School Bus Converter's Beginners guide

Beginner’s Guide to Converting a School Bus

This Beginner’s Guide to Converting a School Bus is going to jump right into what to do once you get your school bus. If you are trying to decide if you want to buy and convert a school bus read these 2 posts. Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying a School Bus and 5 Things to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Bus click on each title and it will take you to each post.

You Bought a School Bus to Convert Now What?

I know the first thing you are going to want to do is get busy converting. That is totally understandable! It is exciting to see that bus pull down your driveway and a flood of emotion control your every being because you know you are on the verge of a dream coming true.

However, let me caution you.

Don’t just jump in without a plan.


Seats still in bus


One thing you can do before planning is take out all the seats!

Yeah, not a glamorous activity but a necessity. Once the seats are out you can repair the rust spots, and the floor. (Some people rip up the entire floor to check for rust underneath.)

Then  – STOP! PLAN!

1. When you start planning to convert a school bus, start by answering 3 questions.

The 3 basic questions are:

1. What am I going to use this bus for?

Maybe you are thinking about converting a bus to live in permanently. Or maybe you have decided to live in your bus as you travel around the country full-time. Converted buses are also great for weekend camping or hunting trips. Heck, some people even convert them into party buses.


Tip #1

Make sure you know the purpose of your skoolie before you start construction.Click To Tweet

2. Is the skoolie going to stay connected to shore power or will you be boondocking in your bus?

(Boondocking is dry camping or parking in a spot without amenities.) Unless you count all the amenities at your local Walmart.

The answer to this question will tell you what type of power source you are going to need, how big a fresh water tank you might want to look for, and if you are going to need an alternate source of power. You need to know these things before you start construction.

3. How many people need to sleep on your bus?

Decide if you are willing to fold down a couch into a bed or convert the table area into a bed to be able to have more living space.

We have to sleep 9 on our bus. Therefore, we have to use more room for bunks than someone who only needs to sleep 4.

Of course, you know that this answer is going to directly affect the layout of your bus.

Knowing how many people are going to be sleeping in your bus will also help you determine where to place the, kitchen and bathroom.

Tip #2

Answer these 3 basic questions before you plan your skoolie conversion.Click To Tweet

2. Next, consider the placement of your kitchen and bathroom areas.

Do you want the bathroom on the left or right side of the bus? Is you kitchen area going to take up both sides of the bus or are you going to have the kitchen on one side and a couch and table across from it?

One our first bus, we placed the bathroom on the right across from the kitchen sink. On the second bus, we decided to put the shower on one side and toilet/sink on the other in the master bedroom area.

Knowing where you want the kitchen and bathroom room determines how you need to run your pipes for plumbing. Once you decide where you would like these two areas to be located, go under your bus and make sure there is nothing in the spot where you would need to put a black or grey tank, as well as, the pipes that connect to these tanks.

Tip #3

Look under the bus before deciding where you are going to place the bathroom in your skoolie.Click To Tweet

3. Plan, Plan, Make a Plan

Now you are ready to make your plan or blueprint for your bus design. You can get some graph paper and pencil.

Start by envisioning yourself on your bus. Think about what you want in the back of the bus and move forward. Take into consideration the wheel wells and what you can place over them for maximum use of space.

Which way do you want your bed to face? Do you want a cabinet on each side of the bed or are you going to save space and crawl over your partner to get out of bed? Do you want a desk area? Where are you going to place your TV? Do you want a pantry in the kitchen? You get the idea, Right?

Now, before you let yourself go crazy planning, STOP!

Making plans for skoolie

If you are not living on this bus alone, consult the other person whom you will be sharing you bus.

Jeff has rushed ahead of me time and time again, only to have me come on the bus and say, “UH- Honey, did you think about…? I think you are going to have to take this wall out because I need….” Let’s just say, this usually doesn’t end with both of us kissing and hugging.

Tip #4

When planning your skoolie design, consult your spouse before final plans are made.Click To Tweet

4. Look at your circumstances, and decide when you would like your school bus conversion to be complete.

Is your lease expiring soon, and you will be needing a place to live or resign the lease? Are you wanting to follow a dream of full-time traveling this year or a few years from now? Do you need to sell your house and downsize to a tiny house?

The answers to these questions are going to help you plan how fast you need to complete your skoolie.

The first bus we converted was mostly completed within 3 months because we wanted to travel and be involved in campground ministry when our last 4 children were adopted. Therefore, we worked faster and had to purchase items without a discount. We knew our second bus, didn’t need to be ready for 10 months. So, we took our time converting this bus and looked for used items and discounted lumber.

What are your circumstances and when would you like your bus completed?

Once your skoolie is complete there will be things you want to redo, add or modify.Click To Tweet

5. Now, think about where you will be traveling or living in your skoolie.

Are you going to be in extreme heat? Do you want to see Yellowstone National Park in the winter? If so, you need to prepare for this type of weather.

On our first bus, we didn’t insulate the walls or floor. We found ourselves in Texas freezing and in  New Mexico burning up. We had a difficult time keeping the bus at a comfortable temperature in extreme weather. Therefore, our second bus was well insulated!!

Are you going to insulate your bus? How many A/C units do you need? Do you need rooftop units with a heat strip or are you going to use space heater or a wood stove?

The answers to the questions will help you when you begin converting your bus and deciding on a budget.

6. Finally, figure out your electrical  system.

One more thing to consider, is how many outlets and light switches are you going to need?

Jeff always tells me that I put in way too many outlets. But let me tell you, we have kids! They need electronics to keep them busy in a small space on a rainy day!! I need OUTLETS!!

Think about where you want to put your microwave, your coffee pot, or your juicer. Are you going to have a washer/dryer? Where do you want your lights placed thus where will your switches need to be located? Write these on your plan. You can thank me later!

The answers to these questions will save you from tearing out a wall you just put up, help you save money on wire, and know how many breakers you will need in your breaker panel/converter.

Now that you have thought about and answered these questions, decided on when you want your bus completed, figured out where you will be traveling/living in your bus and written a skoolie plan, you are ready to get to work.

If you are interested in reading more check out the next part in this series How to Make a School Bus a Home Part 1.

If Jeff or I can answer any of your questions just email us or find us on our Facebook Page Discoveringusbus.

14 day beginner's guide

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