One Couple and a Huge DIY: A Decades-Old Bus Transformed Into a Dream Home on Wheels
| LAST UPDATE 10/17/2021
Kim and Ethan dreamed of living on-the-go with their pups. They bought an old school bus and converted it to a home on wheels, bringing their vision to life. Check out this skoolie transformation, as it's the ultimate DIY.
The Weiss Family
Meet the Weiss family: 28-Year-old Kim, 29-year-old Ethan, and their beautiful four-legged friends, Milo and Blue, a pair of Great Dane/English Mastiffs. This adventurous Pennsylvanian family loved nothing more than to explore.
The couple dreamt of elevating their travels to the next level, but they needed one thing to make it happen: A school bus. "We want to experience life in as many places as possible before deciding where we want to eventually settle down," the pair explained. So, they took the plunge and joined the fleet of skoolie families.
A 1997 School Bus
Before long, the opportunity to own this 1997 International School Bus landed in their laps. Ethan and Kim met in January of 2018, and by October, they had found and purchased this beauty on Craigslist for $2,500. Not too bad of a price for a future home!
The lovebirds married a few months after their big purchase, and then they began the massive transformation of turning their bus into a small home. "We are working on converting it into our dream home on wheels so we can live on it full time and travel the country," the couple proudly explained.
Everything's Gotta Go
But, there was much to be done before the newlyweds could hit the road, and the transformation would ultimately take the couple two years to complete! But, the final results were worth the numerous hours of labor and anticipated travel ahead. As with all bus conversions, the DIYers began by gutting the entire vehicle.
There was no way that a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom would fit on the skoolie in its current condition. So, Ethan and Kim painstakingly removed all of the vehicle's original leather seating one by one. This feat took a lot of patience and several trips to the scrap yard.
Goodbye, Seats and Floor
After unscrewing many bolts in what must have seemed like the workout of the year, the 20+ original seats were finally gone! But the fun was only beginning. Next, the couple needed to strip the bus of nearly all of its old parts to make way for new floors, walls, and ceilings.
Without hesitation, the couple extracted the original floor. "Once the flooring was gone, we went around and removed every nail and screw we could find and sprayed all of the rust spots with rust converter," the proud DIYers said. There's no denying how tedious the work was, but the Weiss's kept their eyes on their dream home.
Sayonara, Walls and Ceiling
Although the bus had been rid of rust and out-of-date flooring, it was far from finished. But, before the couple could move on to adding their new flooring, they disassembled the walls and ceilings. Kim and Ethan recalled taking down the ceiling panels as their least favorite transformation task.
"In order to remove the panels to get to the insulation, we had to remove what felt like an endless amount of screws and rivets," the exhausted couple said. This was backbreaking work already, but some of the parts they were removing were over 20-years-old. This challenging task called for an angle grinder's help.
With the help of some great friends, Ethan and Kim managed to rid of all remnants of the decades-old insulation and metal panels. The couple then returned their focus to the floor. It was freshly rust-free but recently filled with small holes where each of the nails and screws used to be.
The hardworking DIYers cut "A million tiny squares" of flex seal tape to cover each tiny hole on the bus's floor. Then, they primed the floor and painted the metal with Rust-Oleum. Next, the couple removed all of the original windows, preparing for a particularly exciting project.
Raising the Roof
While Kim was just the right height to easily walk through the bus, the ceiling was slightly low for Ethan's tall stature. The duo determined that the only solution would be to raise the skoolie's roof by 20 whole inches. The modification would be a lot of work, but it also meant the bus would get extra storage space.
The DIYers called on both of their dads for help with this component of the project. The crew placed two farm jacks on either side of the bus and sliced through the top of the vehicle. They raised each farm jack bit by bit until the desired height was reached. Now, they needed to reverse their cut and mend the future home.
Hello, New Windows
With the roof raised (woot woot!), Ethan and Kim put the new sheet metal in place. Luckily, the walls fit like a puzzle and didn't need any alterations. That is until it came time to install the windows. The DIYers then cut through the large sheets to make room for their new recycled RV windows.
