When Kelsey and Jamie decided to settle down and buy their own home, they chose not to go down the traditional route. Instead, they poured their budget into an old school bus. Here's their skoolie transformation.
The Young Couple
Kelsey first met Jamie when she relocated from Connecticut, USA, to England, where she planned to complete a master’s degree in business. But when the two crossed paths, her plans took a sudden turn.
Their relationship quickly blossomed, and when Kelsey finished her degree and returned to the U.S., Jamie followed suit. "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 admitted.
Finding The Skoolie
Shortly after the pair were reunited in the U.S., Kels and Jamie eloped. They were ready to commit to each other fully, and that meant not only marriage but sharing a home together. Because Kelsey was paying off student loans and the pair were still committed to travel, they chose not to buy a traditional home.
Instead, they decided to join the skoolie community, a dispersed group of people who convert school buses into functional mobile homes. For Jamie and Kelsey, the unique lifestyle was enticing, as it gave them the comforts of home while still allowing them to travel. And soon enough, they found the bus they wanted.
Their Future Home
The bus was a 2001 Thomas Freight Liner they had seen on eBay. The seller was happy to let the couple take a look before they made a decision to purchase, which isn't always possible for skoolie buyers. The fortunate pair were drawn to the bus because it was a standard dog nose bus, which had an engine on the outside.
This was a big plus, as it meant there would be less noise and heat while driving compared to a flat nose bus. It was 35 feet long with 10 windows that ran along both sides, which appealed to Kels and Jamie as it meant they would have enough room for their floorplan - without being too big to drive comfortably.
Pulling Out The Seats
Their plan was to begin renovations at Kelsey’s family home, where most of the conversion would take place. Despite having little experience with construction, she and Jamie were confident that they could plan and execute the majority of the conversion themselves.
The first step, as with the majority of skoolies, was to gut the interior of the bus to make room for their home. That meant removing every set of seats, which required Kelsey to crawl beneath the bus and loosen the bolts with a wrench - while Jamie stripped the seats out from the inside. Next were the walls and floors.
It wasn’t just the seats that needed removing - the couple also had to strip the wall panels, floor, and ceiling. That way, they could install full insulation before rebuilding. First, they pulled up the rubber floor, which was easy enough. But the floor beneath was a different story…
There was more rust than they had expected. "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," they shared. Thankfully they had a rust converter on hand, which would smooth out the surface and allow them to add rust prevention paint.
Lifting The Ceiling
Though Jamie and Kelsey were very pleased with the school bus, there was one problem. It wasn’t quite tall enough for the couple. This meant that the roof would have to be raised to accommodate them, which would be a daunting process. They removed the windows and cut beneath them, preparing for the lift.
And then the worst happened - on the first attempt to lift the ceiling, the roof collapsed! "Our bus was crooked, and we didn't know how we were going to fix it. We were devastated," they recalled. Despite the scare, they tried again and were able to successfully raise the ceiling by 16 inches.
Framing, Insulation, And Subfloor
After gutting the interior, there was a little scrap metal left over which the couple used to close up the two separate halves of the bus and patch up any remaining holes. They also resealed the former windows that had been removed so they could begin framing the skeleton of their home.
But it wasn’t just the walls that needed framing. They also framed the floor before installing insulation boards and building the subfloor on top, using Oriented Strand Board. Once that was complete, they did the same to the walls and ceilings, installing insulation and finishing the framing with lumber.
Spray Foam Situation
Though they used rigid insulation boards for the floor, Kels and Jamie opted to use spray foam insulation in the walls and ceilings. And it wasn't as straightforward as they had expected. "Spray foam is a messy job," Jamie explained. "It's been 5 days, and I still have it in my hair."
During that time, the couple also got to work on the power system, another crucial part of the build. "This was something that totally overwhelmed us. But after countless hours of research, we finally got our head around electrical," they admitted. "We have roughed in all our outlets and 12v lighting."
But the spray foam job wasn’t quite finished. Once it had set, they still had to scrape off the excess that clung to the wall and ceiling frames. Once complete, the bus was fully prepped. They finally had a blank slate to work with, and it was time for the building to begin.
There was a lot of work still to be done. Not only were Jamie and Kelsey intending to do the interior construction themselves, but they also planned to build the furniture too! It was a little overwhelming, but custom-built furniture would allow them to maximize the space as much as possible.
Building The Walls
But before they could even think about the furniture, Jamie and Kelsey had to build walls throughout the bus and finish the ceiling. Though some skoolie builders choose to reuse the bus’ original metal sheets, these DIYers chose to use wood panels that they could easily paint in a style that fits.
