How Long Does a Bus Conversion Take? (6 Owners Share All)

how long does a bus conversion take

Converting a bus into a tiny home on wheels is a big project, and many people set very ambitious timelines only to have their plans thwarted when the conversion takes longer than they thought it would. In this article, I’ll share how long it took to convert my own bus and we’ll hear from five other bus conversion owners about the timelines of their build processes.

So, how long does a bus conversion take? Expect to spend anywhere between 6 months and 2 years converting a bus. Of course, the exact timeline will vary based on how experienced you are, whether you are working or going to school or raising a family while converting the bus, the size of the bus, and the amenities and finish level you choose for your conversion.

My bus conversion took 8 months

My boyfriend and I converted our 22-foot bus @stu.the.bus and have lived and traveled in it full-time for the last 3 years. To make things easy, I’ll answer the same questions I asked my bus conversion friends:

How long did it take to convert your bus?

It took us 8 months to convert our bus, and we worked full-time during the first 6 months of that. We also had commitments roughly 2 out of 4 weekends per month, so we worked feverishly on the weekends we did have free. Then once we quit our jobs, we worked more or less full-time on the bus for those last two months. Since then, we’ve added things and made changes, but it was livable after 8 months.

Was this your first vehicle conversion?

Yes it was!

What was the most time-consuming aspect of your build?

The demo took a while for us. Our bus was designed to carry students who use wheelchairs, so there were tons of wheelchair tie-down points that were embedded into the floor as well as a few seats and dividers that required one person to be inside the bus and one person underneath the floor to remove them. 

Other than that, getting our walls to be perfectly shaped to the curved ceiling took quite a while (only discovered there are tools for that much later haha), and our electrical and plumbing systems took quite a bit of time to plan out because we had no prior experience.

We also had an issue where we accidentally drilled through one of our blinker wires, so diagnosing that, finding where it happened, and repairing it was at least a whole weekend’s worth of work. Oops.

Was any part of it easier than you expected?

Putting the plumbing together actually turned out to be pretty easy. We had no experience with this as I mentioned, so finding all of the appropriate parts for our system took a while but then actually putting it together went fast and it worked perfectly on our first try. We’ve had no leaks in 3 years, knock on wood.

Also, we did some renovations last year that we should have done right off the bat, like we added a ceiling vent fan, flush-mount 12V lights in the ceiling, and window screens. We did not originally do these projects because they seemed too difficult and we were just kind of burnt out after 8 months of working on the bus.

Adding lights and the fan after the whole bus was already done was obviously more difficult than if we had just done it when the bus was empty, but overall the projects were fairly simple. 

The window screens were probably the overall easiest project we’ve ever done on the bus and they make a HUGE difference – we just used screen kits from the hardware store to make custom screens and mounted them with little brackets that Aaron made. Game-changer.

Do you have any advice for someone starting their first bus conversion?

We decided not to tear down our ceiling because it was in really good condition and we didn’t add anything to the existing floor but stick-on vinyl “planks,” because Aaron can barely stand fully upright inside and we did not want to use up any vertical space with insulation or a cutesy ceiling.

However, I would advise first timers to COMPLETELY gut your bus, build in fans/lights/electrical system/plumbing right away, and only then proceed to next steps, unlike what we did.

Also, build in more fresh water storage than you think you’ll need. We put in a 21-gallon tank and have two spare 7-gallon tanks in reserve, which lasts us 1-2 weeks depending on how frugal we are. But, we wish we had done at least a 40-gallon tank since water is often the thing we run out of first.

Just bite the bullet and buy LiFePO4 batteries for your electrical system. We went with AGMs because they were much cheaper, but now we already have to replace them after only 3 years. LiFePO4s give you much more usable capacity and they last around 10 years, so they are actually cheaper per cycle, although they are more expensive upfront.

Finally, it can seem like the bus will never be done, and many times the to-do list is longer at the end of the day than it was when you started working, but just take it one day and one task at a time. You will get there and the reward will be so worth the struggle!

 

Related articles:

Living in a Short Bus: 5 Full-Timers Tell All

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What Is The Best School Bus For Conversion?

 

Em and Matt’s skoolie conversion took 2 years

First up, I talked with Em and Matt of @claysanabus about their conversion process. They have been hard at work on their big, beautiful roof-raised bus in Okanagan, BC. Here’s what they shared:

How long did it take to convert your bus?

“2 years with some procrastination! And it’s still not completely finished! But we can live in it comfortably, just not off-grid yet.”

Was this your first vehicle conversion?

