Like many people, Michael Talley of Austin, Texas, was sick and tired of high rent costs. Unlike most of us, he did something about it. Michael got creative and purchased a used school bus for practically nothing, then converted it into a tiny home anyone would envy. Before you think that this transformation was a snap for him, just wait until you see all the hard work he faced before finally seeing the finished product of Michael’s labor. Wait until you see what the rundown old bus looks like today.
The High Cost Of Living Forced Michael To Get Creative
Over the years, Austin, Texas, has become one of the most desirable places in the country for young people to live. As a result, rental prices in the area have been rising at a rapid pace. Michael Talley lived in a studio apartment in North Austin, and he was fed up when his rent topped out at $1,500 a month.
As a graphic designer, Michael was creative. He decided to look into the tiny house trend and work up a plan for a new home of his own.
This Should Be A Snap, Right?
Michael had seen some buses that had been converted into impressive tiny houses and figured he could do the same thing. “Ultimately I decided upon a school bus because I thought ‘Hey, there’s already four walls and a roof,'” he said.
Not so fast! Michael didn’t know it yet, but he was about to get in way over his head. He started his search for the perfect bus to serve as his new home.
Michael Wasn’t A Handyman
It wouldn’t be terrible to assume that someone who started a project to convert an old school bus into a comfortable home probably had a good bit of experience doing handy things. However, in Michael’s case, that assumption would be incorrect.
Sure, he had dreamt about doing this for a long time and even had some designs sketched out. But “I have never built anything. Ever,” he confessed. But that didn’t deter him.
He Lucked Out In His Search For A Bus
The Austin School District sells its old buses on an auction site called PublicSurplus.com, which also sells police repossessions and other government items. Michael found the site and was surprised that there weren’t many bidders for the 10 school buses listed for sale.
As Michael describes it, he “made out like a bandit.” He got one of the district’s old buses for just $2,200. Oddly, the other nine school buses were sold to the same person.
His Plans Expanded
Now that Michael had the school bus in his possession, his plans changed. Rather than just using the bus basically as a frame, Michael wanted to create a masterpiece of a tiny house. He envisioned a fully livable space with separate areas for a living, sleeping, bathing, cooking, and eating.
He had drawn up a few different options for floor plans, including one that was based on a motorhome featured in the blockbuster 1997 film The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Although that would have been an interesting choice, Michael went in a different direction with his bus conversion.
Practical Issues Dictated Michael’s Design
You might not be able to tell from the earlier photo of him, but Michael is a tall guy, standing at six feet six inches. This posed a problem for his home plans because the inside height of the bus was only six feet one inch!
This wouldn’t do if Michael wanted to be comfortable in his own home. He decided that he needed to raise the roof of the bus, even if that meant a lot more work. He was determined to build the tiny home of his dreams, and this obstacle wouldn’t deter him.
The Final Plan
Although movie fans would probably vote for Michael to go with the Jurassic Park vehicle plans, he didn’t. Instead, he opted for a layout that would put the living and entertainment spaces of his house toward the front. That would make having friends over easier.
Amazingly, Michael’s plans would give him a bigger kitchen than the one he had in his $1,500 a month studio apartment! He’d also have room for a large bed and some handy storage space.
Making Sacrifices To Reach His Goals
During his journey to repurpose the old school bus into his dream home, Michael was willing to make any sacrifices necessary. He decided to dump the $1,500 per month apartment he’d been living in and switched to sparser accommodations.
“I moved into a tent in order to save money while working on the bus, commuting 40 minutes to work every day, just to afford more steel and more wood,” Michael said. A friend allowed him to park the bus at his farm just outside Austin during construction.
The Seats Come Out (With Some Difficulty)
Obviously, one of the first things on Michael’s to-do list was removing the rows of seats from the school bus. While this might sound like a simple task, it wasn’t. In fact, Michael called the procedure “grueling,” since each bolt had to be removed individually.
Where did the seats go? “A nice man came with his 7 months pregnant wife and 8-year-old daughter to cart away all these seats to the scrap metal yard,” Michael shared. “I was super impressed his wife was lifting these heavy seats into the trailer!”
A Mistake And Some Regret
Next up was taking down the paneling from the bus ceiling. Unfortunately, this was a task that Michael regrets doing. “Removing these panels was the absolute worst,” he said, mainly because he didn’t know how to use (and had never even heard of) an impact drill.
