Like many of us, Michael Talley was sick and tired of paying a lot of money for rent month after month.
He thought of possible solutions and came up with something that may seem radical, but paid off in the end – Talley purchased an old school bus for cheap and started working on it to create the perfect tiny home. Since he didn’t have any building experience, this was an epic adventure for Michael.
Read on to see what he did with this rusty old bus
Graphic designer Michael Talley lives in Austin, Texas. After years of paying $1,200 for rent and bills every single month, he decided that enough is enough and that he should do something about it.
Talley started looking for a long-term living solution and that came to him in the shape of an old school bus.
He decided he would ride the tiny house trend and create his new home using what was once a school bus, saving tons of money in the process.
But where should one even start when turning such an idea into reality?
“Ultimately I decided upon a school bus because I thought ‘Hey, there’s already four walls and a roof,’” he explained.
He initially thought that he would easily turn the bus into his home by putting up some wood and installing light bulbs, but it turned out to be more complicated than that.
If he had known the exact scope of this project, he probably wouldn’t have started it; but at that point, he had yet to understand this.
It can be easy to assume that a Texas-born man knows how to handle power tools and build stuff from scratch, but that wasn’t the case for Michael Talley. His profession of choice is graphic design and he has little experience in practical work.
In fact, he admits that he had never built anything, ever.
But it wasn’t like that’s going to stop him from creating the tiny house of his dreams. He created several designs for the house and just started to work.
Buying the Bus
But where could he find a school bus for sale?
Turns out Michael Talley was in luck. He found an auction that was held by PublicSurplus.com where there were 10 school buses for sale. What’s even better, the auction wasn’t very popular. Only a few bidders competed so Michael was able to purchase one bus for only $2,200 — less than two months of rent and bills. Another buyer bought all nine other buses.
At this time, Michael had just decided against making a tiny house and wanted to do a bus conversion instead.
Michael had it all figured out. He wouldn’t build a tiny house, but convert the bus into a full-size home with bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen.
Combining several different ideas he had for his tiny house, he created a plan for bus conversion. He took ideas from anywhere he could find, including movies like The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
But ultimately, he had to cut many of those ideas and only keep the ones that had the best return in terms of practical living potential.
One of the biggest problems Michael Talley had with this project was the bus’s height. It measured at 6’1 while Michael is 6’6 tall. You can see why this was no good.
This left him with no other option but to try and raise the roof. Remember how we told you that he didn’t know how to do any of this work before starting? Well, he did the only thing he could — watched a ton of YouTube tutorials in order to learn how to adapt the height of the bus and make it livable for a tall guy like himself.
The Design Plan
We mentioned that Michael was originally inspired by the Jurassic Park design, but he ultimately abandoned it and went with another idea. He figured it would be better to place the public areas of the home in the front of the bus.
His plan included a kitchen that was actually bigger than what he had in the old apartment, a big desk, his old couch, and enough room for a queen size bed. Of course, there would have to be plenty of storage room as well.
Michael was determined to work hard in order to turn his dreams into reality, even though some parts of the project seemed nearly impossible. He devoted all his time to it, moving out of his comfortable studio apartment in North Austin.
“I moved into a tent in order to save money while working on the bus, commuting 40 minutes to work every day, just to afford more steel and more wood,” he said.
A friend let him park his bus on his farm for free until he finished the construction.
Removing the Seats
Michael began by removing the bus seats. He never thought this would be a particularly difficult step, but it took him more time and effort then he expected.
“If I did this again, I would have used an angle grinder, but this was still only days into the build and I was terrified of power tools,” Michael said.
“A nice man came with his 7 months pregnant wife and 8-year-old daughter to cart away all these seats to the scrap metal yard,” he said. “Props to my stepdad for crawling under the bus and helping me remove every single bolt. If I did this again I would have used an angle grinder, but this was still only days into the build and I was terrified of power tools.”
