We’ve seen our share of interesting homes on wheels. In fact, we’ve lived full-time in a pretty nice one ourselves for 20 years. But there are some really cool school bus conversions (“skoolies”) out there. So we wanted to share our thoughts on these different, whimsical, and even elegant skoolie conversions.
Are they for everyone? Not at all. But some of them are still really cool. Let’s take a look at the skoolie craze!
- 1) What Are Skoolies?
What Are the Pros and Cons of Skoolie Conversions?
- 2.1) Advantages of Skoolies
Disadvantages of Skoolies
- 2.2.1) Poorly Insulated
- 2.2.2) Difficult and Potentially Expensive Build Process
- 2.2.3) Weight Management/Balance Can Be Difficult
- 2.2.4) Fuel Economy Is… Not Economical
- 2.2.5) No Seat for Your Navigator/Traveling Companion
- 2.2.6) Lack of Storage
- 2.2.7) Hard to Park
- 2.2.8) Campgrounds & RV Parks May Be Scarce
- 2.2.9) Where to Overnight?
- 2.2.10) May Be Difficult to Register & Insure
- 2.2.11) Learning Curve for New Bus Drivers
- 3) Still Interested in Skoolies?
- 4) Free RVing Tips, Tricks, Reviews, Giveaways & More
What Are Skoolies?
“Skoolies” or “skoolie conversions” are tiny homes on wheels made from old school buses or, in some cases, even from old commercial or transit buses.
There are various sizes of school bus conversions, but each one is the transformation of some type of bus into a home on wheels.
Just as many people create mobile living spaces from sprinter vans, cargo vans, and even minivans for “van life” there are lots of people using both full-size and shorter school buses to create tiny homes to live the skoolie life.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Skoolie Conversions?
As any skoolie owner would likely tell you (and like most things in life) there are both pros and cons to skoolie conversions.
Let’s take a look at both sides of the coin.
Advantages of Skoolies
There are a number of reasons why some DIYers love the idea of converting a school bus.
When you’re building out a skoolie conversion, you’ve pretty much got a big blank slate, from the front of the bus to the rear, from which to create your dream home-on-wheels.
In fact, the opportunity to be creative with the build is among the main draws of a bus conversion.
Having trouble visualizing what the empty shell above might look like when it’s done? Check out the stunning interior of a finished skoolie conversion!
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The interior space on a school bus can be pretty vast. Once you’ve removed the seats it’s just a big wide open space.
Even a shorter bus (generally 20-25 feet long) offers a large open space in which the designer can let their imagination run wild, while also fitting in most of the creature comforts people want in a home-on-wheels.
This is one of the reasons why skoolies are popular as static off-grid tiny houses.
The vast rooftop of a full-size skoolie offers lots of wide open space for things like solar panels, roof vents and storage bins.
There tend to be plenty of buses of all sizes available on the market at any given time. Buses are always being replaced by school departments, transportation services, etc.
The constant turnover of buses allows for good availability of buses in most areas.
Buses that are used to transport students or for commercial transport need to be well-maintained on a consistent basis. The operation of fleet vehicles generally involves a dedicated maintenance department responsible for keeping things running properly.
This means that chances are good that if purchased following school or commercial use, the purchaser is getting a bus that has been well maintained on a reasonable schedule.
Second-hand buses can often be purchased fairly inexpensively, especially when compared with RVs and other travel vehicles.
Disadvantages of Skoolies
Despite all of the above-mentioned benefits of skoolie conversions, there are also a number of drawbacks to converting a bus for travel and living.
School buses tend to be poorly insulated.
Keep in mind their intended use — they carry students on short trips to and from school. Even in winter climates, students are well-dressed for the weather as they ride on the bus.
Some commercial buses may have slightly better insulation, but remember what the skeleton of a bus is like. You’ve got a metal box with the bare minimum of insulation in the “walls”, not intended for temperature control.
You’ve also got lots and lots (and LOTS) of windows to deal with.
So, you’re working with a metal roof, frame, ceiling, and floor, with a whole bunch of windows in between.
Difficult and Potentially Expensive Build Process
The process of building out a skoolie conversion requires some element of skill, (although as avid DIYers were big believers in learning as we go).
Still, keep in mind that the canvas the bus converter is working with is a vast open space, often with contoured ceilings.
Additionally, building out a skoolie for living can be an expensive undertaking, depending on the design intentions and how fancy or luxurious you want to get.
There are DIYers out there who have converted shorter school buses for a few thousand dollars or even less. But there are also skoolies on the road that have cost tens of thousands of dollars to create.
While the purchase of the bus itself may be a bargain, converting it into a livable skoolie is likely more costly. It can actually end up being more expensive than buying a used RV in good condition.
Weight Management/Balance Can Be Difficult
Managing the weight distribution across and along an entire bus (especially a full-size bus) can be a real challenge.
Determining where appliances, holding tanks, furniture, etc. will go is more than an effort in interior design. It can also be vital to travel safety.
