Purchasing a school bus to convert into a tiny house on wheels instead of the traditional recreational vehicle
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Choosing to purchase a school bus and turn it into a tiny house on wheels is a huge decision. DON'T SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON THE WRONG BUS! Use our knowledge and experience to help you choose the perfect bus.
To help you find the perfect school bus for your needs, we wrote a book titled "So You Dream Of Owning A Skoolie." Our goals, through this book's nearly 100 beautifully illustrated pages, are to help you choose the right school bus for your needs, walk you through the steps that you will need to make in order to purchase your school bus, and resolve the legal considerations involved in owning your tiny home on wheels. Also included in this ebook are valuable checklists, pictures, resource lists, and many other useful aids to assist you in selecting the school bus of your dreams.
Over the last several months, a number of people have asked why we purchased a school bus with the intent to convert it into a tiny house on wheels instead of a traditional recreational vehicle. They invariably point to the ease of purchasing an RV. We agree, purchasing an RV is far easier than buying a school bus and converting it into a tiny home. However, in our opinion, that is where the positives for the RV purchase stops. Before buying our own school bus, Brian poured hours and hours of time into researching the pros and cons of purchasing a school bus instead of the traditional RV. Today I am sharing with you the results of that research. So without further ado, here are the top 10 reasons why our family decided to purchase a school bus that we are converting into a tiny home on wheels instead of the traditional RV.
1. The School Bus is Safer Than a Traditional RV
The purpose of a school bus is to transport children. Due to their primary function, school buses are designed to protect their occupants. They are better built than a traditional RV. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “school buses should be as safe as possible. That’s why our safety standards for school buses are above and beyond those for regular buses.” What are those safety features? The NHTSA states that, “School buses are equipped with flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors, and stop-sign arms. They also have protective seating, high crush standards, rollover protection features, and are designed to be highly visible.” One great feature that makes a school bus highly visible is a roof mount strobe light. This feature is a tremendous asset in severe weather: rain, fog, smog, and snow.
Another way that school buses are designed to protect their occupants involves the materials that are used to create them. According to the website How Products Are Made, the chassis and the body of a school bus is made of steel. Their windows are created using laminated glass. An article about School Buses on this website explains that, “laminated glass consists of two layers of glass surrounding a layer of plastic. The plastic holds the glass in place if the window is broken, adding to its safety.” The article goes on to talk about the strict government regulations that revolve around school bus manufacturing. The author explains that, “The United States government has issued regulations dealing with such items as brakes, emergency exits, floor strength, seating systems, windows, mirrors, fuel systems, and the crashworthiness of the body and chassis. As a result of these regulations, studies have shown that school buses are significantly safer than other forms of transportation used by school-age children.”
In contrast, the traditional RV is created using other types of materials. There are typically two ways that an RV is constructed. One method is the “stick-in-tin” construction. This construction involves building a wooden frame and laying aluminum over the frame, which is far less durable than steel. A newer way to construct an RV is called “laminate” construction. This method of construction involves building an aluminum frame and laying fiberglass over the frame. This method is also less durable than steel.
You can visibly see the difference in the quality of the construction materials when you look at pictures of traffic accidents. In fact, I encourage you to look up images of school buses in traffic accidents. Then take the time to look at some images of the traditional RV in a traffic accident. School buses fair much better when they end up in an accident. If the pictures do not make you a believer, maybe data will convince you.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “From 2006 to 2015 there were 324,710 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those crashes, 1,172 (0.4%) were classified as school-transportation-related. Between 2006 and 2015, there have been 1,313 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes- an average of 131 fatalities per year. Occupants of school transportation vehicles accounted for 9 percent of the fatalities.” If you do the math, that means 11 to 12 occupants of school buses died in traffic accidents. Another report by the U. S. Department of Transportation from 2016, showed 37,461 vehicle fatalities. Only 9 people were occupants of a school bus.
In contrast, a Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) stated that, “analysis of data between 2000 and 2007 found that a total of 212 people died in RV accidents in those years.” This is a rate of 26 deaths per year, much higher than the occupants of school buses.
2. Routine Safety Inspections are Required for a School Bus in Fleet
For us, purchasing a used school bus was far less concerning than purchasing a used RV. Our faith in the quality of the used school bus, that had been in a school district’s fleet its entire existence, came from its required yearly inspections. Our school bus was purchased from a school district in TN. According to the TN Department of Safety & Homeland Security, “School bus inspectors conduct annual and follow-up inspections on school buses in all school systems throughout the state during the school year. Extended utilization inspections are conducted and continued until the bus has been removed from service. Spot checks are conducted throughout the school year. These inspections are conducted randomly to ensure that buses are being properly maintained.” When we purchased our school bus, before we left the school property, we were able to see prove of that yearly maintenance through careful documentation of services and inspections done on the bus.
This kind of careful documentation and yearly inspection would be rare if you were to purchase a used RV. For RVs, yearly required inspections depend upon state law. In TN, RVs just need to have a yearly emissions inspection done in order to renew registration. When you are looking to buy a used RV, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to find one that has had documented routine maintenance since it is not required in many states.
