In this article, we go through our top 15 Skoolie Mistakes that we had from the day we bought our bus up to today.
We are truly excited about the number of people currently entering into the Skoolie Livin community by buying a school bus and starting their conversion.
We wrote this article NOT to scare you…
This article is meant to educate on the types of situations you may encounter along your school bus conversion and skoolie livin journey.
Our goal is to help you prevent some of these situations through telling our school bus conversion mistakes stories, and forewarning you about some things that we wish we had paid a little more attention to ourselves.
We hope some of these stories both entertain and educate you. Many of them were terrifying skoolie build stories, some funny, and other situations we are still working through.
Without any further delay, let’s dive on into our Top 15 Skoolie Build Mistakes.
Note: We will continue adding and updating this list as new situations arise, especially as we hit the road on our first tour of the United States.
Special Note: This article does have affiliate links. If you click a link and happen to make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support – this commission helps us to continue serving the skoolie community!
15 Skoolie Mistakes to Avoid
- Starting a Skoolie Build in Winter
- Electrical: Power Inverter Fire
- Plumbing: Frozen Pipes
- Plumbing: Overflow Protection
- Plumbing: Vent for Smells
- HVAC: Distribution of AC & Heat
- HVAC: Not Having a Roof Vent
- Roof Hatch Window Ripped Off
- Window Thermal Radiation
- Chipped Paint on Exterior Ribs
- Dog Jumped Out of the Window
- Not Having Windows in the Door
- Timeline: Not Being Conservative
- Budget: Not Creating a Detailed Budget
- Budget: Understanding Travel Cost
Starting a Skoolie Build in Winter
Our first mistake was basically made when we bought the bus. Our family lives in Wisconsin and we bought our bus on November 8th, 2018 – right when winter was starting to blow in.
We did not have a place to park our school bus indoors, so we ended up doing all the gutting, spray foam insulation, and initial framing during the winter months. It got so cold that we were not able to build in January and February as materials like our Rustoleum paint for the subfloor were freezing and our propane heater was creating condensation on the interior metal and windows.
We would highly recommend if you are in an area of the world where temperatures drop below freezing and it snows frequently – so, if possible, wait until spring to buy a bus and get started.
An apartment or house lease end date and skoolie move-in date requirements will sometimes require the push through the winter. However, if at all possible, start your build just after the cold eases up to have fewer issues.
Electrical: Power Inverter Fire
This is mostly a tip for those of you doing a DIY electrical system to always have safety transfer switches installed right away on your electrical system for when you need to transfer power from solar/battery power over to show power.
First, Renogy Failed Us
First, we did have a Renogy inverter/charger, which worked OK for about 6 months until we were one night out of power. It turned out the unit failed and instead of replacing the unit, Renogy simply refunded us. Not the best customer service, Renogy. We skoolie owners rely on these units to work and to have warranty claims handled efficiently! 3 weeks without power was not cool.
Then, Failed Us Again
Once we found out we were going to have to wait on a check refund in the mail and not a replacement unit, we decided to get some cheaper components including a separate power inverter and shore charger.
Now the Renogy unit had a built-in transfer switch. When buying separate units and building a custom electrical set-up usually will not have a built-in transfer switch to handle the switch from solar/battery to shore power.
This Lead to a Half-A$$ System to Get By
We ended up using separate breakers in our breaker panel to handle the power transferring between the two power sources temporarily until we could get a new charger/inverter with this built-in. Unfortunately, this required us to ensure only one power was coming into the bus at one time.
Tired Human + Playing with Electrical = FIRE!
One night working on the power I was changing over from battery to shore power and thought I had turned off the battery power and went to turn on the shore power. I turned the shore power on and all seemed good. But the power inverter still showed voltage.
This had me confused. It was midnight and I thought maybe I forgot to turn off the inverter – I was pretty exhausted (probably my first mistake was working too late on this.) I flipped the switch thinking I was turning it off, when really I was turning it ON.
