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Old 04-12-2020, 05:23 PM   #1
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Skoolie Conversion Cost And Alternatives?

I haven't been able to find any threads discussing what anyone spent on their conversion (some of us perhaps too embarrassed to say, or hiding the true cost from the wife LOL)...

As I get a little closer to possibly being in a position to make a move, I would be interested in knowing some true numbers as to what others have spent. Long story short, I was in a car accident awhile ago and I may be settling my claim soon. My living arrangements will also be changing in the near future.

I own or have access to a pair of early 80s RVs on GM chassis, one a diesel, the other gas, but neither is worth fixing other than to possibly drop another body on the chassis, which is to say the running gear is low-mileage and in great shape, but they both have severe water damage in the roof and walls. The upshot here is plenty of parts for a conversion.

Of course this all depends on the big question, what do I want? What do I need? What is my budget? In answer, first and foremost, I am a single guy, so I might not need as much space or sleeping accommodations as most. However, I am in my mid 40s with moderate to severe COPD with ridiculous allergies, so I will not be able to do as much (if any) of the work myself as others have. It also makes it necessary to keep as much of the outside air as possible out. And since that little detail pretty much is an early retirement for me from a medical standpoint, what I need ideally is something as close to an apartment on wheels as possible.

My respiratory problems require strong air conditioning in the summer, and also make much of the country miserable for me most of the year. I'm best off in the Midwest / Pacific Northwest, some parts of the SouthWest, which could be a consideration in what my best plan would be. I'm a movie, music and InterNet buff, so some electronics will be necessary. I also am a singer/songwriter, so a basic recording studio setup might be nice. So I will need a strong battery / solar setup, as well as a good generator.

So, pretty much the works. Having all the comforts of home, hopefully to include a washer/dryer.

I have considered the idea of buying a finished / almost finished conversion, which makes this kind of a dual-plane thread. I have also considered alternatives, such as anything from a converted U-Haul truck to a 53-foot reefer trailer (I hold a Class A CDL and drove OTR for a few years, so moving it would not be a problem for me). I happened to be looking at skoolie and larger bus conversions (think MCI, etc), on the InterNet last night. Some were nice for the money, some were not-so-nice, some were owned by people who seemed to think their 90s skoolie was a twenty-year-old MCI in excellent condition with the works.

A few things I noticed. Many of the larger coach conversions I found have 2-stroke Detroit power, an engine I am a huge fan of, but have little to no mechanical knowledge of, and I know it is getting harder to find diesel mechanics that know these engines. So, as much as I would love to jump on one of these, I have to think about availability and cost of repair when it becomes necessary. On the other hand, a 2-stroke Detroit generally will not die unless you are extremely stupid, and even then they can take a hell of a lot more abuse than more modern diesels. So maybe from that perspective, that's what I should be looking at. However, I know they smoke more than most other diesels, which is a consideration with my respiratory issues. Any kind of smoke, (especially cigarette smoke -- I can't be within 200 feet of it), is like Chernobyl to me, which is a point towards gas and propane power.

I found a couple sites that do conversions, and had previously looked at Blue Ridge Conversions, but they don't appear to use insulation or do much in the way of floor prep / repair, which is sort of a deal-breaker for me. One thing I've learned in my experience throughout life, do it right, or do it twice, three times or more. I also know that you get what you pay for. Though I'm not looking for something shiny and beautiful that I could take to a country club, I do want to avoid the typical NIMBY harrassment from others who don't like my 'eyesore' in their neighborhood. I also want something reliable that I don't have to keep fixing. With moderate to severe COPD in my 40s, I need to think of this as my retirement. Though I could buy RVs all day long for half the price, a skoolie's major appeal for me is their metal roofs, that aren't as prone to leakage as standard RVs. However, I have considered the idea of an RV with a metal carport to park it under to keep the weather from getting into the roof if a leak developed. A $5k-$18k RV with a $3k carport may well do the trick, and definitely is easier on the wallet, methinks. But then I have to take the metal structure with me or buy a new one if I move.

Another site I found (skoolie homes) offers buses in various stages, ranging from auction fresh to gutted and ready for DIY'ers up to one or two finished conversions. They also offer roof raise and conversion services. One thing I liked about what I read there was that their basic package included insulation, though it wasn't clear what type of insulation was used. Pricing ranged from a gutted shell for $9500, to a prepped shell ready to be fitted out for $12,500, on up to a full conversion for $35,000. No set price on roof raise, I guess that would depend on the length of bus and the coachwork, I'm sure some are more difficult to do than others.

Here is the site... Think the work is worth the price?

https://skoolie.homes/our-services/diy-skoolies/

The proprietors of Skoolie Homes mention that they have lived the skoolie life, not just done the conversions, and I wonder if they are members of this site, and if they could give some more info. I have enough questions that I don't want to tie them up on the phone all day. I'm sure they would have insight to issues I might not consider. As to budget, well, the claim I hope to settle in the foreseeable future is from neck, spine and shoulder problems arising from a broadside collision. It's anybody's guess as to what my budget will be after paying medical bills (total stands at around $92k), and legal fees.

