Young Couple Embarks On an Incredible Skoolie Journey
| LAST UPDATE 02/20/2023
When it came to diving into the skoolie lifestyle, Tierra and Caleb had two things on their mind: saving the environment and saving cash. And with some DIY work, they achieved their dreams. Here's their story.
Meet Tierra and Caleb
Our story starts with Tierra and Caleb Brackney, Gen-Z lovebirds that embarked on a DIY project for the ages. While a growing trend across America, each couple is attracted to skoolie life for different reasons.
The answer lies in Brackney's studies during university. "I studied interior design for my undergrad," the DIY master shared. "I'm doing architecture and landscape architecture for my master's work." With the expertise of his degree behind his back, renovating a bus seemed like the challenge of a lifetime.
Goodbye Conventional Housing
Even though Tierra and Caleb had the funds to rent a traditional apartment together - or even put down money for a mortgage - something about renovating a school bus truly appealed to them on multiple levels. Not only did they want to live an eco-friendly life, but they wanted to save money while doing it.
"I despise the thought of paying rent, seven or eight hundred dollars a month," Brackney confessed. And so the solution appeared right before his eyes: a skoolie could solve his rent-aversions all while providing him and his girlfriend a great place to live. It was time to get started.
In the long run, the bus-turned-home was going to be a place for both Caleb and Tierra to live. But, to get started, only Caleb planned on living aboard the skoolie. That way, he had a place to stay while he wrapped up his studies in Knoxville, Tennessee, which happened to be where he grew up as well.
Tierra, on the other hand, was just a quick two-hour drive away in Murfreesboro where she was completing pilot training. The couple planned on using the bus as their home in TN, in addition to using it for weekend getaways and vacations. And as luck had it, they stumbled across the perfect one on Facebook Marketplace.
"My Greatest Adventure Yet"
After some diligent scrolling, Caleb and Tierra zeroed in on their future bus. "Looking forward to this challenge which will hopefully be my greatest adventure yet!" the student gushed, revealing his big purchase to his followers. "I bought this 1995 Thomas International bus on Facebook Marketplace from Rome, Georgia."
All that was missing to kick off the skoolie adventure was a name for the yellow steed. And so, Caleb decided on "the Roamer." And the Roamer came in at a whopping 36 feet in length with 29 feet of design space on the inside - which, in comparison, was pretty on-par with studio apartments.
Time To Get To Work
For Caleb, 29 feet was more than enough to get his mind racing with creative ideas to refurbish the bus's interior. However, in order to achieve his blank canvas, he and Tierra first had to strip the bus down to its bones. From seats to flooring, everything needed to go in order to get to the fun part.
It's a necessary part of the skoolie journey. After all, no traditional school bus comes ready to start installing cabinets and beds! So, the young couple started taking the bus's interior apart bit by bit. It was a painstaking task, but beneath all the leather and metal paneling laid the foundations of their future home.
Mapping It All Out
On the flip side, there were some definite benefits to this stage of the skoolie makeover. While renovations can seem to stretch on for ages thanks to updated plans and unforeseen obstacles, the removal of the bus's current hardware had a clear finish line from the get-go.
But as far as plans went, Tierra and Caleb were pretty set, thanks to Brackney's keen eye for design. The pair's future home included all the need-to-have amenities like a kitchen, eating area, sofa for lounging, bedroom, plus a bathroom. And Caleb found a way to squeeze it all into an open-concept layout!
This was no average skoolie. But, after all, Caleb was no average DIY-er. He put a great deal of thought into each decision. "The way you move through space affects every aspect of your life. It affects the way you sleep, it affects the way you can work and be productive, it affects your relationships with people," he explained.
"So taking into consideration all aspects of a project and all aspects of the way you live life really affects that," he continued. "If you can take control of the way you live, the way you use your space, then you can really do anything." It's clear this wasn't just a home to him - it was a way of life.
