- Written by Brock Butterfield
~School Bus Conversion Is Home For Software Developer and Traveling Physical Therapist~
Nick, Heather and their dog Miles have nothing but smiles on the road full time. They've cut ties with the traditional form of paying rent and instead put that money saved into their gas tank to fuel their appetite for exploring places they've never been to. But how do you live in such a small space full time without wanting to kill the other person? Nick replied:
Interview By: Brock Butterfield~
School Bus Conversion By: Nick Underwood and Heather Yandziak~
Bus Specs: 1998 Thomas Vista 3600 with International T444E and Allison 4 Speed transmission ~
Ok, break it down for us. How did this whole idea to live in a converted school bus come about?
Heather and I had been living in Denver for a couple years after moving from the east coast just to try somewhere new. We enjoyed Colorado, but were already thinking about where to try next. I don't remember what exactly started the idea, but I had previously lived in a van and also on a sailboat and I'm sure that came up one day and we just went from there. I think we first seriously considered the boat idea, but Tiny Homes were just starting to get big around then and I bet we ran across our first skoolie while digging into those. I always love a good project and ultimately the skoolie seemed like the best idea of all.
So with living in a sailboat for a while, what tiny living or sailboat ideas did you possibly implement into your school bus conversion?
The only thing we can really think of are the fruit hammock, which we had similar hanging things on the boat, and the upper cabinet doors having the hinges on the top so that gravity keeps them closed.
It took you guys a year to convert your school bus. Did you work full time on it or did you juggle working your day job as well?
It was a nights and weekends kind of thing. Heather worked full-time as a Physical Therapist and I was doing about 30 hours a week of Software Development from home. I bet we averaged about 40 hours a week on the bus during that year.
How's it travelling with a dog? Have you found out anything you hadn't planned for in having a dog live full time in your skoolie?
When we got Miles the skoolie plan was already in effect, so we purposely went for a "travel-size" dog. Actually living in the bus with him has been no issue, and he was already super comfortable with it since he spent a lot of me with me while converting. Eating out can be challenging, but we can usually find a dog friendly patio, and if nothing else it helps us from eat out too much. He does most of the hikes and water stuff with us and is an actually an excellent hiker. Most areas have lots of dog friendly hikes, except for the National parks, so there have been a few occasions where we have to find dog sitters so that we can explore the National Parks without him. So far it's been pretty easy to find someone to watch him for a day or two, usually on rover.com
Boy howdy that's quite the deck on the roof of your skoolie! Tell us a bit about the idea, materials used and how you fastened it.
To be honest I'm not sure where the idea came from. It just seems like the obvious thing to do at this point! It was actually one of the first things we did since we thought it might involve putting holes in the roof (it didn't though). I had a local welder/fabricator help with the design, which is essentially a rectangular steel frame with some arms that rest on the rain gutters above the windows. There are some turnbuckles welded to the arms that then clamp the whole frame down to the gutters. There are a few screws through the top of the frame going into some support rails that were already on top of the bus, but the turnbuckles do most of the work holding it in place. We debated a bunch of different materials and styles for the actually decking, including using putting green turf, but ultimately said to hell with the budget and got some long lasting Trex boards.
Ha. Ya, I think a few of us end up saying to hell with the budget and just splurge to make it feel more like home. What was your original budget and what was your total budget all said and done?
Original $15k. We more than doubled our budget by the time we were done.
What's it been like going from a full size kitchen to a small two top burner for cooking?
Heather chimes in: The thing I miss the most is actually a dishwasher, but otherwise it hasn't been that challenging, it just requires more thought and planning ahead of time. I don't really miss the oven or microwave, but I do miss the freezer for ice cream. The two burner stove isn't bad, but I wish the burners were a bit bigger or more spaced out so two bigger pots or pans could be used at the same time. Overall though, it hasn't stopped us from making and enjoying lots of delicious foods. (We have also just added an Instapot and Air Fryer to the arsenal)
Whoa! An Instapot? Are you able to run that off the solar battery bank or do you need to be plugged into shore power to use it?
I always assumed we would have to be plugged in for the Instapot until we tried it a couple days ago and it works no problem on our system. Once it gets pressurized, the power draw is actually quite low. The air fryer works too, but drains a little more than I would like for regular use.
What is the hardest thing you've learned with building or living in a school bus conversion?
The hardest thing with building was designing it in a way to maximize the use of every square inch of space. There were more than one "heated discussions" over some of the layout, but eventually I think we nailed it, though we have never used our shower which was not an insignificant money, time and space consumer during the build. If we did it again we wouldn't add the shower.