The next thing was sparks and smoke filling the bus. Our brand new inverter was fried! We ordered a second inverter and a transfer switch to ensure power could not get fed accidentally into the other side of the power system.
In Short, Have a Proper Transfer Switch!
This feature of being able to power switch is SO important. I could not imagine if this would have happened to Sarah and I wasn’t home.
If you do not buy a charger/inverter combo unit that can sense shore power coming in or not, then make sure you have a power transfer switch. This will make sure you only have one power source being fed into your breaker box at one time to prevent overloading your components and causing a possible fire.
Plumbing: Frozen Pipes
If you don’t live in an area of the world where it drops below freezing temperatures and snow flies, or plan to travel to a colder area, then you do not have to worry about this one. But if you are like the majority of the skoolie owners looking to explore without restrictions, then you will want to prevent your pipes from freezing!
As I write this we are parked at our family’s property in Wisconsin and it is a normal winter night at roughly 10° F (- 12° C), with a windchill much colder. At these below-freezing winter temperatures, our drain pipes that go under the bus and run to the grey tanks freeze in hours.
The first time this happened was early in the winter of 2019 and our pipes and entire grey water tank froze. It was actually so cold that our freshwater tank inside the wheelchair door underneath the bed froze, too! To thaw all of the pipes we had to run a Mr Heater propane heater under the bus where the frozen pipes and grey water tanks are to thaw it all out.
To fix this long-term we lined the pipes with heat cords that turn on when the outside temperature approaches freezing. We then wrapped the pipes in insulation to make sure the heat from the heat cords actually warmed up the pipes to keep them from freezing.
We also put in an RV fan with a duct that pulls warm air from our bedroom down into the water tank area. This helps to maintain a normal room temperature under our bed to keep the freshwater tank from freezing and everything else under the bed.
Plumbing: Overflow Protection
We originally did not have an overflow protection outlet on our holding tanks. We also had our shower drain hooked up to our grey water tanks. Naturally, as the tanks filled up overcapacity when we didn’t get around to emptying it, the greywater overflowed into our shower. Smelly mess…
We installed an overflow pipe that connects both tanks together, which allows for water to flow from tank to tank if one reaches its limit. We also added an open vent that is essentially a “T” pointed upward that has an open-top above the holding tank top, but below the floor of our bus. This allows for water to flow out of the system onto the ground if our water tanks overfill.
Plumbing: Vent Smells
Do not underestimate how smelly even just dirty sink water can get in your grey water tank in a few days. Over time, the grime in the water will continuously make your grey water tank smell horribly if you do not wash it regularly. Even if you do wash it regularly, it will still smell.
As you consume water and fill up the grey tank, air needs to go somewhere. As we mentioned in the previous section about water overflow into the shower a few times, the same happened with smells. Smelly air would backflow pushing it’s way through all the p-traps and into the bus.
We fixed both the water overflow in the previous section and the smells from this section by adding the “T” into the drain pipes for both air and overflow water to flow out of the system to the outside.
HVAC: Distribution of AC & Heat
Our air conditioner is mounted in the back wall of the bus above the rear door. Our Cubic Mini Wood Stove is also in the back area of the bus in our bedroom. With these both being back there, the first summer and winter were rough near the front of the bus.
Over time, we fixed these issues by adding in the roof vent fan in the middle of the emergency hatch to pull heat out of the bus and installing a propane RV furnace in the middle of the bus for heat. We also installed RV in-line vent fan with 3″ venting that works to pull air from the AC/fireplace from the back of the bus to the front. We then also installed a diesel heater that pushes the hot air through this same 3″ vent pipe to the front and rear of the skoolie.
When it comes to planning your skoolie, make sure you work to make sure there is both heat and some way to vent or air-condition the air in your skoolie.
Here are some more resources for skoolie HVAC:
HVAC: Not Having a Roof Vent
We did not have a roof vent, such as the popular Maxzair MaxxFan or the Fan-Tastic Vent Fan that we eventually installed, for almost 18 months.