“I wish that I had ended up keeping this insulation in,” Michael said. “It was in remarkably good shape and would have saved me a few headaches if I kept it in.”
It Wasn’t All A Headache, Though!
Fortunately, Michael’s ambitious project wasn’t all hard work. There were some fun breaks along the way, which he documented on social media. This sticky note, for example, brought a smile to his face.
“Found this actual Kick Me sign while cleaning out the bus,” he wrote. Hey, kids will be kids! That simple note is a fun souvenir… we hope he kept it to display once the bus was completely renovated.
Completely Stripping The Bus
The rubber floors and ceilings were the next things that Michael removed. He said that taking that heavy-duty floor out was not a fun project, adding that it was “hella gross.”
The windows also came out and weren’t so hard to remove. “Part of me wanted to keep them, but I knew they would rattle, provide little privacy or insulation, and look weird with my roof raise and design,” Michael said.
Making Room For Michael
As mentioned earlier, Michael was quite a bit taller than the ceiling of the bus. “As soon as I stepped onto the bus for the first time I knew me being 6’6″ was going to be a huge problem,” he said. “I was going to have to do some MAJOR work to get this thing comfortable for [me].”
Next, he built a scaffolding system from 2x4s in order to elevate the roof and ceiling to a more appropriate height.
The Scaffolding Is Up!
After the framework was in place, Michael shared this close-up illustrating exactly how the 2x4s were attached to the ceiling. “Scaffolding ready, screw jacks in place, all that’s left to do now is cut my bus in half!”
Before he could install metal ribs, Michael was faced with the unusual task of cutting his bus in half horizontally so that the roof could be raised. First, he cut the sides.
The Roof Is Raised
To raise the roof, the bus was cut in half. “Used a Sawzall to cut the roof from one end to the other,” wrote Michael. “Have I mentioned how nerve-racking it was to basically destroy my bus by doing all of this?”
After cutting his school bus in half, Michael and some of his friends used screw jacks to lift the roof. Although Michael had originally wanted to bring it up an extra two feet, everyone thought that would be pressing his luck. They still managed to get it up 20 inches, though, and then removed the scaffolding.
Enclosing The Bus Ended Up Being Painful
After the roof was lifted up an additional 20 inches, it felt much more spacious. Now, Michael needed to enclose the bus. He closed up the open areas where the windows had been with large metal panels.
Unfortunately, he suffered a pretty bad injury in the process. In an update, he wrote, “First side done. Easily the most painful and bloody part of the build. Got a sweet permanent scar on my forearm from when one of these steel sheets fell and sliced my arm open. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the gory photos!” Ouch.
That Texas Heat
Now that Michael had finished covering the bus with metal sheets he had an unexpected problem on his hands. The Texas heat was relentless. “The bus is basically an oven right now, what being solid steel and in Texas,” he shared.
Michael and his friends installed new insulation everywhere and celebrated afterward. “Bus is insulated and me and my friends decided to get very drunk and relax on our make shift lounge area.” Sounds like they needed a break!
Bring In The Light!
The newly-enclosed bus was dark inside. To give the construction site a bit of light and personality he hung a strand of lights. “Steel walls complete, with a festive Christmas motif going on”
The next step of the renovation was to cut out the new window holes and bring some natural light into the space. The holes shown here would eventually become the windows for the bathroom and living room.
During His Time Off
Michael worked hard as he converted an old school bus into a tiny home, and he was still commuting to his job in Austin. He managed to carve out some R & R when he could.
He later wrote of this time, “Before the roof raise I moved the bus to a friend’s farm in Manor, TX for $0 a month. I would regularly go sit on the roof of the bus and drink some wine and watch the sunset over the Texas farmlands.” Work hard, play hard.
The Interior Begins To Take Shape
Now for the fun stuff! With the walls and roof completed, Michael got to work on renovating the inside of the school bus. The kitchen was one of the first areas he tackled. He hit up IKEA and got a steal!
“IKEA phased out their old kitchen line and I got a hell of a deal on these drawers and cabinets,” he shared. “I paid $30 for everything! The butcher block was also a great deal. All the butcher block in this bus was bought on clearance for $120.”