Really? If you haven't used the shower yet does that mean you're going on months without a shower?
Nah, we usually find a way to get a shower every few days or so. The problem is that we have a fairly small fresh water tank (24 gallons) and a shower would eat that up pretty quick, plus the wet bath is not exactly cozy. And typically anywhere we are that we can fill our water, there is also a shower available, which is usually a campground. We have also showered at a mechanic's shop while we were broken down, a recreation center, a friend's place and sometimes river baths.
Oddly, I think the hardest part about living in it has been the unexpected amount of work involved with sharing everything on the web site and social medias. Otherwise, it hasn't been that bad at all.
Let's talk parking. How do you find a place to park every night?
We mostly use the Campendium app to point us in the right direction, and have only done boondocking and paid campgrounds so far and we usually plan out a couple days or more in advanced where we would like to be. We've only booked two spots more than a week in advance, which are to coastal spots in California in the fall. So far we've always been able to find a decent place to stay without too much trouble. Some boondocking spots are amazing and some just good enough, with some being found right as we pull into the area and some taking a couple hours of driving around to find just the right place. I think we are probably able to boondock at least 50 or 60 percent of time.
How are you providing an income for yourselves while on the road?
We saved up a decent chunk of money to help us out as we travel and I'm still working part-time doing Software Development. Heather is on a sabbatical, but is quickly becoming a social media ninja.
Does Heather foresee a way to make some sort of profit from her social media ninja skills?
The idea right now is to just see where it goes with no real expectations. We already have some affiliate links, but other than that, we're just seeing what kind of traction we can get right now.
What's the most unique part of your bus conversion?
Hmm, all of it! I'd say the deck design is pretty unique, and the kitchen counter top made from a door and the modular living room, dining room, office couch design. Ooh, and also the sensor box that collects all kinds of live data and sends it straight to the website.
Wait, a what? Sensor box? Ok, you've gotta tell me more about that. I'm a geek for data collection especially for weather.
Take a look at the video and you'll see it briefly. I think there are almost 30 data points I'm collecting, but only a few are visible on the site right now. I have temps, humidity, a wind gauge that isn't working, various air quality/gas sensors, light levels, sound levels, motion levels, GPS data and probably a couple more. You can see a few of the sensors' data on the live data page on our website (with patience, it takes a bit to load up). I would like to do even more with the data I'm collecting, but just haven't had time. I'm a huge data geek.
I also noticed you have quite the geeky WiFi setup which makes sense as a software developer but how does it all work?
Here I went a bit overboard. We have both Verizon and AT&T hotspots. There is a mini router/repeater I have with custom firmware that connects to these hotspots or whatever other wifi we find. There is then a second wireless router that has a wired connection to that first router. All of our devices connect to the second router so they don't have to switch between hotspots all of the time, I just change the connection on the first router and then all the of the other devices use whatever it is connected to. I can also set up a vpn on the 2nd router so that all devices get routed through that when we are on sketchy wifis.
What's the plan now that you're full timing? Bucket list of spots to visit? Will you live in the bus forever?
We started at the beginning of April and plan to go into at least early 2019 and reevaluate then. Our general plan is to do the western U.S. in this order, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, traveling with the weather since we don't have heat or A/C. We're definitely into all of the National Parks and pumped about doing the Pacific Coast highway. As we travel we generally research the areas a week or two up the road to find all the interesting things to see and do. In November we are heading back to the east coast for the holidays with our families, including two weeks in the Keys at the beginning of December. We'll probably do the rest of the winter somewhere in Florida and then start doing longer stays (like 3 months) at different locations so that Heather can start work as a Travel PT. Or maybe we'll just get a sailboat and move to the Virgin Islands!
Some seaside time sounds like a good idea. Best of luck and thanks for taking the time to share your school bus conversion with us!
To follow more of Nick, Heather and Mile's adventures be sure to follow along on their different social media channels and website:
Vicaribus Conversion Products Used
- Written by Patrick Schmidt
Wild and Free: Nine Family Members. One School Bus. Unlimited Possibilities.
"We would definitely recommend this lifestyle to any family because of the freedom. Living a more simple life allows for the things that really do matter to take preference. Cultivating the things that matter most."
~School Bus Conversion By: Steve and Michelle Lawson and Family ~
~Interview By: Patrick Schmidt ~
- Make: International
- Model: IC300 Handicap Body, 12 rows, Double AC units, Allison Automatic 2000 series
- Motor: HUGE Diesel engine LOL :) DT466E
- Year: 2005
- Interior Square Footage: 265
- Current Location: Fort Lauderdale
- Purchased From/Location: http://miamibusdeals.com Guy was great, and easy to deal with!!
