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Old 12-13-2018, 12:44 AM   #1
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Thoughts on building tiny house on a bus chassis

Hey all.

My partner and I recently purchased property in the Olympic Peninsula and are trying to decide on what direction we want to go with a bus conversion.

Currently we are considering a 30' or 40' bus to convert as our permanent home.
Probably once we park it, it will remain on the property but there is a possibility we will go on short trips as well.

I've checked out numerous bus conversions and all have typical
challenges such as insulating, ceiling height, and running electrical wiring.

I'm trying to decide if I want to do a typical conversion and work within the existing structure of the bus body or remove everything behind the drivers area and build a tiny house using conventional framing.

So, my questions are,

Is the body of the bus critical to and part of the structure of the bus chassis?

If I remove everything above the floor and frame a house will that work?

Has anyone here built a tiny house on a bus frame?

Thank you for any help.
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Old 12-13-2018, 12:51 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by WestCoastCarpenter View Post
So, my questions are,

Is the body of the bus critical to and part of the structure of the bus chassis?

If I remove everything above the floor and frame a house will that work?

Has anyone here built a tiny house on a bus frame?

Thank you for any help.

1. Yes. The entire body is structural.


2. At what point does that become like the way RV's are built? I suppose it could be done, but you'll lose a great deal of structural integrity inherent in the bus's original bodywork. Of course, if you never plan to drive/move it any distance, I suppose it becomes a moot point. You'll have great difficulty insuring it, if at all.



3. None that I am aware of, but I'm sure there's bound to be one or two.
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Old 12-13-2018, 01:02 AM   #3
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Thanks for your comment.

Good to know about the structural and insurance issues,
I'll look into that.


I guess the difference from an RV would be the busses ability to carry weight and the difference in heat and sound insulation, as well as a custom design floor plan.
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Old 12-13-2018, 01:17 AM   #4
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I guess the difference from an RV would be the busses ability to carry weight and the difference in heat and sound insulation, as well as a custom design floor plan.

A custom framed tiny home versus the original bodywork of a bus - at what point does it outweigh the GVWR of the chassis? Insulation can be added to bus bodywork, folks do it regularly. As for the floor plan, either way you still have to work around *SOME* constraints. The axle and wheel humps, frame rails, fuel tank placement, etc. You still have an 8' width limit (unless you go past these, in which case you get into over-width issues when driving, regardless if you build tiny home or expand the bus sides).


How much does a tiny home weigh (or in this case,add to the bus chassis)? We can weigh some 2x4's and plywood, but the ten thousand tiny odds and ends that invariably get used on such a project all add up. I'm not saying to do or not do either way, just to make an informed decision. Personally, I would not go the tiny home route unless it was something I rarely (or never) planned to move, and even at that, not any great distance. I might consider it if I ended up with a very rusted bus that would require too much cost and effort to rebuild (and only if the frame was sound).
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Old 12-13-2018, 02:12 AM   #5
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I was thinking the GVWR on a bus would be pretty high because of the potential live load plus whatever people bring on the bus.

Then if you deduct the weight of the bus body and bench seats which I imagine is significant, I think there would be plenty of GVWR remaining for a framed structure.

I'd have to look at a particular model and work out the math on materials vs allowable weight.

Thanks again for your input, it's just what I needed.
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Old 12-13-2018, 08:23 AM   #6
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Old 12-13-2018, 10:00 AM   #7
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I have a few thoughts on what has been posted so far, they are just my opinion.

Quote:
Currently we are considering a 30' or 40' bus to convert as our permanent home.
Probably once we park it, it will remain on the property but there is a possibility we will go on short trips as well.
If you think you "might" use it for trips, you probably won't. If you are stationary for any length of time, the time to stow everything away securely for travel gets longer. You're moving your "house". Even if you don't go anywhere there is still maintenance that must be done to the "bus" part. While generally, it does more harm to start the engine once in a while than leaving it sit, there is still things that need to be done after it sits for a while. It's not good for tires to "sit" without being driven.

Quote:
Is the body of the bus critical to and part of the structure of the bus chassis?
The "bus body" depending on model is just a body. The chassis is the frame with all of the running gear. If you take the body, including floor off you have, basically, a truck. You end up with something much like class A motor homes start with.

Quote:
Has anyone here built a tiny house on a bus frame?
Look at some of the old "hippie" buses. There were some that were quite well done (some not so much). Some are gorgeous.

