On November 8th, 2018, we bought our skoolie for $4,000.
It had originally been a school bus in Virginia Beach, Virginia. A guy, who was a school bus mechanic in Michigan, purchased the bus to be used as a mobile shop to make calls to other broken down buses in his home town. The bus company didn’t like idea of a school bus showing up to repair a school bus in their fleet, so up for sale it went so he could buy a box truck.
We had been searching for a few weeks and finally found this bus. At first, we found it on Facebook Marketplace. We then found the listing for it also on Craigslist. We drove out to check it out on November 4th, 2018. We put $500 down for him to hold it until his title arrived in the mail. On November 8th, we drove back over to Michigan with an envelope of cash and signed the title!
600 miles later, our future skoolie was parked at Chris’ parents house.
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We decided to go with butcher block countertops, since they are easy to maintain and added some color to the kitchen area against our white subway tile and black cabinets. For the faucet and sink, Sarah picked out the Kraus black and stainless faucet that Chris’s mom got us and the stainless square sink that Sarah’s mom got us.
We have a few items we purchased for our skoolie that we would highly recommend for the kitchen.
RO Water System: Not knowing where we will fill up with water and what is in it, we wanted to make sure we had clean drinking water at all times. We could have went with a regular in-frige water system like our backup ZeroWater 23 cup water filter that we used in our previous apartments, but we wanted something we didn’t have to change filters out every 3 months or take up fridge space. That’s why we went with the Express Water 11 stage water filter system that is hooked up right to our water system with it’s own 0.8 gpm faucet, filters up to 100 gallons of water per day, stores 3.2 gallons of filtered water in its own water tank, and we only have to service it with filters once every 6 months.
Low-Watt Electric Kettle: The Gourmia GK360 Foldable 820W Electric Kettle boils water in a few minutes for hot cocoa, tea, pour-over coffee, and cold medicines like Theraflu. It folds and is easy to store! It also is one of the lowers watt models we could find and draws about 68W per 5 minute use, which is about 0.5 amps of 120V power per use, or 5 amps of 12V when passing through an inverter. We actually use it so often it stays on our countertop next to our next item.
Instant Pot: The Instant Pot Ultra is one of the best items for cooking meals we have purchased for the skoolie. Not only does it cook meals in about 10-15 minutes, but they are some of the best meals we’ve ever made – especially since we are better bakers than cooks! Chicken dishes stay super moist, homemade soups and chili has never been easier, and you can make some really delicious oatmeal dishes. You can also bake bread or desserts, even bake cakes! The are many so many opportunities to cook faster, more delicious meals with this little kitchen gadget.
KitchenAid:KitchenAid Artisan 5Qt – It is a high wattage appliance, but if you are connected to shore power once in awhile, it comes in handy making meals or baking! We love to bake, so we use our KitchenAid all the time. It does take up some counter space, but it is capable of doing so many different things and comes in pretty much any color you could think of to add an accent to your skoolie kitchen. From mashing potatoes to grinding and slicing, it is a multi-functioning appliance that replaces having multiple different gadgets and multi-functioning is what going tiny is all about!
Dish Drying Rack:Bambusi Collapsable Dish Drying Rack – This is a nice little rack to have in the kitchen to dry dishes, but it is foldable and can be stored really easily as it is less than 2 inches thick when completely folded. We lived for a few months with drying dishes on a towel, but it took up even more space when we made a larger meal and didn’t dry fast. We wanted a dish rack so the dishes would dry a bit faster to be able to clear the dishes off our counter, but we didn’t want to have to drench a towel hand drying them. Sarah’s parents actually got us this dish rack and it has been awesome!
Our bathroom is split up into two different “rooms.” The first is the toilet room, which really just has our Nature’s Head composting toilet. We truly love this toilet, especially after we plumbed in the urine right into the grey water tank so we don’t have to empty out the small tank the unit comes with every day or two.
We have had our fair share of fun with electrical… Overall electrical was pretty easy for Chris as he sort of gets into that kind of stuff, but the fun came with the Renogy 2000W Inverter/Charger that went out on us just 3 months into using it. Luckily we returned it and since they came out with a new model that was more expensive (hopefully to fix the issues) we received a refund check. So we opted to save a few hundred dollars the second time around and buy separate components.
For our skoolie power inverter, we only have a Krieger 1100 Watt Modified Sign Wave Power Inverter installed right now that will run only the fridge and Sarah’s hair dryer when we are on the road. We will be getting a pure sign wave inverter before we hit the road to power all of our outlets and electronics to ensure the power inverter doesn’t fry sensitive electronics.
We do have a solar kit ready to be installed once spring arrives here in Wisconsin. Our solar setup includes:
We also have a 20 amp DC-to-DC charger to charge the batteries while we are driving once we hit the road, which should support basic power usage when dirivng from electronics charging and the fridge, while also supplementing the solar power if the sun is not out for a day or two.
For interior lighting, we used LED waterproof deck lights that are only about 1.5″ in diameter and you can skip using the plugs that come with them and wire then right into your 12v system. We used both warm and bright white colors throughout the bus. To turn them on and off, we used single RV light switches for areas like the single light over the fireplace, the single light in the bathroom, and to turn on both lights over our desk area. We then used double RV light switches and triple RV light switches everywhere else to control all of our other “lighting zones,” such as the entry and main lights running down the middle of the bus, the under cabinet lights in the kitchen, and the various lights in the bedroom.