- Cost in materials for the conversion, including bus: $18,357. Bus was $14,500.
How many Lawsons are there?
We are a family of 9. Michelle and Steve (Mom and Dad) married for 17 years. We have 7 kids - Caleb 16, Jacob 13, Joshua 10, Matthew 6, Liam 5, Charlotte 2 and Owen 9 months.... yes 6 boys and 1 girl ;-)
What was the initial spark that lead to living in a Bus?
Jack Johnson has a song where he sings:
“One day is only two words we say
I don't want to let them get in the way
Of all the plans that we should be making right now.”
We didn’t always want to do this sort of traveling in an RV thing. We thought it was “sooo not us”! Then, the idea of converting a school bus popped up on our radar.
Enter the idea of a Skoolie.
The idea seemed so original. Fun. Different. Out of the box. Against the grain. A little hippie. And it suited us just right.
We love to travel with our kids, and since we homeschool and own our own photography business, it was usually very doable for us. On our trips, we would dream of traveling in something bigger, something we could even sleep in.
We had been toying around with the idea of getting one - then unexpectedly, Steve’s mom passed away in February of 2017. Her only regret was not buying an RV and traveling more with us around the U.S.
She would often say "I'll get it one day." That one day never came for her.
We didn’t want to make buying our skoolie one of those “one day we’ll do it” things.
So that was it. With the Lord’s help, and Him leading the way, we were able to not only buy our bus, but also had friends with building skills come along and help us with all the renovations.
We are ever so thankful. We’ve been able to take Michelle’s mom on a trip with us, and she loved it! Often, when we are on the road, we talk about how grandma Susie would have loved going around on the bus with us also!
How long did the conversion take?
6 months - We drove off the lot with the bus March 6, 2017 and our 1st trip on the completed skoolie was September 4, 2017.
Climate control in the bus? Stock ceiling?
Right now we have an AC that runs only when the bus is running. We have plans to get an AC that works when we are plugged in or while running a generator. We have not really had the “need” for it since we’ve been traveling in colder climates but it’s coming soon!! For heating, we use room heaters while plugged in and they work great!!
Where does everyone sleep?
We have more than enough bed space right now. We have 2 triple bunk beds and a king size bed. We have a little side spot next to our bed that doubles as an extra space for our little one to sleep. It’s perfect! When we have guests, our 2 couches double as extra beds!
Is there such a thing as personal space in the bus?
Yep! Our bathroom is the only spot LOL. Just kidding. Our kids snuggle up in their beds and it’s their own personal space. The bunks are sort of little caves, if you will, and they can be pretty private. The kids have quiet reading time, draw, study or hop on their phones to watch shows or play learning games. Every person in our family is a key player- of course, a major reason for this journey - having the kids close by. We all love spending time together.
When we get to an RV park for extended stays, we set up a cute little living space outside with chairs. Functional and pretty too!
Are you Bus-Schooling the children? Unschooling? Deschooling? What kind of journey has that been?
There is a wealth of knowledge out there- and we are always learning, discovering and growing.
We like to say that life is learning and yes, 100% unschooling is our style. But we didn’t start our homeschooling journey there. Over the years, we have definitely become more out of the box thinkers and want to give our kids the freedom and the time to love deeply, forgive quickly, explore, create, learn, play and just be kids. Children learn wherever they are and we love that we get to be with them and do life together.
What do the parents do for work? What will/does work look like for the children?
We own Michelle Lawson Photography. The majority of our weddings have traditionally been in South Florida but as of late, we have been shooting more and more weddings and families nationally and internationally.
We do not live in our bus full time. We have spent about 4 months of this year traveling around in it. As wedding and family lifestyle photographers, we can work from the road! So, as we have traveled around the country, we have done photo sessions in every state we've passed through.
In the future, we have plans to spend even longer on the bus.
Our kids all love the idea of taking over our family business. Our two oldest, Caleb and Jacob, both edit and Caleb shoots weddings and family sessions now as well. He is also my main assistant at all my weddings. We do have a full team back home in Fort Lauderdale of 6 other editors and 1 other photographer and 2 videographers too!! We work hard and enjoy life together. We have always prayed that Jesus would open the doors for our business that only He could. And He has continued to lead us- all our success is because of Him.
What has been the biggest hurdle?
Keeping the bus clean, so we have a no-shoes policy on the bus.
We all share resposibility for chores and keeping the bus clean. Sweeping, taking the garbage out, and making the beds are daily things.
Honestly though, perspective is key. We don't really see things as "hurdles"- as big or small problems, it's all just little things.