The couple explained their purchase: "We chose to use RV windows rather than the original bus windows not only because we think they are more aesthetically pleasing, but because they are more efficient." Luckily, they purchased the windows from a used RV parts store at a bargain price.
Rust-Proofing the Bus
Raising the roof was possibly one of the most dangerous and nerve-racking elements of the build. One wrong move or misplaced tool could have caused the bus's top to come tumbling down. But, with that massive aspect of the job complete, the Weiss family gladly returned to work on the vehicle's bare interior.
After the now rust-proof metal floor had its 2-inch foam boards installed for insulation, it was time to move onto the next step. Next, Kim and Ethan put a vapor barrier layer down to protect the floor from moisture and mold. But, the skoolie's flooring was not the only element of the future home that needed insulating.
Let the Framing Begin
3/4 inch-thick plywood was installed on top of the floor insulation. The subfloor was finally complete! The power couple then got to work on a similar means for the vehicle's walls and ceiling. Like their previous tasks, they framed everything in preparation for insulation.
At this stage of the transformation, the couple decided to cut two more skylights into the motorhome's roof. The vehicle now had three in total, the original skylight in the middle and another two at the front and back. The DIYers utilized boat hatches to cover the new holes, believing that the more natural light, the better!
Next Up, Insulation
Ethan and Kim wanted to use spray foam instead of foam board insulation to cover the walls and ceilings. For this tricky portion of the build, the DIYers knew they needed help. They outsourced professionals; However, finding a company that was willing to spray their bus rather than a traditional home was not easy.
But, after finding someone willing and able to tackle the challenge, the results were phenomenal. "We ended up with about 3 inches of closed-cell insulation on the walls and 2 on the ceiling, making our R-value somewhere between 15-20," the couple shared. Now that the foundation was ready, it was time for the fun parts!
With the base of the home-in-progress completed, it was finally time to begin framing the skoolie's different rooms and dedicated furniture positions. Of course, the couple had already spent many hours designing their ideal floorplan. "Layout is something that we thought would be a breeze," they shared on social media.
"Every time we had talked about it, there were no issues," Ethan and Kim said. But, all of that drastically changed once they had taped the blueprint onto the bus's floor. After countless back-and-forths, the final layout included one long aisle down the bus's center, with two couches in front, on either side of the corridor.
Framing the Bed
Envision this: Following the pair of sofas at the front of the home would be matching kitchen countertops on either side. Past the kitchen would be a small hallway with a pantry and closet on one side and a bathroom on the other. Finally, at the rear would be the couple's bed and behind that, a small garage area for storage.
Here, you can see the beginning stages of the bed frame. Like many motorhome owners, the resourceful couple lofted their bed. But the 40-inch raise wasn't for additional storage in the small house-on-wheels. In their case, the under-bed space was destined to be a cozy area for their fur-babies, Milo and Blue.
A Unique DIY Ceiling
The framing in the bus was progressing quickly, but the walls and ceilings remained incomplete. The innovative DIYers had remarkable plans for their final product, but first, they installed a layer of luan plywood to the roof of the motorhome. Then, they carefully cut holes into the ceiling to run future electrical circuits.
The skoolie-owner visionaries equipped the ceiling for beautiful recessed lighting. Next, they added "Super cheap and bright" LED shop lights from Amazon atop the windows. Then, to really bring their dream ceiling visions to life, Ethan and Kim splashed a layer of black paint, yes black paint, onto the roof.
Custom Wood Accents
The Weiss's dream home did not involve a solid black ceiling. But, it did include some dark 1x4-foot wooden boards. The crafty couple left about a 1/4-inch gap between each of the panels. This design, paired with the black background, allowed the small spaces between the wood to create an illusion of depth within the bus.
"We chose to go with a dark stain simply because we love the look of it," the pair shared. "And thanks to our 20-inch roof raise, we have plenty of height and weren't worried about a dark ceiling making it look/feel claustrophobic." At this point, there was an obvious revelation; This was far beyond an ordinary school bus.
