This DIY Couple Turned an Old Bus Into a Gorgeous Home
| LAST UPDATE 04/04/2022
Kelsey and Jamie wanted to buy their first house together, but they also had a serious case of wanderlust. So the couple bought an old school bus and converted it into a beautiful home on wheels to travel in.
Kelsey & Jamie
When Connecticut-born Kelsey moved to England for a master's degree in business analysis, she likely never imagined her soulmate was waiting overseas. But when Kelsey met Jamie, the two had an instant connection.
"I don't use my degree now, but I don't regret it because studying in England brought me my love of travel and... Jamie," Kelsey shared. The duo became inseparable pretty much from the day they met. When Kels moved back to the U.S., Jay followed not long after.
An Old Cheese Bus
After Jamie moved to the U.S., the couple eloped and became husband and wife. They were excited to build a life together, including a home. But Kelsey's student loans and their shared passion for travel motivated the newlyweds to go down a less traditional housing route.
Jay and Kels decided to buy an old school bus and turn it into a home. The adventurers wanted to join the skoolie community and live life on the road in their small house on wheels. After months of searching, they found the right vehicle for them: a 2001 Thomas Freight Liner.
The Perfect Find
The new bus-owners bought the base for their future motorhome off of eBay, where they found a seller who allowed them to see the bus in person before committing. Jamie and Kelsey chose a standard dog nose bus rather than a flat nose because the engine is outside.
An exterior engine means less noise and heat while on the road. The bus measures 35 feet and originally had 10 windows on either side. The couple felt this length would be perfect for them - it provided enough room for a comfortable floorplan but wouldn't be too difficult to drive.
Out With the Old
Kels and Jay took the bus to Kelsey's parents' home, where they would be living throughout the conversion process. The duo planned to do everything themselves and soon got to work on the first stage of the renovation: gutting the vehicle to make room for a home.
The couple began by removing the original seating. Kelsey went under the bus with a wrench while Jamie stayed inside, and together, they loosened the bolts on each seat and stripped them off. Once all of the old leather seats were gone, it was time for the walls and floor.
Treating the Rust
Kelsey and Jamie needed to remove the original floor, ceiling, and wall panels to make room for new insulation. Removing the rubber floor was easy for the hands-on couple, but what they found underneath proved problematic: the bus had plenty of rust.
"While you can definitely get a good gauge on how rusty a bus is, it's really hard to know exactly how much there is until you start demolition," the duo said. They used a rust converter to make the floor a paintable surface and then splashed on layers of rust prevention paint.
Raising the Roof
With the rust taken care of and the metal sheets on the ceiling and walls removed, it was time to raise the roof to make the home's height comfortable for the tall couple. Jay and Kels removed all of the windows and cut below the empty holes before lifting the roof.
But after one attempt, the roof collapsed in a terrifying turn of events. "Our bus was crooked, and we didn't know how we were going to fix it. We were devastated," the DIYers shared. The second time around was, fortunately, successful, and the bus became 16 inches taller!
Subfloor & Insulation Prep
Jay and Kels used some of the scraps from gutting the bus, including the metal ceiling panels, to close it back up and cover the holes created by the roof raise. The couple also cleaned up the old windows and resealed them onto the vehicle before framing began.
Kelsey and Jame also framed the rust-protected floor, placed rigid insulation boards, and then covered the whole ordeal with Oriented Strand Board. With the subfloor done, insulation on the walls and ceilings was next, so the couple used lumber to frame the rest of the structure.
Instead of using rigid insulation as they did for the floor, the bus-owners chose to spray foam insulation on the walls and ceiling. "Spray foam is a messy job," Jamie said. "It's been 5 days and I still have it in my hair." But keeping the house warm in the wintertime was worth it.
At this stage, the duo also began preparing their bus's power system. "This was something that totally overwhelmed us. But after countless hours of research we finally got our head around electrical," they shared. "We have roughed in all our outlets and 12v lighting."
Ready to Build
After Jamie sprayed the insulation all over the vehicle, the DIYers had to scrape off the excess foam from the wooden framing to continue building. They were officially done with demolishing/prepping the bus to become a home, and the real transformation could begin!
Kels and Jay planned on doing everything on their own, including constructing their own furniture. Custom-making everything on the motorhome meant the owners could take advantage of every inch of space as efficiently as possible. The photo above captured the beginnings of the couple's bed frame.
Installing New Walls & Ceilings
With the insulation in place, Jamie and Kelsey needed to put walls and a ceiling on the bus once more. Rather than re-install the vehicle's original metal sheets, they used affordable wood panels that they could later paint for a homey feel on the skoolie.
It's a good thing the couple chose to raise the roof, despite how terrifying the process was as it collapsed the first time. The bus lost about 5 inches in height once the new walls and ceilings were finished! Without the roof raise, it would have been uncomfortable for the lanky pair.