We try to never leave the bus a mess- so the kids normally pick up quickly before we jump off- that way when we are walking back to our bus and someone says: “Wait, is this your bus!? I need to see this!!” We can have them peek inside.
What have been people’s reaction to you living in a bus?
As far as we can see, everyone loves it. We are asked multiple times a day if someone can come aboard. Everyone loves the authenticity of a school bus conversion.
We actually ended up with a sign in book and it’s become pretty important to us now. We have loads of signatures from people all over the world. Yay for Skoolies!
We met the most wonderful family last night in our home town! And it was our first time meeting a skoolie in our own skoolie! 🚌💕🚌 Their bus was so adorable and homey and the children were great! We couldn’t believe they road tripped with 7 kids, but they make it work and are so inspiring 🚌💕 They had us sign their little guest book they had of all the people they meet and check out their skoolie. They even gave us one to have for Alice! Isn’t this such a cool idea?! Their oldest son drew our buses next to each other and it is spot on! If you scroll, you’ll see our actual buses next to each other 😍 Such a great memory to have, filled with wisdom, creativity and good vibes. We so enjoyed the company of your family @wildandfreelawsons 😊 y’all are such wonderful souls. Thank you for the knowledge and book and inspiration! Hopefully we’ll meet again soon 🚌💕🌻#alicethewonderbus
Have you met other Skoolie Families during your travels?
Yes! We LOVE meeting other skoolies on the road!! It’s such a fun group of people. We meet a lot of families- thus the reason for our sign in book. We love going out of our way to meet other families on the road.
Life on the bus is such a fun thing. It's filled with community and togetherness and adventure; we love it. It’s been such a blessing to us. Seeing the world, learning, growing, exploring, reflecting, going on the simplest of adventures- all of that really stirs a joy in us and the root of it all is that we’re together. Living simply. Being connected. Loads of time to just sit and talk and draw and laugh.
Easiest thing about living in a bus?
The simple life! It’s waking up in the morning and finding an adventure or waking up and just taking it slow. We love being open and free to go where we feel led.
We typically have an idea, a general direction- but nothing is really ever set in stone. Less to do, more time to just be.
"Nowhere to be and all day to get there!" As the Bills sing.
One afternoon, we were eating hand made popsicles in Nashville and as we were thinking of dinner- everyone voted for pizza. And so, being the wild and free Lawsons, we loaded everyone on the bus and headed straight for Chicago. (Laughing!!!) A day later we were having pizza in the Windy City. It was amazing.
Another easy thing: family time. Just pure, plain and simple- being together.
Traveling/living/sleeping on the bus, in the small space as a family of 9 is much more beautiful than we ever expected. One of the reasons I love our bus so much is all of the windows. We can sit down and have God’s beautiful light shining in from all angles. And whether it’s rainy or sunshine… The 360 view is beautiful.
We love the uninterrupted family time. We love waking up together in a new place almost daily and most important, always having a new adventure. We love watching every sunrise and every sunset together. Eating every meal side by side. Never being bored. Doing life together.
Have you seen the movie “Captain Fantastic?”
Not yet!! Should we? Now I feel like we need to.
So bus life is working out like you imagined?
Yes!!!!! It’s better than we imagined it!!
We love love love it!! We basically tell everyone we know: you need a bus!!!! As a matter of fact, our other photographer, Rob and my videographer Adam are now looking to each convert a bus with their families. Traveling cross country with our photography tribe. Buses following eachother on old county roads?! Yes, please!!!!!
Do you have a base camp / permanent address?
We have a home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and we park the bus on our property when not on the Open Road. It fits like a glove on the side of our home and calls out to us when we're not on the Bus.
It says things like: “Hey guys... let’s get on the road!! Let’s see things!! Why are we still here!!” You know, things like that. LOL :)
So far, we have been to and explored Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Texas and Louisiana in our bus. in September, we will be driving from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego then north to Canada then east to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, then south to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and so on.
It’s going to be EPIC!!
What is your cooking/kitchen setup?
We built a kitchen counter and kitchen storage with power outlets underneath the cabinets. They are powered by our Thor inverter. At RV parks, we plug into 30/50amp shore power or use our generator.
For appliances, we have a mini refrigerator/freezer, cook top griddle, toaster oven, tea kettle, and coffee maker.
We have the Dry flush toilet, which is amazing!!! We really love it so much! The battery lasts forever too!
For washer and dryer, we use the comfort stations at RV parks and State parks and at friend’s homes along the way.
Safety/Security concerns living on the road in a Bus?
