A school bus conversion is an exciting process that combines creativity and technical skills. The most critical factor to consider when converting a school bus are the expenses you’ll incur. So how much does it cost to convert a school bus?
Conversion costs on a skoolie are cheaper than building a tiny home because you have the bare-bone structure already. However, some important factors include the school bus’s cost, materials, furnishing, and utilities.
Never make the mistake of buying a used school bus unless you have factored in the prices, or it will land you with financial surprises beyond your affordability. Let’s look at some costs of a school bus conversion.
Buying a School Bus For Your Home On Wheels
A used school bus conversion costs somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000. Luckily, the structure is in place, and with a bit of modification, skoolies are livable.
Moreover, you get a reliable tow vehicle in the deal. On the flip side, a tiny house needs a tow vehicle, as it is built on a trailer. The great thing about school buses is the outsides are already built.
For a tiny house, the trailer alone costs $4000. On the flipside, used school buses roughly cost $5000, with a built-in tow vehicle.
How much is an old school bus?
A 13-window used school bus is 40 feet long, costing between $5000 and $10000. A relatively more minor bus has 11 windows and is 35 feet long. Its cost is somewhere between $5000 and $8000. Then there are buses with seven windows, which are 25 feet long. The seven-window buses cost $5000-$7000. The smallest school buses have four windows, are 20 feet long, and cost between $3000 and $5000.
After you have purchased a bus, you should start factoring in the conversion costs. For tiny houses, the roof costs around $3000, and the walls cost just as much. However, you may spend $300 every time you tow the vehicle to a new place. You will pay a similar amount with a school bus conversion, except it will be cheaper because of the pre-built structure. To create a comfortable living space inside a school bus, you may have to spend $15000-$25000.
Material Costs for School Bus Conversion
A school bus conversion needs the same materials required for an interior build. It is better to shop around a bit to compare commodity costs. Some materials are cheaper than the rest. For example, vinyl is a cheaper alternative to tile.
The flooring of a skoolie costs somewhere between $2.75 and $8.60 per square foot. Floor sealing costs $0.15 per square foot, while insulation costs $0.62 per square foot. For using oriented strand boarding (OSB) with subflooring, it may cost $1.03 per square foot. Finished flooring may range from $0.95 to $5 per square foot.
You must remember that the costs will vary according to your chosen materials. It is better to opt for long-lasting, high-quality materials, which will be much cheaper than outfitting an entire house. However, the flooring material will contribute to the weight of your bus.
The same basic principles apply to insulation. Insulation costs between $0.5 and $3.65 per square ft. if you choose to go the DIY route. Before you do, consider the resale value and how insulation contributes to the build.
The metal body of a school bus is a heat conductor. Insulation helps you combat heat transfer during the summer. Professional insulation projects cost around $3.65 per square ft. The roof should be painted with elastomeric paint and sealed to reflect the sun’s rays.
Prices of interior walls are also variable. Depending on the finishing, we are looking at anything between $3000 and $10,000—an affordable option is recycled or reclaimed lumber.
Remember; materials like hardwood increase the weight of your skoolie. If you must grout the walls, choose a flexible grout. Use materials with an ultra-strong bond to sustain movements when you’re on the road.
Some experts use a truck bed liner spray to paint the skoolie, which costs around $18000. It While this is costly, it’s durable. On the other hand, regular automotive paint, including materials, costs around $300.
You can also use regular exterior paint, but it doesn’t prevent rusting. A professional exterior paint job costs anywhere between $4000 and $5000.
Some skoolie owners install murals or invest in fancy paint jobs. If your budget is stringent, you can skimp on the exteriors for the near future. Eventually, you'll want to coat the exterior to complete your school bus conversion.
The electrical costs for a skoolie may vary from $1000 to $3000, exclusive of solar. The breaker box will cost almost $100, while the wiring may cost $500. The breakers and the fuses will add another $300, with other miscellaneous electrical items costing around $750.
The electricals on your skoolie should be similar to those on an RV. For a skoolie, you will need 12V wiring, a 12V fuse hub, as well as 12V ceiling light switches, and 12 V LED deck lights. If you choose to go off-grid, you must think efficiently. You will have to put 12V through an inverter if you install too many items.
Depending upon your power bank voltage, try to keep as much electricity as possible, regardless of 12V or 24V. You should wire the inverter into the breaker panel, which goes to the outlet you’ll plug it into, to power the 120V items.
You'll probably want to have some type of ventilation fan or HVAC system. This will run you around $250 to $1500.
The solar panels installation process for a skoolie is similar to a tiny house. Interestingly, you can also use solar for air-conditioning. Solar panels are difficult to clean, but its utilities are worth the effort.
We are looking at approximately $2 to $4 per watt for solar costs. With no battery backup, it costs $2 per watt. With small battery backup, it costs $3 per watt. A more robust battery backup may cost $4-5.
The standard battery bank for a school bus provides anywhere between 200 and 600 amp hours, depending on the quality of the battery. A battery with 600 amp hours lasts up to three days in bad weather.
Batteries are beneficial for heating and air-conditioning on hot and cold days. Unfortunately, batteries are expensive. If you opt for light lithium-ion batteries, they will cost four times more than regular batteries.
