This DIY school bus conversion comes from reddit user Intalleyvision, who created a stunningly beautiful mobile tiny home with no previous building experience. If you like what you see here, check out his instagram account @intalleyvision. A great lesson to be learned from this school bus conversion is that anyone can have DIY success if they do the right research and stick it out. On to the build!
My School Bus Tiny Home.
I have never built anything. Ever. I’ve helped paint a few houses on mission trips and I helped install some plastic lattice once, but that’s about it. My background is in graphic design and illustration. I always wanted to build a tiny house and I always wanted to travel. So I spent years playing around with tiny house designs in my spare time. Ultimately I decided upon a school bus tiny house conversion because I thought “Hey, there’s already four walls and a roof. Throw some wood and some light bulbs in there and call it a day.” How foolish of me. I ended up doing a complete build on the back of the bus. I learned how to work with wood, metal, electricity, and water. I did everything on this school bus conversion myself with the exception of a few metal parts that I will mention, not to mention the help of some very awesome friends who gave me a hand when asked. The school bus is also a terrible vehicle to travel around the country in. It’s bulky, expensive to operate, and expensive to service. But this is my school bus conversion.
I purchased the bus from the Austin Independent School District for a cool $2,200 off PublicSurplus.com. They had recently switched to this auction site to do a test run of 10 buses to see if they like it. Fortunately for me, not many people knew they were doing this, so I made out like a bandit. I got in an exciting bidding war with one other guy who ended up buying the other 9 buses. I can only assume he was making a school bus zord or something. I picked up the bus on 4/20 and parked it temporally at a used car dealer’s back lot for $100 a month (electricity included). It was only two weeks before this that I decided I wanted to do a school bus conversion instead of a tiny house or RV.
As soon as I stepped onto the school bus conversion site for the first time I knew me being 6’6″ was going to be a huge problem. The ceilings as is were only 6’1, so I was going to have to do some MAJOR work to get this tiny house comfortable for my abnormally large person.
I went through about a dozen school bus conversion floor plans for the bus. This early one was inspired by the adventure vehicle from “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”. Since I was a single guy, a twin bed didn’t seem like that bad of an idea. But since I was a single guy, I decided it was a horrible idea haha. I like the idea of the bathroom in the back (who wouldn’t wanna take a dump while enjoying the open door view unto nature?) but decided ultimately on a rear bedroom.
This is my “final” school bus conversion design. I like to entertain so I put all the public areas towards the front and all the private areas in the back. If having people over outside to grill or chill, the two most common areas they would need to access would be the kitchen and the bathroom. I also didn’t want a poop filled room to be next to where I slept. I love movies. Film and television are my favorite things, so I wanted a great movie watching room. I like to have people over to watch things so I knew I needed a sizable living room. I’m also a designer, so I needed a great work station. The bed can just barely squeeze in a queen, and is elevated above a crazy spacious storage area. All in all this will be a bigger Kitchen than the apartment I currently lived in, the largest entertainment center I have ever owned, the largest desk I’ve ever had, and the same couch I’d had the past couple years. Really I wasn’t sacrificing much space wise. After over a year living in the bus with this design I can say I wouldn’t change anything about it, except for more outlets and a window between the TV and the bed (though I do like the privacy on the door/curb side).
A nice man came with his 7 months pregnant wife and 8 year old daughter to cart away all these seats to the scrap metal yard. I was super impressed his wife was lifting these heavy seats into the trailer!
Not pictured: The grueling process that was removing all those seats. Props to my step dad for crawling under the bus and helping me remove every single bolt. If I did this again I would have used an angle grinder, but this was still only days into the build and I was terrified of power tools.
So far so good. Nearly no rust at all!
I wish that I had ended up keeping this insulation in, It was a in remarkably good shape and would have saved me a few headaches if I kept it in. Removing these panels was the absolute worst, but mostly because in my dumb-assery I had never heard of an impact drill.
Removing the rubber floors
Found this actual Kick Me sign while cleaning out the school bus.
That rubber was a BITCH to remove. Also hella gross. The windows weren’t too hard to take out. Part of me wanted to keep them, but I knew they would rattle, provide little privacy or insulation, and look weird with my roof raise and design.