We have a lock when we leave the bus. It’s a master pad lock and it works great!! When we are inside the bus at night, we have a separate lock.
Crazy adventure story:
We were riding through Custer State Park in South Dakota. This park is wild! It’s located in the Black hills and it’s just such a cool place to see! We had encounters with big horned sheep, elk, prairie dogs, bison and burros. And at one point, we got out to explore and see some burros a bit more closely. And a few of them wanted to get in our bus with us. The kids laughed and laughed and we tried to push their strong bodies out from stepping into the bus.
How can people learn more about you?
The best way is to meet us! We have scheduled photo sessions across the country- you can book a session and meet us while we take your photos! We always announce which states we are journeying through.
The opportunity to meet up with other like minded tribes is fun! We do always try to meet up with families and couples along the way- bus or not. It’s exciting! We love meeting others and sharing stories and adventures, advice and options.
We hope that we can be an inspiration to other families to live out their dreams. To get in the frames, as Jack Johnson sang. To spend more time together, because now is now. No one is ever promised tomorrow.
"Slow down everyone
You're moving too fast
Frames can't catch you when
You're moving like that"
Jack Johnson - Inaudible Frames
- Written by Patrick Schmidt
Is that a Sprinter Van? A Box Truck? An Airstream?! No, it's a converted Short School Bus!
“We had no idea that Skoolies were a thing until we were nearly done with our build, we just did it because it made sense! Come to find out, people have been converting school buses for a long time.”
~School Bus Conversion By: Brett and Jade Evans ~
~Interview By: Patrick Schmidt ~
-Make: Ford - Collins Bus Body – 23 Pax w/Wheelchair Life
-Model: E-450 Dually
-Motor: 7.3L Diesel w/ 230k miles
-Interior Square Footage: 115
-Current Location: Private plot of land in the jungles of Hawaii!
-Purchased From/Location: Craigslist! Met a guy who bought busses at auction, did a little bit of work on them if needed and flipped them. We paid too much I'm sure, but it was ready to go with new tires and all.
-Cost in materials for the conversion: $10,000 - Bus $4,500 / Materials $5,500
Insurance was easy. Showed them pictures of the completed build and answered a few questions. Received a very cheap rate that same day and off we went! They didn't physically inspect it, pictures were sufficient.
Did you title it as a Motor Home?
Yes we went to the DMV in Arizona and had it inspected. We this and insurance only after the complete conversion. It was a very easy process at least in AZ, they looked at the manufacturer gross weight stickers and such, looked around inside real quick and that's it.
Let's meet Bruce and Expedition Evans!
If you haven't heard about Brett and Jade, you are missing out! Lucky for you, we had the chance to interview these two DIY’ers. They completed their Shorty Bus Build in only 6 weeks, and the outcome is PHENOMENAL! Serious Bus-Home envy over here!
Their artfully painted Shorty shares its name with the original Bus Life Adventure Bus – BRUCE. We fell in love instantly. A legitimate Tiny Home with some incredibly unique things that we have not seen in many Skoolie builds: a cement like counter-top, rain catchment system, and the idea of building all cabinets outside and then installing them into the bus. Imagine that – the “ Assemble-Your-Own-Skoolie-Interior-Kit” shipped right to your door.
Let’s get into our conversation with Expedition Evans.
So Brett and Jade, why a school bus? Why the Bus-Lifestyle?
Because Sprinter’s are too freaking expensive!
Our nomadic dream began with us wanting to do something a little unconventional. From early on in our dating and courtship, my wife Jade was following people building Tiny Houses on flatbed trailers. The concept seemed absolutely crazy to me! I had little to no desire to ever do anything of the sort. I was much more conventional in my thinking. (Get married, get a little house, have a couple kids, 9-5 etc.)
Throughout our relationship, she had planted the desire for ‘more’ in me. So I spent hours and hours over countless weeks researching how to build a Tiny House on a trailer, and decided we could not do it. We didn’t have the space, the time, the resources, and nowhere near the skills I felt were required. I was confident that we would get seriously hurt or killed if we tried to do it.
So we looked for other Tiny Living options.
We were pretty sold on renovating an Airstream for a while and actually bought a big 4x4 tow ready Nissan Titan to do it. But life happens and we never found the right Airstream.
So the tiny hunt continued, this time in the form of Van’s. We looked into full size Econoline vans, Sprinters, how to raise the roof, how to be stealth and so on. Eventually, not sure how, but I had the idea to look at a van but with a bigger body- like a Uhaul box truck, shuttle, or SCHOOL BUS! That’s pretty much how the thought process went.