Here are some standard furnishings for a skoolie.
The fridge costs between $100 and $500, while a stovetop costs $75 to $900, depending upon the quality and manufacturer. Sinks and faucets can amount to $50-$600, and countertops; $300-2000. The cabinets may cost $60-200, depending upon materials.
Depending upon your power setup, you will need 12V appliances unless you upgrade to 120V. You can also invest in a propane refrigerator. Propane possesses excellent thermodynamic properties, and it is more efficient. Furthermore, the latent heat of vaporization is higher than most HFG refrigerants. Moreover, propane refrigerants cause 700% less pollution than other refrigerants.
However, if you install a 120V refrigerator, you will need a more powerful inverter, and it will be less efficient since inverters are only 80-85% efficient. Most skoolies contain a 12V chest fridge. These refrigerators are costly but highly power-efficient. Just like refrigeration, for propane heaters work best heating water.
Here is a price breakdown for bathroom items.
Tiles: $2-4 per square ft.
Shower stall: $400-1000
Tankless water heater: $500-550
Pex and fittings: $350-500
Freshwater tank: $295
RO water filter: $250
Water pump: $100
Hot water is essential in the bathroom; so invest in an on-demand water heater. Electric water pumps can be connected to your power usage, but you can easily find a 12V alternative. The tiling in your bathroom adds weight to the skoolie, which hinders driving, wears down the tires, and increases costs in the future.
There is no limit to investing in your living area. There are endless creative ideas when it comes to furnishing your skoolie’s living room. However, most school bus converters opt for custom built-in furniture. If you choose to go the DIY route, there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest.
The couch or bench may cost around $1500. For rugs, you will spend up to $400, depending upon the quality. The bedding is free if you use what’s available at home. However, if you might spend $1500 on new bedsheets, pillows, and comforters, you must remember that whether it is a bed, couch, or recliner, you must screw it to the wall or the floors. You wouldn’t want your furniture moving around while you drive. Repairing damaged furniture is a cost you must avoid.
The plumbing costs in a skoolie can vary depending upon various features. These factors include your lifestyle and how much you travel. Some people prefer a composting toilet, which makes things simpler.
You can also opt for a black water tank; but keep in mind that you’ll need to empty it frequently. If your skoolie remains stationary most of the time, you should consider installing a permanent system or sewer connection. While RVs have a built-in system, the same can be made into a skoolie.
Future Costs of a Converted School Bus
Once the skoolie is complete, you will have to plan for future costs. With a skoolie, you will have to take care of the vehicle as much as the living space. Contrary to popular belief, maintaining the vehicle and house is costly and no way cheaper than keeping a tiny house.
You will have to factor in costs like filters, oil, tires, and fuel when you are on the road. Moreover, your skoolie will experience some wear and tear on the road that you can’t ignore. For example, if a tiny house roof will last for 50 years, for a school bus, it will last only ten. The tires will cost between $2000 and $3000. Batteries will cost $300 to $500. The average fuel requirement for a skoolie is nine miles a gallon.
Some Important Considerations
You need some technical knowledge to initiate a school bus conversion project. You don’t have to be a car expert, but you need learn how to change tires, oil, and coolant flushing.
Ensure there aren’t any leakages before you hit the road. Pay close attention to the hissing sounds from the air ride suspensions or brakes. If you break down in the middle of nowhere, you should have the skills to manage some light repairs before help comes. For more significant issues like transmission failure, you will need professional help.
Most school buses have a diesel engine, and many people don’t know how to fix them. Moreover, a diesel engine overhaul isn’t simple, and it needs professional handling. On the bright side, unlike the earlier models, new diesel engines make less noise, and are cheaper to maintain. Also, the fuel costs for diesel engines are less than those of gas engines. Moreover, gas engines burn hotter and have a shorter lifespan than diesel engines.
If you are a frequent traveler, you should put aside an extra $2000-3000 for vehicle repair purposes. Some other costs include packing and insurance. It would be best if you remember, insurance companies don’t cover skoolies during conversion. You will have to opt for commercial vehicle coverage.
When buying a school bus for conversion purposes, pay close attention to the cost. If you don’t, the vehicle and conversions will end up costing you a significant amount.
If you are working on a budget, be very careful to avoid any surprises, especially if it’s your first DIY school bus conversion project.
So What's The Final School Bus Conversion Cost?
We've seen a bus conversion cost from $1500, which was barebones, rustic with all used parts. This was truly, just camping in a empty school bus to save money.
We've seen other conversion costs reach the mid 30's. This was with all higher end materials in the build.
The Final Word
There are a lot of factors that determine the school bus conversion cost. While some of these costs are fixed, others are variable. This depends on your lifestyle, quality of your customizations, and the time you spend on the road.
Initiating a school bus conversion project takes time and effort, and it is easy to get sidetracked without the proper supervision, which costs time and money.
We can help you save money with your customization and fabrication goals in the most efficient manner possible. We have a ton of great ideas and we know you do too. Let us know in the comments if we missed anything.
Have you already performed a school bus conversion? What was your bus conversion cost? Please leave us a comment below so that we can learn about your home on wheels.