Real Homes Stories: See how this couple converted a school bus into a tiny family home for five

This old school bus has been transformed into a functional tiny family home

blue bus
(Image credit: Future / Barcroft)

 Most dream family homes don’t come with wheels attached. However, increasingly in a bid to tackle crippling rent and mortgages families are turning vans and even buses into their new tiny family homes.

Brian and Starla Sullivan, from Washington, are two of those people. In 2014 the couple decided to trade in their apartment to live in a converted school bus with their three young children.

‘We’re ridiculous people, and this is a ridiculous lifestyle, and it works,’ says Starla. The pair decided to take the plunge after struggling to tackle lengthy work commutes and sky-high rents.

‘We were living in an apartment about an hour away from Brian’s work and the commute was awful,’ explains Starla. ‘He would work overtime just trying to pay the rent then he would sit in the car for about three hours a day in rush hour and we would never see him. So we decided to make a change.’

‘We were watching youtube videos about tiny houses and there was this one, in particular, we called them the crazy people who lived in a blue bus. And we just kind of looked at each other and went ‘do you want to live in a blue bus with me?’

At first, Brian thought Starla was joking, however, he soon realized the perks of switching to a motorized family home.’ I started to realize all these little things that were benefits that you know I hadn’t thought of before like being able to be mobile, being able to pick up and move if I got a different job and it was 20 miles away or something.’

Not to mention the huge savings the couple would be making on rent. The initial cost of buying and fitting out the old school bus cost $30,000, a fraction of the price of a standard home. Since shelling out the initial cost, the family has continued to save money.

‘We pay $500 a month for rent, versus $1,500 a month that we would be having to pay for an apartment. So we pay about a third of the cost of living elsewhere,’ explains Starla. ‘And as for utilities also about a third of the cost. So we have money to pay off debts and student loans, and eat the food that we want, go to the places we want.’

The bus has been fitted out to look just like a tiny house. ‘Our sofas pull out into a full-size bed, we have a fully functional kitchen, we have an oven and microwave combination,’ says Starla.

The couple even has a bath to fit all three kids in at one time. ‘One thing that I really wanted to have, having children, was a bathtub so we have a bathtub that’s large enough to fit all the kids in. At least while they are this small.'

Instead of traditional plumbing, the couple opted for a composting toilet to help cut water consumption. This is fortunate as water has been at the center of some of the couple's bus life difficulties.

Like with most homes, living on a bus is not always smooth sailing. The family has tackled frozen pipes, no running water, running out of propane to heat the bus at night, and even losing electricity. However, the family is still devoted to their blue bus home.

'I know a lot of people say that it’s not possible to raise kids on this bus especially until they turn 18. But I disagree,’ says Starla. ‘We added our full-length mattresses in the kid's room, plus extra space in the bunks. They are gonna grow into it, and have their own private space.’

‘If we do move out of the bus, it’s going to be something equally ridiculous.’

Rebecca Knight
News Editor

Rebecca Knight is the News Editor on Real Homes. She graduated with a Masters degree in magazine journalism from City, University of London in 2018, before starting her journalism career as a staff writer on women's weekly magazines. She moved into digital journalism and developed an interest in homes and interiors when she joined the Ideal Home website team in 2019. Since then she has written for a range of gardening and interior websites including Town and Country, Homes and Gardens and Living etc. As a flat renter, she is always looking for smart DIY hacks that can be easily removed without annoying her landlord, whilst also helping her save money towards her first home.