You mention "no experience" Could you explain a bit how little/how much you knew going into this? Knew your way around tools?
Neither of us has worked construction, and I have minimal experience helping with home repairs. I had seen my dad do a little bit of plumbing, drywalling, but the most experience we’d really had was painting in our houses growing up. I will say I came into this project with some useful skills though. I have been a diy mechanic for many years and in my late teens was an apprentice mechanic in a busy automotive repair shop. I am very handy and thrived on the required tasks necessary to make the bus “work” as a home. I spent hours pouring over youtube and google on how to wire solar, how to mount water tanks under the bus, etc. I loved it, and still do. We have both learned so much from this build, that we hope to take with us to future projects. We now know about 12v wiring, distances, gauges, fuses, solar in series vs parallel, mppt vs pwm, grey water vs black water tanks, how much water do we need to live, and so so much more.
I don't always buy a school bus, but when I do, I wear a shirt to match.
Where did you convert it? Looks like some sort of build yard? Backyard?
We did most of the demolition in Jade’s sisters side yard. The bus fit perfectly behind the RV gate, and that is where we did all the demolition and laying the flooring. We then moved the bus to a house that we were house sitting, with permission from the owners of course. They had a big back/side yard that was perfect for us.
The bus cost $4,500 (so did mine!!) How much did everything else cost? Did you have to buy any tools? Or mostly material and Amazon boxes?
After purchasing building materials, mostly the MDF wood boards, as well as appliances, etc... we spent right around $5,500 for stuff, so a total of $10,000. In hindsight, the MDF was not the best purchase, but it got the job done.
We sold off the seats and the wheelchair lift and anything else we could (including scrap metal).
We didn’t have to buy any tools. We are blessed to have a lot family who willingly lent us all their tools, which keep in mind, none of our family members work construction so the tools lent were not professional quality anything. We used a compact portable Ryobi table saw and basic skill saw for almost everything!
You mentioned the floor was donated to you?
Yes the floor was generously given to us by the same cousin which we house sat for and did the majority of building in their yard. They do home renovations and had a pile of wood flooring in a shed. It had been there for years and they told us to use what we want, sell what we could after that, and toss anything left over.
Looks like Jade is the painting expert?
Jade is actually an art major and more specifically, a painter. So yes, she is absolutely the expert painter! I did a decent job with a spray gun to paint all the cabinets, but anything that wasn’t just bulk application was delegated to her!
Hardest thing about this whole lifestyle change/ living in a bus?
Hardest thing is probably just the lack of personal space. Our bus is very small and really the only time you are “alone” is when you are in the bathroom. But even then, you are only about an arms reach away! Other than that is really isn’t bad. We both loathed and rejoiced downsizing our wardrobes and accumulated stuff. We moved into our bus from a 2 bedroom 1100 square foot apartment, where the second bedroom was full of boxes of stuff.
Having it be ours and not having neighbors above, below, and beside us. It is nice to come home and have it be our home. Not a rental, not a mortgage- ours.
Did you at any point feel like quitting? Backup plan if this didn't work?
Right now where we are parked it is very muddy. And that is by far the hardest part. Just keeping things clean in general. Because it is so small, if something gets dirty, everything feels dirty. It only takes 1 dish out of place for the bus to feel like a pig sty. We most certainly have the option of quitting anytime we want, and sometimes even talk about it. We know we could get an apartment or even start renting a small home/condo. But every time we do, we remember what that life was like, and compare it to this life and realize this is better. At least right now. We have no plans to move into a home anytime soon. In fact we have plans to change what type of tiny home we are in, but no plans to go full size. Later in life, who knows though, I sure don’t!
Has your relationship changed from before the Bus Build?
Before building the bus our biggest “building” accomplishment was assembling a 6 piece IKEA TV stand. It’s funny, but I will say that successfully building that IKEA furniture without a fight gave us a lot of confidence to build the bus! If someone is wondering if their relationship has what it takes to build a bus together, maybe start with IKEA, call it a litmus test.
Has our relationship changed? Absolutely.
We have become a lot closer, and not just physically because of the reduced quarters! We had a lot of challenges, hurdles, and hiccups. We had a couple weeks there where we slept maybe 2 or 3 hours a day trying to get it done. We saw the good the bad and the ugly in each other and loved each other more in the end. I’d say we are stronger as a couple, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally from building the bus.
Getting used to the toilet? How is that coming along?
The toilet has probably been the hardest part to get used to, and we aren’t there yet. I’m proud of the hard work and ingenuity it took to build ours, but it’s just more convenient to use public toilets when we can. Since we are away from home.