This set up was completely redone as we had 100% pex pipe (the red pipe) running from the water tank to the pump, then on the pump we had a Shurflo accumulator which ended up not being needed with this awesome pump, and out through the wall. We simplified it removing that accumulator and all the stiff pex pipe and put in these flex pipes. Everything works much more smooth and easy!
When it makes it’s way into the bus, we have the hot water line running into our Excel on-demand water heater then out to the kitchen faucet and shower. The cold water runs to both the kitchen faucet and shower, as well as diverting a small water line to the ExpressWater 11 stage water filtration system mentioned previously in the kitchen section.
Grey water runs from the sink and shower drains, as well as from the Nature’s Head composting toilet as mentioned in the bathroom section. All 3 grey water runs meet at a junction spot, just before the grey water tank to go into our 35 gallon grey water tank through one pipe.
To keep the pipes ran under the skoolie warm in winter months when we are in Wisconsin visiting family or in other cold places, we have a pipe heat cable that we laid on the PVC pipe and wrapped completely in insulation to secure it to the pipe. We also have a RV water tank monitor that can monitor fresh, grey, and black water tank levels, but we only use fresh and grey water as we do not have a black water tank in our skoolie.
We read alot about the struggle of using an AC when off grid, but we also learned it was only the power surges at the start of the unit firing up that we had to worry about if we could get a low power AC unit. So we went with a window AC unit that uses around 400 watts and mounted it at the top, in the back of the bus.
We then wanted to have multiple heat sources, as we have been staying in Wisconsin with family during the build and will be visiting family around the cold holidays up here where winters are super cold! First, we went with a Cubic Mini Grizzly Wood Stove that we have been burning almost all day, every day in the winter.
About 4 weeks into winter the Cubic Mini was keeping the back really hot, but the front of the bus was freezing with the way we built the side walls and almost boxed in the back bedroom area. We ended up installing a Suburban Nt-20SEQ RV furnace under the stove in our kitchen and it runs off an Ecobee 3 Lite thermostat that we can control anywhere in the world (as long as the thermostat has and we have WIFI/data on our phones).
Finally, we have an isolating electric heater and a small office size heater for the back just incase for those nights we are battling sub-zero temperatures and need some additional, consistent heat throughout the night. We only use these if we are hooked up to shore power because of the high wattage of both units.
The exterior of the bus is painted with Raptor truck bed liner, so it is very tough against the elements, while working as a sealer and slight insulater. We went with the dove grey color for the sides and hood, while using bright white on the roof to block some sun heat.
We have 6x small LED light bars, 3x on each side spaced out at the front, middle, and rear to light up the sides of the bus at night. We then have 3x total long LED light bars, one on the rear and two on the front of the bus, to light up these areas brighter. All of these were installed for extra light in various situations when going off-grid or working around outside the bus at night. We installed 2x Sasquatch light switches that actually turn on all of the lights at one time, just in-case something weird outside the bus is going on at night.
The living room is essentially our couch, as the desk serves as our area for all of our electronics and entertainment which we’ll get into in the next section.
One of the main features of our living room is the slide out from the couch that turns the couch into a queen-sized bed. Most people build an interlocking wood pull out that can be tough to work with. We wanted to avoid this. So we bought a pack of 5 pairs of heavy-duty ball-bearing drawer rollers to be able to easily pull it in and out. We can support up to 500 lbs on the extension without needing additional support.
Our couch cushion is made from a foam mattress in a box off Amazon, which you can get pretty cheap to make your own couch cushions. We just cut it to your dimensions and Chris’ mom helped us sew custom couch cushions.
Finally, we have under couch storage so we needed to lift up all of this without struggling all the time. We bought 80 lb gas prop struts and mounted them underneath so we can get to our storage area. In the storage area under the couch, we used Sterilite 80 quart storage bins with foam gasket lids to store extra food, board games, and other items to be able to pull the bins out instead of digging through everything down there and making a mess.
5 cubic feet of under-counter storage for office supplies
5 cubic feet of under-foot storage for shoes
We used a 30″ continuous hinge for mounting the piece of countertop for making a “hidden” office supplies area under the main desk/working area. We used a 48″ continuous hinge for mounting the plywood for the foot area to ensure it had ample support for us applying pressure with our feet.
The top white rustic board over the hidden 50″ TV is actually reclaimed barnwood from around the early 1900s that we cut and applied a few coats of matte poly to 100% seal on the flaky paint and keep water from ever getting into the wood. We used matte poly in order to maintain the original look of the wood without adding too much shine to it that would make it look fake.
The hidden large TV is on a remote-controlled motorized rise up TV mount that was actually the first thing installed once we had plywood on the walls. Chris was so excited about this that right after we put up the plywood, he mounted the rise up TV stand in our skoolie with the TV and we went almost 3 months without having a TV in our old apartment. In reality, we were way to busy with the build to be watching TV anyway…
Hidden Coffee Bar
The drop-down, hidden coffee bar was an idea Chris had since he loves his coffee and espresso, but didn’t want to take up space on the counter or deal with having to pull out the machines a few times a day.
We have a 700W Mr. Coffee 5 cup programmable coffee maker that was the lowest watt model we could find that was also programmable to use when we were off-grid. It’s perfect for both of us to have about a 1.5 cups of coffee per full pot or both filling up our YETI mugs. Chris kept his Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista espresso maker that we got in the last apartment we had, which is rated at 1,040 watts but it runs for less than 5 minutes per day – overall not much power usage.
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