One month into our Skoolie build in Kansas City


Hey everyone, we (Rebecca and James) are about a month into our Skoolie build, a 1998 E350 Blue Bird Micro Bus. We’ve been scouring all the online resources for inspiration and instructional tips. We have been documenting our build and share some things we are learning along the way on Instagram and our YouTube channel:

What have you done to stay motivated during your build (we are both starting to get itchy about getting on the road)? And how flexible did you end up being in making decisions between what you wanted in your build vs what you could afford?

Looking forward to checking everyone’s adventures out here.


Definitely went over the budget! I think almost everyone does.



Most of my builds have been well under $500 for everything, so budgets weren’t much of a concern for me. Of course I don’t have expensive items like solar panels, expensive roof vents, or ridiculously priced 12v compressor fridges. None of that stuff will ever pay itself, or improve my life. My two most expensive items are a $99 generator, and my swamp cooler probably cost about $50 to build.

Having all the amenities and comfort you want does not need to be expensive. I have a full kitchen, toilet, shower, all the power I could ever use, great heating, cooling, and ventilation. A four season, any weather capable, home on wheels. Expensive toys don’t necessarily improve your life, your comfort, or your convenience. The money you save by avoiding expensive mistakes can improve your life considerably.

I live off the grid 99.9% of the time, and frequently in very cold winters, and hot and humid summers. If you travel with the weather, things can be much easier, but my work schedule before retirement, and now my other commitments still seem to put me into miserable weather conditions. I generate most of my power while driving, and rarely with my generator. While my van isn’t instagram worthy, I wouldn’t trade it’s comfort and convenience for any of the ones I’ve seen on instagram. I only need to impress myself.



Thanks that is what we are keeping in mind while we debate the details of some things we want to have in our bus. We decided to forgo things like a Maxx fan and spend more of that money on our solar setup. We want to travel with the weather as well since cooling seems to be the main challenge for a lot of people. We also have neither done much camping so we know we already have a steeper learning curve if we want to spend considerable time boondocking.



I’d skip the solar too. Been there and done that, and will never make that mistake again. Tried it 3 different times, and spent well over $10k between them. They are far more hype than reality. Even when they’re good, if you want a reliable system, you still need to charge your batteries while driving, and you need a generator. Parking in the sun during the summer is never a good idea. Shade is what you want. You would be much better off shading your roof with plywood than with solar panels. Then if you want to play with solar later, add at least an inch of insulation between the plywood and the solar panels. The solar panels act like a blast furnace on the bottom when they’re in the sun. At 4 inches from your roof, they’ll blister your paint.

When you’re boondocking, if no shade is available, you need a way to create shade for your whole vehicle. Even though I can cool my rig, even in direct sunlight, shade will save you a ton of power and improve your life. Learning how to conserve power will get you a lot farther than solar panels. Solar panels are a money pit that never keeps it’s hands out of your pockets. They simply don’t charge batteries correctly, and thus they kill them prematurely. The only people promoting solar for RV’s are the people making money from it, and the newbies that haven’t had it long enough to discover it’s pitfalls.

Deep cycle batteries are usually good for 150-300 cycles, some as much as 500 cycles, but they’re rare. If you’re cycling your batteries every day like you do with solar panels, 150-300 days will be the batteries lifespan. A “cycle” is discharging it more than 10%. Under 10% is not considered a cycle. Now if you only cycle your batteries once a week, their lifespan increases 7 times, provided that their charging algorythm is correct. Here’s a chart demonstrating correct battery charging vs. solar panel battery charging.

As you can see the algorythm is all wrong. Batteries want a high bulk rate charge to begin with, that then tapers off as the battery gets charged. Solar delivers a tiny trickle charge, then ramps up, then back down. 99% of the time never reaching the recommended bulk charging rate.

Your alternator or a generator with a typical shore power battery charger will deliver a much better charge for your batteries health and longevity.

I quit buying new batteries, especially the expensive ones that the solar promoters promote. Now I buy my batteries from wrecking yards for under $20 each. They do have deep cycle batteries, and they have dates on them to determine how old they are. I typically get 5-7 years out of the junkyard batteries. All the promoters give you a bunch of mumbo jumbo to keep everybody confused, ignore all of them.

Now on all my batteries, even my starter battery, I have over discharge battery protectors. They will prevent your batteries from getting too discharged, and prolong their lives. On the starter battery, it will cut it off before it drops to low to start it. On mine, I tap the brake pedal to reset it, so I can start my rig. The one on my house battery resets itself once the battery starts getting charged. Those battery protectors are worth their weight in gold, but I think they were under $20 each. ( From a used battery shop, I bought a recycled house battery, and isolator, and two battery protectors. They installed everything, parts included for $80. )

The bottom line is, even if I had to replace a $20 battery every year, other than the hassle, it would be acceptable. A $100+ battery I wouldn’t be very happy. At 5+ years, it’s totally acceptable to me.

Learn to be frugal on your power consumption. I charge my laptop, my phone, and run a few LED lights, a couple of low amp fans, and my swamp cooler off my house battery, and that’s about it normally. I make a point of charging whatever possible when I’m driving, which helps conserve house battery usage. While I am no longer a fan of rooftop solar, I do enjoy a few individual items that have their own solar panels. Among them are lanterns, a radio, a bug zapper, and a household battery charger to charge AA/AAA/C/D/9-volt batteries. I don’t normally use an inverter for anything, if I want shore power, I have my generator.

I’m generally a city camper, and I usually drive some at least 2-3 times a week, (Not a lot or far), but that usually keeps my house battery charged just fine. If I’m boondocking, I’ll charge my house battery about once a week with my generator and battery charger. It can take from 20 minutes up to maybe an hour to charge my house battery once a week. My $99 generator will run about 7-8 hours on a gallon of gas. Even when I was using just the generator to charge my house battery, 5 gallons of gas would last the better part of year. Using old school math, that’s way cheaper, more reliable, and more efficient than solar.

Cooling is only a problem if you’re listening to the promoters who aren’t making a profit from a DIY project. Indirect swamp coolers work great, and they’re cheap to build and very power efficient. If I’m running mine pretty much constantly, it cuts my battery recharge cycle down to about 6 days instead of 7+ days. That’s energy efficient enough for me.



Words of a humble man. I admire your simplicity!



Simple, portable, and all the comforts of home. I’ve tried many different ways, and this seems to work the best for me.