A college student turned an old school bus into a tiny home with a rooftop garden, skylight, and fireplace

Insider
Insider
Feb 18 · 5 min read

Caleb Brackney purchased an old school bus for $3,000 and transformed it into a dream tiny home on wheels using recycled and secondhand materials.

Caleb Brackney and his dog sitting in the back of the school bus.
Caleb Brackney and his dog sitting in the back of the school bus.
Caleb Brackney purchased and transformed an old school bus with $10,000. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

By Monica Humphries

In Caleb Brackney’s school bus turned home, every inch of space was intentionally designed with cost and style in mind.

The postgraduate design student was determined to build his own tiny home with $10,000 he had saved. After reaching his savings goal, the 25-year-old purchased a retired school bus and spent six months transforming it into his home, which he named Roamer.

Today, he lives in the 220-square-foot skoolie in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his dog, Ivy.

“I’m always within one arm’s reach of whatever I need,” Brackney told Insider. “And that’s my favorite part, you know, having enough to be happy and content.”

Caleb Brackney found a bus for $3,000 and put $7,000 into renovations

An image of the gutted bus and Caleb Brackney’s dog, Ivy, left. The completed bus, right.
An image of the gutted bus and Caleb Brackney’s dog, Ivy, left. The completed bus, right.
An image of the gutted bus and Caleb Brackney’s dog, Ivy, left. The completed bus, right. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

Brackney’s entire budget for the project was $10,000.

After looking at school buses, RVs, and vans, Brackney found a school bus was his cheapest option. In February 2020, he purchased a 1995 Thomas International school bus on Facebook Marketplace for $3,000 — leaving him with $7,000 to spend on renovations.

Brackney and the school bus.
Brackney and the school bus.
Brackney found the school bus on Facebook Marketplace. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

Brackney was living in his Knoxville apartment with six months left on his lease when he bought the bus, so he between his classes, he spent weekends and nights renovating the vehicle, and on August 1, he moved into his completed tiny home on wheels.

The tiny home has a skylight, rooftop garden, and an electric fireplace

An arrow points to the skylight Brackney installed in his 1995 retired school bus.
An arrow points to the skylight Brackney installed in his 1995 retired school bus.
An arrow points to the skylight Brackney installed in his 1995 retired school bus. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

Brackney is earning his master’s in architectural and landscape design at the University of Tennessee. These studies, along with an undergraduate degree in interior design, helped influence the layout of his home.

Guests enter the bus through its original door and immediately step into the kitchen. There’s a study space — where Brackney installed a skylight — behind the kitchen. The study has a 6-foot-long bar, which he uses as a desk and keyboard stand, plus a closet.

Past the bar, there’s a sectional couch, which can pull out into a bed for guests. Brackney’s own bed is directly behind the sectional.

The interior of Brackney’s school bus home.
The interior of Brackney’s school bus home.
The interior of Brackney’s school bus home. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

Brackney said he paid close attention to details throughout the space, thoughtfully considering the textures, fabrics, colors, and materials he used as he renovated the bus.

Overall, Brackney’s biggest goal was the create a comfortable, homey place. In the winter, Brackney uses an electric fireplace to warm the bus’ interior.

With a tight budget, the student filled with the bus with repurposed and recycled materials

Brackney and another individual finishing his skoolie renovation.
Brackney and another individual finishing his skoolie renovation.
Friends, family, and his girlfriend helped Brackney finish his skoolie renovation. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

Brackney wasn’t just focused on the look of the bus’ interior; his $7,000 renovation budget was top of mind during the process.

Brackney purchased most of his furniture and decor secondhand.

For example, Brackney found an old utility trailer that he transformed into a rooftop deck by removing the axle and bolting it to the roof of the bus, which created an 8-foot-long rooftop deck.

The countertops — which Brackney made by sanding down old semi-truck beds that he found on Facebook Marketplace — are another of Brackney’s favorite features in his home.

Caleb Brackney’s renovation was a family affair

The bus owner playing piano
The bus owner playing piano
Music is important to this bus owner, so he made sure there was enough space to fit his guitar and keyboard. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

Brackney’s education helped him design the bus, but he said making his vision for the bus a reality was a learning curve.

“I knew what a lot of these things look like on paper, but never gotten my hands in it and actually understood how all the pieces fit together,” he said about the building and constructing of the skoolie.

Fortunately, Brackney had the help of YouTube, a few experienced friends, and four of his six brothers.

“It was a really cool opportunity just to grow closer to them,” Brackney said of learning how to renovate the bus alongside his brothers.

Now that the bus is complete, Brackney’s family is still growing closer. His family is filled with musicians, and so the bus has become a place for his family to jam together and hang out around the keyboard.

The student has adventurous post-graduation plans

Brackney and his dog sitting on the bus.
Brackney and his dog sitting on the bus.
Post-graduation, Brackney plans to live a nomad life. Photo: roamerbus/Instagram

Six months after moving into his bus, Brackney said it’s been an incredible — and surprisingly easy — lifestyle switch so far.

Minimizing his belongings and getting rid of a majority of his furniture and clothing was a challenge, but it’s also taught Brackney just how little he needs to be happy, he said.

While Brackney’s bus is stationary for the time being — the vehicle is parked in his parent’s backyard in Knoxville, while he commutes to college every week — he hasn’t forgotten why he chose a school bus in the first place.

“I knew I wanted some sort of tiny house that I could travel with,” Brackney said.

After Brackney graduates, he plans to do just that — traveling across the continental US, and working as he goes. Brackney said his tiny home on wheels will help him save money on his future rent, and that instead of living in expensive cities, he’ll park at affordable campgrounds.

In the meantime, Brackney is enjoying time with his family and in his own home.

“I have enough to be happy,” he said. “When you have less things, you appreciate those things so much more.”

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