IKEA Comes To The Rescue For The Living Area, Too
Always one to save money and repurpose things, Michael used his existing furniture to carve out a comfortable living area in the converted bus. “I took my IKEA Karlstad couch from my apartment and took off the back, arms, and feet so I was left with the cushions and the box spring base,” he shared.
He then built a new frame for the couch, as well as a storage area for water next to it and began to frame out the bathroom. Michael found the American flag at a Goodwill.
Well, This Is Unexpected
Anyone undertaking a major construction project like Michael’s is bound to run into some unexpected snags. This is probably not one that he had in mind! While he was applying insulation to the ceilings, Michael accidentally got some of the stuff in his beard.
“Fun fact, while spraying insulation I got a bunch in my beard and didn’t noticed until an hour or so later, and had to shave the whole thing off,” he wrote. This photo was presumably taken quite a while after the incident.
He Took Advantage Of The Texas Climate
Thanks to that same Texas sunshine that made the newly-walled bus so hot, Michael can live off the grid. He installed solar panels on the school bus roof in order to harness the power of the sun. It wasn’t easy, though.
“This was the most frustrating day of the build,” he said. “I was doing it myself, it was very windy, and things kept falling off the roof.” He captioned this photo, “Desk walls and sneak peek at my Solar panels and batteries.”
Behind The Walls
Michael installed the wiring seen here, now hidden behind a wall. “Most likely not perfectly up to code, but a peek at the wall behind my desk. I have 300 watts of Solar panels on the roof, a 3000 watt Pure Sine Wave inverter, and six 6v batteries wired in series.”
“White is 12v which powers all my lights, my vent fans, and my water pump. Yellow is standard 110v that powers everything else.”
He Needed A Large Office
Having a large and functional office was a must for Michael’s new home. “Being a graphic designer I need a proper workspace. Most tiny houses have these little dinky desks that flip up from a wall or are tucked away in a small alcove,” he said.
“This desk is 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep, the largest desk I’ve ever owned!” A skylight provides some natural lighting to the work area.
Though small, the bus has a fully-functional bathroom that’s hidden from view with a restored wooden barn door. Although he can use the bathroom any time he wants, Michael confided that he prefers to take his business outdoors.
“I can use the bathroom in it, however, I rarely do. I pee outside like the good Lord intended,” he said. “As for showering and stuff, I built an awesome little outdoor shower or I shower at the gym.” Thanks for letting us know, Michael!
Time To Paint
Michael didn’t want his masterpiece to be mistaken from a “regular” school bus, so he decided to paint it. But what color? There was one choice that made complete sense.
“White is best for the heat here in Texas, and leaves me open to add colors down the road,” he explained. “I also couldn’t think of what colors would go with my wood interiors. I park it in South Austin, in someone’s shady side yard and pay less than $100 a month in rent and utilities.”
The Grand Total
So just how much did this project cost Michael, in addition to the labor and the rough times along the way? We knew he spent just $2,200 to purchase the old school bus, and it turns out his total cost wasn’t all that much more.
Michael estimates that he spent around $15,000 to convert the school bus into his dream tiny house. Even better is the fact that he pays less than $100 a month for rent and utilities together. This project really paid for itself.
Heartache Along The Way
We’ve read about all the mishaps and snafus that Michael encountered during his bus conversion, but there’s more to his story. While he was involved in the renovation process, Michael experienced some deep heartaches.
His beloved grandfather and his dog both passed away, and Michael and his girlfriend also decided to end their long-term relationship during the bus project. It was certainly a trying year for this ambitious young man.
What’s Next For Michael?
Now that he’s all settled into his perfect tiny house, what does Michael plan to do next? Travel, of course! So he’s in the process of renovating a van so that he can tour around the country in comfort.
Speaking of his school bus home, he said, “I have a composting toilet that works great, and it just so happens that I get by using the one at work. The bathroom is mostly used for storing materials for my current van conversion project.”
Michael isn’t the only one who saw possibilities in a school bus…
This Couple Turned a School Bus Into Their Dream Home on a Budget
Hailing from Berlin, Germany, Felix Starck and Selima Taibi wanted to leave their ordinary lives behind and do something extraordinary. Felix is a filmmaker and Selima is a musician who creates music under the name Mogli. The young couple was vying to see the world and live life on the road. Together, they imagined a journey through North and South America, living life on the road with the great outdoors all around them. While some might have viewed them as daydreamers, the couple is anything but. They put their plans into action. Follow their incredible journey that they named Expedition: Happiness.
