How Much Does It Cost to Convert a School Bus to an RV?
$9,500 - $70,500
$9,500 - $70,500
Cost data is based on research by HomeAdvisor.
Updated November 5, 2021Written by HomeAdvisor.
The cost of converting a bus to an RV can vary wildly, with the average price running $30,000. But if you complete a lot of the work on your own and keep costs low, you can spend as little as $9,500. On the other hand, if you go all out with the best materials and outsource the labor, you could pay upward of $70,000 or more.
Even if you carefully monitor your budget, converting a bus to an RV is a big commitment. There are many ways to save money, such as opting for used appliances and completing as much of the work as you can yourself. Still, there are many steps to get from a passenger vehicle to a new living space. Let's look at how much it may cost to convert a bus to an RV.
You can’t get to work on your school bus conversion without the star of the show. In addition to the vehicle itself, you also need to pay for sales tax and registration, which will vary based on how much you pay and where you live.
The price of a used school bus will vary depending on its age, size, mileage, and overall condition. The average price for a standard-sized, used school bus in good condition is $4,000 to $10,000.
Pro tip: Avoid inexpensive buses, which will likely require costly repairs.
In most states, when you buy a vehicle, you’ll be responsible for paying taxes on the purchase, either to the seller or when you register it. Assuming a 10% tax rate, you’ll pay $1,000 in taxes when you buy a $10,000 school bus.
Just as any other vehicle, you must register and title your school bus conversion so that you may legally drive it. The cost of this service will depend on your local rates, but you can generally expect to pay $50 to $200 per year.
Once you’ve got a school bus, the first step in converting it to an RV is to demolish its interior.
In most cases, you'll remove everything from the inside until there are bare walls and floors. The bulk of this process involves removing seating, but you may also spend time removing old flooring, handlebars, and other unnecessary accessories.
A demolition can be physically exhausting. If you can’t do it on your own, a demolition service may charge the same rate as demolishing the interior of a home: $4 to $15 per square foot. If you’ve got a 30-foot long bus, this works out to about $1,020 to $3,850 for the project.
Once you’ve got everything out of your school bus, contact a hauler to remove the junk. How much you’ll pay depends on how much needs to go, but a good estimate is $130 to $360.
Suppose your school bus has rust or mechanical issues. In that case, you'll need to hire an auto body specialist or mechanic to make necessary fixes.
The most common issues you’ll find with the body of a bus are rust and dents. Repairs can cost between $75 and $2,000, depending on the severity of the problem and the size of your bus.
Mechanical issues, like trouble with the engine, transmission, or electrical system can be costly to repair. Simpler jobs, like changing out old motor oil, can cost as little as $100, but replacing an entire diesel transmission can cost as much as $20,000.
Unless you have extensive experience working on cars, trucks, or buses, you should defer mechanical repairs to an expert.
Transforming your school bus from an empty shell into a livable vehicle involves new flooring, insulation, and walls.
In most cases, you'll want to add new flooring to your school bus conversion. Depending on the materials you choose and assuming you install the floor yourself, you could pay $2.75 to $6.80 per square foot.
If you’re hiring a flooring professional to do the job for you, budget an additional $0.60 to $4.00 per square foot in labor costs.
School buses generally have no insulation whatsoever.
To make school bus RV living more comfortable, you should install insulation. If you tackle the job yourself, you’ll generally pay $0.50 to $3.65 per square foot based on the quality of the insulation. If you hire a pro, you can add $0.25 to $0.50 per square foot for installation costs.
Installing walls in an RV conversion isn’t the same as installing them in a house. You need materials that are flexible enough to withstand movements as you drive.
One of the most common (and affordable) materials for RV walls is recycled lumber. Depending on the size of your project and any finishing touches you may add, you can expect to pay $300 to $1,000 for new walls.
Electricians usually charge $50 to $100 per hour and are the pros to run new wiring, install outlets, and work on your generator and solar panels.
When dealing with a traditional house, most electrical jobs end up costing $160 to $500. Wiring a school-bus-turned-tiny-house should cost about the same. The earlier you contact an electrician, the easier the job will be.
You may choose a portable or standby generator if you plan any off-the-grid living.
There are no installation costs for portable generators because they’re standalone devices. The cost for the generator itself is generally $300 to $1,200, depending on the size and model.
If you opt for a standby generator (also known as a partial or whole-house generator, depending on their size), you’ll need to spring for the cost of the generator ($2,000 to $20,000) and the cost of installation ($400 to $9,500). Note that due to the relatively small size of a school bus conversion compared to a house, you’ll likely pay on the lower ends of these price ranges.
The cost of installing solar panels on a house ranges from $15,000 to $40,000; because a converted school bus is so much smaller, you’ll pay a fraction of that for the wiring and solar panels.
You’ll also need a power bank set up to store the energy your panels produce. Battery prices vary depending on brand, model, and size, but you can expect to pay $1,100 to $2,000 on average for a power bank setup.
In general, plumbers charge $45 to $200 per hour. You can probably find a professional who is willing to charge a flat rate for a smaller project such as this.
For a house, plumbers generally charge $350 to $1,750 to install new plumbing for water. You may pay more or less the same amount for work on your RV depending on the complexity of the job.
If you also intend to have propane in your school bus conversion (generally to run kitchen appliances and heat water), plan to pay a professional plumber $250 to $750 to run new fuel lines.
Depending on where you intend to travel, you may not have any need for heating and/or cooling appliances.
