Turn your tiny home ceiling into a starry night sky with this step-by-step guide
We are Nat and Don and we travel with our two pups, Kona and Bandit. We live and travel in a renovated retired school bus we have named, “Caroline”. While our bus is just shy of 32’ she can comfortably entertain and seat up to nine adults inside. She is a Thomas flat nose bus with a rear Mercedes/Detroit MBE 906 engine coupled with an Allison MD3060 transmission. What that means is that she will take us anywhere we want to go.
We decided to live tiny about five years ago when we started to consider what life would look like for us after our children grew up and moved out. We loved our home on the water in Florida, but the idea of living in a four-bedroom, two-bath house with a double garage didn’t make much sense to us. We really liked the idea of living in a tiny home but weren’t too keen on the idea of being geographically anchored to one spot
We started to look into living and traveling in an RV, but the cost of a well-built and reliable motorhome was not what we envisioned for our life of travel. We didn’t want to take on an RV mortgage to travel. To us, it seemed counterproductive.
When we first came up with the idea of renovating a retired school bus into a functioning and livable RV, or skoolie, as they are affectionately called, we knew we wanted to incorporate some unique features that we had not seen in other RV, skoolie, van or tiny homes.
Other Fun and Ambitious Projects for our Tiny Home on Wheels
We knew we would have to keep our king-sized bed for our RV. After sleeping on a king for the past three years, sleeping on anything smaller was simply out of the question. We also built an 80 sq ft rooftop deck that has a marine hatch sky-light access from the inside of the bus.
We built a removable and storable 28sq ft “doggie deck” off of the right side handicap door so our pups would have their own deck to lounge and enjoy some warm sunshine on nice days.
Natalie is the one who came up with the idea of installing a different and unique light texture to our ceiling in addition to our 12v marine puck lights. Her inspiration came from a friend of hers who saw an Instagram pic of the fiber optic lights in a limousine. When she forwarded the pic to me and asked me what I thought, I told her immediately, “It’s on!”
Starry Night Lights
We started where we usually do for instruction, inspiration, and information: YouTube
We couldn’t find anything that remotely related to putting these tiny but awesome little lights in the ceiling of a skoolie, motorhome, or even a van. There were a couple of videos on the installation in a home theater room in a house and a few on how they looked in a stretch limo, but nothing that really gave us any instruction on a process for installing in a tongue and groove wood ceiling in a bus or skoolie.
Together we masterminded the only solution we thought would give us the results we wanted. We would drill individual holes for each fiber optic thread into the wood ceiling planks and then install the individual tongue and groove wood pieces to the ceiling.
We looked on Amazon to see what products were available. We found this set of lights and they have been perfect for us!
Not even halfway through the installation, we decided we wanted more than the 220 lights we purchased. We bought another set of fiber optic strands and another light engine and quickly realized we had just doubled our work.
The process of installing a tongue and groove wood ceiling into a skoolie is difficult and frustrating enough, considering nothing on or about a school bus is “square” or consistent when measuring; couple that with installing delicate and tiny fiber optic strands without crimping, screwing, or cutting through them while maintaining the design and look that you want, it can be quite a feat to accomplish.
Starry Night Ceiling Step-by-Step Guide
*Disclaimer: We are not responsible for the dissolution of any relationships as a result of taking on this project.
There were several times throughout the week it took us to finish the project we questioned our sanity, faith, relationship, and desire to finish the project. It really was both physically and patiently exhausting. If you want to test the mettle of your relationship with your significant other, take on this project.
All joking aside, it is installed now and we are absolutely loving the effects, relaxation, and peacefulness these 440 fiberoptic threaded lights are in have offered us in our tiny home on wheels.
Depending on the type of ceiling you have, your installation may vary. For us, we used 6-inch pine tongue and groove ceiling boards.
*These are quick Amazon Affiliate links but check at your local hardward store first to support local.
Light engine(s) and fiber optic strands
1/16 drill bit (x 10-20, because they will break 😊)
This is how we installed our lights. Installation may vary. We had never done this before, so we were learning as we went.
Setting up Lights
Position your centerboard where it will be permanently attached. Do not attach it yet.
Place your fiber optic light engines with the strands attached to the place on your bus where they will be permanently housed. For our location, it is the cabinets above our sink, which we had yet to install. So, we simply made a temporary structure to hold the light engines and fiber optics into their spot.
Provide electrical power to your light engines.
Planning Your Design
Know what kind of pattern you want for your lights prior to installation. If your lights are going to be a replica of a star system, constellation, or galaxy, then draw it out on paper. If it is going to be randomly placed lights for stars, no need to draw it out on paper prior to installation, simply drill the 1/16 size holes randomly on the ceiling pieces.
If you have a constellation or galaxy planned, attached that drawn-out design (we used brown paper and spray adhesive on reflectix that we installed over our spray foam).
Once you have completed your design, you will know roughly how many stars/lights you need to accomplish your design.
If your design calls for 200 lights, then you will need to separate those fiber optic strands out across your design area to accommodate the amount of stars/holes you will need to place in your ceiling boards.
Place the centerboard up on the ceiling where it will be attached. If any of your planned constellation stars fall on that board, mark their locations with a pencil or light-colored pen.
Putting your Plan into Action
Now, you will be drilling your first holes in your wood ceiling. Using the 1/16 drill bit, drill from the backside of your board and make a clean smooth hole for your fiber optic lights. Depending on how many stars fall on that piece of board, you will drill that many holes.
Once you have all your holes drilled, place your board in the general area of where it is going to be attached. Note: from this step on, you will likely need at least two people to accomplish this project. Four people is ideal.
Placing the Lights
Pull aside the number of threads of fiber optic for that specific board and feed them through the holes. Allow enough slack so when you attach the board to the ceiling that it does not tug on the wire.
Once you have the fiber optic lines pushed through their holes for each board, anchor them with silicone caulk or your favorite adhesive.
After you anchor your fiber-optic threads, it is time to attach the board to your ceiling using your chosen method.
Allow the caulk/adhesive to “set up” before attaching your ceiling furring strips.
Attach the board to the ceiling of your vehicle. Be careful not to pinch, crimp, or nail/screw through any fiber optic threads on the underside of the ceiling board.
As you continue attaching boards, pay special attention to the remaining fiber optic threads so they have enough slack to fill in the area of ceiling lights you are planning for.
Periodically test the lights to ensure you have not “pinched or crimped” any of the fiber optics during your installation.
When you have completed feeding the fiber optic threads through the pin-holes in your ceiling boards, cut away the excess fiber optic threads hanging from your newly installed ceiling.
To get a different lighting effect from each fiber optics strand, cut them at varying lengths and angles with a pair of sharp scissors. This will allow a slightly different effect on how the light shines through the end of the fiber optic thread.
Sit back and enjoy your new starry night ceiling!
If you have any questions and feel motivated to install a similar design in your RV, van, or tiny home, feel free to reach out to us on YouTube or Instagram.
Take a look at our bus, Caroline, and let us know what you think of our ceiling. You can follow us on:
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