Whatever I do, I'm seriously thinking of buying my own property to park it on, complete with water, septic and electric. Some might say, "Then why not just convert a shed or build a cabin?" Simple. I want to be able to move easily if I want, and being able to boondock is quite necessary when power is not available. Also, I am not interested in any local governments being able to twist my arm for a couple grand every year because they decide my little bare-bones cabin or singlewide trailer is worth more than I could sell it for.

If anyone cares to disclose their expenditures, what they were converting, maybe some pics to show the final result, I would greatly appreciate it. Am also open to any thoughts on potential problems with the alternatives discussed that I might not have thought of. Would also be nice if the owners of Skoolie Homes are members here and wouldn't mind chiming in.
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Old 04-12-2020, 05:30 PM   #2
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it mostly depends on so many variables as some do a lot more than others. apples to oranges thing here. some are as low as 10k others exceed 50k cost of parts , how much insulation, pro vs diy ect. so ou must figure out your wants the price it out. we will be probably 25 to 30 k with a raise super insulation and a lot of solar panels
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Old 04-12-2020, 05:32 PM   #3
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we bought our bus for 3k and stripped it in a afternoon
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Old 04-12-2020, 07:06 PM   #4
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I've been specifically avoiding any kind of detailed accounting in order to keep my spirits up. But here's a casual tally of the big-ticket items I can remember:

Bus: $3600
Delivery: $300
5 months rent at first parking spot: $1000
Insurance, PA titling and VT registration: about $1000
3 new batteries: $375
Bunch of work at the mechanic to make it drivable: $2100
10 months rent at current spot: $750
New starter + tow: $1200
Hired guy to cut out floor, place four beams, and make two trips to a supply place (he was supposed to do more): $1350
Materials for floor rebuild: $500 (I'm sure it's actually way more than this)
Used propane stove/oven: $50
Chest freezer + thermostat device: $110
Kitchen sink: $150
Step tub: $150
Mini dishwasher: $75
Gray water tank: $150
TOTAL: $12,860

I'm sure there's lots I'm forgetting. I'm not even going to do tools, it's stuff like welder $350, Ar/CO2 bottle $150, air compressor $100, pneumatic riveter $64, chop saw $50 etc. etc. esc. Lots of paint and seam sealer and stuff like that.

And my bus still looks like I bought it last week.
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Old 04-12-2020, 07:31 PM   #5
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Good God, MG -- From the photos you've posted of the rust that was in yours, looks like I may be well advised to seek alternatives, or resign myself to a $50k+ budget...

Any interior pics of the build-out since?
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Old 04-12-2020, 07:41 PM   #6
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I'd say between the $6k for the bus + delivery and all expenses thus far, I'm out anywhere between 35k and 50k. You can probably manage any target budget you want, just know that there are competing forces in cost. How much time you have to do the work, how much pressure you are under to keep costs down, what resources you have available and what skills you currently possess.

If you need things done fast, this tends to increase cost as you have less time to research alternative solutions that bring cost down.
If you are under high pressure to keep costs down, this will increase your research time as you not only have to find solutions to your problems that meet your case requirements, but also strict cost requirements.
If you already have equipment laying around you can use in your build that's less direct cost to you both in research time and material acquisition.
If you do not possess a skill, lets say welding, and you have a normal 9-5 it will probably be more cost effective for you to hire a welder for minor work. Eventually however as the amount of welding you need to do increases, the cost/benefit lines intersect and it becomes more cost effective to acquire the skill.

Remember that time and cost cannot be divorced. Time is cost, and your time is valuable. How effectively you use your time will determine how effective your cost management is.
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Old 04-12-2020, 08:16 PM   #7
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10-20 grand is the usual spread I'd say.
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Old 04-12-2020, 08:42 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
Good God, MG -- From the photos you've posted of the rust that was in yours, looks like I may be well advised to seek alternatives, or resign myself to a $50k+ budget...
Well, a good alternative is to not buy a rusty bus in the first place.

Quote:
Any interior pics of the build-out since?
LOL "build-out since"! I'm still fixing holes in the floor - seems whenever I run out I feel obliged to cut new ones.
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Old 04-13-2020, 12:53 AM   #9
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The personal time vs cost relation is a sorely under-considered aspect of the skoolie build. Kazetsukai explained itfairly well.


The nuts and bolts and other expendables like primer, paint, cutting wheels, etc. all add up at an alarming rate and can sneek upon the project budget if not identified early.