The Wall Installation
As construction on the new ceiling progressed further, the couple had to put up a few of the walls. If they had waited to build these structures until the top of the bus was complete, they would've cut into the newly-installed boards. This would have doubled the work and could've risked damaging the already-installed boards.
So, how did Kim and Ethan ensure that their new ceiling boards would stay in place once their home-on-wheels hit the highway? Well, they used liquid nails to reinforce the panels to the plywood behind them, then screwed the boards into the plywood's framing for additional reinforcement.
Learning Along the Way
With the ceiling now complete, the recessed lighting up and functioning, and a few walls built in place, Kim and Ethan could finally see their dreams coming true. The photo below displays the bedroom; It's now less evident due to the closet/pantry framing on the left and the restroom walls on the right.
Unfortunately, these newbie skoolie owners made some errors and many discoveries along the way. With designs evolving and conforming to the vehicle's unforgiving reality, the Weiss's had to add last-minute framing to some areas. This meant they had to carefully chip away some of the spray insulation.
The 'Pinterest' Headboard
While the bus's limited capacity meant there wasn't room for a genuine headboard, Kim found a creative way to include her interpretation of one. The crafty dog-mom designed this lovely piece of artwork behind the bed instead of a traditional headboard. The proud creator said this project was her "Pinterest dream come true!"
So, how was this masterpiece created? Kim began by sketching the design on cardboard. Then, she cut scrap wood from the ceiling boards to fit her sketch. Mrs. Weiss then sanded and shaped each panel to one inch, used a torch to sear the wooden road, then stained and painted the rest. Finally, all was nailed and glued together.
The Custom Closet
With Ethan's carpenter dad's help, the Weiss family designed and developed the closet. As seen pictured below, it was created to hold both their clothes and kitchen storage. The crew constructed the closet's base, then used wood glue and clamps to set the trimming. The entire structure was then glued and nailed into place.
The finished product included two sides. The right side had a top section for hanging clothes, two drawers destined for socks and undergarments, three cubbies on the bottom left, and four drawers on the bottom right. The left side of the unit would later contain the small kitchen fridge and food pantry.
Kitchen in Progress
The total transformation took copious amounts of work and time, but the decades-old bus was now a few alterations away from being a home-on-wheels. The shot below captured the kitchen's progress. The DIYers had already installed the top cabinets, but the lower storage was missing, as well as the counter and cupboard doors.
The RV windows also got a nice upgrade, as Ethan's dad crafted custom jambs and frames. "A jig was made to match the corners of the window, then several pieces of wood were pieced together, glued and clamped until dry," the couple explained. "The back edge was routed out to allow the jamb to fit inside the…frame."
A Fresh Coat of Paint
As the skoolie's interior advanced, the exterior did too! The completed outside alteration was stunning. Kim and Ethan painted their bus a unique mix of blue and grey. The color choice was no coincidence either, as it had been custom-made to match the Jeep the couple planned to tow behind the bus once they hit the road.
As for the roof? Well, it was painted white with Henry's Tropicool to regulate the vehicle's temperature. The couple found and installed a traditional home's front door that fit perfectly. To "avoid making it [the skoolie] less aerodynamic," after its raising, Ethan and Kim connected the lower and higher roofs at an angle.
Welcome, Deck and Solar Panels
The bus's exterior makeover was equally as stunning as it was operative. The Weiss family installed six Renogy solar panels of 320 watts each. Within the home-on-wheels was the equipment needed to utilize the panels, including three 200ah lithium batteries, an 80 amp charge controller, and a 4,000-watt inverter charger.
If you thought all of the excitement happened on the inside of the motorhome, think again! The couple constructed a rooftop deck to bring their home to the next level. Ethan repurposed four steel shipping skids, then added cross supports to make legs for the deck and painted and secured it to the back half of the roof.
The Gorgeous Interior
Although they had seen each step of the construction up close and personal, the full transformation took the couple's breath away. Just like they planned, the determined DIYers managed to build a living room behind the driver's seat. Down the narrow hallway came the kitchen, a closet, bathroom, and finally, the bedroom.