Down to the Bones
Seats weren't the only thing that had to go... Caleb and Tierra also had the labor-intensive task of tearing out the protective flooring. Lucky for them, they had some heavy-duty tools that aided in getting the job done, which exposed some beaten-down flooring underneath.
Next, the DIY-fanatic couple took on the bus's walls. While the floor was a flat surface, the curved portion of the bus's ceiling proved to be less than cooperative. However, Caleb and Tierra persisted, and eventually, they got the Roamer to a state where they had a fresh slate.
De-Rusting the Roamer
Even with the bus's original hardware a thing of the past, Caleb and Tierra weren't exactly in the clear when it came to preparing the Roamer for renovations. Before they could fortify the structure with some extra foundation, they had to tackle the bus's wear and tear.
As mentioned earlier, the bus came from Facebook Marketplace, which meant it wasn't exactly fresh out of the factory. And after two decades of Georgian humidity, the metal portions of the bus had certainly taken a beating. Luckily, a heavy coating of Rust-Oleum solved that problem, and it was time to get to flooring.
Penny for Our Thoughts?
The bus's base was officially sealed and ready to be covered in flooring. However, Caleb and Tierra encountered a small hiccup: there were puncture marks from where the seats had been secured to the bus. With no shortage of creative ideas, they had the perfect solution for this standard skoolie obstacle.
They clogged the drill holes with pennies! "200 pennies to fill 200 holes. Best $2 ever spent," Caleb exclaimed of his creative hack. With that problem out of the way, they continued on with the flooring, leaving some room for their installment frames to tuck perfectly into the bus's interior. They were well on their way...
Making the Bus Livable
Pinterest-worthy interior design isn't the only thing that makes a skoolie a great housing option, it's also all about the function. And that means taking the time to make the bus suitable for year-round living. But while many skoolie DIY-ers opt for insulation that comes in a canister, Caleb and Tierra went a different route.
The penny-pinching skoolie couple opted for insulation mats and foam cutouts instead. It made for a tidier installation but also saved some dollars off their budget. They started with a 10 grand budget, with $3,000 having gone to the bus purchase. "So that left $7,000 to do all of the interior renovations," Caleb explained.
Building the Skeleton
But with the main frame of the bus ready to go, Caleb and Tierra really started to feel the ball rolling. While they installed the foam padding, they also got to work on building the skeleton of the bus's interior. And in true skoolie fashion, they went the custom route, designing each area to maximize space.
Pictured above, Caleb was lounging on what would become his pull-out sofa. "I'm gonna wait to build the legs until the finish floor is in because I'm not sure what height to make them until I make the floor," the DIY-er explained of his semi-complete living room.
And the do-it-yourself energy carried on throughout the rest of the house. After all, for a design enthusiast like Caleb, that was a big part of the skoolie fun. Next up was the kitchen, where the eco-friendly couple scored big with another repurposed find that ticked their low-cost box.
"These were actually semi-truck beds," Brackney explained. "So I got all of these countertops for like forty dollars, and so I planed them down and stained them, and it was really cool to be able to see that raw, semi-truck bed and now to see it's my kitchen countertop. It really seemed the most economical way and durable."
The rest of the living room seating came together in practically no time at all. And like all good skoolie designs, there were some corners of the bus that barely resembled a renovated school bus at all! But other parts... Not so much. One, in particular, was a wheel well that blocked the "hall" to the bedroom.
It's an unavoidable part of bus living, but Caleb embraced it with his typical design-savvy eye. "For the wheel well I just put some insulation and carpet over it… so it makes a nice seamless transition," he shared. "And since it's carpeted, it's a nice place if someone wants to sit and watch TV."
With the living areas taking shape, Caleb and Tierra turned their attention to the ceiling. They wrapped up with the final insulation, however, not before squeezing in another custom feature: a raised roof over the food prep area. "I'm like 6'1, and so headspace was a big issue for me," Brackney said.
