Couple Transforms an Old Bus into The Perfect Motorhome
| LAST UPDATE 10/18/2022
When Priscilla and Robbie decided to spend two years touring the U.S., they wanted to travel comfortably. So, to accomplish their dream, the couple transformed a school bus into a motor home, complete with a spacious kitchen, bedroom, and full bathroom.
Robbie & Priscilla
The adventurous young couple was based in Florida. They've always loved exploring new places and experiencing different cultures, but the most important thing to them was doing it together. Soon, Robbie and Priscilla began to crave something they didn't have.
"There was one thing really bothering us, though," expressed the couple. "We hated leaving our pets at home and missed them when we were away…We needed a way to continue to travel and have them with us." Thus the duo hunted for a solution to be able to travel with their four-legged friends.
A Massive DIY Project
When the idea of a cross-country road trip of the U.S. and parts of Canada became the next big adventure on their bucket list, Robbie and Priscilla knew their cat and dog had to come with them. The couple estimated the journey would take roughly two years. Could the family of four manage that amount of time on the road?
In a car, maybe not. But, in a bus, it was doable! For their trip, they decided to convert an old school bus into a home on wheels. "We drove from Orlando to Miami to pick [the bus] up," said the partners. "We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into." Priscilla and Robbie soon met their biggest DIY project yet.
Starting With A Clean Slate
The travel partners couldn't wait to hit the road in their motorhome, but the vehicle was far from livable, both for their pets and themselves. It still had its old original walls, floors, and seating. The determined couple began by first stripping the bus of its seats, hoping to start their project with a clean slate.
The bright yellow 1998 Thomas School Bus measured about 210 square feet. And Robbie and Priscilla would need every single inch of space to make their house on wheels feel like a home. In time, they removed the leather seats, but that was only the beginning. What came next was anything but easy.
Challenge #1: Seats
Ridding of the original seats was doable but exhausting. Once the cushions were gone, Robbie and Priscilla hit a roadblock. Removing the rails that the seats were attached to proved to be much more challenging. In fact, taking out the rails "Was the most difficult part of the floor gutting phase," explained the couple.
"Robbie used an angle grinder to cut a slit about every six inches while I used a hammer to bang them out," said Priscilla. "This method was only used for the ones that we were not able to unbolt." The pair had already faced their first big challenge, but they were just getting started, and more were on the way.
Stripping the Walls
Needing a break from the back-wrenching work of removing the seats, they moved on to other parts of the bus to keep morale up for their project. "The floor rails were still not out when we started the walls," Priscilla said. "We had such trouble with those that we took a break from it and finished it after the walls were out."
Thankfully, sawing off the metal walls was easier to handle. The DIY-ers had many trash and scrap piles to get rid of in a matter of days. "We lost count of the number of trailers full of scrap metal that we removed from our empty bus," the couple exclaimed. "If we had to guess, it would probably be somewhere around…20!"
Challenge #2: Hundreds of Holes
Once they managed to remove the rails and metal walls, the new bus-owners took out the original flooring and the insulation inside the walls and floor. "That was a pain to remove," Priscilla said about the process. The couple was in for a big surprise once everything was gone, and not necessarily a good one.
The bus's floor was completely covered in holes! "We're talking thousands…You can imagine how tedious it was to fill every single one of them. We used construction adhesive to fill and masking tape over it." But the couple clarified that considering its age, their new home was actually in reasonably good condition.
Fixing the Floor
While the flooring had numerous holes, the 20-year-old vehicle had little rust. "We bought our bus in Miami where it had stayed the entire time it was in service, so thankfully, we didn't have much of a rust issue," explained Priscilla. She noted that buses from the north usually see more oxidization issues due to the climate.
The crafters used a rust converter to treat the existing tarnishes, then glossed their work with a coat of black Rust-Oleum paint. Checking that task off their to-do list, Robbie and Priscilla then installed foam board insulation. They used construction adhesive to fill the gaps then it came time to frame the floor with wood.