Ready For The Adventure Of A Lifetime
In order to set out on their journey properly, Felix and Selima decided that a school bus converted into a home would be the best option. That way they would have a means of transportation along with a place to call home while on the road.
While other people might see this type of lifestyle choice as too alternative, the adventurous couple was inspired by the idea. While they were still in Berlin, the search for a school bus in America began.
The Bus Needed A Lot Of Work
Lucky for them, they found a bus that would suit their needs. However, they still had a lot of work ahead of them. The bus wasn’t in the best shape and needed a lot of repairs before they even got started on converting it into something that would be livable.
The couple posted to their shared social media account for the journey: “We got all of the flooring out yesterday, but we found one huge hole in the floor. The bus has a lot of rust, but that’s the problem or the risk when you buy a bus located in Florida while in Germany.”
But they weren’t deterred, and instead got to work.
They Wanted To DIY
Yep, Felix and Selima were planning on doing the repairs and the conversion themselves! Once they arrived in America, getting the bus ready for the journey was their main focus. Selima got to work getting the stickers off the bus while Felix organized reworking the flooring.
Since the school bus wasn’t designed for someone to live in, there were quite a few adjustments that they needed to make, including adding insulation, as the couple planned on traveling to the snow. “Pumped to get some sub-flooring and insulation in today!” they posted.
Getting Rid Of The Rust Was Their First Priority
The couple purchased the school bus (by itself) for $9,500 USD. They had found it online and bought it before booking their flights to America. Although they were disappointed in the amount of rust and holes that they found throughout, they knew they had to keep a positive mindset and tackle the project head-on.
Felix posted, “We found more rust yesterday. We’re gonna fix the holes by screwing in some metal sheets but before we have to get rid of the rust.”
So which one of them knew how to do that?
They Found A Mentor
As it turns out, the couple was wildly optimistic but neither had the carpentry background or skills necessary to tackle something like getting rid of rust and repairing flooring. Luckily they connected with a nearby couple in North Carolina, who offered their advice.
The couple had converted a school bus themselves and were able to pass down their knowledge to Felix and Selima as they tackled the build. Once they got the tools in their hands, however, it seemed that they were naturals! Felix humbly bragged, “Mogli just built us a bed… no big deal I guess!’
The couple wasn’t going on their adventure alone…
Rudi Makes Three
He may not have helped with the school bus build, but Rudi the Bernese Mountain Dog was ready to join the couple on their epic journey. Good thing they bought a school bus instead of a tiny home, because this pup takes up some space!
Felix and Selima were excited to take Rudi along for the ride, and show him what snow is all about! They also told their followers that Rudi was a source of inspiration for them and added to the excitement of their upcoming trip.
They Started With The Kitchen
Once the frame of the bed was built, they began to build out the kitchen. The school bus offered a unique floor plan; long and narrow, and they needed to carefully plan out every inch to be utilized in a meaningful way.
In tiny spaces like their bus, it’s of utmost importance that everything is designed for functionality and to make the best use of the space. Once the cabinets were installed, they felt pretty good about the pace of their build.
They Made The Bathroom Feel Bigger
As the kitchen came along, so did the bathroom. Felix posted photos of Selima crouched down in the tiny designated space with the caption, “painting our teensy tiny toilet.” They realized that the bathroom is much tighter than one you would find in the average home, so they improvised.
Selima painted the space white, to make it appear bigger and set handmade tiles to make it feel like more like home. Throughout the process, the couple remained optimistic and cheered each other on, keeping spirits high.
A Fresh Coat Of Paint
Once the interior of the bus started coming along, it was time for the exterior to get a facelift. Although the adventurous couple believed a school bus would make the best home for them, they didn’t want it to be mistaken for a bus that takes kids to school.
Felix and Selima decided to paint the exterior white. But… “Gray! It turned out gray!” Felix shared with their followers. They weren’t too worried about it though and kept painting anyway. “Black parts will be cream,” Felix decided.
Soon, the interior was complete!
