Michael Talley was unhappy with the high cost of living in Austin, Texas. So the inexperienced builder bought a school bus and turned it into a tiny home! Keep reading to see the incredible transformation.
Michael Talley was tired of paying expensive rent in the city and getting little in return. The Texan resident loved living in Austin but didn't know how much longer he could take the financial strain.
Talley spent roughly $1,200 a month, including rent and bills, on his studio apartment in the city's northern region. It's no secret that living in popular cities is usually more costly than surrounding areas, and Austin was no exception. Then Michael thought of a brilliant way to save money.
A Tiny Dream
Talley was a creative young man with a background in illustration and graphic design. So when the tiny house phenomenon started in the U.S., the unique home concept caught his attention. "I always wanted to build a tiny house and I always wanted to travel," the illustrator said.
"So I spent years playing around with tiny house designs in my spare time," Michael shared. This hobby plus financial stress led to Talley's big dream; he wanted to build a tiny home. The project would allow him to realize one of his floor plans while saving money. There was just one small problem.
Could He Be a Handyman?
Michael certainly had a knack (and the brains) for graphic and interior design. The young creative had various designs for the ideal tiny home. But while he could tactfully put the ideas into a computer program, building them in the real world was a different story.
"I have never built anything," Michael said. "I've helped paint a few houses on mission trips and I helped install some plastic lattice once, but that's about it." Talley had no experience in construction but wanted to build a tiny home without breaking the bank. He brainstormed solutions.
Finally, a Solution
Michael thought of the different ways people lived minimally and on-the-go, and an RV came to mind. But the designer wanted more of a fixer-upper, and recreational vehicles were sometimes expensive. If he could just have the skeleton of his home pre-made, the process would be much easier.
Then Talley had another great idea. "Ultimately I decided upon a school bus because I thought, 'Hey, there's already four walls and a roof," Michael explained. "Throw some wood and some light bulbs in there and call it a day." With a solution in hand, now the young man needed to find a bus.
A Good Deal
Finding the yellow vehicle turned out to be easier than one might imagine. "I purchased the bus from the Austin Independent School District for a cool $2,200 off PublicSurplus.com," Michael shared. With less than double his monthly rent, he bought a whole bus!
The Austin school district had begun selling their old buses on the auction site quite recently, and Talley suspected few people knew about it. Only 10 vehicles were put up for sale, and Michael got one of them. Soon it would be time to get his hands dirty.
It seemed that Michael's project was off to a great start. He bought his future home and won an "exciting bidding war" in the process. Talley was thrilled about the new purchase and looked forward to beginning his project. He didn't wait long before picking up the bus.
"I picked up the bus... and parked it temporarily at a used car dealer's back lot for $100 a month," Michael wrote on his blog. "It was only two weeks before this that I decided I wanted to do a bus conversion instead of a tiny house or RV." Talley soon encountered his first bump in the road.
A Sleight Height Issue
It was a lovely April day when Michael received the yellow school bus. He got the keys and jumped on board, only to nearly bump his head in the process. "As soon as I stepped onto the bus for the first time I knew me being 6'6" was going to be a huge problem," Michael recalled.
He was too tall for his future home! Michael was 6'6", and the buse's ceiling was 6'1". There was no way Talley could live comfortably in a home of such low height. The renovation had to be more extensive than he planned. So the Texas resident went back to the sketches to adjust some designs.
The creative was not short of inspiration and saw ideas in various places. One of his designs was even inspired by the vehicle in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. There were a surprising amount of options for arranging the small home. "I went through about a dozen floor plans for the bus," Michael said.
There was much to take into consideration. For example, how much space did Talley want to take up with his bed? Michael could manage with just a twin-sized bed, as he lived alone. But did the hard-worker really want to sacrifice the luxury of a big sleeping cloud? After much thought, he chose a final design.
Michael needed a house fit for a social guy like him. "I like to entertain so I put all the public areas towards the front and all the private areas in the back," Talley explained. "If having people over outside to grill or chill, the two most common areas they would need... would be the kitchen and the bathroom."
Talley also took into account his job, as he needed a comfortable work area. And while he planned to minimize his belongings, Michael needed creative storage solutions. Thankfully, his smart designs had it all. It was then time to get started on the bus.
Bye, Bye Seats
Once Michael decided on a floor plan, the next step was quite obvious. He needed to remove all of the old seats from the school bus to make space for his kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The young man got to work, but the task at hand was easier said than done.
It turned out that getting rid of the brown seats wasn't as simple as unscrewing a few bolts. After all, the bus was previously used to carrying around small children. The school district wasn't taking any safety risks! Michael needed some backup, so he called his family.
