Raising the roof of a skoolie can take the space from cramped to airy and livable – especially if you are over six feet tall! Most school buses come with a stock height of six feet and it can be a majorly discouraging factor if you or your family members are over six feet and don’t want to permanently hunch over inside your future home.
Raising the roof also allows you to build a full-height shower, add overhead storage, get dressed more easily, and so forth. Fortunately, there are several different ways to achieve a roof raise. In this article, we’ll look at a few different methods and hear from a couple of skoolie owners who are currently in the roof raise process!
So, how do you raise the roof of a skoolie? Essentially, you need to disconnect the roof from the body of the bus, raise it to the height you want it, build in supports to reattach the roof, and then cover the gaps in sheet metal and put in either the original bus windows or add different windows as needed.
There are several different popular techniques for achieving this. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
How 3 Skoolie Owners Raised Their Roofs
Chris – The Off Grid Skoolie
Chris of The Off Grid Skoolie raised his bus roof with some help from other OG skoolie community members and made a helpful video on how they did it. Essentially, they welded in four custom spreaders onto the ribs, removed all the rivets, cut the upright ribs in the middle, and sliced through the roof so the bus was entirely in two pieces.
Then they used a car jack and a beam to slowly raise the roof on one end while adjusting the spreaders to hold it in place, then did the same thing on the other end. Then they welded in new upright ribs, removed the spreaders, and attached new sheet metal to cover the gaps.
Wess – Transcend Existence
Wess of Transcend Existence used a similar method with the same spreader technique, although he added in some welded support bars before cutting and he added a custom door and stairwell on the side of the bus he was working on in this video. Wess travels around the country in his incredible bus and helps people do their roof raises, which is a huge way to support the growing community.
Rachel and Zach – Okie Nomads
I spoke with Rachael and Zach (@okienomads featured image top of post), who have previously lived in a short skoolie and are now working on raising the roof of a full-size bus. They used a different method altogether from Chris and Wess. Here’s what they shared about the process:
How did you decide to embark on a DIY roof raise?
“When we built our first bus, a 4-window shorty, the interior height was between 5’11”-6’1”. Zach is 6’3” and after traveling around North America for two years full-time, we realized that he was experiencing some back pain and discomfort from slouching and hunching over inside.
So once we decided to build a full-size bus, we knew that we wanted a roof raise. With our 12-inch roof raise, the interior height of our new bus is over 7 feet tall! Even with a heavily insulated floor and ceiling, there will be tons of headroom!”
Did you have any relevant skills/experience doing things like this before?
“We do have a fair amount of experience building things and we successfully built our short bus and only had to redo a couple of things over our time on the road. Neither of us are very good welders however, so we enlisted help from Rachael’s dad, who happens to be a welder and engineer. We are fairly confident that we could have figured out the roof raise on our own, but it helps having the extra help with the project.”
Can you give a brief summary of the steps in this process?
“The steps to raising a school bus roof are pretty simple… We bought our bus with the seats and floor already removed, so that was one step we didn’t have to do. First, we had to remove all of the interior sheet metal and windows.
Next we had to remove each rivet that was holding the two ‘halves’ of the bus together and remove two rows of rivets both above and below the windows. We then built a set of wood cribbing and placed jacks between the cribbing ladders on each end of the bus.
Once the weight of the bus was supported by the cribbing, we cut all of the ribs and the roof. We lifted the roof an inch or two at a time before switching to the other end and lifting it to the same height. We braced the front of the bus side to side with square tubing. Once we got the height we wanted, we placed square tube pieces in the ribs around the bus and tacked them in with the welder.
We will then place sheet metal along the outside of the bus window openings and rivet them in place. Once closed up, we will cut openings for RV windows and install them. Everything after this point should be the same as building a normal height bus.”
Do you have any pros/cons for others considering a roof raise?
“The only real con of doing a roof raise is the amount of extra work and effort involved. We greatly underestimated the amount of time and energy required to cut up a perfectly good bus and put it back together again. Without raising the roof we would have already been half-way through building out the interior of our bus at the same point in time.
The benefits of raising the roof are huge, for us at least! The added interior height enables us to walk in all areas of the bus without crouching or ducking! A full-height shower is in the works as well as plenty of overhead cabinet storage, all because of the extra foot of headroom.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the roof raise that I haven’t asked?
“For anyone considering a roof raise, there are a couple of tools that have made the job a lot easier. First, use an air hammer with a chisel bit to remove rivets…you will thank me later. Second, use personal protective equipment when working on a roof raise. Gloves, eye protection, and masks are a must when cutting up metal, hammering on rivets, and removing insulation.
It will be harder to enjoy your beautiful roof raise when you are blind, deaf or fingerless. Once you make it to the rivet stage, investing in a decent pneumatic rivet gun and a compressor big enough to run it will pay dividends when you are fastening thousands of ¼-inch rivets!”
Cost of raising a Skoolie roof?
The cost of raising a skoolie roof varies dramatically based on whether you are able to do the work yourselves or if you have to hire a fabricator or a contractor to do the entire process for you.
Some people who are able to do most of the work themselves and salvage some of their materials have raised their roof for as low as about $1,000, while some companies will charge around $10,000 to do it professionally.
Experience and Skills Needed
A big part of the cost depends on whether you or someone you know can weld and has welding tools and gear. This is a huge and integral part of any roof raise process, as Rachael and Zach mentioned and as was shown in the YouTube videos above.
Hiring someone to weld and fabricate for you can run about $75-$100 per hour, so that can add up quickly on top of the costs of materials, so knowing how to weld is a majorly helpful skill for this process.
A general knowledge of power tools and shop safety is also very important for this process. You are essentially cutting a bus in half, and if you don’t do it properly, the entire bus roof could come crashing down. If you have never used a power tool in your life, this isn’t a good first project for you.
Pros and Cons of completing a Roof Raise on your Skoolie:
Let’s look at some specific pros and cons…
- Gives you tons of headroom which is critical for your spine’s health if you are tall
- You can build in full-height showers, more spacious bunks, overhead storage, and so forth
- Makes the space feel more open and roomier
- It’s a lot of work
- It changes the center of gravity for your bus
- You need to pay close attention to overpass height, low bridges, etc. – and keep in mind your state’s regulations on maximum vehicle height
Skoolie Roof Raise Service Providers
As I mentioned, Wess of Transcend Existence travels around the country, often stopping to help others with their roof raises as he goes. You can reach out to him directly to inquire about his help. Many other skoolie owners who have done their own roof raises are generally willing to answer questions or even physically help you with the process.
If you want to do the roof raise yourself but need a little guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone in the community.
Or, you can go the formal route and hire a skoolie company to do the roof raise for you. There are several companies who do this, and a simple Google search will turn up companies in your area.
You can also check with the companies we featured here: School Bus Conversion Companies: 10 Crowd Favorites
My Final Thoughts…
I love the idea of a roof raise, although my boyfriend and I chose not to raise the roof on our short skoolie. If we were to do another conversion, we would certainly consider a roof raise that would allow us to insulate the floor and ceiling while still leaving enough room for Aaron (who is six feet tall) to move around comfortably.
We have been in friends’ buses that are seven and a half feet tall inside and they feel incredibly open and welcoming, and although we are used to our short ceilings after two and a half years in our bus, the extra space would definitely be welcome.
We are also much more comfortable with bus projects now – the first few times we had to cut holes in our bus were almost physically painful, but now a roof raise would not seem absurd!
Up Next In School Bus Conversions:
Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!