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School bus becomes off-grid, transformable, tiny home

As a teenager, Richard dreamed of making a home out of a vehicle. Over a decade later, he met Rachel and soon after she agreed to move aboard a bus, they were planning their new mobile home.

“All of our family and friends were confused by the decision because they had never seen anything like this,” explains Rachel, “I think my mom’s reaction was ‘this isn’t the sixties'”.

As the couple explain on their blog, their reason for choosing a bus as a home was driven by their dream “to own our home, produce all of our necessities of living and have the option to go where we wanted”.

Not a flimsy RV, but a blank canvas

After buying a used school bus for $3000, Richard and Rachel drafted autoCAD plans and began to design every detail of their new home, something that was important in their decision not to simply buy a used RV or mobile home (which they view as flimsier than a steel-framed bus). “A bus would allow us to have a blank canvas in terms of designing the interior  this would ensure our ability to maximize the space and functionality. The shell conformed to our lives versus us conforming to it.”

Custom-built home with transforming beds to sleep 10

Their furniture is all built to fit and much of it becomes a bed. The first sleeper was a seven-foot loft bed above the driver’s seat that they built for a friend who was renting out the front room. Next to it, they created a lounge area with 2 seats and a table that also converts into a full-sized bed (where Richard’s father sleeps when visiting). In total, the bus can sleep 10 people.

They also hacked some IKEA pieces to fit their space: a shoe cozy holds their trash and recycling bins and rolling drawers that snap into place became their cupboard.

Off-grid with solar, propane and butane

To create a totally off-grid dwelling they mounted 6 solar panels (bought off ebay at $200 a piece) on the roof for a total of 770 watts (they are waiting to buy larger batteries to store the 2-3 days of sunlight they’d need to comfortably solar-powered).

Propane feeds their catalytic heater and will soon feed their stove and oven, though for now they are using a butane camp stove for cooking.

A self-financed home

Since Richard and Rachel are building their home without a mortgage, they build as they have the money for each new phase. They still don’t have plumbing (they wash dishes with vinegar and shower in other locations every 2 or 3 days). They recently replaced their emergency toilet with a composting toilet.

They waited 5 years for technology to reach a point where they could “convert sunlight into ice cubes”. They paid $1200 for the first upright, front-loading solar fridge and freezer from Sundanzer (headed by a former leader of NASA’s Advanced Technology Refrigeration Project they created the “world’s first battery-free solar powered refrigerator”).

The conversion has cost them about $12,000 so far, including the price of the bus so the pricey fridge and $1200 solar-powered composting toilet were big decisions, but necessary to maintain their off-grid lifestyle. “Really what we’re paying for is the efficiency of the items that we have. We want to live high-tech, but we want to live with the lowest amount of energy possible.”

Seeking RV status for homeowner rights

Their home is currently registered as an automobile, but Richard and Rachel hope to eventually change that to RV status (achievable with the right amenities- a tub, toilet, bed- and a DMV inspection). “The reason this is important is that RVs get home owners rights, which is helpful for taxes and credit.  Also the police cannot search your vehicle without a warrant when it has RV status.”

Rent-free: living on $100/month

Their investment has been paying off in cost of living. The couple pay just $100 per month in utilities and to maintain the bus. This means they don’t have to work full-time and instead can focus on living their lives as they please: crafting, outdoor activities and spending time with family and friends.

Richard and Rachel recognize that their small, hand-crafted home affords them the freedom to not be beholden to full-time jobs and instead allows them to live their lives as they please: crafting, outdoor activities and spending time with family and friends.

Their simpler life also brings a peace of mind recovered from childhood. “The piece of mind comes from the ability just to know that you’ve created your environment the best that you can… when you’re a child you’re dreaming about the spaces that you live in and the spaces that other people live in. And you can have that as an adult, but only if you’ve created that environment for yourself.”

[This video was filmed entirely by Johnny Sanphillippo, himself an owner of a mortgage-free tiny home.]

[Music credit: Paperhand Lincoln]