The Finished Ceiling
After they put up all of the new wall and ceiling panels, Jamie and Kelsey continued constructing the motorhome's furniture and different rooms. The couple soon had the kitchen's skeleton done and the walls that would later separate the bathroom from the front half of the bus.
Kels and Jay also added a finishing touch to the motorhome's ceiling. The DIYers got free pallet wood from a local Harley Davidson store and used a nail gun to attach it. "It was an absolute labor of love," they said. The duo ripped apart over 30 pallets, sanded and stained them for the rustic look.
The Kitchen Progress
With the kitchen's foundation successfully built, Jamie then made room for the motorhome's appliances. "Cutting into the countertop was definitely a measure 100 times cut once kinda thing," the couple shared. Fortunately, their calculations were correct, and the stove/oven and sink fit perfectly.
Kels and Jay bought a Furrion RV Stove Oven and a big sink from eBay. Thanks to a few unnoticeable scratches on both of the appliances, the DIYers got a discounted price. They then got to work on a drawer for under the oven and doors for either side.
With construction well underway and the main areas framed out, Kels and Jay could now put in the final flooring layer: vinyl planks. The travel buddies said the installation took them under an hour! "The perks of converting a bus I suppose," Kelsey joked.
The process was quick, but choosing the material was more time-consuming. Jamie and Kelsey settled on the gorgeous vinyl seen above because it's "robust, waterproof, and super easy to install." In the bathroom, the couple lay stone tiles instead of the wooden look.
The Future Shower
The final floorplan Kelsey and Jamie chose put the living room and kitchen at the front half of the bus, followed by the bathroom and then the bedroom. The couple constructed a full bathroom in their skoolie, rather than opting for an outdoor shower or relying on campsite restrooms.
The photo above shows the bath in progress. The couple put a shower pan in and placed cement boards. They then added a thick layer of water-proofing material before moving on to tiling the fixture's walls. "Tiling is not a quick job. But the end result is so worth it," Kels and Jay said.
Making Major Progress
A few months in and the motivated DIYers had made incredible progress. "We are getting to the finishing stages of the build," they shared. "First lick of paint is going up inside." The kitchen faucet and a brand new counter, made by Jay, were now in place.
Kelsey and Jamie also installed recess lighting throughout the motorhome's ceiling and under the top kitchen cabinets. Above the windows on the left, the couple chose a long light fixture for plenty of illumination. They also bought clip-on, solar-powered led lights for the bus's exterior.
The Future Living Room
Kelsey and Jamie initially searched online for the perfect couch, but they couldn't find one that fit their size needs. So, the pair got to work on building the sofa themselves. They used 2 by 10 lumber, a "cheaper alternative to butcher block," to make the piece.
The total for the couch materials, before staining and cushions, was about $80! A great price for a custom-made piece. The couple's floorplan design put the couch right next to the kitchen counter. Jay and Kels said they wanted a "seamless transition from kitchen top to the corner sofa."
A Special Project
With the motorhome looking more like a house and less like a school bus, the DIYers got started on some of the details that would make their skoolie extra special. Top on the list was this beautiful ladder that the couple made with materials from their backyard.
Jamie and Kelsey took wood from a dead tree, cleaned it, sanded it, slathered it in polyethylene, and finally drilled holes through which to put the rope. They later added hooks at the top to roll the ladder up when not in use. So, where exactly did this unique project lead to?
The Rooftop Deck
The ladder gave the skoolie dwellers access to their gorgeous new deck! "We're really excited to be able to access our roof deck from inside when we're too lazy to access it from the outside," they shared. Just like most of the house on wheels, Kels and Jay built this structure themselves.
The handy couple finished the project in just one day and said it cost around "400 bucks and a lot of sweat." The deck is big enough for both Jamie and Kelsey to lay and watch clouds pass comfortably. But it's certainly not the only thing on the motorhome's roof.
The New & Improved Look
Along with the incredible deck, Jay and Kels installed solar panels on the roof. "We used blind fasteners and bolts to mount them directly into the steel ribs of the bus as we don't have access to the ceiling inside," they explained. The bus's top was not the only part of the exterior that got a major upgrade.
Kelsey and Jamie designed and painted a new, geometric look for the old cheese bus. The DIYers prepped the vehicle for 14 hours before it was ready for paint. Then they layered on coats of white before taping on the design and using spray paint. The finished product reflects the couple's creative personalities.
The Incredible Transformation
If we thought the bus's exterior transformation was stunning, the interior renovations are absolutely breathtaking. The shot below, taken from the little hallway between the bathroom and closet, shows the living room, kitchen, and breakfast bar located on the skoolie's front half.
All in all, Jamie and Kelsey spent eight months and about $26,458 on the bus-to-home conversion. That includes the actual bus, new tires and brakes, appliances, building materials, furniture, and bedding. Doing all of the work themselves saved the home-owners a significant amount.