A "Grueling Process"
Michael's stepdad came to the rescue and helped him through the "grueling process" of removing the seats. The generous helper even crawled under the bus to remove every single bolt! "If I did this again I would have used an angle grinder, but... I was terrified of power tools," Talley said.
Finally, the seats were out, and the bus felt more spacious. Michael then called someone to take the seating fixtures to a scrap metal yard. With that cleaned up, he moved on to the next stage of the project. Talley's vision was slowly, but surely coming to life.
Working on the Ceiling
Michael then began to work on the bus ceiling, as he wanted to take out the old insulation and put in a new one. But just like with the seat removal, Talley's inexperience made the ceiling work complicated. "Removing these panels was the absolute worst," he said.
Talley added, "But mostly because... I had never heard of an impact drill." In retrospect, he also realized the insulation on the bus was in "remarkably good shape" and not worth removing. Michael learned as he worked, so it was only natural that he made mistakes. The designer then moved on to the next phase of the project.
Once Michael stripped the ceiling of the panels and insulation, it was time to move on to the floors. While there wasn't anything specifically wrong with the bus's ground design, Talley didn't want to walk on a rubber floor reminiscent of his school years.
Michael also got rid of the windows on the bus. "Part of me wanted to keep them," he explained. "But I knew they would rattle, provide little privacy or insulation, and look weird with my roof raise and design." With the windows gone, the builder moved on to one of the harder parts of the design.
Fixing the Height Problem
Michael didn't always plan on adjusting the bus's height, but as soon as he climbed onto the vehicle he knew it would be necessary. The ceiling was simply too low for such a tall guy. So Talley used SketchUp to design his roof-raising rig. Now it was time for the real deal.
The ingenious designer used scaffolding to hold up the existing ceiling. "I decided to use scaffolding instead of farm jacks because of cost, safety, and precision," he explained. Michael also said he was "terrified" of this part of the project and planned for over a month!
Slicing the Bus Like a Cake
"Scaffolding ready, screw jacks in place, all that's left to do now is cut my bus in half!" wrote Talley. Yup, that's right; after prepping the vehicle for the roof-raise, the young man had to slice his precious home in two. Michael admitted this part of the process was totally "nerve-racking."
Talley used a strong saw to slice through the roof. He also cut off one of the "steel ribs" that previously divided the bus's windows. A metal fabricator used the cut off piece to create 25 steel parts that would connect to the existing pieces once the roof was taller. Now it was time to push the ceiling upwards.
The Final Lift
While cutting the bus in half was stressful, the next part was arguably just as scary. Once Michael cleared the windows, received the steel extenders from the metal manufacturer, and perfected the scaffolding, it was time to literally raise the roof.
Talley had some friends help out with the herculean task. "Each one of us turned our respective jack in unison and raised the roof perfectly level in one try," he said. While the tiny house project was well under way, it was definitely not inhabitable. Yet Michael chose not to stay in his Austin studio during this time.
Living in a Tent
The school bus slowly started looking more like a potential home, but it was far from inhabitable. The structure had no windows or even a proper floor to sleep on. But Michael couldn't afford to pay expensive rent while working on the project so, ever the adventurer, he lived outside!
"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 wood," Talley explained. It wasn't the ideal living situation, but Michael needed the funds for the tiny home project. Thankfully, things were quickly advancing on the old cheese bus.
Once the scary roof-lifting operation was over, Michael needed to build walls over the empty spaces where the windows had been. Talley joked that the bus felt like an oven once he added the walls. The steel material mixed with the Texas sun was quite a hot blend.
Not only did things get heated, they also got a bit bloody! "Got a sweet permanent scar on my forearm from when one of these steel sheets fell and sliced my arm open," Michael shared. Despite injuries, Talley excitedly carried on with the renovations.
Michael had a few more things to do to the base of his future home before the fun stuff started. Prior to any furniture or appliances coming inside, he needed to finish the walls, floors, and windows. At the moment, the bus just felt like a steel box.
Talley had already removed the original rubber floor, and now he painted what remained with Rustoleum. Then, Michael cut into his precious bus, again. The designer made holes for windows in the bathroom and the living room. The bedroom already had some, as the windowed emergency door on the back of the bus was intact.
Soon, the bus no longer felt like an oven. There were well-placed windows throughout the vehicle and Michael insulated the walls and ceilings. Since the Texas heat posed less of a problem once he put in the insulation, the bus was finally somewhat livable!
Well, maybe not livable, but definitely a spot where people could hang out. Michael and his friends brought some couch cushions and a coffee table into the bus. The makeshift lounge wasn't the only thing Talley enjoyed while the bus was still under construction.