We almost went two full summers without a vent fan until one week it was so hot that the AC was doing nothing for the front of our skoolie even with the 3″ venting system moving cool air up there. We could only get down to mid-70°s even in the back with our AC on full blast.
That’s when we knew we had to invest in an RV vent fan.
We bought the Fan-Tastic Vent RV Roof Vent with Thermostat, Remote, and Rain Sensor – Model 7350.
We did go with the top model from Fan-Tastic as we needed to make sure it was able to automatically close if a rainstorm was coming. You will understand why once you read our next mistake on the list.
Roof Hatch Window Ripped Off
When we were in the middle of our conversion, we already had a skylight window roof hatch installed into the emergency hatch hole. See how we made that here.
The roof hatch was perfect, other than not having the system in place to prevent it from over opening.
One day, as we worked on the bus, a storm was coming in fast. As we hurried to clean up tools and materials that were outside, a huge gust of wind came bringing the rain with it.
That gust of wind caught the open roof hatch and ripped it right off the roof, sending it flying across the yard. Rain came pouring in.
Lesson Learned: Finish installing the roof hatch and put a chain or some other system in place to prevent the wind from catching it like a sail and ripping it off.
Window Thermal Radiation
Whether you are going to be in hot or cold climates, your skoolie windows will radiate heat or cold into the bus.
At first, we had insulated curtains which work great by themselves in mild heat and cold temperatures. You learn how to make insulated skoolie curtains here.
However, when we are at our family’s land in Wisconsin during the winter holiday season and temperatures drop to -20° F or lower, the cold will find it’s way into the bus. Window gaskets freeze and shrink, allowing for more air to pass. It feels like a consistent cold breeze if you are within a foot of the windows.
In the high heat, such as temperatures of 90° F or more in direct sun, the windows are almost untouchable – especially if they have stock window tints like our skoolie.
To stop this, we created a window shutter and double pane window system, along with using Reflectix, to stop this from happening. These have stopped all thermal radiation from occurring in our skoolie.
Chipped Paint on Exterior Ribs
As you may know, we painted our bus entirely with truck bed liner. We believe it is one of the toughest skoolie exterior paint jobs you can do, as it will help seal the skoolie with a hard protective layer that can take pretty much anything coming at it from the road or off-road.
However, with any paint, it is very important to take your time with sanding every inch of the bus. We were excited and rushed certain areas that needed more attention, like the ribs of the bus. This caused us to have to sand and re-spray these areas after a year of sun exposure, as the sun and heat baked the paint causing it to crack in areas it did not adhere well to the bus.
Dog Jumped Out of the Window
One night, Sarah and I left for an hour to visit a friend. We left our dog named Cali in the bus.
We had done this many times, but this time we left a window open near the bed with a screen velcroed up to block bugs from getting in. Back then, Cali also had a ramp to be able to run up onto our bed by herself. The top of the bed is lined up almost directly with the middle of the school bus windows.
Some family was working out in the yard and Cali must have heard them. Cali bust through the screen and jumped out of the window, then proceeded to run up to our family in the yard.
Fortunately, Cali was not significantly hurt.
From pet parents who feel extremely guilty for the series of mistakes in this situation, just make sure proper protection is taken to only open windows they cannot reach or windows are only open enough so they cannot squeeze through.
Not Having Door Windows
One thing we did not know, and definietly underestimated the need for, was windows in the door that we installed to replace the school bus doors.
We bought a solid steel insulated door to replace our school bus doors, which blocked all visibility of the road to my right as I was driving. I could still see that side of the bus with the stock school bus mirrors and our security camera system installed. Yet not having windows in the door still made it difficult not having any direct visibility when I looked to my right.
Also, we didn’t want to get in trouble in-case this visibility was required by law in some places around the country.
To fix this, we had to cut out the steel and insulation to install 6 plexiglass windows. We will most likely be replacing this door in a year or two, but we needed to get something installed for now while we wrap up some projects and get ready to travel for a bit.
