Our DIY skoolie conversion, “Charlotte” took us about 10 months to complete. Throughout this article, you’ll find most of our build journals throughout the process of building this rig out. If you want to see our completed conversion, check out: DIY Bus Conversion: USAF Bus “Charlotte”
DIY Skoolie: July 2019 Updates
Phew – July has been another long and HOT month, but we’re finally hitting the home stretch (that’s what we keep telling people, at least). Without boring you with the story of how we’re overwhelmed with being over budget and over our timeline, let’s get into what you ACTUALLY came here for – Charlotte’s progress!
The backsplash was a last-minute decision. We forgot that we’d require one if we placed the stove next to the wall. We went with an adhesive to avoid the extra work of mortar and grout. So far, we love it!
We also installed our Magic Chef Stove and hood that was originally used on a camper.
We were putting off tiling the bathroom for a LONG time. Neither of us has ever tiled before, so we are by no means experts. The tiles are simply subway and the ceiling is made of cedar. We used a flexible, epoxy-based grout that will (hopefully) reduce cracking during travel. The floor is a composite decking that we got from Home Depot. It was super easy to install!
Back in early July, David and his friend (another shout-out to Tyler Bondar) built the pull-out bed in the back. It pulls out (as shown in the photo) to an *almost* full-sized bed. When in, it’s about the size of a twin and allows plenty of walk space to access the bathroom and “garage”. We do plan on adding legs to the pull section to make it more sturdy.
We built the medicine cabinet into the wall, which functions as a mirror and some extra storage. The contraption below is our heated towel rack. It’s on its own radiant heat zone and is made out of copper.
These cabinets were tricky, but they came out great. The cabinet faces have hinges on them that prevent it from opening during travel.
These are the beginning of our dinette seating area! These function as both seating and storage. The 2 seats have hinges for easy access. They can also be fully extended to seat 4 people.
Our couch can be pulled out to a full-sized bed. Lots of extra space when friends/family come to visit! Our couch sewing was done by David’s amazing Aunt Sue! We’ll be revealing that in the next newsletter.
A while back, we found an under-mount Frankie double sink from the Freehold Re-store (another special shoutout to the amazing staff there that have helped us throughout our conversion progress). It’s quite large and takes up a lot of the counter space. But, when we aren’t using the other sink, we’re gonna put a cutting board over it to use it as extra counter space.
DIY Skoolie: June 2019 Updates
This June had to be the most difficult month so far for our school bus conversion project. If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve probably caught us stating multiple times that our end goal was to leave by the first or second week of July. Yikes – hindsight sure is 20/20, isn’t it? This past month has been incredibly challenging as it’s tested both David and I’s patience.
There’s no surprise here: The project has been moving a bit slower than what we were expecting. Or, maybe we shot our hopes a bit TOO high. After all, what really were we even expecting? Sure, David has construction experience, but neither of us has converted a school bus into an RV before.
David’s been working on the bus full-time throughout this month. As July fast approached, the heat has gone up and the conditions have gotten worse. On top of that, we were getting stressed about not finishing this project on time. To add to our anxieties, I quit my 2nd job as a coach in the middle of the month (which definitely took a nice toll on my monthly income). All work and no play makes us both dull people…we were starting to burn out.
Luckily, David’s birthday came at the right time and we were able to take a few days off to get some much-needed rest and relaxation with family. Plus, we came to the new realization that the bus will get done when it gets done. We don’t need to leave by a certain time, so we’d rather take our time on each step of this project to ensure an amazing and high-quality build.
I love getting a chance to reflect on what we accomplished each month because it really opens our eyes. While we did start to burn out and feel like we haven’t seen any progress, there’s still plenty to feel proud about!
We mounted the rest of our solar panels. The solar panels are HEAVY and the top of the bus isn’t the easiest to work on considering it’s slanted and covered with metal supports. We used nuts/bolts and drilled holes through the rack to hold the frame and panels together.
The paneling on the walls and ceiling was finished this month. We chose to do cuts of plywood on the ceiling instead of tongue and groove to save ourselves a few hundred dollars. While tongue and groove may look a bit better and require a lot less work, David did a great job with our ceiling. He made sure to cut each piece of plywood evenly with the table saw. Once the plywood was nailed to the ceiling, we sealed between them with caulk. We also had to use nail filler to patch up every single nail hole (there were A LOT). Finally, we finished it all up by sanding it to make it nice and smooth before we added our first coat of white primer.
We also used sheets of plywood for our walls, but it required a different approach. David took precise measurements to make sure the walls framed out our windows well. Minus a few discrepancies that can be easily fixed with a belt sander and some naily putty, we LOVED the outcome!
Our bathroom is done and ready for tiling, flooring, and a toilet! To make our custom shower pan, we started with installing plywood on an angle so that water flows toward the drain. Then, we topped that with a rubber shower pan liner to make it 100% waterproof. The walls got a cement backer board and the seams were covered with mortar and fiber mesh tape to reinforce the joints. For the ceiling, we used Cedar that we got for a fantastic deal at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store in Freehold and filled in any noticeable gaps with clear silicone.