Fixing the Window Leaks
With the framing completed, the duo used plywood for their subfloor. The couple admitted that the most challenging part was installing the stairs' subfloor. Cutting the wood to size took diligent work. But, that must have felt like nothing compared to the next issue that came into view.
"We were having leaking issues with the windows, so we removed all of them, cleaned them, and reinstalled/resealed them," said Priscilla. "Turns out after all that work, they continued to leak." The frustrated couple had no choice but to squeeze a set of new windows into their budget.
The next stage of the conversion process included getting rid of everything to replace it with something newer and better quality. The hands-on renovators had previously removed the old insulation. It had come time to spray the bus's empty walls with a foam insulating material.
Robbie had to get geared up for the task. "He was miserable in that suit," Priscilla remembered. "It was so hot, and it was so much work. The mess on the floor is from the shaving off of all the excess insulation." The DIY project was far from easy, but the couple pushed forward, with their eyes set on their dream motorhome.
A DIY Design
With most of the bus's original features finally removed and the new necessities in place, the couple moved on to the next step of the conversion. It was time to frame their future home and begin bringing it to life. Using plywood, they built the structure of their soon-to-be "rooms" and created frames for their furniture.
Before the couple began their difficult DIY, they invested a lot of time to create the perfect blueprint. The floor plan they decided on put the living room area behind the driver's seat. Next came a complete kitchen, the bedroom, and a full bathroom in the back of the bus.
By this time, the new set of windows that were unexpectedly added to their budget had arrived. The couple once again removed the decades-old windows and replaced them with the new leak-free ones. Priscilla and Robbie also began installing the last pieces of the unfinished floor and ceiling.
The wanderlust couple wanted their motorhome to feel like a real house, not a school bus. So, they fancied a beautiful cedar material for the ceiling. According to Priscilla, this part of the build smelled "Wonderful." Robbie and his other half also installed lights in the ceiling even though they didn't have electricity yet.
The project seemed to be advancing quickly! In time, the vehicle appeared less and less like a 1998 school bus and more like a small home. The back of the bus soon adopted wooden walls and continued cedar on the ceiling to match the rest of the motor home.
Given its size, the bedroom was destined to be a cuddle corner. After building an intricate platform at the back of the bus, Robbie and Priscilla planned to place a mattress on top for their bed. Beneath the sleeping area, they took advantage of every nook and cranny by creating a built-in space for storage.
Priscilla and Robbie's biggest goal was to have their motorhome be just as beautiful as it was functional. The couple researched numerous storage solutions to find every possible way to make the most of the bus's 210 square feet. And, they made sure to think about aesthetics just as much.
This is why their skoolie had traits not usually found on any typical motor home or RV. For example, their home was getting a gorgeous brick wall, where Robbie and Priscilla also wanted to install a fireplace. The couple used half-inch brick veneers for the unique project, which they, as true DIYers, hand-placed themselves.
The Custom Closet
The couple created a closet next to their bedroom area and brick statement wall. They planned to have more storage in other areas of the house, but they planned on storing most of their clothes here in this custom-made wardrobe. "We had to really go through our closet at home and pick only our favorite pieces," Priscilla said.
The bus owners planned to keep their home in Orlando. This meant they could leave much of their belongings there during their North American road trip. Still, they took the opportunity to purge old clothes. "This was our time to do our yearly cleaning and donate what we no longer needed or used," Priscilla said.
A Full Bathroom
Some mobile home owners choose to maximize space by installing compostable toilets and outdoor showers. But, Robbie and Priscilla managed to build a full and glamorous bathroom inside their 210-square-foot home on wheels. The photo below shows the progress of their tile shower.
The couple traveled to their local hardware store and picked up some flexible grout to install the tile. This would ensure everything would stay in place once the bus began moving. Once finished, the bathroom included a sink, toilet, and a 2.5 by 3-foot shower. Quite a big size for a school bus or even a typical city apartment!
Cue the Lights!
