“Skoolie living” refers to people who convert school buses (known as “skoolies”) into habitable tiny homes for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a traditional home. Many of these folks then hit the road traveling the country, seeking adventure, and oftentimes taking their work with them as freelancers or digital nomads.
And just how affordable is a skoolie home? Well, estimates vary depending on how much of the work you do yourself, but you should expect to spend on average between $20,000 to $40,000 to convert a school bus into a habitable home. And yes, this includes the cost of the bus itself.
What does a skoolie look like?
We’re not talking about the hippie buses of the 1970s that lacked amenities, oozed psychedelic vibes, and could frequently be found broken down at the side of the road. Depending on your budget and preferences, you can outfit your skoolie interior with all sorts of creature comforts, including:
- Complete kitchens with high-end countertops, cabinetry, and full-size appliances
- Full bathrooms with shower and tub
- Solar power, battery banks, and water collection systems for off-grid living
- Rooftop decks
- Ingenious storage solutions and built-ins to maximize the tiny space
And that last point is pretty important, because skoolies are obviously small. They range in size from 20 to 45 feet long and about 7.5 feet wide. That means you’re looking at approximately 120 square feet to 270 square feet of living space.
Below is one of my favorite skoolie examples from YouTube’s “Living Big in a Tiny House” channel. Luke and Rachel are a young couple who sold their 1,500 square foot home to fulfill their dream of traveling the country with their young daughter in their beautifully renovated skoolie.
Rachel is a digital nomad who can work from anywhere there’s an Internet connection and Luke (as you’ll see) is a talented welder. They did the entire skoolie conversion themselves for an estimated $30,000. Let me know what you think, but I’d have to say their skoolie is pretty spectacular!
Why are school bus homes so affordable?
The biggest cost of a school bus home is the cost to convert the bus into a habitable home. The cost of the bus itself is surprisingly affordable. While prices vary depending on the size of the bus, how old it is, and its condition, you can buy a used school bus anywhere from around $3,000 to $7,000+.
Used school buses are cheap because the overall buyer demand is low and inventory is high. Estimates indicate school districts in the United States put about 40,000 used buses up for sale each year.
This all has to do with the fact that most school districts have strict mandates regarding how long they can keep their buses in service. After a specified time, they’re required to get rid of their buses and buy new ones.
While replacement times vary by district, the average range seems to be from 6 to 12 years. Some buses are sold directly through the school districts, while others are sold through third-party bus brokers, government auction sites, and even eBay.
Because districts have safety regulations governing the repair of their buses, some buyers report they’ve purchased buses that are in excellent mechanical condition. Some buyers say they’ve even had access to the repair and maintenance records, which helps them verify the condition of the bus before they purchase.
But purchasing your skoolie is just the beginning…
To make it habitable, you’ll need to build out the interior areas of your new skoolie home, including the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living areas. This means adding in plumbing, heating/cooling, and power sources.
If you’re an experienced DIYer (or are willing to learn), you can cut your conversion costs down considerably. I’ve seen some skoolie conversions online where people have done most of the work themselves and ended up with a comfortable home on wheels for as little as $20,000.
Or, if you’re looking for someone to do the work for you, you could opt to hire a company that specializes in doing customized school bus renovations. Starting price for a customized bus conversion (excluding the cost of the bus) runs around $35,000.
Interested in learning more? Here are some tips to get you started…
- Check out a school bus auction site to get an idea of the kinds of buses available and pricing. A good place to start is GovDeals, a site that provides services to government agencies to help them sell their surplus assets.
- Contact your local school district to see if they have an upcoming auction. Some districts sell their used buses themselves and allow potential buyers the opportunity to see the buses in person before making a bid.
- Watch YouTube videos from skoolie owners. Many of these are in-depth videos of people who show you what skoolie life is really like. You’ll learn about the pros and cons of skoolie living, plus many take you step-by-step through the process of what they did to turn their bus into a home on wheels.
- Consider attending “Skooliepalooza.” Skoolie Palooza is an annual festival of school bus conversion owners held each January in Arizona.
- Check out my guide “Living in a Converted School Bus” for more tips and resources. I include information on where to get help with your bus conversion, tips on how to find and buy a bus to convert, and info on some unusual challenges you might encounter while living in a skoolie.
Did you enjoy this article? Do you think you could embrace the skoolie lifestyle? We’d love to hear your comments! Feel free to leave them below.
Have additional questions about living the skoolie lifestyle? Connect with more than 20,000 members of the r/skoolies community on Reddit. Ready to buy a skoolie? Find a finished skoolie for sale on Craigslist like this one or check out more skoolies for sale at claz.org. Or if you’re not quite ready for the mobile lifestyle, but looking for an affordable home alternative, consider this article on 3D printed homes.