I have been keeping account of EVERYTHING (to include fuel, nuts, bolts, insurance, inspections, PM's,etc.) and about all I'll say is it really does add up quickly.
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Old 04-14-2020, 01:01 PM   #10
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With my 4 window E350, I’m at around $15-20,000 and most of the big ticket items have been purchased. The two big remaining items are the composting head and cushions. I’ve definitely been splurging on higher quality tools and new items, but I’m fortunately in a position where I can afford to **** around with nice things. If I had been trying to minimize costs, I absolutely could have done it with $10-15,000 but I’m prioritizing comfort and quality instead of expense.
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Old 04-14-2020, 01:11 PM   #11
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As an alternative, I think doing a box truck conversion (like a uhaul truck) would probably be cheaper and faster as there’s a lot less demolition to do and having square sides would be so nice.
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Old 04-14-2020, 01:44 PM   #12
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I think that not being able to do the work yourself, the labor cost to convert something seems to undo the cost saving aspect of doing a skoolie. Taking that with insurance refusal to cover full timers, I think that if I were in your shoes and wanting a mobile tax-free solution, Id go with a fifth wheel trailer and a truck.
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Old 04-14-2020, 04:39 PM   #13
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As an alternative, I think doing a box truck conversion (like a uhaul truck) would probably be cheaper and faster as there’s a lot less demolition to do and having square sides would be so nice.
All good points. My only issue is that a box truck will have a flat roof like an RV, which will have a tendency to hinder runoff and promote / cause roof leaks. I have ideas on dealing with that, but while it's been done, it's not been around that long, making it uncharted territory for the most part, so no guarantees as to what will work and what will not. Also, I would like a little larger than a typical 10 - 17-footer, and U-Haul seems to only sell their 26-footers as a cab/chassis with no box.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Danjo View Post
I think that not being able to do the work yourself, the labor cost to convert something seems to undo the cost saving aspect of doing a skoolie. Taking that with insurance refusal to cover full timers, I think that if I were in your shoes and wanting a mobile tax-free solution, I’d go with a fifth wheel trailer and a truck.
A majorly relevant point. Unless I could find someone wiling to do the work at a reasonable price. I like to think I would have a reasonable budget when the time comes, but given the source and uncertain timetable, I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch.

I had tried to get in touch with Transcendence, I like what I've seen of the work he does, but had not heard anything back. The fifth-wheel trailer / truck idea is something I've considered, among other things. All this input is kind of pointing me towards hoping a decently converted skoolie is available for sale at the right time at a price I can afford, among other alternatives being discussed here.

I've seen a few 'toterhomes' that were actually somewhat home-brewed -- which is to say a travel trailer body was mounted to a cab / chassis. I'm registered with CoPart and I've seen some nice Class A's and fifth-wheels that were totaled for seemingly nitnoid stuff (ex. rear bumper / frame bent, but otherwise looked nice). So that idea appeals as well, but then I have to find someone to do the actual body transfer. And then of course, trying to create ingress / egress from cab to living quarters if possible.

I've seen a few videos of people converting cargo trailers as well, but I feel insulation and watertightness will be a problem, as I need to seal as well as possible to minimize unfiltered outside air. Also, none of these folks have elaborated on their expenditures, and as Danjo mentioned, not being able to do as much myself as others could be cost-prohibitive.
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Old 04-15-2020, 12:35 PM   #14
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I have spent in excess of 25k my bus since November 2018...
All I need now is generator,mattress,wood stove,counter tops, bathroom sink,wire, pex,flooring and probably $2000 in interior wood.��
But, it’s gonna be my home. So....
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Old 04-18-2020, 03:28 PM   #15
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to Musigenesis - Mine is just a shuttle bus, 24 ft (5 window) and my expenses have been just about the same as yours. For just about the same things. I did a lot of the conversion work. My older son did most of the electrical repairs. My younger son and grandson helped put in the heavy stuff. And stuff that I didn't know how to do, including the mechanical stuff I hired someone to do.
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Old 04-18-2020, 05:07 PM   #16
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I haven't heard anyone mention the mini split for heat and air cond. I have seen systems that the solar can run.
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Old 04-18-2020, 07:01 PM   #17
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I am planning to put in a mini split. I was told it would cost under $2500 as a general estimate by the company. They said they couldn't tell me exactly how much until I was ready to install. I have to install solar first.
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Old 04-18-2020, 07:54 PM   #18
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First google mini split and choose how large and where you will place your mini split. Once you know how much solar power you need you will make the solar system large enough to handle your load. They have Do It Yourself mini splits depending on sq footage. There are quite a few You Tubes and articles explaining installation an how to hook them up. Where you place it is going to depend on your floor plan. Add all of your amp usage before you buy solar. Most companies will help you determine the amount of solar you need.
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Old 04-18-2020, 08:01 PM   #19
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I failed to read all of your posts, and I think your son could install it for you following all of instructions.
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Old 04-18-2020, 08:19 PM   #20
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Quote:
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I failed to read all of your posts, and I think your son could install it for you following all of instructions.
Dealing with refrigerant is not trivial. You need special tools to do the work of vacuuming the lines, etc. Do not just put it together and open the valves you will destroy the efficiency that makes these things attractive to begin with.


This is one of those things I'd suggest calling the pros for.


Our split cost around $1200. Another $1000 or so installed. I watched the whole process, and prepped the environment. The labor was worth every penny.
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