The Office-Kitchen Galley
Things were taking shape and the bus was no longer recognizable as the bright yellow school bus it once was. Now, it was a home. When designing the floorplan for their bus, Felix and Selima chose to stretch a counter along each wall.
On one side would be the kitchen, with plenty of counter for food prep. On the other side would be enough space for each of them to have a desk. This was important not only for Felix to edit film and Selima to work on her music, but to update their social media with content from their journey.
The Bedroom Is In The Back
Another area that was important when designing the floor plan was of course, the bedroom. The couple wisely decided to stick this room in the back of the bus, where it could be quiet, private, and removed from the rest.
And take a look at the bed Selima built! You wouldn’t even believe that the couple had no previous experience building furniture, as the entire space has clean lines and beautiful design.
You may be wondering how they power this thing!
Storage And Power
With so many lights and appliances on board, you might be wondering how the couple powers their home on wheels. Felix gave their followers a peek at the back of the bus, where they have their powering station. From here, they have the option of plugging the bus into the grid to get energy.
Whenever they can though, they pull electricity from the solar panels installed on the roof of the bus. This helps keep their costs down while traveling since that bus has got to be a gas guzzler!
Rudi Has His Space, Too
Felix and Selima have their bed comfortably set up in the back of the bus, but what about Rudi the Bernese dog? Of course, he got his own space, too. In fact, the bus allowed enough room for a big doggie bed up in the front of the bus.
This way he can be right where the action is as they hit the road. He also has a custom elevated table for his doggie bowls. Living the doggie dream.
When converting the school bus into a livable space, the couple paid close attention to detail in how they would store all of their belongings. It was important that they had enough space for their clothing, as well as all of their gear.
They designed the couches deep enough to afford a good amount of storage space underneath and stashed their equipment in the rear of the bus, like Selima’s music equipment. This also helped keep the bus clutter-free.
Time For Interior Design
Once the bus was built out with everything they needed (can you believe how nice it looks?!) they were able to outfit it with more elements that would make it feel like home. With both halves of the couple being artistic, they let their creativity flow.
They decided to hang a graphic on the wall stating, “live simply.” However, it’s hard to agree that anything about this couple’s journey is simple. They put a lot of hard work into creating the lifestyle they wanted.
There’s only one thing left to do…
Ready To Hit The Road
After they accomplished the huge feat of purchasing and converting a school bus into a home on wheels, the young couple was ready to hit the road and see the Americas!
They shared, “After 12 weeks of daily failure we are quite done with the conversion and now we are ready to take our beauty all the way down to South America.” While they were inspired to see everything on their checklist, from Alaska to Argentina, they also kept things in check. They continued, “If we make it that far- I have no idea, probably not! Are we going to have a great time? For sure!”
Expedition: Happiness Is A Go
Elated to finally hit the road, they named their journey “Expedition Happiness.” They had already amassed a following on social media during their school bus build, and would garner even more followers while they set-out on a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
They decided that their maiden voyage would be to Canada. Felix and Selima had their sights set on seeing some big mountains. Little did their dog Rudi know what was in store when they reached their destination!
Would they make it?
First Stop: Banff National Park, Canada
The couple and their beloved dog hit the road and safely made it to their first destination: Banff National Park. The park is known as one of the greatest monuments of nature in North America, and they knew they absolutely had to experience it firsthand.
Once they arrived, Felix posted, “Banff National Park we love you!!! Mowgli is enjoying the sun and me and Rudi go for a hike.” The couple was settling into their life on the road just fine.
Rudi Is Living A Dog’s Dream
Just look at that face! Upon arriving, Rudi saw snow for the first time and his reaction is priceless. Without any development in sight, in the thick of nature, Rudi was able to run free and live a dog’s dream life.
How lucky is he to have his favorite humans by his side as they travel to the greatest destinations in North America? The Bernese mountain dog was truly in his element in Canada.
Next stop: Alaska!
Denali National Park, Alaska
After experiencing Banff National Park in Canada, Felix and Selima decided to journey even further north, to Alaska. By this time, their epic road trip was in full swing, and everything seemed to be going great. The bus was working out as planned and they were able to have some of nature’s greatest wonders outside their doorstep.
They arrived in Denali National Park where they could view the tallest mountain in North America after making homemade chocolate croissants in their bus. The good life, indeed!
