After over a year and a half of planning and working hard, I am super excited to share a few pictures of our off-grid short bus conversion. It isn’t quite finished yet, so this post will be part one of a series.
I will do my best to provide links to the products we used for our conversion, but if you have any questions, feel free to reach out.
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This year has been a whirlwind raising babies, fighting for civil liberties, and working on the bus. I am proud of all that we have accomplished and can’t wait to camp with my family all over my beautiful country.
I hope that this form of traveling will also add depth to our homeschooling journey.
A few years ago, my husband and I bought a big 5th wheel and moved into it for the summer while we put our house up on Airbnb.
I imagined all the adventure we would have but the reality was, a dually truck and 5th wheel was just too big for me to feel comfortable to drive.
When my husband was out of town for work, I was basically stuck in the same place so we sold both of them, moved back in the house after the season, and bought a short bus.
We went back and forth between a small bus or a van but in the end, after experiencing the monthly payment for the big rig, we chose the economical school bus.
Short Bus Conversion
I found the bus on Facebook marketplace in a town over from where I live. It had been converted to a camper by the previous owner but wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for us.
I started gutting the bus by myself, 7 months pregnant while my husband was deployed. I was pretty determined to make this happen for our family and didn’t want to lose any time.
Thankfully I spent the whole pregnancy focusing on health and fitness so I was still in great shape to work.
The seats had already been removed so the first thing I did was remove the previous conversion and then the metal panels on the interior ceiling.
If you are looking for a bus, I would recommend trying to find one from a southern state because there is less chance of rust damage.
Also if you plan to completely gut down to the metal studs, try to find a bus that uses screws instead of rivets. Mine had rivets and I had to use a pneumatic chisel to get them out which was miserable really.
It takes much longer and is so much work!
After the bus was totally gutted, I decided I wanted to take out main the top bus lights and upgrade the smaller side lights. I learned all about fiberglass and bondo which I never did before and now I have a new skill.
The original bus lights were so big and clunky looking so I replaced all the main lights (white, red, and orange) with a more modern LED light and also replaced the small lights around the top with round LEDs to match.
Thankfully my husband is really handy and once he got home, he welded up some of the holes that weren’t the right size and cut them properly. I’m quite satisfied with how it turned out.
We recaulked the seams of the roof and painted it with a product called Henry’s Tropicool Roof Coating. You can buy it at Lowes in a gallon size. We used two gallons for our 5 window bus.
(The same brand Henry’s for caulking the seams can be purchased at Lowes.)
We decided to take out 4 of the windows and replace them with metal so that we could insulate them. Bus windows, though nostalgic, have really poor R factor, and you can just feel the heat pumping through them in the summer.
Filling in some of the window holes with metal gives us extra privacy, and more insulation.
We took out the emergency exit from the roof, closed it up with metal and rivets, and then cut a smaller hole to fit a Maxx Air fan Deluxe.
We opted for the vent/fan combo instead of an air conditioner because it was cheaper and requires less power. Our plan is to have a window unit and small generator. When we can’t travel with good weather, we will have the option to cool our bus down at night before we go to bed.
We can of course plug in at campgrounds and family’s homes.
For insulation we painted the interior metal of the bus with a ceramic sound deafening/insulating paint and then used Havelock Wool insulation to keep things as non-toxic as possible.
It is super cozy in the bus. On the cold days, I can definitely tell the difference from the outside air to inside the bus, even when we don’t run our heater.
From the time we started gutting the bus, until we started building the walls on the inside, it took us about 6 months. We worked 4 days a week for anywhere from 4 hours to 8 hours.
The longest part was getting the metal walls and floors of the bus structurally sound. We had a few rusty aread to deal with and lots of welding holes.
My next post on our bus conversion will continue with the interior build and show some more progress pictures.