Bellingham duo converts school bus into low-cost home on wheels for move to San Francisco

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 25, 2013 

school bus

Tom Andrews works on converting a school bus into a motor home in Bellingham, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Andrews and his wife are going to live in the bus in the San Francisco area while he goes to art school this Fall.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

After Tim Andrews of Bellingham was accepted into an art school in California, he and his wife, Amy, soon realized that rental costs in the Bay Area were far higher than they wanted to bear.

So they decided to create their own residence and drive it south.

They're turning a used school bus into a home on wheels that will enable them to live more cheaply, as well as visit family and, in time, travel around before deciding where they want to settle down.

"The idea of converting a bus is allowing us to pursue what we want to do," Tim said. "It's a pretty fun adventure."

Amy, 27, hails from Spokane. She met Tim, 25, in the Seattle area while he was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma. He was discharged from the U.S. Army in September 2012 after serving five years. His Army work included maintaining large vehicles with diesel engines, which will come in handy whenever the bus engine has problems.

They moved to Bellingham about a year ago with the idea that Tim would attend Western Washington University, but their plans changed after he won entry to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study design and illustration.

While pondering their future housing situation, Amy came up with the idea of remodeling a bus.

"I thought the idea was totally crazy," she said.

But they began researching the idea and Tim liked the idea of gutting the inside of the bus so he could rebuild the interior with wood.

Tim, who grew up in Southern California the son of a general contractor, had gleaned enough know-how over his youth to turn a gutted bus into comfortable, if tight, living quarters.

"I grew up learning different techniques here and there," he said. "It's helped with figuring out the challenges."

They bought a 1986 bus from a man in Monroe for about $3,500, including license and taxes, and figure they'll spend another $8,000 to $9,000 remodeling the bus. While much more than pocket change, their outlay is still cheaper than most RVs, and smarter than paying upward of $2,000 a month for rent. They've reserved space for their bus in an RV park.

Tim has been working on the bus full-time since early May. Amy, who works at Cascade Vocational Services, helps in her spare time.

The bus came with the seats removed. After removing the grungy green floor, walls, ceiling and insulation, Tim laid down a plywood base and paneled the interior with reclaimed Douglas fir.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 21, he was finishing up framing the kitchen area. The sink and alcohol stove would be installed soon, and the small refrigerator was already in place. There's a sleeping loft in the back for Amy and Tim. Couch and air mattress space up front will provide room for up to three guests to sleep.

The bus will have a composting toilet, and a shower stall made with an animal watering trough and a detachable shower head. Standing about 6 feet, 2 inches, Tim is too tall for a fixed shower head higher up.

"My head just skims the top," he said.

They also plan to install solar panels to power the refrigerator, lights and other electrical items.

Tim plans to leave in the bus for San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 31, because his classes start Sept. 5. Amy will follow later in their Subaru.

Tim is confident the bus will be livable by the time he leaves, but plans to do some finishing work during school breaks.

Before he leaves he plans to paint the yellow bus white. Later, he hopes to paint murals on the outside. He's thinking of painting a Seattle skyline on the rear of the bus, a landscape with Mount Rainier on one side and scenery with Mount Baker on the other.

"Keep a little bit of the Northwest with us," he said.

MORE INFORMATION

Tim and Amy Andrews of Bellingham created a website with details about their project remodeling a school bus into a mobile home. The site: bustohome.ryan8.com.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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