The couple initially installed a tree-branch patterned wallpaper on the kitchen walls, but it didn't adhere correctly, prompting them to remove it. But, Kim deemed the white tongue-and-groove panels a better look, anyway. The lighter color opened up the home and gave it a fresh feel, thought to be necessary for the small space.
A Wood-Filled Kitchen
The kitchen only felt complete once Kim finished building her custom details. Seen on the right are shelves for her large tea and plant collections, and on the left is the DIY utensil-holder she constructed. The couple also made a knife rack, assured to be safely held by magnets with a 60lb pull rating while on the road.
The elegant white cabinets were custom-made by the highly trusted family carpenter. And, they appeared to flow seamlessly into the tongue-and-groove back wall. The kitchen was fully-equipped with a large sink, high-arch faucet, full-size fridge, and a 2-in-1 Furrion 17" Range Oven with 3 gas burners on top.
To top off the beautiful kitchen were one-of-a-kind handmade countertops, which span from the sink area to behind the driver's seat. Ethan and Kim bought a couple of 12-foot walnut slabs and, for about a month, learned via YouTube how to make the unique resin river countertops seen below.
The kitchen's geometric-patterned backsplash was a deal purchase, as Mr. Weiss had found it on Facebook Marketplace. Kim then got to work on this next project, using MusselBound sticky tile mats with grout to ensure that the hexagonal furnishing stays in place while on-the-move.
The Lounging Area
Facing the driver's seat, this photo emphasizes the gorgeous living room conversion. Decorated with pillows that add a lovely pop of color, the two couches have the ability to join together, creating a guest bed. The couple used 5-inch thick upholstery foam to create the cushions, ensuring that their guests will be comfortable.
Tucked above the driver's seat is the mobile home's airconditioning unit. It sits inside a cabinet that can be closed to hide the apparatus during cooler weather. The small door doubles as a chalkboard in case anyone feels crafty. Finally, sound-lessening insulation was also installed over the front engine.
As with numerous construction elements, the Weiss's wished to make their living room attractive while also providing adequate storage solutions for the small skoolie. So with creativity in mind, the couple crafted the couch-to-guest-bed feat with the ability to store some quintessential equipment as well.
Beneath the couch's frame were storage compartments containing everything the family would need for their solar-powered set-up. The home-on-wheels didn't have a TV, but Ethan and Kim came up with a fun way to still watch their favorite movies, using a Nebula projector and 60-inch screen.
The Bedroom Oasis
Located in the back of the home is the inviting bedroom. The warm-toned orange bed set ties the sleeping space to the pop of color in the center of the house, creating a warm aesthetic throughout. Beneath the lofted human's bed is the 4-legged friends' bed. The two pups reluctantly share their area with the water tank storage.
To guarantee a comfortable night's sleep, the DIYers created effortlessly demountable window inserts for all of their home's windows. "Not only do they give us privacy, they allow us to sleep in and they help regulate the temperature of the bus," they explained. What a win-win-win DIY idea!
An Earth-Friendly Bathroom
To maximize the most amount of space possible, Kim and Ethan agreed to use the kitchen sink for teeth-brushing and hand-washing. That means that inside the bathroom is this beautiful and earth-friendly shower. It took nine hours to install and grout the tiny tiles, but from the looks of it, it seems the work was worthwhile!
The couple decided on a Nebia showerhead, which turns a stream of water into hundreds of thousands of microdroplets, making "Less water feel like so much more," as explained on the Weiss's website. This preserves water and the family's water tanks. As for other bathroom uses, a composting toilet is still on the wish list.
The Happy Family
After two years of trial and error and a large amount of paint, wood, tiles, patience, and hard work, the adventurous family's skoolie is nearly finished. The home-on-wheels may be small, but it's exactly what the Weiss's wanted. Ethan and Kim (and their furry kiddos) couldn't wait to hit the road in their new digs.
While the project took longer than anticipated, the power couple already craves something else to work on. But, it's finally time to hit the road and live the dream life they've been wanting. If anyone would like to follow their journey, check out Kim and Ethan's amazing adventures on social media at @justanotherskoolie.