"So I cut out this hole in the ceiling and reinforced it with metal tubing and two by fours and then built the way up," he continued to explain. Not only did it save him from hunched shoulders or a banged-up head, but it also brought in more light thanks to the plexiglass siding he added.
Some Aesthetic Touches
While some skoolie renovators take a theme and run with it until the very end, Caleb and Tierra were committed to bringing in a number of colors and textures to add depth to their home on wheels. And the kitchen was no exception. From the truckbed counter to the upper storage, it was all about pleasing the eye.
"My favorite thing about skoolies is how unique and personalized they can be for their owner," Caleb gushed. "I'm getting so excited to move in within the next five weeks, and even after spending the past five months converting the bus, I'm still learning something new every day on this journey!" He could see the finish line...
The creative design elements weren't just restricted to the kitchen, either. Practically every corner of this home on wheels had a feature more unique than the last - especially the backsplash they chose for the wall featured in the picture below. And all these beautiful elements were achieved without breaking the bank.
"The ceiling is actually just siding," Caleb explained of the bus's white topping. "You know, instead of having a wood ceiling which is really heavy and would hold moisture, these are just pieces of siding from Lowe's that come in like a 12-foot strip. And so they're super light, they're cheap and easy to bed and move."
Never Missing a View
With a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom to squeeze into a bus, it's understandable that Caleb and Tierra were pretty preoccupied with getting the bus's interior to a certain standard. But with renovations winding down, they decided to tackle the next project: the rooftop deck.
"The rooftop deck is a repurposed utility trailer, so I didn't have to buy any steel for that," Brackney boasted of his eco-friendly hack. "The trailer was super easy! Just bolted it through the 2 rails along the roof and laid 1x6s along it! The skylight was the tricky part," he continued to explain.
Focusing on the Exterior
With most of the big tasks completed, the couple got to focus on more aesthetic projects, like the bus's exterior. They went for Valspar Duramax Exterior Paint for their Pinterest-worthy transformation. "So with painting the bus, I did not want to have to spray it. One, I didn't want to have to buy a sprayer," Caleb explained.
"Also, I didn't want to worry about the paint getting everywhere. And so I rolled and brushed all of it," Brackney shared. "It's just like a tan-colored paint job for the top, and it only took one gallon for the whole thing. And then one gallon of flat black Rustoleum paint for the bottom." They were fighting rust in style.
A Peek Inside
So, how does it look from the perspective of someone entering the bus from the main door? Well, it starts with the kitchen. Immediately after the seat, the microwave, counter space, and mini oven can be found - in addition to a number of handy cooking tools that they made readily available.
"For most of my cooking, I use an instant pot and air fryer, which really is one of my favorite parts of this kitchen because I can just throw it up here," Brackney explained. "I don't have to worry about cleaning a lot of pots, and I don't have to worry about the power."
All-In-One Eating Area
Moving on from the kitchen area, the next part of the bus was where Caleb and Tierra would work and eat. And it had a special extra feature to suit Caleb's musical passions. "I play several different instruments, and so in order for it to feel like home, I needed instruments in here," he said. Challenge accepted.
"I have this keyboard that just slides out to where I can just sit here if I'm doing homework or just like to de-stress I can play," Brackney explained of his piano-on-the-go. Also featured in the picture above is the pellet stove that Caleb and Tierra installed to help keep their skoolie cozy during winter.
A Kitchen Full of Amenities
But that's not all! The kitchen runs along not one, but two sides of the bus. "Being a design student, I've always learned that you want to layout spaces to where it really reflects the lifestyle you live," he said. "I wanted the kitchen to be upfront because… I wanted to be able to walk in [and] throw stuff in the fridge."
And the fridge in question can be found below the instant coffee machine pictured above. While they started off with a mini-fridge, Caleb and Tierra took into account a possible upgrade in their future and designed the space to suit a regular-sized fridge as well.