With much of the kitchen finally in place, their vision of a home in the bus became clearer. The couple installed a stainless steel stove/oven and a medium-sized refrigerator in the spacious cooking area. And finally, they had electricity to cue up the ceiling's lighting!
Aside from the ceiling fixtures, Robbie and Priscilla also built in two skylights at the front and back of their home to allow more natural light inside the bus. But, "Unfortunately, we ended up having to close up the back one in order to fit all of our solar panels," the couple reluctantly admitted.
Solar Power for Days
The bus's solar panels take up most of the roof, but the ability to travel off-the-grid on their road trip was worth it, even if it meant one less skylight. "We installed six solar panels 360 watts apiece," Priscilla reported. The large panels power eight six-volt 315 AH Trojan batteries that produce twenty-four volts.
"We can go days without any sun and still be fully functional, including the fridge," the couple explained. "Basically run the entire bus off of it without needing shore power. We are more conscious of usage on cloudy days, of course." Despite their electricity preparations, they installed more powering systems inside the bus.
Priscilla and Robbie hid their necessary electrical equipment on a wall at the end of the vehicle's kitchen and closet. In the photo below, the project is seen mid-way with the home's electric box visible. But not to worry, the innovative DIYers found a creative way to make even this big blue box look aesthetically pleasing.
Later on, the couple hid all of their equipment behind a thin white door. Behind the door was the inverter panel, air conditioning thermostat, solar charge controller, and water heater controller. While the motorhome's interior was undoubtedly coming along, the exterior was being brought to form as well.
The Challenge of Painting the Exterior
Priscilla and Robbie decided to paint the outside of the bus white to absorb the least amount of heat possible. "The painting process was actually one of the most frustrating things we had to deal with," they recalled. The couple initially used UV and weather-resistant thermal paint with an elastomeric roof coating.
"The temperature of the roof literally dropped from 130 degrees in our Florida summer to about 90 degrees," Priscilla said. "Then time went by, and this paint started collecting every bit of dirt, and the bus became a streaky mess." They ended up painting the vehicle a whopping five times before getting the desired results.
Finally Move-in Ready
A year and a half later, the bus conversion was finally complete. Looking back, the couple admitted that they could have saved some time. "If we had done it without the breaks, it would have probably been a year," they explained. But, when the renovation became overwhelming at times, interruptions were necessary.
Sadly, by the time the home on wheels was move-in ready, Robbie and Priscilla's beloved dog had passed away. That meant their travels would include one pet, their cat, Mr. Beebles. "He was not happy at first," the couple shared. "It took him a while to get used to it." But in a matter of time, Mr. Beebles warmed up to the skoolie.
Living Room Essentials
The final product was jaw-dropping. The couple worked to keep the bus clean by removing their shoes at the front and placing them on the rack next to the driver's seat. Located at the skoolie's entrance was the living room, equipped with a couch bench that, of course, had storage hidden underneath.
"The cushions are outdoor furniture cushions, so they're water and stain resistant which is ideal for us," said the matron of the bus. "Under the couch, we keep winter stuff like jackets, coats, boots, scarfs, etc. We rotate the things in our closet seasonally. It helps us to keep things organized," she continued.
A Fully-Equipped Kitchen
Walking further into the bus, past the entrance and living area, was their stunning, fully-equipped kitchen. "This was the area that I enjoyed designing the most," exclaimed Priscilla. "I don't think Robbie would agree that it was the most fun… But he was very happy with how it turned out, she assured."
After much deliberation, the motorhome dwellers picked a dark wood aesthetic for the floors. "We wanted something that was both extremely durable and completely waterproof," they said. "We wanted wide vinyl planks, but with so many color options to choose from…it took time to find the perfect one." But, alas, they did!
A Farmhouse Sink
Priscilla took the chance of a home renovation to make one of her biggest decor dreams come true! "I've always wanted a farmhouse sink," she admitted on Instagram. And her talented man made it happen! "It turned out just the way I envisioned it. Robbie did a great job cutting the hole on the cabinets."