I got a little carried away and decided to build my roof raising rig for the school bus conversion in sketchup. For over a month I was terrified of this and I wanted to be extra careful. I decided to use scaffolding instead of farm jacks because of cost, safety, and precision.
This is what it should look like once the roof was raised.
Scaffolding ready, screw jacks in place, all that’s left to do now is cut my school bus in half!
Better view of how I attached the roof to the scaffolding.
I cut a section out of one of the steel ribs and took it to a metal fabricator. I had him craft 25 identical steel “sleeves” that could slip over either end of the rib once the roof was raised.
Used a sawzall to cut the roof from one end to the other. Have I mentioned how nerve racking it was to basically destroy my school bus conversion by doing all of this?
I wanted to go 24 inches, but my helpers felt 20 inches was enough, out of fear of pushing our luck. You can see the screw jacks at the bottom of the scaffolding. Each one of us turned our respective jack in unison and raised the roof perfectly level in one try. Pictured here is also the steel sleeves I had made that I then riveted onto the existing ribs.
Better view of the raised scaffolding.
Consider this roof raised! Side note: I hate every person that makes a “raise the roof” joke. And that’s almost every person.
Scaffolding removed and (THANK THE MAKER) the roof didn’t fall down and crush me to death.
First side done. Easily the most painful and bloody part of the build. Got a sweet permanent scar on my fore arm from when one of these steel sheets fell and sliced my arm open. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the gorey photos!
Riveted steel. The school bus conversion is basically an oven right now, what being solid steel and in Texas. Though apparently it’s also semi-bullet proof!
Steel walls complete, with a festive Christmas motif going on.
I also ground out and painted the floor with Rustoleum for added protection, and because it looks cooler than rusted steel.
Cutting the holes for the bathroom and living room windows.
The end caps for the roof raise presented a fun challenge. I decided to make a cap with edges that just slid on both parts of the roof.
Made a template out of cardboard and took this to a local metal shop. super happy with the quality and it fit like a glove.
Roof cap installed.
I later realized that the wood frames weren’t necessary. The foam board insulation was sturdy enough to just be sandwiched between the steel bus floor and the wood sub floor.
School bus is insulated and me and my friends decided to get very drunk and relax on our make shift lounge area.
Engine work. I got stuck in the mud and messed up my power steering trying to get out. You have any idea how hard it is to try and parallel park a 40 foot school bus tiny home with no power steering? I do.
Before the roof raise I moved the bus to a friend’s farm in Manor, TX for $0 a month. I would regularly go sit on the roof of the bus and drink some wine and watch the sunset over the Texas farmlands.
Building up my fridge and entertainment center frames.
It’s remarkable how much more spacious the school bus conversion feels than I thought it would.
IKEA phased out their old kitchen line and I got a hell of a deal on these drawers and cabinets. I paid $30 for everything! The butcher block was also a great deal. All the butcher blocks in this bus were bought on clearance for $120.
I took my IKEA Karlstad couch from my apartment and took off the back, arms, and feet so I was left with the cushions and the box spring base. I build that into the bus for added comfort and style. The rest of this framing is for the water tank/system storage next to the couch and for the bathroom. Found this American flag cast aside at the bottom of a clothes bin at Goodwill and decided to put it to good use.
Look closely and you can see my fresh water tank next to the couch.
The one picture of me actually working on the bus. Fun fact, while spraying insulation I got a bunch in my beard and didn’t noticed until an hour or so later, and had to shave the whole thing off.
Found the perfect sink at IKEA, and then found one for 50% off in the clearance section. I seriously have the greatest luck with this sort of thing.
Masonite walls finished in the living room. Masonite is flexible, light, sturdy, cheap, and easy to work with.
Desk walls and sneak peak at my Solar panels and batteries.
The only cosmetic design that I knew I wanted in the school bus conversion was dark hardwood floors, butcher block, and white subway tile with black grout. Researched the hell out of tile in an RV and got to work. not the best job, but then again, first time I’ve ever done any of this stuff.
Most likely not perfectly up to code, but a peak at the wall behind my desk. I have 300 watts of Solar panels on the roof, a 3000 watt Pure Sine Wave inverter, and six 6v batteries wired in series. White is 12v which powers all my lights, my vent fans, and my water pump. Yellow is standard 110v that powers everything else.
It’s so cold in the bus that my olive oil froze.
Changing a tire on this thing was more expensive and less fun than I had thought it would be.