One thing that's great about skoolies is that there's no pressure to follow regular organization styles in apartments. Rather than in the bedroom, Caleb and Tierra kept their clothes in a closet positioned in between the kitchen and living room. Hey, if it works, right?
Caleb wanted the closet doors to match the paneling on the ceiling, and he achieved the look with a CNC router. Below the closet's hanging space is home to other must-haves for their bus, including the water pump, electrical hardware, and battery indicator.
Lounging On the Go
Caleb and Tierra wanted relaxation to be built into their home-on-wheels, whether they were in the city and busy with studies or out on the open road. And so, a hammock was a must-have. "With loving being outside... I made sure to put hooks," Caleb described of his hammock set-up.
Whether on their own or hosting company, it was a perfect addition. "If someone wants to stay over, they can just sleep in a hammock. Or if I'm doing homework or reading, I can sit in it. It's pretty cool," Caleb said proudly. While there was a worry it would appear cramped, the white interior made for a spacious feel.
Netflix and Chilling
Next up was the completed living room area, which featured a corner sofa unit and tons of smart storage. "These couch cushions are from my old couch. I just got cushion covers for them, and really I think one of the most fun parts of this journey has been figuring out ways to do this economically," Caleb said.
"Because part of this sustainable lifestyle is leaving as little impact as I can on the Earth but also on my wallet," Brackney continued to explain. "So I wanted to be able to model a lifestyle where you could take things that you already have and then use those to build something else."
Open to the Great Outdoors
From unique material choices to clever storage hacks, Caleb managed to design a skoolie that left visitors in shock and was full of surprises - one of which was the addition of a second door! For regular skoolie enthusiasts, this was no standard feature - but a must-have for the nature-loving couple.
"I wanted to keep the existing side door right here just because that lets in a lot of light," Caleb shared. "It lets an airflow, and it's, you know, fun for my dog just to sit here, and she looks out all the time." Plus, the views only added to the open feel of the home-on-wheels.
Bed on Full Display
Moving on from the living room came the place where Caleb and Tierra would relax after a long day: the bedroom. "For the layout of the bus, the study space, and living space, I wanted to kind of be together," he explained. "And then you know I have a queen-size bed in here, but how could I use that other than just for sleeping?"
"And so right now, I can use it for seating. So if people are over, they can sit up against the headboard," he shared. "It really just makes the space feel bigger because I'm not hiding it away in the back." Plus, the brown squares featured behind the bed also include more clever storage solutions!
Entertainment for Everyone
While the views they would have from the skoolie windows would be more than enough, Caleb and Tierra also opted for a TV in their new home. "The TV is on a swivel to where if I'm in the kitchen, I can watch it or on this side," Caleb explained. But how did they power the Roamer's appliances?
Short answer: an inverter. "The battery bank is enough to use it for a little bit... But when I'm plugged in, everything works fine," Brackney explained of the electrical solutions. Also featured in the picture is one of Caleb's proudest designs, a creative light set-up made from recycled plumbing hardware.
As Luxurious As Bathrooms Get
Caleb and Tierra wanted to keep their skoolie design as open-concept as possible. But even that had its limits: most importantly, the bathroom. Their five-star facilities were tucked away from the rest of the bus to allow for some privacy. Behind the toilet is extra storage, and the toilet easily drains out the back.
And, of course, they had a shower on the bus as well. "I have a separate gray water tank for the kitchen sink, which is 40 gallons, and then I have a separate gray water tank for the shower which is 40 gallons, and then I have a 25-gallon black water tank for the toilet," Brackney explained.
Having designed the home to their specific taste, Caleb and Tierra's skoolie had some pretty great features - and not just on the inside. Pictured below is one of the favorite aspects for friends and family that come to visit: a projector and white backdrop for summer movie nights.
"As we go along the bus, I have outdoor outlets on either side, and so these are pretty cool," Brackey pointed out. "They can pop out so I can plug something in and then keep it closed so water doesn't get in there while they're being used." It seems these two are clearly living the skoolie dream!