotherm marine coolant heat exchanger w/120v option
- Fridge: NorCold Three Way Fridge
- Any other unique and helpful items you’d recommend- I picked up a 10- speed maxxfan 12v vent fan. I’ve been impressed with the amount of air that it moves quietly.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?- probably the couch. I was trying to find a good design online for a couch that turns into a bed and has good storage options in the base and the back. It’s an original design that I’m very happy with.
What do you do for income? I’m self employed as a custom carpenter. After building my bus and a couple other van conversions, I’ve gone into business doing custom vehicle build-outs, as well as tiny houses. I also am musician and a photographer on the side.
What is the plan now that your bus conversion is road ready?
I’ve been living in my bus full-time for four years. My desire to structure my life around my freedom and experiences is stronger now more than ever. I’m always working towards making that dream more efficient and sustainable. I usually spend the summer months traveling and working, and the winter snowboarding. I’m currently getting geared up for a spring road trip through the desert southwest and midwest.
Where can people follow or find out more about your bus? (social media, website, etc.)
Facebook- Kyle volkman