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What is a Skoolie? A Complete Guide

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
May 26, 2019

Skoolies, in one sense, are the original tiny home. Tiny homes continue to grow in popularity across the country as people across the age spectrum are looking for more sustainable and affordable housing alternatives. In fact, one recent report found that the global tiny homes market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 7 percent during the period 2018-2022.

What Is a Skoolie?

Skoolies are renovated school buses made into houses, an example of upcycling at its best. Upcycling is the art of taking something that can no longer be used for its original purpose and transforming it for different use.

Once renovated, skoolies essentially become a cross between an RV and a tiny house on wheels. Like RVs, they don’t require a separate towing vehicle. However, the conversion process of upscale skoolies being renovated today makes them look and feel more like a tiny home on wheels. 

Most schools busses are anywhere between 245 and 300 square feet on the inside, once all of the seats are removed. A regularly-sized shipping container home, for comparison sake, is only 20 feet by 8 feet, are 160 square feet.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is a Skoolie?
  2. Skoolie Conversion Process 
  3. How Do You Make a Skoolie Bigger?
  4. How Do You Insulate a Skoolie?
  5. Can You Create Separate Rooms In a Skoolie?
  6. Skoolie Electrical Considerations,Skoolie Creative Storage Space Ideas
  7. How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost?
  8. How To Save Money Converting Your Skoolie 
  9. Skoolie Floor Plans
  10. Skoolies For Sale

Skoolie Conversion Process 

Just as with all tiny homes, there is no one single design or set of rules that need to be followed for the skoolie conversion process. However, the first step in converting any old school bus to a home is taking out the rows of seats. Most people also prefer to take out the standard flooring and ceiling to create a more “homey” interior.

skoolie conversion
Photo Credit: skoolie.com

How Do You Make a Skoolie Bigger?

Many people who have made their homes in converted school busses have found that structural alternations such as raising the roof and dropping the floor can help to increase the feeling of interior livable space. Since most school busses have standard interior heights of only six feet, raising the roof, dropping the floor (or both) can give you more headroom and improve airflow and ventilation. This might require some professional help; however, most of the other aspects of the skoolie conversion process are DIY friendly.

How Do You Insulate a Skoolie?

Having an insulated interior will help you avoid running the bus heater (and engine) overnight to keep your home warm. Skoolie heat transfer occurs mainly through the floor, ceiling, walls, and windows. Common insulation types used in skoolie conversions include XPS or polyiso rigid board, mineral wool, spray foam, and sheep wool. Each option has its pros and cons. It's essential to consider the benefits of each relating to installation, R-value per inch, required thickness for your climate, off-gassing, health, lifespan, and resiliency.

Spray foam insulation is a common choice for insulating the interior of the skoolie. It easily fills up the cavities along the walls, providing a higher R-value per inch than most other insulation. Once the insulation has dried, you will want to cover your walls and ceiling with your chosen material. For people looking for a sustainable skoolie, sheep's wool is quickly gaining momentum. Another option is these wall panels made from old potato peels.

skoolie bedroom
Photo Credit: ferntravels.com

Can You Create Separate Rooms In a Skoolie?

If you want to create separate spaces and rooms throughout your skoolie, you will need to do some basic framing to separate the bathroom/shower or bedroom. Once the framing for your floor plan is complete, you will have to install the water and gas plumbing, including a tankless water heater, and separate tanks for greywater, potable water, and black water. One idea to save on interior space is to simply create an outdoor shower option that can be connected to one of the doors that opens to the outside.

Skoolie Electrical Considerations

Many skoolies run on solar panels, so basic wiring will need to be done at this point. The wiring will connect to all lights, electrical appliances, and a basic HVAC system that you might install as well.

Skoolie Creative Storage Space Ideas

The fun part includes finishing the cabinetry, countertops, bathrooms, bedrooms, and all other living spaces. Due to limited space, optimize your storage is essential. Making use of vertical space, wall shelving, furniture with storage compartments, under floor storage, and bed storage can all help to maximize your liveable space. For a more in-depth look at creative storage ideas for small spaces, check out these ideas.

skoolie kitchen
Photo Credit: Skoolie Homes

How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost?