Despite the trouble it had caused originally, making the ceiling higher turned out to be a blessing, as the new walls and panelled ceiling took 5 whole inches off the new height. Both Kelsey and Jaime were tall, so without the roof raise, the bus would have been virtually invisible.
Jamie and Kelsey had finally finished off the walls and ceiling panels and had even put up walls to separate the bathroom and set up the kitchen space. This meant they could begin building their custom furniture, and each room would need very different pieces.
But before they did that, they had one last step to complete. The duo got their hands on plenty of free pallet wood from a Harley Davidson store, and they began sanding and staining each piece before using them to line the ceiling. "It was an absolute labor of love," they said.
Starting The Kitchen
Now that the skeleton of the kitchen was there, they could begin installing the appliances and building the furniture. "Cutting into the countertop was definitely a measure 100 times cut once kinda thing," the couple explained of the delicate job. But once it was done, they had the perfect setup for a stove/oven and sink.
They managed to obtain a lot of their appliances secondhand. Just like the bus, Jamie and Kelsey scored their Furrion RV Stove Oven and spacious kitchen sink from eBay. There were a few tiny scratches on both, so the couple was able to buy them with a heavy discount.
Finally Finished Floors
Though they had already done so much work on the floors, they still had one more step to finish things off. They had to lay vinyl flooring through most of the bus, which they managed to do in less than an hour of work! "The perks of converting a bus I suppose," Kelsey laughed.
Despite how quick it was to install, choosing the materials for the floor had been a different story. They eventually chose the vinyl due to it being "robust, waterproof, and super easy to install," but they mixed things up by choosing stone tiles for their small bathroom.
Preparing The Shower
Speaking of the bathroom, construction in that area was also well underway. Based on their floor plan, this room would be built in the back half of the bus with the bedroom, while the living room and kitchen would be closer to the front. The bathroom would be full-sized too, so they wouldn’t have to stop at public restrooms.
Kelsey and Jamie had already started work on their shower by installing both a shower pan and cement boards. They also made sure to line the space with water-proof material before putting the shower tiles in. "Tiling is not a quick job. But the end result is so worth it," the couple shared.
Upward And Onward
By now, Jamie and Kelsey were several months in, and their progress was palpable. The kitchen faucet and counter were done, and they could start finishing off their home. "We are getting to the finishing stages of the build," they said. "First lick of paint is going up inside."
They began working on the lighting throughout the mobile home, too, installing recess lighting along the ceilings and a few below the kitchen cabinets. They also added extra light fixtures above the windows along the left side of the bus and solar-powered LED lights for the outside.
The Living Space
When it came to the living space, the couple knew that its centerpiece had to be a couch. But it also had to fit the space to a tee. Using several pieces of 2 by 10 lumber (a "cheaper alternative to butcher block"), they began building the perfect seating for their new home.
All in all, the couch cost just $80, with the exception of the staining material and the cushions and upholstery. The couch was then placed beside the kitchen counter, as per their floor plan. It was a carefully considered decision, as Jamie and Kels wanted a "seamless transition from kitchen top to the corner sofa."
Their housebus was really starting to come together, looking more and more like the house of their dreams every day. Now that they had the basics out of the way, they could start on the details. For example, the ladder that the couple had promised each other they would build.
Using the remains of a dead tree in the backyard, Jamie and Kelsey sanded down the pieces and covered them in polyethylene before stringing the pieces together with two lengths of rope and connecting them to hooks. Voila! They had a hand-crafted DIY ladder… but where was it going to go?
To The Rooftop
The ladder would be hung from a space in the ceiling, giving the couple and their visitors access to the rooftop! "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," the couple explained. They had built the deck themselves, and the results were outstanding.
Not only was it a lovely space to look out at the surrounding views and do some cloud-spotting, but it also meant their home had even more space. And what's more, according to Kelsey and Jamie, the deck cost just "400 bucks and a lot of sweat." And there was another useful purpose for the rooftop.
A New Look
Jamie and Kels also used the deck as the anchor point for their solar panels, which were going to power much of the home. "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 said.
A little further down, they also got to work on the outer walls of the bus. They prepared the exterior for 14 hours and then added several layers of white paint to the entirety of the vehicle. Once done, they used tape to mark out a geometric design before spray painting over it, resulting in this creative mural.
A Bus Transformed
After months of work, the interior of the bus looked even better than Kelsey and Jamie could have hoped! Below is a picture of the complete front half of the bus, where the living room, kitchen, breakfast bar, and entrance area are all newly minted and on display.
With all said and done, the persevering couple had calculated the cost of the entire bus - it was $26,458, and had taken approximately 8 months to complete. And that calculation took everything into account, from the bus itself to the building materials, appliances, tires, brakes, upholstery, etc.
