School buses come in a huge variety of lengths, which means you have tons of options when it comes to choosing a bus length for your skoolie conversion.
My boyfriend and I looked into all lengths of buses when we were choosing a school bus to convert, and in this article I’ll share what we learned from our research, personal experience living in a 22-foot short bus for almost two years, and what we’ve heard from friends with bigger and smaller buses on the road.
So, how long is a school bus? School buses range anywhere from 20 to 45 feet in length. In general, buses that are 20-25 feet long are considered mini or short. While buses that are 25-35 feet long fall into the mid-size category, and buses over 35 feet are full-sized.
How Buses Are Measured
Buses are usually measured bumper-to-bumper, to give you the total length of the vehicle. When searching for a bus to convert, many people will also measure or request the usable or buildable length, which is the interior length of the bus, excluding the engine and cockpit area — essentially the length of the area where you can construct elements of your conversion.
This measurement combined with the interior width (typically about 90 inches or 7.5 feet for all buses) gives you an idea of the interior square footage for your skoolie.
The Window Rule for Bus Length Estimation
Generally, each window on a bus body adds about 2.5 feet of length, so you can quickly calculate the approximate length of a bus by counting the windows and multiplying that number by 2.5, and then adding about 10 feet if the bus has dog nose or van front or 6 feet if it has a flat front.
For instance, our bus has 5 windows and a van front, so 5 windows x 2.5 feet = 12.5 feet, plus 10 feet for the van front = 22.5 feet, which is quite close to the actual length of 22 feet.
Length of a Normal Sized School Bus
This actually depends on what state you grew up in! Some states limit the maximum length of school buses to 40 feet while other states have a limit of 45 feet. And, depending on the style of the bus (front engine versus pusher, where the engine is in the back), the overall length of the bus will vary.
In general, schools will use the biggest possible buses in order to move the most students at once, so chances are (unless you went to a very small or rural school) that you rode on a bus that could haul anywhere from 72 to 90 passengers.
In terms of passenger capacity and length correlation, here’s what to expect:
- a 72-passenger bus will be about 34 feet long
- an 84-passenger bus is around 39 feet
- and a 90-passenger bus will be over 40 feet long
Again, the exact measurement depends on the style of the bus, as well as whether there is a wheelchair lift in the back of the bus, which takes up additional length.
How To Decide What Bus Length is Right For You
There are a few important factors to consider when choosing a bus length, as I’ll outline below.
How many people and pets will be living in the bus?
On the road, I have seen all kinds of permutations of the people to bus length ratio, including seven people and two dogs who live in a full-size bus, a family of four who live in a midsize bus, a single guy who lives in a 40-footer, and a couple who lives in a 20-foot mini bus.
I’ve also seen all kinds of pets living in buses, including snakes, goats, parrots, cats, dogs, and so forth. So, there is no one right answer here, but consider how much room you will need for additional bunks, litter boxes, or pet beds and enclosures.
Where do you plan to drive your bus?
The bigger the bus, the more forethought and care is required when driving it. Bigger buses are more difficult to drive off-road, through tight city streets, and on windy or narrow roads. They are also more difficult to park, especially at grocery stores with tiny lots or in busy national parks.
However, if you will not be driving your bus very much or if you have a follow or tow car, a big bus can be more practical and will allow more room for amenities. On the flip side, smaller buses are much more maneuverable and easier to drive and park, but you have significantly less room inside for amenities.
Related Article: Where Do You Park Your School Bus Conversion?
What is your budget for the bus, the conversion, and maintenance?
While bigger buses are often cheaper to purchase, they require more materials to convert, which means that phase will most likely be more expensive, and the maintenance costs will be higher. For instance, we paid about $6,000 after tax for our short bus, while you can get a full-size bus for as low as $1,500.
However, we only put $7,000 into the conversion, where all of the people with larger buses that I’ve spoken to have put significantly more into their conversions. Then again, they often have many more amenities than we do, like showers, ovens, full-size fridges, etc.
Where will you be converting your bus?
We majorly lucked out on this front — Aaron’s parents generously allowed us to park our bus on their property for the duration of the conversion process, which was a huge help since it would not have been possible to park it at our apartment in the middle of Seattle. Aaron’s dad also allowed us access to his shop full of tools, and shared his construction expertise with us during the whole build.
Unless you have a big property like this, you may have to rent a space to do the conversion, and the length of your bus obviously necessitates the size of the space.
We met a couple who tried to do their bus conversion while it was parked on a busy city street and they ended up racking up hundreds of dollars of tickets, so be sure to check the rules for parking on your city’s streets for an extended period of time.
Additionally, some neighborhoods have HOA rules that prohibit parking RVs at your home for more than a few hours at a time, so check these rules in advance.
Thoughts From the Road
After living in our 22-foot bus for nearly two years, my boyfriend and I couldn’t be happier with our choice. Our bus is big enough to have all the amenities that were critical to us (fixed bed platform, bathroom, fridge, large couch, kitchen space), but still small enough that we can just about fit into a normal parking space and can navigate most roads with relative ease.
The benefits of having a short bus that have been most apparent to us over the years include:
- Cheaper and more convenient maintenance and repairs – Since our bus has a Ford E-450 van front, we can have it worked on in any shop that can work on diesels and has big enough bays to accommodate us (which is most shops, but not all). We have light truck tires, which are way cheaper to replace than the massive tires on full-sized buses.
- Easier parking and driving – Many of our friends who have larger buses have a hard time navigating tight or windy roads, and parking in busy places like national parks is more difficult for them. It’s also much easier to turn around a 22-foot bus than a 45-foot behemoth.
- Slightly better gas mileage – Our bus gets about 10-12 miles per gallon depending on the road conditions, whereas bigger buses usually get between 8-10.
We have also met some people who have smaller buses than ours, but often these micro buses have lower ceilings, so unless you are shorter than about 5’6”, you will not be able to stand up inside your home. Be sure to check the ceiling height as well as the length when you are researching prospective buses.
The overwhelming majority of couples with mid or full-sized buses that I have spoken to recently have confided that they feel their buses are too large, and if they were going to do another conversion, they would choose a much smaller bus. Some people that we’ve met on the road or follow on Instagram have actually made the switch, selling their large buses and purchasing vans or short buses instead.
The only people who seem consistently happy with the size of their large buses are families who have more than two people living on board, and they often have a follow car which allows them to leave the bus parked in a prime camping spot while they easily run into town to do errands or use the car to scout out their next location, visit national parks, and so forth.
This is only from my personal anecdotal evidence; of course I haven’t talked with everyone who lives in a large bus, but from those that I have spoken with, this seems to be the case.
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