Your Jaw Will Drop When You See What This Texan Made Out of an Old School Bus!
We hear a lot about America’s love affair with McMansions, but not everyone dreams of square feet by the thousands. Quite the opposite, in fact! In the other camp are the passionate devotees of the tiny house movement, who advocate for simpler living in cozy, minimalist homes.
In Austin, Texas, one man decided to push the tiny house concept to the absolute limits. Michael Talley had no building experience but wanted to see if he could make a nice home for himself out of an old school bus. He had no idea what he was getting himself into!
It was a harrowing journey for Michael, but the result will astonish you! These are the steps he took to make his tiny house dream come true.
Michael had a good job, but was tired of paying Austin’s high rents. At the time he embarked on this project, he had to fork over $1,200 per month for a small apartment.
A graphic designer, he’d been dreaming of a tiny house and had drafted many designs.
Then he had an epiphany! Why not start with a school bus instead of building from the ground up? He thought it would be easier this way, since buses already have four walls and a roof. Boy, was he wrong!
One big challenge right from the start was that Michael had never built anything in his life. But he figured that with his graphic design skills and sheer determination, he’d figure it out along the way.
But did he bite off more than he could chew?
This is one of Michael’s many initial design concepts. Another idea was to model his project on the adventure bus from The Lost World: Jurassic Park!
After much fine tuning, Michael arrived at the final design (pictured here).
Planning a living space is a complex process that involves more than structural decisions. Michael had to consider his personal lifestyle and taste as well. For example, he loves entertaining so he put the public spaces toward the front of the bus.
What was the first thing Michael had to do? Buy a bus, obviously!
Thankfully, he got really lucky and hit a school bus auction with very few other bidders. He scored this retired yellow kid hauler for only $2,200! Michael says he “made out like a bandit.”
One of Michael’s main goals behind the project was to save money, but of course, the project itself cost quite a bit.
Luckily, Michael had some very good friends who let him park the bus and work on it on their farm. He also moved out of his $1,200 per month apartment and into a tent to save even more money during the project.
Finally, Michael was ready to get started on his bus conversion! But right out of the gate came a “Big” problem. . .
As you can see, Michael is very tall: six foot six! The bus height? Six foot one! Obviously, this was not going to work unless he wanted to duck everywhere in his own home. Of course he didn’t let this little hiccup get in the way, though. With his graphic design skills and the help of some YouTube tutorials, Michael was able to “raise the roof.” But that comes later. Let’s start at the beginning.
Step #1: Removing the seats.
The first step was to remove the old seats that are bolted onto the bus floor. Michael said this process was much harder than he anticipated. He called it “grueling.”
Now, he knows he should have used an angle grinder. But at the start of this project, he was terrified of power tools!
Like most tiny house advocates, Michael is a big believer in not creating waste and reusing when possible. He was able to find a couple who wanted to haul the old seats away to a scrap metal place.
Step #2: Removing the ceiling paneling.
Michael thought the seat removal process was bad, but removing the ceiling paneling was “the absolute worst.”
He knows he should have used an impact drill, but hadn’t even heard of one at that point. Another regret is his decision to removing the ceiling insulation along with the paneling, since it was in totally fine shape.
If you’ve noticed that Michael’s project wasn’t exactly smooth sailing at the start, you’re right. Luckily, there were light moments too. Like when found this hilarious old “kick me” sign, left over from the bus’s former life!
Step #3: Removing the rubber flooring.
By the looks of it, I’d say that removing this gross old flooring was the right call. Don’t you?
Step #4: Removing the old windows.
Now this decision was tougher, as the old windows had vintage charm and let in so much light. Michael debated this one, but knew that the windows would rattle. Plus, there was the privacy issue. So out they came!
Step #5: Raising the roof.
At last, it was time to pop up that ceiling! This was an exciting but very challenging step of the project as well.
Michael created an elaborate structure of two-by-fours and scaffolding to support the roof as he worked. The next step was installing 25 steel ribs that a metal fabricator had custom made.
Before the roof could be raised, it had to be cut. Nerve-wracking! Luckily, Michael’s friends stepped up to help with this stage of the project. First, they cut the sides. And then they cut it in half! You can see the cut line in this photo.
Michael joked that this step of the project was necessary to accommodate his “abnormally large body.”
However, there was one joke that Michael was over at this point: the incessant “raise the roof” jokes that his friends were making. Do you think that explains his expression in this photo?
His friends were helpful, though. When it came time to actually raise the roof, they talked him down from the 24-inch lift he originally intended and settled on a more reasonable 20 inches. At the climactic moment, they all lifted the roof together.