Ours is fine, but eventually I might buy a Nature’s Head or something similar, if I can find a really good deal on one.
How/where did you get the idea for the countertops?
They say “necessity is the mother of invention” and that pretty much sums it up. Like most of our ideas, it came from trying to solve a problem without spending a bunch of money. We wanted something solid, but didn’t like the butcher block we’d seen in other tiny house builds, and refused to do laminate. So we brainstormed. I came up with the concrete counter-top idea, but it was thrown out once I realized how thick (and heavy!) it would be. Then Jade found people using Ardex on a Pinterest post, giving looks similar to concrete and so it came to be!
Left the ceiling alone? Insulation? Any leaks you had to fix? Mechanical issues? Rust?
To stay within our budget, we gave the ceiling a spray of silver to make it not feel like the plain old white bus ceiling. We had a small rain leak above the driver’s head, which we learned about the hard way driving through a storm. That was a surprise!
Knowing where we would be traveling and parking, we chose not to insulate any more than Collins did when they built the bus. Thus far we haven’t had any issues. Couple fans for when it’s hot, blankets for when it’s cold and we’re perfect.
Only mechanical issue we had was right before we left we went to get gas and couldn’t get it to drive again. It would start up fine and as soon as we put it in Drive with would turn off. Spent the next 12 hours or so researching, replacing a couple engine sensors, only to figure out it just the fuel filter. Turns out our 7.3L engine is very particular when it comes to this! Swapped out the filter (which is an easy job on a truck with the same engine, not so easy with a van nose!) and were good to go.
Other than that it’s a pretty solid bus, barely any rust despite coming from Colorado. There were a couple spots of rust on the exterior by the back windows which we ground down and painted with rust killing paint- fingers crossed.
Please explain the Rain Catchment system?!
Very simple system. We utilize a tarp strung up between the bus and a fence which runs down into a bucket. A pump mounted under the bus sucks it from the bucket through a couple of filters and into our water tank. It rains every day where we are parked, so we have plenty of water. It isn’t perfect and we’ll make it better someday, but it works! I would like to have a more legitimate water catch, which we plan to do when we build an awning.
How is your solar working out? Batteries? Fridge?
Solar is good, not great. It was fantastic when we were road tripping. We had plenty of sun and never worried about electricity. Now that we are parked, and with it being winter, we get a lot less sun. We have sadly had to resort to buying a small generator and run it about once a week to recharge the house batteries. We have 2x255ah batteries and from what I can tell, are holding up great despite this torture. Fridge is great and we’ve come to the point now that we don’t really think about it being different than a normal fridge. We have more food in it that we can eat and everything stays super cold. No complaints on the fridge! And if you’re curious, it is running on 12v. Only time we run the inverter is to charge laptops, run blenders etc.
Is there anything you settled on temporarily with the intention of upgrading soon?
Well, I am tinkerer and always want to work on something but I hate spending money and when something works, I hate to break it.
Some day I’ll get additional solar panels to utilize more of the sun and treat the batteries better; I hate having to run a generator.
And as mentioned before, probably going to upgrade the toilet at some point. But honestly, if nothing changes, we’re 100% content as is and it doesn’t need to change!
Tips/tricks to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this?
I wish I’d known how to weld. Probably the one skill that would have made this project so much easier. Having to bolt things together took so much more time than welding!
Other than that, start watching people’s YouTube videos. Look through Pinterest. Get inspired!
Get “the bug” so bad that you think about it all day and all night. If buses aren’t your thing, maybe it’s a van, or a car, or motorcycle, or boat!
Where will you be 3 months from now?
3 months from now we will likely still be living in our bus, still living our dream. But, if we play our cards right we’ll be working on our next tiny dream. We dream of sailing, and with the confidence and skills we’ve gained building this tiny house, we are ready for more. We want to buy a boat that needs some love and fix her up and sail!
In all seriousness, with hindsight and looking towards the future - Would you recommend this to people who are considering living in a Bus?
I wish I’d known (earlier) that normal people can live in a bus.
Seriously! I work a normal job and my wife attends a normal college; we’re pretty “normal”.
DO IT. That’s my recommendation, just do it. If you can, or even if you don’t think you can, you can! So do it! It has been one heck of a journey, and one that I’m glad we’ve been able to be a part of.
Link up with Expedition Evans through their social media!
INSTAGRAM : instagram.com/expeditionevans
FACEBOOK : facebook.com/expeditionevans
VIDEO TOUR : instagram.com/expeditionevans
PHOTO TOUR : https://imgur.com/a/yCMJc
BUILD SPECS : https://tinyurl.com/y9q78u8v
Make it a great, everyone!