“Yes! But we are both hands on people and are fond of DIY projects!”

What was the most time-consuming aspect of your build?

“Doing the roof raise and putting up new sheet metal and creating a nice flow to the lower original roof! If we hadn’t done this, we believe we would have been done by summer of 2020.”

Was any part of it easier than you expected?

“Welding the new support ribs, or any welding. We took a 2-hour course for beginners. Matt did a lot of practicing and really enjoyed it! We thought we would have to pay someone or thought it would take months!”

Do you have any advice for someone starting their first bus conversion?

“Oooohhh yes! 

  • Plan all your appliances beforehand. I wish we did this and were more organized with our lights, fridge, hot water tank, light switches/outlets, and solar panels. We should have had these all laid out in a blueprint as we had to switch some of these items out, which we had already purchased and installed but then didn’t work out. We were just uneducated about some of the stuff and learned about planning the build through the experience.
  • Once you have all your appliances figured out, install your solar first before spray foaming and installing your ceiling! Because all that just gets in the way.
  • Seems like a no-brainer to put a light switch by the bed, but we didn’t!
  • For our walls, to achieve a seamless look was very difficult. We understood that wood can shrink and expand due to temperature fluctuation. We assumed hiding joints or seams wouldn’t be difficult but it’s near impossible. We should have done the whole bus in shiplap, just so that if there is movement in the wood, it would have been difficult for the untrained eye to see.”

Molly and Nathan’s school bus conversion takes 7 months

Molly and Nathan of @blue_the_bus converted a stunning mid-size bus that’s complete with custom window murals and an adorable tiny wood stove! Here’s what they had to say about the conversion process:

How long did it take to convert your bus?

“It took us 7 months total and we were working full-time, nonstop. It was both of our full-time jobs. We also had no prior construction knowledge so we spent a lot of that time researching and learning about all the different processes.”

Was this your first vehicle conversion?

“Yes it was. We had no prior knowledge about the processes involved in vehicle conversions. We had been in love with the idea of converting a bus for years, so we jumped right in.”

What was the most time-consuming aspect of your build?

“Researching and learning. We estimate that half of the time it took us to complete our conversion was spent researching everything. Molly’s grandpa had tons of carpentry knowledge, so he helped a lot in that aspect, but a lot of the other processes were completely self-taught, with the exception of some electrical help and advice from friends.

The skoolie community was also extremely helpful answering all of our random questions along the way.”

Was any part of it easier than you expected?

“The demo was easier than we both expected. We were expecting it to take a week or two to remove the seats and we were done in a couple days. Building the rooftop deck was also easier than we both expected. We learned a lot along the way, so we felt like the various projects became easier as our skill set grew stronger.”

Do you have any advice for someone starting their first bus conversion?

“First off, go for it. You don’t need to be an expert in order to achieve this goal. If you have been dreaming of this for years like we had been, you can make it happen if you’re committed and passionate.

Second, don’t underestimate the importance of making sure everything is square when framing. We ran into a lot of issues because something wouldn’t be perfectly square, so put a lot of focus into that step. 

Lastly, it’s okay to take some time off when things aren’t working. Take a day for yourself. It’s easy to make the bus conversion the center of your world, but remember to listen to yourself and take time off when needed. You will come back with a fresh perspective on everything.”

Gabrielle and Jeff’s bus conversion took 1 Year

Gabrielle and Jeff of @studioroam not only built a stunning bus conversion, but they both create amazing art as they travel! They gave me the low-down on their conversion process:

How long did it take to convert your bus?

“Probably an equivalent to 6 months of non-stop working on the bus over the span of almost a year on and off! We didn’t have a solid place to work on it so it was a lot of moving around and/or breaks due to location, weather, work, etc.! We’d say she’s now 88% done. Still a few little projects that have been put off but we’re enjoying her!”

Was this your first vehicle conversion?

“Jeff had converted a simple beach campervan (Ford E-150) years prior with just a bed. We met, and decided to try full-time #vanlife so we converted a small cargo trailer with a tiny kitchenette and studio space, to tow behind the campervan.

After a bit we then decided we needed something better and all-in-one – hence the skoolie! So there was some minimal previous experience, but the skoolie conversion was definitely a huge project for the both of us!”

What was the most time-consuming aspect of your build?

“Jeff says, ‘Everything.’ Haha, or electrical/wiring. Or prepping/gutting. Also, the last 10% of making it visibly pretty – trim and paint touch-ups are still calling us.”

Was any part of it easier than you expected?

