Eli Shanks '18 speaks to The Sun inside his school bus-turned-home in Trumansburg, New York.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Eli Shanks '18 speaks to The Sun inside his school bus-turned-home in Trumansburg, New York.

September 19, 2017

Cornell Student Converts Old School Bus Into Solar Powered Home

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When Eli Shanks ’18 decided he was sick of paying rent in Collegetown, he headed to Pennsylvania, bought an old school bus and converted it into a house within just a couple months.

This converted school bus — located 15 minutes from the Cornell campus in Trumansburg — is completely solar-powered, and now includes running water, a shower, a fold away couch bed, a full kitchen with a stove and oven, a fridge, a bathroom, spray foam insulation, a pellet stove and plenty of electricity.

Shanks chose a school bus for the durability, good engine and availability, calling the initial bus a “reliable, prebuilt shelter.”

“School buses are extremely durable, overbuilt vehicles that are well maintained and often auctioned off and replaced long before their useful lives are over,” he said. “If you want to build a house or a tiny house, you have to build a shelter first, then build a home, but a bus is all ready to be a home.”

Shanks purchased the vehicle from a fire department in southern Pennsylvania, where it had been previously converted from a school bus to a mobile command post for fire, EMS and police use.

“It was full of wiring and desks and cop radios,” Eli said. “The body and drive train were in extremely good condition, because they had basically done nothing but garage it and maintain it for 10 years. They used it only once or twice.”

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Converting a school bus into a solar home requires building, plumbing and electrical skills, all trades which Shanks gained from taking woodworking and furniture design classes in high school. He had also previously built a shed for his parent’s house, as well as renovated a greenhouse with his cousin in Arizona.

“I met someone who had lived in a bus for a while, and when I started researching the whole thing, it ended up making a lot of economic sense, and seemed like a cool project,” he said.

In addition to the cost of purchasing the bus, Shanks paid $1,000 to have the bus professionally spray foamed, $4,000 on the solar system, $2,000 on the pellet stove and another $2,000 on other materials.

Shanks said the biggest challenges he faced while creating his home were simply making decisions.

“It’s really not too hard to do, and so many people are doing it that there are tons of resources on the web,” he said. “There is so much to design and tons of fun choices to make that nobody can tell you the right answers to.”

Shanks originally planned to reside in the bus after his graduation this December, but after receiving a job opportunity in Chile, he is selling his solar home in the spring, with plans to build another one in the future.

Though Shanks may be leaving this school bus, he said it could last “indefinitely” for another individual or family like himself.

In fact, the solar panels on the bus have a life of at least 30 years, and according to Shanks should still produce up to 80 percent of the electricity they currently produce for the home.

“I think if someone wanted to do a little work to make it convenient for taking on the road, they could take it all over, no problem,” he said. “With some maintenance, it could last indefinitely.”

Shanks added that the bus can also be used as a guest house, RV or Airbnb, and would not require additional remodeling for at least 10 years.

“I am most proud of the fact that I built something that can safely and comfortably house my family and me,” he said. “It really is a house. It’s not like we are camping all the time.”