The conversion process can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000, depending on how elaborate you want your interior to be and how much of the work you can do yourself.

New school busses can routinely cost around $50,000, while used options can be generally be found in the $3,000 to $7,000 price range. While the purpose of skoolie living is to upcycle an older bus, you will want to make sure that you purchase a bus that is dependable and that will not cost you money in expensive repairs shortly down the road. You can browse through several available used school busses here.

How To Save Money Converting Your Skoolie 

For the conversion process, there are several ways to save money, including:

  • Checking out architectural salvage stores for used building materials. Habitat for Humanity's Restores, for example, generally have a large stock of different building items that can be used in your conversion process.
  • Getting creative with your interiors. Instead of purchasing expensive wood siding for your ceilings or walls, consider reutilizing old wood pallets for repurposed, beautiful, and natural wood siding options.
  • Skoolies have more than enough interior space to include a full kitchen, living area, bedroom, and bathroom. To save money on electrical installation, you could consider outfitting your skoolie with RV and marine electrical products. These are generally more compact and less expensive and also run on DC electricity, meaning that you won’t have to invest in an inverter if you purchase a small solar system to power your skoolie.
skoolie ceiling lights
Photo Credit: skoolie.com

Skoolie Floor Plans

The average width of a standard school bus is about 90 inches, while you can find lengths of anywhere between 30 and 45 feet. With these dimensions, you can easily divide the interior of your skoolie into several rooms. Below, we offer three sample floor plans.

Aistream skoolie floor plan
Airstream Skoolie Floor Plan

The Master Backroom

This unique floor plan includes a full-size queen bed located in the back of the bus and a bunk bed for up to 4 people located in the front of the bus, just behind the closed off driver´s seat. In between the two separated sleeping areas, the stripped bus is filled out with a shower/small toilet, pantry, cooking galley, and there is even space for a small fridge. This floor plan is ideal for larger families who need extra sleeping space.

Colorado RV 32ft Motor Home
Colorado RV 32ft Motor Home

The Short Wheel Base

This floor layout is much more compact and designed specifically for people who want shorter busses in the 30 to 35-foot range. If you are planning on doing a lot of driving, this type of bus might be easier to maneuver, especially in larger cities. The shorter length of this bus still allows for a small soft/living room area directly behind the driver, followed by a large kitchen and dining area, complete with booth style dining. The large bedroom can incorporate a queen-sized bed in the back of the bus.

Houseplans.com Skoolie Plans
Houseplans.com Skoolie Plans

The Double Porch

While one of the main draws of living in a skoolie is the ability to turn on the engine and move your home from one place to the next, skoolies can also be more permanent residences. This floor layout has two attached porches, meaning that the design is ideal for people who plan to stay parked at a certain place for an extended period of time. The extra outdoor living space is attached to a large living room, taking up about a fourth of the interior. There is also space for a large master bedroom and a smaller bunkroom for families with children.

Skoolies For Sale

Converting an old school bus into a beautiful home that you can take with you as you tour around the country might be a DIY project that you work on for several years. This online forum serves to connect the DIYers. For people with more urgency, there are also several companies that specialize in finding, purchasing, gutting, and designing beautiful “ready to drive and live in” skoolies.

Skoolie Homes is one company that has a wide portfolio of different sized skoolies for sale. Homes start from just $35,000 and they also offer private financing. While the company now mass-produces skoolies for sale, they can also get creative with custom conversions.

Skoolie.com was a custom skoolie conversion company that tailored to the design dreams of the “nomads, adventurers, and minimalists.” This company has experience in customizations including roof raises, welding fabrication, custom woodworking, and mechanical systems. They have recently shifted focus away from full builds, consulting, and design work to supplying DIY skoolie enthusiasts with high-quality parts and kits.

You can also find used skoolies for sale that have already been converted. Check out this website, this tiny house listings blog, and this one by Midwest Transit Equipment to start searching for skoolies to begin your adventure today.

skoolie kitchen space
Photo Credit: skoolie.com

Skoolies aren’t just a sustainable housing option for the hippie generation of yesteryear, but an authentic possibility for people looking for a unique home. Embarking on the project? Let us know your story!

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-05-31T23:56:40+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.