Deciding on the design of your ceiling is a big deal. It will greatly affect the look of your skoolie, available headspace, temperature control, and of course the overall cost of your conversion.
We chose to keep our original bus ceiling panels instead of installing a wooden ceiling. Money was a factor, but we also love the industrial look. Having a white ceiling also makes the space feel bigger, and cleaning the ceiling is a breeze! If you haven’t removed your panels yet, this guide will help.
This video goes hand-in-hand with the step-by-step guide below (minutes 0:25-7:00). As always, get in touch if you have any questions!
Let’s dive in!
Tools & Materials You’ll Need
- 320 grit sandpaper
- A stone wool insulation knife
- Rockwool Comfortbatt insulation (3.5 in thick)
- Polyester batting to line the rock wool under meshed ceiling panels (if you have them)
- Masking tape (buy this in bulk to save in the long run, you’ll use tons of it when painting your exterior)
- Aluminum tape
- Impact Driver + Drill Combo Kit (you’ll use this every damn day of your conversion)
- A drill bit that matches the size of your original ceiling panel screws (buy 3 because you’ll probably have a few break)
- Angle grinder (another tool you’ll use all the time)
- Safety gloves and glasses
- Your original ceiling panels + their original screws
- An awesome friend willing to slug through this process with you. For us, this was Claudia Cappelletti 🤘
Full disclosure guys, some of these are affiliate links, so we get a commission if you buy something from the list. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Not much, but something. This is really important: we only link to tools and materials we actually used and highly recommend. We do these guides completely for free, so these links are the only way we get a little something back (except for the satisfaction of knowing we helped you build your dream skoolie, of course!)
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Why we chose rockwool for our insulation
A couple reasons. It has a high R-value for its price. It is water resistant, so if we’re unlucky enough to have leaks it will help inhibit mold growth. It is fire resistant, which gives us a peace of mind. Finally, it doubles as an excellent sound absorber, so it helps reduce the sound entering the main part of the bus…and therefore reducing the amount of sound that makes its way to the studio.
Step 1: Cut sections of insulation to completely fill in the ceiling space
- Cut your insulation in sections that will completely fill in the ceiling space. Nothing is straightforward in a skoolie build, as you know, so you’ll probably have to cut a lot of wonky shapes.
- Reduce the thickness of each section to 2″. Here’s why: the space between the ceiling panel and the outer shell of the bus is 2″. But the rockwool comes in 3.5″ sheets. Build a frame of 2″ pieces of wood, then cut along the frame to reduce the insulation thickness to 2″. Like this:
Step 2: Line the rockwool with polyester batting where necessary
If you have any meshed ceiling panels, you’ll want to line the rockwool insulation behind those panels. That’s because you do not want to breathe those mineral fibers every day (no bueno). Cut sections of batting to sit directly between the insulation and the meshed panel, like this:
Step 3: Tape the insulation in place
- Use masking tape to secure the insulation sections in place
- In places where you use the polyester lining, use aluminum tape to connect and seal off the seams between the pieces of liner. This will ensure that mineral wool fibers don’t make their way through those seams and into your air.
Step 4: Screw the original panel back into place
Alright, get ready for this process to take a long time. There’s no way around it. Just go slow and be patient. Maybe crank some good tunes to help pass the time.
- Get the panel back in place on the ceiling. Don’t forget any electrical wires that need to come through the panel for lights, etc. To get the panel in place, start by setting both short edges in place above the windows, with the middle of the panel bent downwards. Once the short edges are in place, push the middle up. Like this:
- Screw the panel in place, starting with only four screws, one at each corner of the panel. This will maximize your chances of all the other holes matching up.
- Once you have your four anchor screws in place, begin screwing the panel back into place, hole by hole. Go slowly and check the rest of the holes as you go, because tiny little changes in the position of the panel add up to mismatched holes down the line. You would think all the holes would line up perfectly, but that would be far too easy for a bus conversion!
- It’s inevitable. You will have some holes that just don’t match up. It’s super annoying. Here are your three solutions:
- Undo all the screws and start over again.
- Slightly enlarge the old hole in the steel ribbing of the bus. Use a heavy duty drill bit and a lot of patience.
- In extreme cases where an entirely new hole would have to be drilled in the metal rib, we just left that hole unscrewed. Then later on, we lopped off the heads of a few screws and epoxied them to the hole. Later on when the ceiling was repainted, you can’t tell there are one or two “fake” screws.
Safety Tip: Make sure you wear gloves through this entire process. The edges of the panels are sharp. Also make sure you don’t cut any of the wires running along the top of the windows.
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So you’re building a skoolie, huh?
We feel your pain, my friend! We also know how good it feels to finally make a dream reality.
We spent a crap ton of time figuring out how to do this and that. We also could have saved a few bucks along the way. We hope our tutorials help save you some time and money!
Our TOP 5 Bus Conversion Tools & Materials:
- 5-in-1 Painters Tool (you will use this a MILLION times)
- Impact Driver & Drill Combo Kit (there won’t be a day you won’t use this)
- 100% Silicone (buy in bulk to save a LOT of money!)
- Angle Grinder (get used to using this ALL the time!)
- Table Saw (it will be nearly impossible to complete your conversion without this. It’s WORTH the investment!)