- Written by Brock Butterfield
200 square foot skoolie home for two avid fishers with a passion for travel.
"Experiencing those emotions are what life is all about. Some of the toughest moments end up being the most defining and the sense of accomplishment far outweighs the struggle."
~School Bus Conversion By: Keaton and Nicole Chandler-Autrey ~
~Interview By: Brock Butterfield ~
-Make: Blue Bird
-Model: TC 2000
-Motor: 5.9 liter Cummins
-Interior Square Footage: about 200
-Current Location: Florida is home, but currently Colorado.
-Purchased From/Location: B.G.A. School Buses Inc. in Hudson, FL their website is www.wesellschoolbuses.com
-Cost in materials for the conversion: $30,000.
-I’m seeing that you guys like fishing. Was the bus build inspired off of your passion to travel and fish or where there others reasons behind your school bus conversion? Our passion for fishing was a huge drive behind our conversion, but we also needed some freedom from the monotonous daily routine. We had this long list of places we wanted to see, but no time or money to see them. It sounds cliche, but we only get one chance at this life and we decided we want to do our best to live it to the fullest. For us, that means seeing all we can on this Earth and making more time for the people and activities we love!
-What prior experience did you have in construction or building things with your hands? Keaton had minimal experience working in home remodeling. He learned a lot in the few months he was doing remodels and even more during the build. A friend of ours, Rick, is a contractor and taught us SO much. He helped guide us through the majority of the build.
-Where did you gain most of your inspiration and ideas for your school bus conversion? Tiny house shows, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest etc. We crammed our brains with everything tiny living and tried to apply it to our own personal needs.
-How do you two plan to make a living while on the road? We actually saved enough money to take a leave of absence from our jobs and travel across the US. We traveled the first 4 months with no income. It doesn’t cost as much to travel as society would make you believe. We don’t have the luxurious hotels and fancy dinners, but we’ve seen more parks and monuments than most people see in their lifetime. We are currently parked for the winter at my brother’s where we’re doing side work for him while we launch our new online shop. We’ve collected interesting elements during our travels that we’re making into wearable art. Each piece is unique and handmade capturing an experience we’ve had and sharing it with others. Some of our work is featured on our Instagram page. More to come!
-What has been the hardest part of the school bus conversion? The hardest part was racing against deadlines. We began every project with a timeline and almost every project it took longer than anticipated. When things are custom made, they take much more time and patience.
-What would you say is the most creative or unique part of your bus conversion? Probably our platform bed storage. We tried to keep the acronym KISS in mind throughout the process. Keep It Simple Stupid. Everything needed to be functional for us but didn't need to be complicated. We built a platform so we could keep the comfortable king size bed but still utilize the space below. We have our solar battery bank, inverter, camping gear, tools, firewood, 6 organized labeled totes, a dog bed, and room for more under our bed. The totes all have paracord attached so they're easy to grab and we can access everything from the back door, handicap door, and inside.
-To help others looking to convert a school bus can you let us know what you used in your build that has done well so far?
- Solar (panels, charge controller, batteries, inverter etc) 2 Sunmodule 280 watt panels, 4 Duracell platinum AGM 12v deep cycle batteries, heart interface Freedom combi inverter 2500w, Freedom remote control panel, TriStar solar system controller TS-MPPT-45, Tri-Metric battery system monitor TM-2030-RV, Blue Sea Systems SI-ACR automatic charging relay with start insolation
- Kitchen stove 2 burner Whirlpool electric cooktop
- Kitchen sink (sink, faucet, pump, etc) Phoenix undermount stainless square sink, bar sink pull out swivel spout faucet (found on eBay), 12v pump
- Fridge Insignia 9.9 cu ft refrigerator/freezer combo Energy Star certified
- Heat source Dometic RV Heater and heat from engine
- AC Dometic 13500 BTU
- Lighting We kept the original lighting and switched the bulbs for LED, we also have a few battery powered LED lights
- Toilet Nature's Head composting
- Hot water source Marey power pak plus tankless water heater
Bathroom complete with a composting toilet that separates solids from liquids.
-What is one piece of advice you’d give to others looking to convert a school bus into a tiny home? Just do it. It's an emotional rollercoaster with many challenges to overcome. Some days were frustrating, some days were sad, and some were happy. Experiencing those emotions are what life is all about. Some of the toughest moments end up being the most defining and the sense of accomplishment far outweighs the struggle.
-Where can people continue to follow your adventures? Instagram @allbusnofuss and we started a blog at www.allbusnofuss.com
Full video tour of the converted school bus.