3. Certain School Bus Engines are Extremely Durable
Another important detail that Brian researched was the durability of a school bus engine. We plan on traveling a lot and we wanted a tiny house on wheels that had an engine that would last for a very long time. Through research, we discovered that an RV engine can last for about 200,000 miles if it is well maintained over the years.
However, the engine of a school bus can last far longer. School bus conversion forums tend to prefer the 5.9L Cummins or the DT466. Both are great engines. According to the Cummins Hub: Cummins Turbodiesel Resource, the 5.9L Cummins can last for 350,000 miles. The DT466 engine can beat even this record. According to Truck Trend Network and Diesel Hub: The Diesel Owners Resource, the DT466 is known simply as, “The Legend”. It can last for 550,000 miles. Some people claim that their DT466 engine has hit the one million mile mark. Both engines are far superior to the engine of a traditional RV.
4. Purchasing a School Bus is Cheaper than Buying a Traditional RV
Another huge factor in our purchase selection was cost. By selling our house and living in a converted school bus, we hope to become completely debt free. Brand new class A RVs are going to start close to $200,000. Even a very old used RV, which would be scary to purchase, is going to start at $10,000.
In contrast, you can buy a good running used school bus for $500. It is entirely up to you how much money you invest into the conversion process. The beauty of converting the school bus yourself is that you can buy materials as you have the money. There is a tremendous financial flexibility in this plan. Due to our plan to make the school bus completely self-sufficient, when we complete our school bus conversion, we will be able to completely eliminate our mortgage and utilities. Our school bus, tiny house on wheels, will be completely paid for.
5. A School Bus Conversion Provides Marketing Attention
Another factor that we considered was the marketability of our chosen mode of transportation. The traditional RV is very common. A school bus converted into a tiny house on wheels is extremely rare. If you plan to document your travels or lifestyle, a school bus conversion is a great way to draw attention on social media.
6. Every School Bus Conversion is Unique
One thing that our family really liked about living in a school bus conversion is the uniqueness of it. When you purchase an RV, there are only some variations of floor plans. It does not matter which floor plan you choose because there will be thousands of other people on the road with the exact same floor plan. Not so with the Skoolie. Every school bus conversion is completely unique. Each person that creates a tiny house on wheels from a school bus, designs a floor plan that fits their personal needs and style. They are truly one of a kind.
7. School Bus Conversions are Completely Customizable
When you purchase an RV, you get to choose the floor plan that you like from a variety of floor plans. However, when you buy a school bus, you are given a blank slate. You can build anything you want within the shell of the school bus. This provides complete freedom to customize a floor plan specifically for your personal needs and wants.
Converting a school bus also gives you control over the quality of your tiny house on wheels. You have the complete freedom to choose your own appliances, furniture, and other materials. As the builder of your tiny house, you also control the quality of the labor being done to convert your school bus into a home.
8. School Bus Conversions Develop New Skills in the Builder
When you purchase an RV, there is no opportunity to develop any new skills other than perhaps learning how to drive a larger vehicle. However, when you buy a school bus, with the intent to convert it into a tiny house, you are opening the door to many opportunities for developing new skills. At this point in our build, my husband has recently learned how to properly insulate the inside of a school bus. He is presently learning how to rewire the electrical so that all the lights work when he drives it to the location where we will be painting it. My children have learned how to sand and use a drill. They have been right by their father’s side as he has tackled each conversion project. They will have so many hands on learning opportunities as we complete this school bus conversion.
9. Converting a School Bus Can Develop Good Character Traits in the Builder
There are so many opportunities for character developing while creating a tiny house out of a school bus. Converting a school bus takes patience. Every project tends to take far longer than expected. Each step seems to come with ten mini steps that you did not anticipate. With patience comes perseverance. Our children are learning that you do not give up when things get hard. You keep working and keep trying different ideas until you find the best solution to a problem that has arisen. This perseverance develops a good work ethic. A school bus conversion is hard work. However, there is a certain kind of self-satisfaction and pride that comes with being able to look back on a step completed knowing that you helped to finish that step. We are proud of what we have completed on our tiny house thus far and are looking forward to the day when we can say that we built our house together as a family.
10. Converting a School Bus Creates Quality and Quantity Time with Family and Friends
This leads me to my favorite reason for choosing to convert a school bus into a tiny house instead of purchasing a traditional RV. I love the quality and quantity time that we are spending together as a family. Our children are spending hours upon hours outside with their daddy learning new skills as well as enjoying conversation with each other. Their relationship with each other continues to strengthen as they work together to complete this amazing project. This conversion project has also opened doors to conversations with curious friends and neighbors. We have had the opportunity to meet new people and develop better relationships with old friends because of our bus project.
Now you have them, our ten reasons for purchasing a school bus instead of a traditional RV. Even though we are only part ways through our conversion project, our family is still very happy with our decision to buy a school bus. We are enjoying the process, slow as it may be, and are looking forward to the finished product one day. Best wishes on your decision to purchase a travel vehicle. If you choose to buy a school bus, we have included links for unique school bus keychains to celebrate your purchase.* We hope that you have many wonderful travel adventures in the vehicle that you choose.
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