With some much-needed help (shoutout to Tyler Bondar), we finished our roof deck. We used pressure-treated lumber to complete our 8×11 ft. deck. We further reinforced it by nailing in the wood underneath the deck, next to our metal supports.
The fan and air conditioner were officially installed this month and really couldn’t have come at a better time. With temperatures and humidity rising in NJ, we desperately need the air. We have mixed feelings about our MaxAir exhaust fan. It doesn’t cause a great relief from warm temperatures, but definitely creates a little bit of airflow inside of the bus. We’re most excited about our energy-efficient dual inverter smart LG air conditioner. With a variety of different modes, we can get the entire bus at brisk temperatures for the day. On top of that, the dehumidifier quickly gets rid of the 90% humidity that’s constantly around us.
If you’ve been following our social media, you’ve also probably noticed our brand new door! After about a month of searching, we found a great $40 exterior door from Facebook Marketplace. (Thanks Grandma Schmidt for the gift!) It was basically brand new and had an outward swing with hinges on the right side. This is generally an option not found on most doors. We couldn’t use a “normal” door because the weatherproofing would be on the wrong side. We added a drip edge on the top, weather stripping surrounding the door, and a sill plate to prevent drafts and water from coming in. On top of that, everything got silicone so the door would be completely watertight.
The propane is 100% done and the electrical, plumbing, and diesel is just about completed. Furthermore, we’ve been making some pretty monumental purchases, including the AirHead composting toilet, 8.1 Cubic ft. UpRight Freezer made by Danby, and our 18 ft. (16 ft. bed) car trailer that we’ll be towing behind the bus.
It wasn’t a completely unproductive month. We are both most excited to get into the aesthetic design of the bus. That’s when we think we’ll start seeing the progress and it all really comes together. We are feeling motivated and ready to tackle the next challenges of this project!
DIY Skoolie: May 2019 Updates
Does anyone else feel like the month of May flew by or is it just us? While life seems to be passing by quickly, we both accomplished some pretty huge milestones this month! Shelby graduated with a Master of Science in Global Sports Business and David quit his full-time job. This gives him the flexibility he’ll need to get this job completed over the next month (…hey, that’s what we’re hoping, at least).
We dealt with a lot of rain this month, but David worked hard to finish a lot of what needed to get done on the outside of the bus (and underneath). Shocker…the underside of the bus is a dirty, messy place! Check out some of what we did this month (and a little bit of information behind them).
We are almost 100% done with all of the electrical. plumbing, and propane (FINALLY)! The 2 water tanks (1 spare and 1 for greywater) and propane were installed under the bus. Multiple tests have been run to ensure that there are no leaks in our systems (SUCCESS).
This month we’ll probably be sending bi-weekly updates as we approach our LAST month of construction! Thank you all for supporting us in this journey…if you have any friends, family, or co-workers that would be interested in our construction project, urge them to sign up for our newsletter!
We also installed the Tesla battery and inverter. This is what will power our bus and store our solar energy. David installed the electrical box with the 24v to 12v step-down transformers. We got the solar panel rack installed and fabricated on top of the roof. We made sure it was level and straight before welding it to the side mounts.
DIY Skoolie: April 2019 Updates
Our solar panel and roof deck rack has also been something we were proud to accomplish this month. We fabricated the rack to mount and tilt the solar panels. The tilt will allow for extrasolar collection during the winter months. Each side will be on its own solar charge controller to collect energy independent of one another. In the center portion of the solar rack, we will have a narrow walkway that will allow us to easily clean and move snow off the solar panels during the winter months. We have a total of 1420 watts of solar.
David fabricated the entire solar rack, included the tilted one that is operated via linear actuators and a wireless remote. We also decided to use this extra feature as a lid to store extra ‘toys’ (aka snowboarding, surfing, and skimming gear) underneath. Getting this thing on the bus was a PAIN. It was heavy. Once on the bus, we had to secure it / weld it onto the side supports.
We built a jig for the router to create the channels in the floor for the pex. We’re laying out where the heat channels will get placed. We did have to cut some of these to size and shave out some of the panels using a blade, but overall they feet really well into the insulation. We put a heating loop into the back under our bed and water tank. It will help prevent the 85-gallon water tank from freezing. The foil tape was implemented to further insulate the floor and seal up any air gaps. Once we finished the radiant flooring, we put down our 5/8inch plywood. Cutting around the engine box and stairs was the most difficult! We did our best to leave as few seams as possible. To glue the floor down, we used construction adhesive and then placed cinder blocks that we purchased from Home Depot on top to allow it to set for about 48 hours. Pro Tip: Just return the cinder blocks after you’re done with the plywood floor installation. They have the most flexible returns and you’re likely not to ever need that many cinder blocks again!