As far as the weight issue, I'm not sure. My wife and I watch the "tiny house" shows. They build a "house" on a 2 axle trailer, I can't see how it is in any way possible that they have kept under the GVWR of that trailer. No mention is ever made about that. Then they show them happily leaving pulling something that, in my mind, isn't even constructed to travel as well as a stick'n'staple RV. They also have to purchase a very large truck safely pull it. I've pulled some kind of trailer most of my adult life, including some 38 ft towables. I wouldn't even consider pulling one of those things. As mentioned before, 102 inches is max width without a permit.

If it were me and I was considering a "tiny home" I would use shipping containers sitting on a permanent foundation with"real" plumbing and buy a small camper of some kind for the travel part.
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Old 12-13-2018, 12:29 PM   #8
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How often should a bus be driven?
How often do most skoolies drive their homes around?
I imagine most Skoolies get used a few trips then sit like RVs do.

I've seen the hippie wagons, I would be going for a modern look possibly using steel framing mixed with wood to eliminate weight where possible.

I might just remove everything from the bottom of the windows up.
Then frame in nice windows all the way around and put the bus roof back on at a taller height.


I don't want it to not look like a bus because there is a lot of charm and character there.

There is a lot to consider.

Thank you.
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Old 12-16-2018, 12:02 AM   #9
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I imagine most Skoolies get used a few trips then sit like RVs do.
I don't think that's really the case. I feel from experience with the skoolie owners I've met in real life, most full-time or travel regularly in their conversion.
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Old 12-16-2018, 12:58 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WestCoastCarpenter View Post
I was thinking the GVWR on a bus would be pretty high because of the potential live load plus whatever people bring on the bus.

Then if you deduct the weight of the bus body and bench seats which I imagine is significant, I think there would be plenty of GVWR remaining for a framed structure.

I'd have to look at a particular model and work out the math on materials vs allowable weight.

Thanks again for your input, it's just what I needed.

Well, let's talk weights. A typical full length bus will tip the scales somewhere between 17,000 - 20,000 pounds (unladen but full of fluids). A common GVWR is 25,500 (keeping under the 26K Class B threshold). A typical cab-and-chassis medium duty truck will weigh between 8-10,000 pounds, depending on fuel tank(s), frame length, engine, and other options. I would hazard to guess a chopped-down, full length bus to come in around 10K or so. This would leave you roughly 15,000 pounds to work with before exceeding the max GVWR, a good bit more than a pair of Dexter 3500 pound trailer axles ... and for that matter, more than a pair of Dexter 5200 pound axles. I've seen large 30-some-odd foot fifth-wheel RV's that roll on 3 axles and weigh 10K+, often with multiple slide-outs.


Now if you look around for a bus on a 32K pound frame (and they aren't terribly hard to find), you may find an air-ride frame and air brakes, as well as plenty of weight capacity for your project. If you exceed *That* kind of weight, you're getting into 3-axle territory.


If all this weren't confusing enough, don't forget your *AXLE* weights. ALL the GVWR in the world won't help you if you have 14,000 pounds on a steering axle designed for 9500. The same holds true (if to a slightly lesser extent) on your rear axle, leaving the front axle underweight - it needs a certain amount of weight for good weight distribution, as well as giving good traction on wet roads.


Quote:
Originally Posted by WestCoastCarpenter View Post
How often should a bus be driven?
How often do most skoolies drive their homes around?
I imagine most Skoolies get used a few trips then sit like RVs do.

I've seen the hippie wagons, I would be going for a modern look possibly using steel framing mixed with wood to eliminate weight where possible.

I might just remove everything from the bottom of the windows up.
Then frame in nice windows all the way around and put the bus roof back on at a taller height.


I don't want it to not look like a bus because there is a lot of charm and character there.

There is a lot to consider.

Thank you.

I believe vehicles begin to decay if left sitting - unmaintained - for too long. How long? That's more subjective - a couple years? 5 years? 10 years? Outside? In a barn? In a warehouse? In a museum?


If you plan to re-use the bus roof (which is a pretty good idea, IMO), I would strongly suggest simply raising the rook to whatever height you need, within reason. Keep in mind most states have statutory height limits of 13'6", and for good reasons. Low bridges, low traffic lights, and vehicles being too top-heavy are the main reasons (but not the only reasons, these are just a couple that come to mind). When doing a roof raise, I *Very Strongly* recommend welding in steel wall supports matching the original wall supports to maintain as much of the original structural integrity as you can. I would *NOT* use wood in place of the factory wall supports. I would, however, find removing (or more accurately, relocating) one or two wall supports acceptable, assuming the wall has been suitably framed out and reinforced for your planned window placement. Wood is fine for attaching wall boards to, not so much for primary roof support and structural integrity.