Had we known all this right away, we probably would have spent the few hundred dollars extra for a door that already had windows and not wasted a bunch of time messing with creating a custom door.
Timeline: Not Being Conservative
We basically had only 7 months from the day we bought the bus to the day we needed to move into it, since we did not want to renew our lease in our apartment. This is WAY too aggressive of a timeline…
We see this happen often now that we have been in the lifestyle for a few years.
Time and time again, people buy a bus all excited and expect to be traveling within the same year. I am not saying it can’t be done, but you either need to have all the skills and an unlimited budget, a good network to tap into of skilled tradesmen, or sort of skimp on quality in different areas to convert a skoolie in a few months.
Most of the time, we see people convert skoolies up to having the basic needs to live, then live in the skoolie while the complete the build. Otherwise, I would plan out every aspect of the build and add buffer time to everything.
Things will not go as planned, wrong items will be ordered/delivered, things will break, pieces of your layout will not work as planned, and you will end up having to do things over again. This will all add time to your timeline, let alone the time to wait for items to be delivered, weather delays, etc.
We ended up moving into the bus with about 30% of it done after 7 months and we got to the 90% done mark by month 18 – enough to take our first trip.
We have still to this day been working through the last 10%, as we add items to our list, change things up, improve on different aspects, and are now back to working full-time on our businesses.
Have patience and go into a skoolie build knowing your timeline may be longer than anticipated, yet keep pushing to get things done ASAP so you can hit the road sooner than later. Don’t give up!
Budget: Not Creating a Detailed Budget
One of the things I regret the most was not sitting down for a few weeks and planning out every aspect of the bus in advance. This could have saved us literally thousands of dollars and a significant amount of wasted time redoing things.
Back in 2018 when we started our build, there were limited people putting out information on skoolie builds. It was not as common as it is today. To put it in perspective, our blog got about 10 visitors a day in 2018 and today it gets around 2,000 visitors per day… The wealth of information out there today can help with creating your budget.
With that said, we have detailed out our budget at a high level on our blog. Check out our DIY Skoolie Build Cost to get an idea of the different buckets of your build that you will need to take care of, from electrical to plumbing to your skoolie floor plan layout, which all play into your skoolie build budget.
Budget: Understanding Travel Costs
The last item, travel costs in a skoolie, is exactly why we lived in our skoolie parked on family land for the first 18 months.
We converted a school bus without really thinking about the true costs to travel full-time in a skoolie. The cost to travel in a skoolie reaches beyond just fuel. There are other costs, which mostly revolve around opportunity costs involving time.
In many circumstances, with all costs considered, living in a school bus conversion is actually does not cost much less than living in an apartment or a house and having a regular day job.
Our main goal in converting the school bus was to travel the country and see as much as possible. Unfortunately, our bus only goes 60 mph and it would be draining to drive for extended periods of time. This caused a few issues for us.
The first was a significant risk to our incomes if we remained working freelancing jobs as we did through the conversion process mostly due not knowing if we would have reliable internet. It is safe to assume we would probably end up parking in places without good access to the internet or cell signal to use our hotspots.
This would then mean that once we reach a destination, we would have to work a majority of the time to cover the fuel costs, our living costs, and other items. As a result, this would take away from our experience of being able to enjoy our time on the road.
We did not want to travel and have to consistently stress about finances.
As a result, we remained parked for the last 18 months as we focused on building a portfolio of websites that created several small streams of income which now provides us a more reliable income source, whether we had internet or not. We did sacrifice some time on the road by staying parked to build these income streams, yet we are almost to the point where we can hit the road a little more at ease financially.
A few options to handle this is maintaining a day job to save now for traveling in the future, finding jobs along the way as you travel, securing a remote job that can support your financial needs and that fits your desired traveling lifestyle or building online streams of income as we have.
We highly suggest taking time now to figure this out no matter what stage of skoolie livin you may be in.
Everyone is different and will have a different experience. There is no one right way to work through the financial aspect of it. The best way is to figure out the costs now, plan for it, and figure out how you will manage them in your specific situation.