Framing the walls and laying the electrical wires in a school bus conversion involves a lot of patience. Building walls in a school bus is not the same as in a house. You can’t use a level (see below), you have a curved roof to work with, and you have to make it sturdy enough for the road. Laying the electrical requires a lot of pre-planning regarding your power needs and where you’ll need outlets/lights/switches/etc.
Wall Framing Tools & Equipment Required:
- Circular saw
- Your chosen lumber*
- Impact driver and drill (this was the combo kit that we used through the whole conversion)
- Tape measure
- Both wood and sheet metal screws (self tapping) long enough for your chosen lumber size
- L brackets. Lots and lots and lots of L brackets.
- Stock up on replacement drill bits before you start this project, or else you’re setting yourself up for many frustrating trips to Home Depot having to replace bit after bit.
*As you’ll see in the video, we used a combination of 2x4s and 2x6s cut into various sizes for the framing. It’s up to you exactly the measurements you want to use for your lumber. It seems to us like a lot of skoolie conversions stick with 2x4s, and that seems to work just great as well!
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Step 1 – Install a baseboard strip
- Install a strip of wood where the wall meets the floor. Use self-tapping screws to avoid having to drill a hole in the wall first.
Step 2 – Install ceiling and floor strips
- Install 2 (or more if you like) strips stretch from rib to rib on the ceiling. When we say ribs, we mean those curved steel bars that form the skeleton for the top of the bus.
- Secure to the strips to the ribs using L-brackets. You’re going to need to use the drill to create the holes first, unless you’ve found yourself a wicked self-tapping screw.
- Now install strips along the floor. This will form the bottom part of your wall frame
Quick Interjection: Using a level in a school bus conversion
We’re adding this section in right here, because you’re about to start putting up the vertical sections of the framing. In a house build, this normally would involve using a level. But watch out! Using a level in a school bus conversion is a baaaaaaaad idea. Here’s why.
- Unless you’re Lucky McLuckerson, you probably do not have your bus parked in a PERFECTLY flat location where your bus is perfectly level. It’s most likely slanted slightly a little bit forward, or backward, or to one of the sides. And even if you are in a PERFECTLY flat location, your tire pressure is going to change over the 12 months it takes to do your conversion, which will result in that inevitable slight tilt in some direction (because good luck getting any four tires to lose pressure at exactly the same rate). So the problem with this whole situation is… imagine this is your bus, and you’re framing out your walls using a level:
Then you move your bus to a different spot, or your tire pressure changes in the one of the tires..and this happens:
So what’s the solution?
Use the windows and the floor of your bus as your orienting reference points. For example: If you’re adding a cross bar that is meant to be parallel to the floor, don’t use a level to make sure its where it needs to be. Instead use a measuring tape to make sure that its distance from the floor is always the same. Same with your walls. Instead of using a level to make sure they are perfectly up/down, make sure they line up with the ribs of the bus that stretch down and form the framing between the windows.
Step 3 – Install vertical framing and cross bar
- The vertical sections of framing can go up now, stretching from the floor strips to the ceiling strips and secure with L-brackets. We used multiple L-brackets on each end of each piece of framing.
- Also install vertical 2x4s directly to the wall and window frame. You’ll need to use the drill to make holes for the L-brackets.
- Install a cross bar between your pieces of vertical framework, for added stability. Secure to the other pieces of framework with L brackets and directly screwing to the other pieces of framework where possible.
For this step, we hired an electrician. Because we didn’t want to, you know, send a $30,000 investment up in flames because we don’t know what we’re doing. Also because we don’t have the time to read and learn, and read and learn, and then read some more, until we have enough know-how to not blow up the bus.
So we hired a professional.
We did have a big job to do when it came to the electrical set-up though. Figuring out our power needs and where we needed outlets, lights, switches, power supply for appliances.
Here’s how we handled that process:
- We made a list of everthing we knew we would have running off electricity: our laptops, our phones, two recording studio monitors, José’s photography monitor, a water pump, a fridge fan, the composting toilet.
- Then we looked at the manuals for each appliance to list out their individual electrical specs (Watt usage, power supply requirements, minimum wire gauge required, switch installation requirements, and wiring diagrams if any).
- With this list in our hands, we walked around the bus and decided how many outlets we would need and where they would go. Then we decided how many lights we needed, where they would go, and where the switches would go.
- We already had a 3D mock-up of the floor plan, so we took screenshots from that and photoshopped a mock-up of all the outlets, lights, and switch locations.
- We combined those images with the list of electrical requirements for each appliance. Then included the measurements for how high up on the wall we wanted each outlet or switch to be. We gave this document to the electrician, and then he told us what to go get at Home Depot (he was doing this installation for us at a steal, so we gladly took on that job!).
- He then layed all the wiring and installed the electrical boxes for the outlets and switches. Installing the breaker box, outlets, switches, lights, and direct power supply to the appliances came later after the bus was more built out (so to be continued!)
Here is that sheet that we gave the electrician: Information for Electrician. Psssst – here’s the one we gave to the propane installation crew if you’d like it: Information for Propane Technician. Hey! You’ll see that we did both 120VAC and 12VDC in our bus. Yep, don’t do that. It’s silly and more expensive. Choose one or the other (see more below).
If you’re curious about our electrical and solar set-up..
Here’s how we’re set-up, starting at the source:
- We have five 100W solar panels that go directly into our Apex solar generator (the panels and generator come as a kit).
- The solar generator is really just a lithium battery with an inverter and charge controller built in. It has multiple outlets, including a 30amp RV outlet.
- Our breaker box has a 30amp plug coming directly out of it, which we plug into the solar generator. No joke. Our bus is like a toaster; we just plug in, and boop! Power! We have to be careful not to overload the solar generator (550W+ for an extended period of time) , but that’s not really an issue for our power usage.
- We can also take that ‘breaker box plug’ and hook directly to the grid via a heavy duty 30-amp extension cord, with a 30amp to 15 amp adapter at the end. Or we can connect that plug to our gas generator (runs like a champ, by the way).
- Almost everything in the bus runs on 120V from the main breaker box. Lights, outlets, and the stove light.
- On our breaker box, one of the breakers (30amp) feeds a 12V power center (this one), which powers five things on our bus that run on 12VDC: the absorption fridge controls, the fridge cooling fan, the composting toilet fan, the water pump, and the range hood. We DO NOT recommend having both 120V and 12V. It was expensive to get the 12V power center and different kind of wiring (basically really heavy duty speaker cable). And honestly, we could have gotten a 120V water pump, 120V range hood, the composting toilet fan has an adapter we could have bought to run it off 120V, we could’ve gotten a 120V fridge fan, and we could’ve figured out some workaround for the fridge controls. But we didn’t know any better.
Phew! So that’s that!
We are on the road now, so getting the rest of the tutorials up taking time. But we’re on it! To stay in the loop when new tutorials come out (and to get updates from the road), sign on up!