If you’re interested in seeing a gorgeous skoolie with all the amenities, take a look at this video – that’s a lot of weight management!
Fuel Economy Is… Not Economical
Per the U.S. Department of Energy data updated in February of 2020, an average school bus gets around 6.2 mpg.
Of course, this will vary depending on the size and weight of the vehicle. But remember that a school bus carries a bunch of lightweight seats and lighter-weight kids when getting that average 6 mpg.
If you add a whole lot of wood, appliances, some fairly heavy pieces of furniture, solar panels, holding tanks containing water (at 8.34 lbs per gallon), propane, etc., a skoolie conversion can weigh enough to drop that MPG even further.
As a former motorcoach and transit bus operator, I can tell you firsthand that a bus driver rides alone up front. That’s because what would be the front passenger side seat is used for the entrance door.
So remember that if you’re traveling long distances, you won’t have a traveling companion/co-pilot/navigator alongside you. That is unless you modify your skoolie with some sort of seating up there.
Lack of Storage
Unless you’re buying a commercial transit bus with lots of basement storage available, you’ve got NO storage space at all.
A school bus is built to carry little humans with backpacks. This means that if your skoolie is an old school bus, you’re going to need to find a way to create storage compartments of some sort, inside and/or outside of the bus.
We’ve seen lots of skoolie conversions carrying stuff on the roof or on hitch carriers. But no matter how you slice it, an old school bus comes with no way to store your stuff underneath, so the designer of a skoolie will need to get creative in creating storage areas.
Hard to Park
This probably goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. It’s not easy to park a school bus without some training and/or experience driving long-wheelbase vehicles.
This makes visiting some places challenging. If you’re interested in exploring a city for example, you’ll either need to drive and park in the city, or you’ll need to find a place to park nearby and use other transportation to travel into the city. This of course goes for any large RV.
We’ve seen skoolies carrying a motorcycle or several bicycles for exactly these purposes.
But the point is that it can be a challenge to drive and park a bus. And a full-size school bus typically has a very long rear overhang (as do some short buses). Watch the video further down this post to see the dangers… and how to manage… rear overhang swing.
Campgrounds & RV Parks May Be Scarce
Some campgrounds and RV parks don’t allow skoolies.
First, there’s always the possibility of the RV park 10-year-rule applying in certain places or, in the case of a full-size bus, some campgrounds may not be able to accommodate the skoolie conversion.
Even if a campground or RV park has the ability to accommodate a big rig RV, the concern is generally the fact that a skoolie is a DIY creation and that means that their electrical systems are DIY as well.
Campground and RV park owners can’t be sure that a skoolie’s electrical system has been wired properly and designed with safety mechanisms like fuses and breakers built into it.
Without the appropriate safety measures, the electrical system of a skoolie conversion could pose a fire hazard when plugged into the campground’s electrical grid.
Also, while some state and national parks may allow a skoolie to park during the day for park access (just as commercial buses carrying park visitors do), their campgrounds may not be able to accommodate big rigs.
Our opinion on why some parks don’t allow schoolies is that it’s mostly a form of prejudice against homemade RVs.
Where to Overnight?
All of this begs the question as to where a skoolie owner will park night after night.
Skoolie owners tend to find their way, of course, but there’s no getting around the fact that overnight parking can be limited. And finding a place to park night after night can get old.
May Be Difficult to Register & Insure
The process of registering and insuring a skoolie can be complicated.
First, a bus is manufactured and sold as a commercial vehicle. However, once the bus is registered to a private entity or individual, it is no longer considered a commercial vehicle.
This means you won’t need a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) to drive your skoolie conversion because you’ll be registering it as a personal vehicle or as an RV (most likely the latter).
However, as long as the bus is registered as a commercial vehicle, its driver needs to have a CDL. Bear this in mind if you’re considering buying a skoolie from a commercial owner. You’ll need to register and insure it as an RV or personal vehicle before you can drive it with your Class C non-commercial license.
Additionally, some laws vary from state to state. For example, it’s possible that special licensing may be required based on the weight of your bus or the type of brakes it has.
Some states require air brake certification or special licensing based on weight or brake type. This can also be true of heavy RVs with air brakes.
So, you’ll need to be familiar with licensing requirements, and then you’ll need to register and insure your bus as an RV.
Learning Curve for New Bus Drivers
And finally, there’s a bit of a learning curve to driving any big rig, including large buses.
While some short bus skoolies are about as simple as driving a big van, full-size school, and commercial buses are different.
As we mentioned in our post on bus RV conversions, you may want to take advantage of our driving school videos for some tips from a professional bus driving instructor:
Still Interested in Skoolies?
If you’re interested in more information on skoolie conversions, a great source of information on the skoolie lifestyle and classified ads is Skoolie Livin.
For interviews of skoolie owners and to see tours of some really cool buses, check out Bus Life Adventure’s fascinating section on skoolie conversions.
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