Small House, Big Benefits
Talley dreamt of a tiny home that he could travel around in, and his dream soon came to life. During the renovation, the bus-owner moved his vehicle to a farm and paid nothing to park the car there. Which meant he got the incredible view seen here, for free.
"I would regularly go sit on the roof of the bus... and watch the sunset over the Texas farmlands," Michael explained. Talley thought of all the other places where he could watch the sunset from the top of his mobile house. Meanwhile, the interior design of the tiny home was finally on its way.
Getting Ready To Entertain
With the foundations of the tiny house complete, it was time to make it a home. Michael was a social man and loved hosting friends, so he created a large entertainment center to watch shows and films with guests. The designer also made wooden frames for some of the kitchen appliances.
For kitchen cabinets and drawers, Michael turned to an affordable option: Ikea. "Ikea phased out their old kitchen line and I got a hell of a deal," he explained. The tiny home kitchen cost him a mere $30! Talley had even more money-saving tricks up his sleeve.
Michael used affordable butcher block for much of the interior design, including for the kitchen and entertainment center frames. The man had a knack for finding good bargains and spent just over $100 for all of the wood on the bus. But to really save money, he avoided buying new furniture.
Instead of splurging on a new sofa for the living room, Talley took his couch from the studio apartment and repurposed it to fit the bus. Michael first removed the back, arms, and feet from the couch. Then he put the cushions and the box spring base into a wooden frame. The house started looking beautiful.
For the most part, Talley chose affordable and sturdy building materials. But for some parts of his home, the young creator wanted a more aesthetically pleasing look. Michael paid extra attention to the kitchen backsplash and the floors and had some gorgeous results.
"The only cosmetic design that I knew I wanted in the bus was dark hardwood floors, butcher block, and white subway tile with black grout," Talley shared. After researching kitchen tiling in RVs, Michael completed the kitchen backsplash himself. He then got hands-on with the desk area.
The Perfect Workspace
Michael may have been able to sacrifice storage space to save rent and live in a tiny home, but he couldn't sacrifice his work area. The graphic designer needed a sturdy place to work on, so he built a 5 feet wide, 2 feed desk from reclaimed floorboards.
Talley used "cubes" to support the left side of the desk, which also doubled as shelves for his vinyl records. To save space, he bought a foldable desk chair that could be put away when not in use. The completed workspace was bigger than anything Michael owned before!
The Technical Aspects
Aside from the fun stuff, Michael needed to make space for some form of the electricity system and water. Talley installed a 40-gallon water tank in a cabinet by the couch, along with a water pump, tankless water heater, and a grey water tank. For the electricity needed to power the television and workspace, he used solar energy.
Michael made space under the bed for batteries and installed the solar panels on the roof. "This was the most frustrating day of the build," he said of the installation. "I was doing it myself, it was very windy, and things kept falling off of the roof." That wasn't the only hurdle Talley encountered.
Engine & Personal Troubles
During the renovation, the school bus got stuck in the mud. When Michael attempted to move it, the wet dirt damaged the power steering. But difficulties in his personal life were possibly harder to handle than engine troubles, flying solar panels, and injuries from steel walls.
"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," Michael shared. The man faced two floods and plenty of hail storms. Add to that the fact that he never built anything before, and it's hard to imagine how Talley stayed motivated!
What Motivated Him
Despite the difficulties, Talley knew the whole experience would be worthwhile. He would save big bucks on monthly rent and utilities, and be a tiny homeowner! Money aside, Michael's compact house was better than his old apartment in various (and surprising) ways.
"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 of years," Talley shared. But along with the many benefits came a few cons.
For Michael, one of the appealing aspects of a tiny home was the mobility. He envisioned himself driving around the country with his mobile house, but the bus turned out to be a horrible travel buddy. Living in the bus was inexpensive, but traveling with it was costly.
"The school bus is also a terrible vehicle to travel around the country in," Michael explained. "It's bulky, expensive to operate, and expensive to service." But he accepted the cons, as nothing could replace building a home with his own hands. Talley was certain of one thing.
He Wouldn't Change a Thing
Michael's dream was finally a reality. The school bus was livable, equipped with comfortable and beautiful furniture, electricity, and water. When Talley first decided to buy a bus, he thought turning it into a tiny home would be a simple task.
That proved to be far from the truth, and the formally inexperienced builder took some big, and painful, hits. But at the end of the day, Michael didn't regret one thing. "I wouldn't change anything about it [the bus]," he said. In fact, the experience inspired him to continue building tiny homes!