The Finished Couch
Kelsey and Jamie made the couch cushions themselves for under 80 bucks. The DIYers made storage compartments under the sofa, where they keep their cat's litter box and some miscellaneous items. Between the sofa and the driver's seat is another storage unit.
There, Jay and Kels store a swinging chair they can hook onto the living room ceiling and some portable solar panels. While the couple loved the finished look, they later changed their couch from an L-shaped to a fold-out futon, where they could both fit more comfortably.
"Jamie and I are such foodies, and I love to cook, so it was really important for us to have a fully functioning kitchen," Kelsey said. "Jamie built all our cabinets and our counter completely from scratch so we could get the most out of our tiny space."
Sadly, the wooden countertop later cracked, and the skoolie owners replaced it with an Ikea laminate countertop. While the kitchen's big sink takes up a lot of space, it's worth it as the motorhome doesn't have a dishwasher and the appliance doubles as a cooking and bathroom sink.
The Organizational Details
On the wall next to the sink, Kelsey and Jamie installed a board for holding basic spices, mugs, handsoap, and other necessities. But the grab-and-go storage solution has a downside: the travelers have to put everything away or inside the sink each time they hit the road.
The kitchen is gorgeous and, thanks to the water and propane under the bus, fully usable. Since Jay and Kels couldn't find a bus that had built-in storage, they made their own underbody storage for the skoolie. There, the pair keeps a 100-gallon water tank, a 46-gallon waste tank, and the propane.
The Rustic Detailing
The special ladder made from a dead tree isn't the only way the couple brilliantly repurposed old material. Kelsey and Jamie used a rope to fill a gap between the wood walls and the ceiling pallets. The quick fix provided an easy solution for the opening and gives the home a more rustic vibe.
Jay and Kels originally went with light-colored curtains for their many windows but later changed them to insulated coverings. "This is something we truly didn't understand until we were living in our bus in the dead of the summer," they said. "Insulated curtains help the heat stay out."
The Breakfast Bar
Across from the kitchen is a thin breakfast bar that can fold out and become a larger table. Kelsey and Jamie found the design on Pinterest, and Jay successfully executed the task for a total of about $50. The piece takes up minimal space yet has many functions.
The couple uses the fold-out bar as a dining table, as extra counter space when cooking, and as a desk when working. It's no wonder this little surface turned out to be one of their favorite things on the skoolie! Plus, the television screen can swing around and be watched from anywhere on the bus.
A Little Wood Stove
Kelsey and Jaime use the skoolie to travel all over the U.S., so they knew a reliable heating system would be necessary for the country's colder regions in the wintertime. The skoolie-owners found the perfect solution in this beautiful little stove that they installed.
"It's insane how quickly the bus warms up when we get this going," Jay and Kels shared. "Gets so toasty in here!" The duo bought the appliance from Northwoods Fabrication and the flue parts separately from Tiny Wood Stove. Both companies specialize in stoves for small places.
Blocking the bathroom from the rest of the house is the gorgeous wooden sliding door seen on the below photo's left. Kels and Jay chose this model because it saves space while providing privacy. It may come as a surprise that the bathroom holds the skoolie's most expensive item.
The motorhome's priciest object turned out to be the composting toilet, which cost the couple nearly $1,000. The DIYers said that if they build another skoolie, they will probably construct their own composting toilet, "Seeing that there really isn't much to it at all!"
The finished shower looks so incredible, it's hard to believe it's on a former school bus! Thanks to a polymer additive, Jay and Kels haven't had any issues with flying tiles while on the road as the shower has stayed totally intact. However, skoolie life means limited time to enjoy the space.
"Showering on a bus when you have a 100-gallon water tank on board means you have to say goodbye to the long dreamy showers of the past," Jamie and Kelsey said. "It's more of a case of, get wet, soap yourself up, and rinse off. In and out with as minimal water usage as possible!"
All the way in the back of the bus is the cozy bedroom. The couple created an artistic wall behind the bed instead of putting an actual headboard to save space. They repurposed wooden panels and used some neutral tones for the impressive design. The bedroom is both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
The bed is so tall that Kelsey and Jamie have to get a "running start" to get on it. But the extra exercise means lots of storage space under the bed. Surprisingly, the couple said they don't use all of the storage nooks in the skoolie. "I think just living this lifestyle you realize how little that you truly need," Kels said.
Traveling on Bessy
Jamie and Kelsey find living on a skoolie to be challenging at times, but they don't plan on trading their home-on-wheels for a traditional house anytime soon. Even though she's broken down quite a few times, the couple adores Bessy, as they've named their bus.
Most of all, they love life on the road, even if it means occasionally spending the night in a Walmart parking lot. "The places we'll see, the people we'll meet and the challenges we'll face are what we signed up to this lifestyle for," they said. It looks like these go-getters are living their best life!