The Custom-Made Couch
It’s safe to say their skoolie conversion saved Kelsey and Jamie quite a lot of bucks, and that can be seen throughout the bus. Take their custom-made couch, for example, which cost them just $80! Not only did it fit the home perfectly, but it even had built-in storage beneath it.
They also built another storage unit between the couch and the driver's seat, as well as a swinging chair that could hang from a hook on the ceiling. Though the couch fit great, sometime later, they would switch it out for a more comfortable futon. But it's the thought and effort that counts!
The Complete Kitchen
The couple was very pleased with their fully-equipped kitchen. "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 explained. "Jamie built all our cabinets and our counter completely from scratch so we could get the most out of our tiny space."
Unfortunately, it wasn’t perfect for long. The carefully measured countertop cracked soon after the build was complete and had to be replaced with a laminate countertop the couple purchased from IKEA. Though there is no dishwasher, the kitchen sink was more than large enough to be used as part of both the kitchen and the bathroom.
Attention To Detail
Besides the spacious sink was a board that Kelsey and Jamie had added, which they used to place ingredients, soap, mugs and glasses - and anything else they wanted on hand. But of course, once they got back on the road, everything had to be put away in more secure storage.
As beautiful as the finished kitchen was, it was, most importantly, a very useful space. The DIY duo had trouble finding a bus with built-in storage, so they chose to build in underbody storage where they could stow away a 100-gallon water tank, propane for the stove, and even a waste tank!
A Few Finishing Touches
As we can see from their ingenious built-from-scratch rope ladder, Kelsey and Jamie were fans of salvaging and repurposing old items and materials. They also used rope to fill in gaps between the wall and ceiling paneling, which added a lovely quaint touch to the overall decor as well as served an important purpose.
In the picture above, white curtains can be seen on the kitchen windows. These were later switched in favor of insulated window covers. The couple explained their decision, saying, "This is something we truly didn't understand until we were living in our bus in the dead of the summer. Insulated curtains help the heat stay out."
The Breakfast Area
On the other side of the bus, directly across from the kitchen counters, is a narrow breakfast bar that the couple can use for eating, working, and hanging out. The snazzy bar can even be folded out to double as a larger table for dinners or extra space when they have visitors over.
They built the bar for just $50 and designed it to be as unobtrusive as possible while still serving several important purposes. Despite its humble beginnings, it turned out to be one of Jamie and Kelsey’s most beloved pieces of furniture on the bus!
A Warm Wood Stove
As many skoolie-owners do, Jamie and Kelsey chose to drive around the states in their new home. But they knew they would need some way to combat the different weather systems around the country. So they had a built-in heating system that would help them deal with winter in some of the country’s colder states.
It was a lovely wood-burning stove they had purchased from Northwoods Fabrication, fitted with flue parts they bought separately via Tiny Wood Stove. "It's insane how quickly the bus warms up when we get this going," the couple said. "Gets so toasty in here!"
Next, we have the bathroom, which Kelsey and Jamie had blocked off from the living areas with a rustic sliding door that would take up less space in the house while still keeping the area private. Beyond that door was not just a bathroom -but the most expensive item on the bus.
No, it wasn't a spa bath - it was a composting toilet that had set the couple back almost $1000, pricier than any single other pieces of furniture they owned. According to the couple, "there really isn't much to it at all," and they would probably opt to build their own if they had to do the whole process over.
Taking a peek into the couple's shower space, some people might assume this gorgeous setup was in a hotel or condo. They certainly did a great job securing those tiles. But despite how glamorous and spacious the skoolie washroom is, Jamie and Kelsey aren't able to use it as much as they might like.
"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," the pair elaborated. "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!"
The Dream Bedroom
Last but not least is the couple's warm, cozy bedroom. Jamie and Kelsey put a lot of effort into their sleeping space, constructing a piece of art made out of repurposed wood panels and placing it above their bed in lieu of a headboard. It was a lovely aesthetic addition to the space.
It's difficult to tell in the photo above, but the couple's bed is actually so high up that they need a "running start" to get into bed. While that would seem strange in a "normal" home, it gives them plenty of space for storage. "I think just living this lifestyle, you realize how little that you truly need," Kelsey explained.
Life On The Road
Now that the home is complete and Jamie and Kelsey are living on the road, how do they feel about it? Well, the bus may have broken down several times, amongst other difficulties, but this couple still wouldn't trade living in Bessy (the bus's new name) for a traditional home.
The lifestyle is exactly what they dreamed of and has opened them up to a world of new experiences. "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 exclaimed. It sounds like things are only going up from here, and we couldn't be happier for them!