Marni Jameson: Building ‘skoolie’ was in couple’s wheelhouse
Shortly after Hannah and Ian Hernandez began dating five years ago, they took their relationship on the road, driving together from Florida to California and back.
“My friends said, ‘Two weeks in a car with a girl? Good luck with that,’” Ian recalled.
“If that doesn’t kill the relationship, nothing will,” Hannah added.
The couple, now married with a 20-month-old daughter and a baby boy due in two weeks, not only passed the road test, they doubled down on their love of travel by buying a school bus and converting it into a tiny house. Creating what is known as a “skoolie,” the Hernandezes have joined a growing trend of bus converters, who can take their homes on the road.
But the desire to travel wasn’t their only motivator.
“We wanted to own something,” said Hannah, a professional seamstress. “We were both working so hard to pay rent for a place that wasn’t ours.”
As the lease on their townhome was ending, Hannah, 25, and Ian, 27, looked for options. They attended a few tiny house shows, where they discovered skoolies. The idea of a home they could afford on wheels clicked. Knowing that school buses meet a higher safety standard than most vehicles because they are built to transport kids also appealed.
In November 2016, they found a 1990 school bus on Craigslist with 250,000 miles on it, and bought it for $2,000.
“Then we looked at each other and said, ‘I guess we’ll do this thing,’” Hannah said.
They moved in with Hannah’s parents so they could put the money they’d been spending on rent into their skoolie.
“We didn’t want to go into debt doing this,” Hannah said. “The whole point was to own something debt free.”
To make the bus a home, they gutted the inside, removing all the seats and flooring. They insulated the walls with spray foam, paneled the ceiling with white wainscot, installed two sinks, a shower, a composting toilet, a stove, and a refrigerator. They tiled the bathroom and built cabinets. They ran electrical wiring and added solar panels, so they can be off the grid when they travel.
They also invested in a few items most homes don’t need — like new tires.
Two years later, they moved into their tricked-out bus home, which is 35 feet long and 8 feet wide, has 6-foot-2-inch ceilings, and a has whopping 187 square feet of living space.
And it’s as cute as a ladybug, thanks to Hannah’s knack for decorating and Ian’s knack for building.
Starting from behind the driver’s seat is a kitchen with a stove, sink and cabinets. Across from that is a dining area, and next to that a sitting area with a sofa that pulls out into a bed. Farther down the center aisle are a crib area for 20-month old Nora, a hanging bassinet for the baby on the way, a bathroom with shower, and the main sleeping area.
All in, they spent $14,000, including the cost of the bus.
Though they were already grateful to own a home free and clear, when the coronavirus hit they felt doubly blessed. Ian, who had been working for a company that installed solar panels, got laid off.
“We didn’t have to stress about a rent payment,” Hannah said. “It’s very liberating to know everything is paid for, and nobody can take it from us.”
They are also free to move about the country. In the past 18 months, they have logged 10,000 miles on the skoolie, traveling all over the East Coast. They tow their car along, so they have another set of wheels.
Next they plan to save up to buy some land and build a house out of shipping containers, Hannah said.
“We’re a little different. We like a project,” she said.
As for their bus, “we’ll hang onto it,” Ian said. “It will always be nice to be able to hit the road.”
Meanwhile, for those interested in seriously downsizing, the Hernandezes shared these tips for tiny living:
• The DIY factor. “The hardest part of the process was figuring out how to do everything ourselves,” Ian said. “Because we had a big learning curve, what should have taken a year, took twice that.” Expect the project to take longer.
• Double-duty everything. “Anything that goes in has to have more than one purpose,” Ian said. “For instance, we have an Instant Pot because it does a lot, but no toaster, which does one thing. We can toast bread in the oven.”
• Small over large. The couple let go of their bulky Vitamix and use a Baby Bullet blender instead, which takes up less space.
• Built-in storage. “More storage means less clutter,” Hannah said. “When you don’t have a lot of space, it’s easy to look cluttered.” Add as much storage as you can. Their skoolie has drawers under beds and under the kitchen table.
• Minimalism. “Don’t hold onto things you got when you were a kid but haven’t touched it in 10 years. Make sure every item you have adds value to your life now,” she said. (Amen.) That said, Hannah still likes to change up her home’s decor, and brakes for thrift stores. But if she brings something home, something has to go. “That’s the rule.”
• Peanut gallery: “Skoolie life isn’t for everyone,” Hannah said. “Some people look at us like we’ve lost our minds. They say they could never live in a space that small. Others associate our way of life with homelessness or hippie–ish living. We’ve heard it all. We’re used to filtering out the comments. We just think about how much we’ve traveled, and how much we’ve saved.”
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson can be reached at www.marnijameson.com.