What’s the opposite of Alaska?
Death Valley, California
These young explorers weren’t set out just for the snow. After Alaska they journeyed south, through the forests of the pacific north west and along the beaches of California. Then, they cut inland, to Death Valley. While the couple was amazed with the drastic difference from snowy peaks, their pup wasn’t acclimating well to the heat.
Luckily, it sounds like his condition began to improve over time. They described their experience: “Death Valley was one of the most impressive places on this trip (so far.) Rudi feels way better by now and kinda gets used to the heat.”
Mogli Writes Music In Mexico
Once they reached Death Valley, the couple continued south on their journey, headed to the warm air and ocean in Mexico. Throughout the entirety of their trip, Selima, aka Mogli, wrote music. She then used the tracks she wrote to accompany Felix’s video, turning their work into a documentary.
Felix shared, “It’s no secret that Mogli wrote some amazing songs while we were traveling.” This moment captured in time is enough to make anyone envious of the bus life they led on Expedition: Happiness.
But, there’s one missing from the photo….
Things Take A Turn
While Felix and Selima were at the height of their happiness on their road trip, having experienced Banff, Denali, the California coast and Death Valley, there was one member of the group who wasn’t feeling great: Rudi.
Their Bernese buddy was in poor health in the heat, and his legs even required him to have surgery along the way. Felix posted, “WE’RE GONNA MISS THIS. It looks like we have to stop our trip. Rudi has a serious illness (he is hospitalized at the moment) and his health and happiness are our number one priority.”
Could this be the end?
They Put The Bus Up For Sale
While it was a shock to their followers, Felix and Selima trusted their gut instinct and knew that it was best for their dog if they ended Expedition: Happiness in Mexico. Although they wanted to travel to South America, they knew it would be at the expense of their companion, and they couldn’t do it. They put their dream bus up for sale.
But it wasn’t for a lost cause. They experienced North America just like they had hoped, and even better- the new owners of their bus were planning on taking it to Mexico! They shared, “Our bus is going to reach our destination after all- even if it’s without us.”
The beautiful couple gained a lot of insight and wisdom on their journey. They were able to embrace the experience and let go of the things they weren’t able to see. Not only were they able to accomplish converting a bus and traveling across three countries, they were able to share it with others.
While Felix put together the video they captured along the journey, Selima recorded and laid her soundtrack over it. Now Expedition: Happiness will live on forever.
Reflecting On Their Journey
One thing the couple from Berlin learned while they were on the road, is that they can live with much less than society might make people believe they need. Not only did they live happily in close quarters, but they built their home with their own hands, which turned out beautifully!
Their journey has been shared on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even their own documentary. That’s a lot to accomplish setting out on their own unique path.
Smart, Clean Design
Looking back on their creation, it’s pretty amazing. While they had no prior experience in converting a bus or building furniture themselves, Felix and Selima were able to create a living space that people around the world admired.
They were smart in every design choice, making it both functional and a beautiful place to stay in. Not only that, but everything was designed to travel thousands of miles around the continent. Did they ever see it going this well?
Another Adventure Awaits
Felix and Selima successfully converted their bus and traveled to three different countries on a different continent from Berlin. They put together their documentary, Expedition: Happiness, and sold their bus. Now what?
Another adventure, of course! After they wrapped up the first project, the empowered couple found something new to get excited about. Felix set off on a cycling journey, biking around the globe. Of course, Selima created the soundtrack, and the film ended up being popular in Germany for several years.
The Beauty Of It All
Looking back on the school bus, they wouldn’t have changed a thing. Felix and Selima had the vision to travel North America without having to find housing everywhere they go. They came up with a plan, and they successfully pulled it off.
They’ll never forget the nights that they spent sleeping in the bus in the middle of Banff and Denali National forests. They’ll never forget the simple life they created for themselves. And they’ll never forget the love they shared throughout the entire experience.
A Goal, Accomplished
If there’s anything to take away from the filmmaker and musician’s experience, is that nothing is out of reach, and no dream is too big. While other people might have thought their vision was too outlandish and difficult, they persisted and were able to create a home on wheels from a school bus.
Now that it’s over, they have the memories. The couple shared, “375 days ago we bought a school bus and converted it to a… call it what you want. It was the trip of our lives, that’s for sure.”