“Jeff says, ‘Framing, because the bus is so solid and isn’t as limited on weight. Most everything will end up being easier than you think but the challenge is being persistent and plugging through with working on it when you get weary!’”

Do you have any advice for someone starting their first bus conversion?

“It’s gonna be tough (unless you’re a carpenter) and you’re going to want to question everything and anything but it will be worth it at the end, and will be such a good experience and skill to learn.

  • Be patient with your partner if you have different views on building – communication is key!
  • Make sure you have a place to build!
  • Buy second-hand if you can for wood, etc. – you’re going to need a lot of it!
  • If you don’t know what to do/how to do it – someone has probably already done it, ask for help or do all the research!
  • Make sure you have some funds saved up for accidental repairs and replacements (or quality items like for power, etc. – Better than having to replace).
  • Don’t roll-on paint the bus like we did. Use a sprayer if you can, it will save time and stress haha!
  • Have fun with it! Record moments even if you don’t want to, it’s going to be great to look back on.”

Morgan and Glaucio’s bus conversion took 9 Months

Morgan, Glaucio, their four kiddos, and a dog call their bus conversion @flyingcircusbus home! They built in bunks, tons of work space, and a stunning kitchen complete with an espresso machine. Here’s what they shared:

How long did it take to convert your bus?

“Wellll, we still aren’t ‘done’ haha! But I mean are you ever done with a conversion project? We started our conversion on April 20th, 2020.  We had it finished to the point it was liveable and we hit the road on February 6th, 2021.”

Was this your first vehicle conversion?

“Yes it was. First and not last!”

What was the most time-consuming aspect of your build?

“I would say the most time consuming aspect of the build was the research. Yes, there were certain parts of the build that took longer to complete than others such as the electrical work and home automation system, but the amount of time my husband spent researching was insane.”

Was any part of it easier than you expected?

“Nope haha! I would say the opposite. It was all more time-consuming and involved more time than expected.”

Do you have any advice for someone starting their first bus conversion?

“Just jump in. Don’t overthink it too much. Just start and figure it out as you go!”

Stefaan’s short bus conversion took 1 year and 4 months

Stefaan of @bibia_bus managed to squeeze an incredible amount of amenities into a short bus – he’s got a shower, an oven, and a dinette that converts to a spare bed! Here’s what he had to say about his conversion process:

How long did it take to convert your bus?

“It took me about a year and four months to convert. I bought the bus in late November of 2019 but I was a full-time student for the first six months of owning the bus. I worked on the bus maybe 5-7 hours a week for those months and really only got part way into the demo before April of 2020. The majority of the conversion happened in the year between April 2020 and March 2021.”

Was this your first vehicle conversion?

“Yes, this was my first conversion.”

What was the most time-consuming aspect of your build?

“The most time-consuming portion of my build was the electrical. I have ZERO electrical experience prior to this build which meant that I had to spend months researching, learning, and designing my system before being confident enough to take it on.

I wanted my electrical to be designed in a way that made the space feel and look like a house, which meant having all my wires, lights, switches, outlets, and accessories pre-planned and drawn out before I could even put up a single wall. This whole process took a long time and slowed me down quite a bit.”

Was any part of it easier than you expected?

“My shower build is probably the only part that ended up being easier than I’d anticipated. I had been dreading building in a portion that would have to hold up to high amounts of water exposure.

Having had to fix numerous leaks and rusty areas, the presence of water in a shower intimidated me quite a bit. I put off the shower until the very end and, possibly due to added experience from the rest of the build, it ended up being relatively straightforward.”

Do you have any advice for someone starting their first bus conversion?

“My one piece of advice for someone who is just starting their conversion would be to never underestimate the value of the proper tool. I spent hours and hours trying to find my way around certain tasks by using the wrong tools just to keep from having to buy a tool I didn’t have.

In the end, buying the right tool would’ve saved me loads of time and even money in wasted materials in the long run. Plus, owning a tool is an investment in future projects, who doesn’t want that?”

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, the amount of time required to convert a bus varies dramatically from person to person. I know some people who have built out multiple buses and can now crank out a basic conversion in less than a week, and I also know some true labor-of-love types who have spent ten years working on a single conversion. 

The main thing is that there is no prescribed timeline, and it’s not a race. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to sprint through a build, because that’s nearly a guarantee that something will go wrong and then it’ll end up taking twice as long.

Take it one step at a time and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it or take a break if it gets to be too much. The buslife community is generally extremely helpful and able to answer almost any question you might have.

 

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