All that said, I've seen photos of a bus that appeared to have been stripped from the driver's seat back, and above the driver's seat/windshield - the entire thing being rebuilt in the resemblance of a log cabin or woodsy style cabin. It looked great from what I remember, but I have no idea if it was over-height, overweight, how top-heavy or roadworthy it was, or how well it would have fared in a crash. I can only imagine insuring it would have been difficult at best.
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Old 12-16-2018, 01:58 PM   #11
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If you're not planning on moving it (except for maybe a short trip), why use a bus at all? The standard bus has leaky ceiling, leaky windows, and a leaky door - if you want things to survive long-term on the inside, you'll need to fix that first. Then, you're dealing with design limitations on height, width, building around the wheel wells, etc.

If you're not moving the thing, just use a shipping container, or else pour a foundation and build a tiny house out of ordinary lumber.

A skoolie is a badass RV, but if its not moving, why do an RV at all?
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Old 12-16-2018, 02:10 PM   #12
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The Cabin Bus is a great tiny home on wheels.

IMG_7493.jpg

IMG_7494.jpg
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Old 12-16-2018, 02:10 PM   #13
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I have to agree with others, why a bus if the objective is a tiny home.. sitting for a few months is OK.. many skoolies drive across the country for their work.. and often do seasonal gigs so their busses sit for a couple months at a time.. but not much longer.. bearings are made to spin, hinges made to hinge.. you'd almost want to park it and stabilize it so the wheels are off the ground .. at that point like mentioned, what does it take to get it on the road when you want to take a weekend trip...



now if you plan a lot of weekend trips.. several per year or more then a bus makes sense as it will get run , moved, suspension flexed, engine warmed up, lubrucants lubricating, tires rolled, etc..



im not sure a Bus is the besty medium for a tinyhome.. however a lot of people want to be mobile, and for a mobilt tiny-home i dont think you can do much better than a bus.. its strong, heavy duty, and a great canvas for building in.
-Christopher
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Old 12-16-2018, 02:12 PM   #14
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The Cabin Bus is a great tiny home on wheels.

Attachment 28200

Attachment 28201



but they didnt cut the body off of the bus.. they installed the wood over the bus body which is much stronger than just a wood frame built on the chassis.. plus they drive their bus at least a few times per year.
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Old 12-16-2018, 02:20 PM   #15
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That's true - keeping the supports and much of the shell will help strengthen the house - otherwise, it would seem easier to build off a trailer.
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Old 12-19-2018, 08:02 PM   #16
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You also need to consider you local "Building Codes", City Codes, County Codes, and the "Restrictive Covenants" wherever you land is located. This alone may shoot down any Bus or Tiny home idea's you may have from the perspectives of type of construction, Bus parking and habitation of the bus on a full time basis where it is parked if allowed at all!
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Old 12-23-2018, 03:52 AM   #17
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If all you are going to do with the bus is build a house on the frame you may as well start out with a trailer. It will be a lot easier to accomplish, it will be closer to the ground and not require as many steps up to the floor level, and you won't have expensive stuff just rotting--engine, transmission, brakes, tires, etc.

Another thought in favor of a trailer is it will be much easier to snug a trailer down so that it doesn't move when you walk around inside. Even a school bus on steel springs on all four corners will move and shift around as you move around inside, even is you snug it down tight.

If the project is not for a permanent for always location then you will need to stay within the height, length, width, and weight restrictions all road legal vehicles are required to stay within. That means exterior width no more than 102", exterior length no more than 40' on two axles and no more than 45' on three axles, no higher than 13'6", and the weight restrictions will have been stipulated by the company that built the bus--the max with standard tires would be 12,000 for single tires and 24,000 on a dual wheel axle or 36,000 on tandem dual axles (but depending upon what the original purchaser ordered the max for a front axle could be as low as 6,000 and 12,000 for the rear).

Another thing to consider about weight is if you do decide to make the converted bus street legal you need to make sure that the weight is evenly distributed not only from front to back but side to side. A bus that is heavy to one side will never drive straight down the road and a bus that is too heavy in the front or rear will have very poor driving manners.

Even though you may not be in an urban neighborhood, there are a lot of things the state of WA and the different counties require in regards to building codes and what can or cannot be a permanent structure. There also may be codes that limit how much time can be spent living in a temporary structure on your land. The days have long since passed by when all you needed to do was set up camp. Now in most locales in order to get a building permit you need to have an approved water source and an approved septic system Add some gravel and the cost of bringing in the power and you can be out well in excess of $50K before you pound one nail or cut one 2x4.
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Old 12-23-2018, 10:33 AM   #18
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As stated above by "cowlitzcoach" weight distribution between axles is critical. The LARGE name brand RV manufacturers have not been immune from this issue with all their engineering design capabilities. There have been numerous front tire blowouts on large front and rear engine RV motorhome's where the front steer tires cannot take the weight placed upon the front axle causing the front steer tire to BLOWOUT!