My bus was the “Armadillo” bus. I have two friends who actually rode this bus when they were kids. But I had to sadly scrape this off so I could paint the bus white.
Best April fools joke I’ve ever pulled. Everyone on Facebook freaked out and my mother nearly had a heart attack haha.
Being a graphic designer I need a proper workspace. Most tiny houses have these little dinky desks that flip up from a wall or are tucked away in a small alcove. This desk is 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep, the largest desk I’ve ever owned! I found this amazing desk chair that folds down into itself for easy storage, and the left side of the desk is held up by 4 cubes that hold all my vinyl records. I need to say I SUPER lucked out with this wood. It’s reclaimed floorboards from a house here in Hyde Park in Austin, from 1941. I just flipped it upside down and used the unfinished sides for all my accent walls/couch.
I have more screens than I need but I like my toys and I need them for work.
Reclaimed wood walls for the bathroom.
I went to Ikea and measured out the BESTA system and just build the cabinets (not too well) myself and then bought the doors and hinges. 55″ 4K smart tv I found on Thanksgiving at the Manor Walmart.
Testing out the TV, works great! I wired HDMI cables from the wall behind the TV over to the desk where I keep my Apple TV and my Computer. I should have also wired HDMI cables to the cabinets below and above but I was an idiot so now I plug my PS4 in whenever I use it.
Living room coming together.
Elevated fridge/freezer combo. Brought to you by half a stick of butter and Karbach brewery.
So this is one of my favorite pieces of art ever, a limited edition screen printed Martin Ansin “Looper” poster from Mondo. I just had to hang it in the bus, but glass and important artwork and moving buses don’t usually mix. I found this 3M industrial velcro that works AMAZINGLY and I can’t recommend it enough.
This is the only pallet wood in the school bus conversion. I bought an old luan door from the Restore, some eye hooks, wheels, and metal piping from Home Depot, and build this barn door in an afternoon.
Installing my solar panels. This was the most frustrating day of the build. I was doing it myself, it was very windy, and things kept falling off the roof.
Installing the ceiling.
Moved the school bus conversion to a slightly different spot on the farm to prep it and paint it.
Painted with Rustoleum. White is best for the heat here in Texas, and leaves me open to add colors down the road. I also couldn’t think of what colors would go with my wood interiors.
Finished bedroom. I really wanted to keep the front and the back walls original, and it’s a lot of fun opening the back emergency door at night and waking up the the forest every morning. I originally didn’t have a TV in here, and entertainment center was designed to be a headboard. But after a few weeks of watching netflix on my phone I decided I was kidding myself that I couldn’t have a TV in my bedroom and bought this guy the next day. 8″ Memory foam Sultan mattress from IKEA, cedar wood, 12v LED lights, lots of pillows, and one hell of a view.
The kitchen looking all fancy. Still need to add wood to the end cap wall and the cab ceiling. 24v LED lights connected to a 12v step up module. The most expensive part of the kitchen was the faucet. This kitchen is nearly 8 feet long! Bigger than the kitchen in my last studio apartment!
I use this window unit in the summer (which I hate how it looks) but it was much cheaper than a roof top AC unit and much easier. I store it in the winter time under the bed where I have tons of storage. Not pictured is my water system installation. I lost a lot of photos when my phone backup got corrupted. I have a 40 gallon fresh water tank inside the cabinet next to the couch, a 12v water pump, tankless water heater, city water hookup, and a 40 gallon grey water tank.
Finished living room and office area.
When I bought my school bus I was living in a studio apartment in North Austin for around $1200 a month including rent and bills. I moved into a tent in order to save money while working on the bus, commuting 40 minutes to work every day, just to afford more steel and more wood. I had never built anything before, and I couldn’t sleep for months because my brain was constantly going a mile a minute about how to build this school bus conversion and what I was going to do to build it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. While I was building the bus I was cheated on, my dog died, I lost my job, my grandfather died, and Central Texas saw it’s wettest year in ages, putting me through 2 floods and multiple hail storms. I know it’s a cliche at this point, but seriously: If I can do it, you can too. Follow me on Instagram! @intalleyvision
Obligatory animal shot!
Thanks for reading about this school bus tiny home conversion; if you enjoyed seeing this school bus turned into a mobile tiny home, check out our other DIY projects!