But it wasn’t realistic to think he could tackle a project this big without using power tools at all…
After the seats were taken away to a scrap metal place, Michael moved on.
Despite not even knowing what impact drill was, he needed to use it if he wanted to remove the bus ceiling. He describes getting the panels off as “the absolute worst”.
“I wish that I had ended up keeping this insulation in. It was a in remarkably good shape and would have saved me a few headaches if I kept it in,” Michael remembers.
He did have some fun while cleaning the bus. One time, he found an old sticky note that said “Kick Me”. He laughed, imagining how the note must have been attached by a kid during one boring bus ride.
The next thing he needed to do was removing the rubber floors and the windows. He thought about keeping the windows for a while but ultimately decided that he prefers privacy instead. After all, he was about to start living in the bus.
After he was done deconstructing the ceilings and floors, Michael started preparing the bus for raising the roof. He wanted to a achieve a height that would allow him to stand comfortably.
“As soon as I stepped onto the bus for the first time I knew me being 6’6 was going to be a huge problem,” he said. “The ceiling is only 6’1, so I was going to have to do some MAJOR work to get this thing comfortable for my abnormally large (body).”
Raise the Roof
Michael got sick and tired of all the ‘raise the roof’ jokes people used to make as he was working on this part of the project. Yes, he has raised the roof, and it was now time to install the new metal ribs that will hold the new roof.
At this point, Michael had only one thing in mind — he prayed that everything wouldn’t collapse on him. He carefully cut the sides of the bus and finally cut the whole bus in half.
Cut in Half
Michael had friends help him raise the roof for another 20 inches. In order to do this, they needed to cut it in half in two places. We believe him when he says that it was absolutely nerve-racking to destroy the bus like that.
They then used screw jacks to raise the roof and had to alter the original plans, because Michael wanted it to be 24 inches higher than it originally was.
Michael was very pleased with the result. “It’s remarkable how much more spacious the bus feels than I thought it would,” he said.
But he had plenty more work to do.
“I cut a section out of one of the steel ribs and took it to a metal fabricator,” Michael said. “I had him craft 25 identical steel ‘sleeves’ that could slip over either end of the rib once the roof was raised.”
This was the moment when the whole project finally started to come together.
After the new roof was done, it was time to put some walls on the bus. Michael Talley opted for metal panels that would close the middle section of the bus that once had windows.
Unfortunately, this phase left Michael with a bad wound on his arm, after he cut himself on a metal sheet that fell.
He refers to this phase as “easily the most painful and bloody part of the build” and we can understand why.
Talley never thought a moment would come when he would install an oven in a bus, but that was exactly what he was doing next.
“The bus is basically an oven right now, what being solid steel and in Texas. Though apparently, it’s also semi-bulletproof!”
For the time being, he decorated the inside of the bus with Christmas lights and cut holes for the new windows to be installed.
He still had plenty of work to do.
Breaking Power Steering
Michael was experiencing one setback after another.
This time, the bus was stuck in the mud and it messed up its power steering. He had to learn some new skills pretty fast. “You have any idea how hard it is to try and parallel park a 40-foot school bus with no power steering? I do,” he remembered.
The new insulation he installed helped with regulating the inside temperature — this was a necessary step if he wanted to actually live inside the bus.
Living on a Farm
Michael could do all this work relatively quickly because a friend let him stay in his farm. He basically didn’t have any other expenses and could focus all his money and energy on the bus’s makeover.
He commuted from the farm outside of Austin to the city every day to go to work and came back to his project every day after that. It’s a good thing he could enjoy the farm life during that time, because the experience would probably be different in the city.
A Big Kitchen
With the walls and the roof done, it was time for Michael to start working on the interior of his future tiny home. He built a wooden couch frame and moved on to make the kitchen.
He bought most of the supplies at IKEA for cheap. The cabinets and drawers cost him $30 while the big butcher block countertop set him back $120. The kitchen quickly started to come together and he realized it would be bigger than the one in his previous apartment.