The travel partners decided on gray quartz for the countertops, small white subway tiles for the backsplash, matching white shaker cabinets, a shiny brass faucet, and stainless steel doorknobs. Above the stove/oven, the pair installed a marine propane heater for warming in the cooler months.
In the kitchen, the couple created a slide-out pantry to make the most out of their limited cooking space. The simple storage solution displayed all of its contents in an easy-to-reach way and kept all products within eyesight. Priscilla even admitted that she liked it better than the pantry in their home in Florida!
"I love that everything is nicely displayed without things getting pushed to the back," she explained. "At home, I often find myself cleaning out our pantry with expired food because it's all the way in the back, and I never see it." The vehicle's kitchen had extra storage inside the drawers.
A Mini Office
Across from the kitchen's medium-sized refrigerator was a small rustic desk and a comfortable armchair. This cozy area served as an in-home office for the hardworking couple. With the duo often handling work-related matters on the road, this space allowed them to operate on-the-go to help finance their travels.
"We manage our business and investments remotely, so as long as we have the Internet, we can be anywhere," Robbie and Priscilla explained. "We don't use our savings for travel, but that's definitely an option that works for many people who are looking to do something similar but can't work remotely."
Their "Favorite Piece" of the House
Beside the desk and in front of the brick wall stood a charming fireplace. "This is our favorite piece on the bus," the duo said. "All the way from England, this little guy is called the Hobbit from Salamander Stoves. Our best buddy during those cold winter nights." The heater certainly stood out against the brick detail.
Equipped with the insulation, propane marine heater, and this unique wood-burning stove, the motorhome always remained comfortably warm. The propane heater was useful for colder temperatures, but "Not too cold," said Priscilla. For intense winter nights, the couple utilizes their England-created fireplace.
A Completed Closet
Next to the fireplace was the couple's closet, which had been painted white. "We have two rods in there," Priscilla explained. "The top half is my husband's, and the bottom is mine. Next to the drawers under the bed on the left, there is an additional small area with a rod." The duo paired down on attire but made it all work!
Once colder weather hit, the couple transferred their coats and any of their overflow onto the tucked-away rod. Beneath the bed, there's a washer/dryer combo and a bottom drawer that functions as a handy step stool to climb onto the mattress. Tools and camping gear were kept out of the way in four storage boxes under the bus.
The Finished Bedroom
While Robbie and Priscilla went out of their way to allow natural sunlight into their home by creating a skylight, they opted for less light in their small bedroom. The couple constructed walls where the original windows once stood and placed a small charming window that allows them to have the best of both worlds.
The updated window design allowed the perfect amount of sunlight to filter through each morning. It also provided the adventurous pair with some gorgeous views! "We couldn't wait to spend our first night here and have a little window to look out of," Priscilla said. In no time, the couple cozied up to enjoy their creation.
A Glass-Filled Bathroom
Across from the bed was their fully-equipped bathroom. The couple splurged on a glass door with a unique blind design to divide the restroom from the remainder of the home. "This door allows for an open feel between the bedroom and bathroom while at the same time providing privacy with built-in blinds," they explained.
When it comes to the restroom, mobile home owners typically have two options: A compostable toilet or an RV toilet. The latter is similar to what you would find in a traditional home. Priscilla and Robbie opted for an RV toilet and mentioned that they had not experienced any smell issues.
A "Perfect Fit" Shower
The washroom also contained a modern sink, a round mirror, and a breath-taking tile-filled shower. Coordinating the bathroom space with the kitchen area are the white subway tiles, which the creative couple placed both on the kitchen's backsplash and in the shower. Finally, the glass door had been custom-built by a local company.
"We were a little nervous about their ability to cut the glass just right…but they did a beautiful job, and it fit perfectly," Priscilla exclaimed. The shower was the concluding touch that made this old school bus feel like a proper home. The innovative DIYers certainly have much to be proud of in this enchanting conversion!