While the weight placed upon the front axle may be within the front axle weight specification the weight placed upon the front steer tires can easily exceed the load capacity of the front steer tires. With RV manufacturers potentially placing fuel, water and waste tanks in the wrong locations within the chassis weight distribution throughout the chassis is a problem if not taken into consideration during the design process. If the "Pro's" can screw it up so can a backyard Skoolie builder!

Freightliner, Spartan and other RV chassis manufacturer's for the motorhome industry have had to up their game with new chassis designs with heavier capacity front axles allowing for higher capacity front steer tires to be installed on the chassis's to help resolve this major safety issue.

This is something that can or could EASILY BE OVERLOOKED by the backyard builder when planning and designing a Skoolie build. Make sure YOU know the front axle and front tire rated capacities of your bus BEFORE you begin the build and design phase of your Skoolie. Make sure YOU build your Skoolie within the weight/capacity limitations of your Skoolie's front axle and front steer tires capacity or your Skoolie dream just might turn into a Skookie nightmare sometime when you are on the road and experience a front steer tire blowout!
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Old 12-23-2018, 05:07 PM   #19
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As stated above by "cowlitzcoach" weight distribution between axles is critical. The LARGE name brand RV manufacturers have not been immune from this issue with all their engineering design capabilities. There have been numerous front tire blowouts on large front and rear engine RV motorhome's where the front steer tires cannot take the weight placed upon the front axle causing the front steer tire to BLOWOUT!

While the weight placed upon the front axle may be within the front axle weight specification the weight placed upon the front steer tires can easily exceed the load capacity of the front steer tires. With RV manufacturers potentially placing fuel, water and waste tanks in the wrong locations within the chassis weight distribution throughout the chassis is a problem if not taken into consideration during the design process. If the "Pro's" can screw it up so can a backyard Skoolie builder!

Freightliner, Spartan and other RV chassis manufacturer's for the motorhome industry have had to up their game with new chassis designs with heavier capacity front axles allowing for higher capacity front steer tires to be installed on the chassis's to help resolve this major safety issue.

This is something that can or could EASILY BE OVERLOOKED by the backyard builder when planning and designing a Skoolie build. Make sure YOU know the front axle and front tire rated capacities of your bus BEFORE you begin the build and design phase of your Skoolie. Make sure YOU build your Skoolie within the weight/capacity limitations of your Skoolie's front axle and front steer tires capacity or your Skoolie dream just might turn into a Skookie nightmare sometime when you are on the road and experience a front steer tire blowout!
A friend of mine was building a BB AA FE. His bus has the Cat 1160/3208 engine and Allison automatic. That power package completely ahead of the front axle puts a lot of weight on the front axle before anything else is put in the bus.

He was in the process of getting new steer tires and I asked him if he had ever weighed his bus to see what the actual and not guesstimated weights were. After weighing his bus he had to do some major remodeling in order to unload the front axle. His numbers before moving stuff around was 16,000 lbs on the front axle and 8,000 lbs on the rear axle. In the process of moving 6,000 lbs off of the front axle he actually moved closer to 8,000 lbs as the weight moved behind the rear axle levered more weight off of the front.

After remodeling and moving tanks and his generator aft he ended up with 8,000 lbs. on the front axle and 16,000 lbs on the rear axle. Not bad for a bus with a front axle rated at 12,000 lbs and a rear axle rated at 24,000 lbs.

He said the redistribution of the weight improved the handling and driving characteristics in a huge way.
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Old 12-23-2018, 06:29 PM   #20
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He said the redistribution of the weight improved the handling and driving characteristics in a huge way.
I am sure it did make a HUGE difference in the way his Skoolie drove down the road. Your friend was 4000 lbs over the rated capacity of the front axle much less the steer tires BEFORE he made his changes. This bus was definitely an accident waiting to happen! He should be glad he has a good friend such as yourself who is concerned for his SAFETY when making suggestions for his build!

Unfortunately it would not surprise "me" if your friend was "Normal" when it came to building a Skoolie. Many of these builds I see here on this site scare me to "Death" when you look at all the weight builders add to their bus and the location on the chassis where the weight is added within the bus.

Clearly very few Skoolie builders ever take into consideration the front axle and front steer tire capacity ratings when designing & building their Skoolie. I hate to say what should be obvious however "Safety First" should be your "First" consideration when designing and building your Skoolie for you and your family!
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