RV air conditioners generally cost $200 to $1,000, mostly dependent on the size of the unit. You can expect to pay on the higher side if you purchase an AC that includes a heat strip or heat pump.
As for standalone heating, you can choose from a variety of options, with the most popular including heating blankets ($30 to $75), wood stoves ($100 to $900), and propane heaters ($75 to $400).
Depending on the size of your school bus conversion, you may have enough room to install a bathroom. The plumbing here won’t work the same as a traditional house, but it’s possible to have running water and a functioning toilet.
It’s usually not practical space-wise to install a tub in an RV, so you’ll most likely choose a shower. These stalls range from $400 to $1,000 based on size and material.
Sinks in the bathroom and kitchen areas generally run $150 to $450 each. This includes the cabinet, the countertop, the bowl, and the faucet.
Most RV toilets are self-contained devices, which means they require regular emptying by hand. Due to their simple design, they can cost as little as $120, though some composting models can cost $900 to $1,600.
When outfitting your tiny house with creature comforts like appliances, you’ll generally turn to miniature versions to accommodate the area’s smaller size.
RV refrigerators typically run from $800 to $1,750, depending on their size. If you’d like to save money, you can also opt for a mini-fridge; you can find smaller, 2.0-cubic foot models for as little as $99 and larger, 4.0 to 4.9-cubic foot units for $240 to $410.
RV stoves are smaller than those you’ll find in a house, and generally cost $450 to $650. They commonly run off propane.
The average cost for an RV water heater (which you’d also use in a camper or school bus conversion) is $800 to $1,000. The most common options include small, 10-gallon heaters and tankless heaters.
If you’d like to install a washer and dryer in your converted school bus, your best bet is a stacked unit. Combining a washer and dryer in a single appliance, these units are top picks for apartment living, but they’re also just the right size for smaller applications, like RVs. The average price range for a stacked washer and dryer is $875 to $1,700.
Furniture is generally the finishing touch that transforms a space from somewhere you can live to somewhere you want to live. The sky (or rather, the size of your vehicle!) is the limit when it comes to deciding what furniture you’ll bring into your school bus conversion, but the essentials typically include a bed and seating areas.
Your sleeping area can be as simple or as elegant as you please. Depending on your budget and how much space with which you have to work, you can even invest in traditional bedding options like bed frames and king-size mattresses.
The most affordable bed options are floor mattresses, which can be as simple as thick mats or padded cushions. You can generally expect to pay $50 to $250 for these styles. On the other side of the spectrum are traditional bed and mattress combos, which range from $350 to $1,500 based on size and quality.
Loveseats and futons are popular seating options for RVs due to their smaller footprint. Depending on the brand, size, and materials, expect to pay $120 to $550 per piece.
RV tables are specially designed to mount to the floor of your vehicle for safety and stability. The typical price range for these accessories is $120 to $1,500, primarily based on size and material.
You’ll complete your school bus conversion by injecting your sense of style through your decor choices.
While most interior painters may be used to working on houses, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding one who’s willing to take on your school bus conversion. Unless you have an especially complicated setup with many obstructions, the cost of painting the interior of an RV should be similar to other types of painting jobs.
When hiring a professional, you could pay $2 to $6 per square foot. Some painters may also quote you a flat fee based on their hourly rate of $20 to $50 per hour.
If you want to take on the job of painting yourself, budget $15 to $30 per gallon of paint and $100 to $200 for other necessary tools, like brushes, rollers, sandpaper, and tape.
Some lighting options you might consider for your school bus RV include pendant lights, track lighting, recessed lighting, and domes. The fixtures themselves generally cost $88 to $225, depending on style and material. Installation is generally an easy-enough DIY project if you have some experience.
If you don’t have the experience to hang lighting or don’t have the time, you can hire an electrician for $50 to $100 per hour.
Converting a school bus to an RV can be a complex task—it involves stripping down a vehicle that was originally intended for transporting people and then adding creature comforts to create a new home.
One of the most significant factors that influence the cost of your school bus conversion is the size of the bus and the scope of your project. The larger your school bus, the more expensive it tends to be to convert. A small bus, for example, may have room for just a toilet, while a larger bus can also accommodate a sink and shower.
The quality of the materials you choose also plays an important role in how much you'll pay.
As with a traditional home, the bathroom and kitchen areas of a school bus conversion are where you have the most freedom when choosing what to install. Selecting ceramic tile over a vinyl backsplash or real wood over composite is an example of purchasing decisions that can impact the bottom line.
While there are certain aspects of the construction process that you can handle yourself, you'll most likely outsource most of the project to a pro. Considering that electricians, plumbers, flooring installers, and painters can cost as much as $100 per hour, labor costs can take up a significant portion of your renovation budget.
Unless you have significant construction experience, you’ll most likely hire a professional to handle many installation jobs on your school bus. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing tasks are generally better left to a pro as they relate to the safety, legality and longevity of your bus conversion, while putting in appliances, installing fixtures, and painting are jobs that most DIYers can take on.
In many cases, it’s much less expensive to convert a bus than to buy an RV, especially if you’re considering a newer RV model.
Another huge benefit of school bus conversion is that you are in control of the renovation project. You get to pick the new layout of your camper as well as all the appliances and furniture.
While school buses can easily cost $300,000 when they're new, you can often find used buses for just a few thousand dollars. These vehicles experience extreme depreciation due to government regulations; they can only be used for so long before they must be replaced. Due to those same regulations, other government agencies cannot purchase them for their own uses, so the consumer market is likely the only place they can go.