He already owned an old IKEA couch, so he took it apart and used the parts for his renovation project. “I took my IKEA Karlstad couch from my apartment and took off the back, arms, and feet so I was left with the cushions and the box spring base,” he said. “I built that into the bus for added comfort and style.”
Next to the couch, he made a water storage system frame, and then the bathroom frame.
Another accident happened as Michael was spraying insulation on the ceilings. He somehow sprayed some on his long beard and didn’t notice until a few hours later. When he did, it was too late; he had to shave it off completely.
Michael continued to work on the walls using Masonite, a light and sturdy material that’s on the cheap side. He also used it for the kitchen wall to make future cleanups easier. The next thing he did was finally start bringing everything together.
Michael decided to get his energy from solar power. After all, there’s plenty of sun in Texas. He installed solar panels on the roof during one of the toughest days of the entire project.
“This was the most frustrating day of the build,” he remembers. “I was doing it myself, it was very windy, and things kept falling off the roof.”
But it was worth it, because solar panels would enable him to generate electricity on the go and not have huge bills.
Michael Talley finished the walls and the ceiling with wood. He was in luck — instead of investing a lot of money in wood, he found a way to repurpose some that he found.
“I need to say I SUPER lucked out with this wood,” Michael said. “It’s reclaimed floorboards from a house here in Hyde Park in Austin, from 1941. I just flipped it upside down and used the unfinished sides for all my accent walls/couch.”
The Big Desk
Being a graphic designer, Michael definitely needed a proper space to do his work. He was fed up with tiny desks in the past, so he made sure to leave enough space for a comfortable workspace with a massive desk in the middle of it.
“Being a graphic designer, I need a proper workspace. Most tiny houses have these little dinky desks that flip up from a wall or are tucked away in a small alcove. This desk is 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep, the largest desk I’ve ever owned!”
A Functional Bathroom
In his new bathroom, Michael installed a shower and a toilet. For the bathroom door, he used wooden barn door that he restored. But he soon found that he’s not using it as much as he anticipated.
“I can use the bathroom in it, however, I rarely do. I pee outside like the good Lord intended,” Michael revealed. “As for showering and stuff, I built an awesome little outdoor shower or I shower at the gym.”
Paint the Outside
When all the important inside work was done, Michael wanted to paint his bus in something different than the usual school bus theme. White turned out to be the best choice for many reasons.
“White is best for the heat here in Texas, and leaves me open to add colors down the road,” Michael said. “I also couldn’t think of what colors would go with my wood interiors. I park it in South Austin, in someone’s shady side yard and pay less than $100 a month in rent and utilities.”
Gains and Losses
How long did it take him for the whole project? Around five months. Michael would need much more time if he hadn’t been so dedicated to hard work and went all in with his time, money, and other resources.
But unfortunately, there was something else he needed to sacrifice for this project. His long-term relationship with his girlfriend ended right after he started working on his bus. In addition, during those five months, his grandfather and his dog passed away. It was a real emotional rollercoaster for Michael.
Life on the Go
Michael Talley now lives in his converted school bus full time and pays less than $100 for rent and utilities together. Now that’s saving money!
He is currently working on his van so he can travel around the country more. In total, Michael spent around $15,000 remodeling the school bus into his new home.
“I design T-shirts for a living. I lost my last job while building the bus actually, but got a much better one once the bus was completed,” Michael Talley told Chron.com. “Perfectly enough, I work for the company that is responsible for all those “Keep Austin Weird” shirts around town.”
On to the Next Project
But Michael learned plenty of things during the bus remodeling and he can’t wait to apply them to his next project. After all, he’s been saving a lot of money living like this and he needs to invest that money elsewhere.
“I have a composting toilet that works great, and it just so happens that I get by using the one at work. The bathroom is mostly used for storing materials for my current van conversion project.”