Success! The roof was lifted. At this stage, the bus would have made a great safari vehicle. But it was on its way to becoming a home, so of course it needed walls.
Step #6: Enclose the bus.
Michael installed metal panels to close up the open spaces. The finished product looks great, but this was yet another tough patch in the project.
Michael still as the scar from when he was injured by a falling metal sheet. He says the installing the panels was “easily the most painful and bloody part of the build.”
#7: Build an oven.
At this stage, Michael had basically built himself an oven on wheels! All that metal plus the Texas heat made the bus’s interior blazing hot. Michael noted that at least it was “semi-bullet proof” though!
To regulate the temperature, Michael added insulation to the metal walls. And he strung some Christmas lights to cheer the place up.
#8. Cut out new windows.
Now it was time to really let some light in! This picture shows Michael cutting out the bathroom and living room windows.
It’s exhausting just following along, isn’t it? But get this: during the whole project, Michael was working his regular job too, commuting to Austin so he could save up for materials for the bus renovation.
And somehow he found time to enjoy farm life with his friends as well!
#9: Build a kitchen.
Now it was time to install his new kitchen. Once again, Michael scored with his bargain-finding radar. He bought most of the major kitchen components at an IKEA sale, where he paid just $30 for cabinets and drawers and $120 for a butcher block countertop!
Here is the beautiful subway tile installation on the kitchen wall.
Amazingly, Michael’s new kitchen is bigger than the one in his overpriced Austin apartment!
#10. Install framing and interior wall coverings.
Michael wanted a cool built-in sofa look for his new living room, but he had a perfectly good sofa already and didn’t want to generate more waste. So the eco-conscious home builder constructed the new couch frame out of his existing one . . . and had enough left over for his water storage and bathroom frames!
Michael lucked out and scored major green points again with his interior wall finishings. After procuring reclaimed floorboards from a 1941 house in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood, he repurposed the vintage wood for his accent walls and ceiling.
The other walls are finished with Masonite hardboard.
#11: Build a workspace.
As a graphic designer who does a lot of tech-based work from home, Michael needs a lot of work space. Somehow, he managed to carve out an impressive office area in the bus he would soon call home.
At five feet by two feet, Michael’s new desk is the biggest one he’s ever had!
#12: Build a bathroom.
Next it was on to the facilities. Michael built a brand new bathroom, complete with a shower and toilet. Not surprisingly, Michael’s new John boasts a recycled item: a reclaimed wooden door from a local barn.
Here’s the funny part though. He rarely uses the bathroom! “I pee outside like the good Lord intended,” he explains. (For other matters, he prefers an outdoor composting toilet.) He bathes in his outdoor shower or else at the gym. What does he do with all that unused space? Read on to find out!
#13: Install solar panels.
Of course, our eco-conscious contractor knew he could take advantage of sunny Texas to generate his own electricity!
Unfortunately, installing the solar panels made for a very tough day. “The most frustrating day of the entire build,” in fact. One issue was that it was very windy and things kept falling off the roof.
#14: Paint the exterior.
Michael debated colors but eventually decided on white for two reasons. First, so it didn’t look like a school bus anymore. And second, white was the practical choice in light of the oppressive Texas heat.
And voila, his bus was complete! He was ready to officially move in.
Keep going for a tour of the final results!
Michael’s cozy new bedroom. It makes you want to just curl up with a pal and a great flick, doesn’t it?
Michael’s main living area features the built-in sofa he constructed out of his old couch. With the kitchen just beyond, this inviting space is ready for Michael to start entertaining friends. Just as he envisioned!
Viewed from the other direction, you can appreciate Michael’s ingenious design. He managed to incorporate a living/tv room, office and kitchen in a very small area . . . and it doesn’t even feel crowded. What an amazingly efficient use of space!
Fifteen thousand dollars and five exhausting months later, Michael’s risky undertaking was complete. Not everyone believed he could make a comfy, liveable home out of an old school bus. I’d say he can claim a resounding victory, don’t you?
Hopefully Michael feels that all the hard work was worth it. But unfortunately, his challenges that year weren’t limited to the bus project. In that same year, his relationship ended, his grandfather and dog both died, and he lost his job.
The great news is that Michael found an even better job! He now designs t-shirts for a living, including his town’s popular “Keep Austin Weird” shirts!
Today, Michael parks the bus in a shady side yard that he rents for only $100 per month.
PS: Are you still wondering what he’s doing with all that unused bathroom space? It’s now a storage area for the materials he’ll use for his next project: converting an old van!!