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Marsha’s School Bus Tiny Cottage Lifestyle Update

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This School Bus Tiny Cottage Lifestyle Update is a guest post by Marsha Cowan – share yours!

I came home from Arizona to North Carolina to visit with my family for the summer (am parked in my daughter’s driveway), and while here have been able to do some renovations on the tiny red bus in which I live full time in an RV park in Arizona. Almost finished! When I do get finished (hopefully in the next week) and cleaned up, I’ll send some pictures, though the solar vent fan/light I ordered from Lowe’s won’t get in until it is time to leave to go back, so that will have to be installed after I get back to AZ.

Some of the changes have been a stained/varnished floor, new boxcar shelves, blinds on the windows, and Plexiglas shutters on the back windows. There are a few other changes as well that have made life so much easier for me, but as usual, I am still off grid. Can I put in a plug for Goal Zero, my new hero? Lol!

Here are the pictures of the remodeling on my tiny red bus which I call Baby Boy. The biggest improvement was the stained and varnished floor. As with the partitions in the bus which have worked out so well, I used 1×6 pine fencing to do the floor. It only took me about $20 worth, then small cans of stain and marine varnish. So far it has been very easy to keep clean!

Related: Woman Turns School Bus into DIY Tiny Cottage on Wheels

Marsha’s School Bus Tiny Cottage Lifestyle Update

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Images © Marsha Cowan

The next best improvement was the 1/4″ thick plexiglass shutters that when closed against the insulation keeps out dust and fumes while driving, and will keep out cold air during the winter nights, all while not blocking my views or light. I had wooden shutters before on the inside, but really missed looking out my windows all winter, so this is a great improvement, and it totally keeps out even a windy rain while open, so I get the cool breezes without getting the bed or pillows damp. They can lock when closed, too.


I replaced the former rather flimsy shelves with these “boxcar” shelves which give great ease of mind when I drive as they keep things in place so much better, and are a couple of inches deeper for more storage. Have I mentioned how much I love my Goal Zero solar battery and panel? Those are solar lights in this picture. My 12volt lithium Sherpa 50, charged in about 4 hours of sun by my Boulder 30 solar panel, keeps my lights and fan running at night, charges my iPad and cell phone during the day (while still charging the battery), and runs my fan for hours after that. I have never been so pleased with a solar product. I highly recommend Goal Zero and highly commend their service department. They are a great bunch of people with which to work!

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This shot (below) shows my “beloved” butane stove which I use a lot because I cook a couple times every day. There is a camping oven which sits on top of this when I want to bake. Also in this picture is the blue speckled 2 1/2 gallon coffee pot that replaced the red water pump the first week. It worked well, but had metal parts inside that rusted between use so that I pumped out several quarts of rusty water before getting to clean water. Bison is the only pump I know that has stainless steel on the inside and other non rusting components, so maybe one day I will get a Bison pump, but in the meantime, I just dip out this water with that dipper you see hanging there. I have another large coffee pot under the counter if I need more water, but now that I am using the outdoor shower (which I love), the one pot usually suffices. It is simple and easy to fill at the faucet outside and bring in.

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I wanted to keep my tall rubber boots, so I stuck flowers in them and keep them by the front door. Never have had to use them, though, but they are there when the need arises.

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Hope you have enjoyed these makeovers. The front door is still on the “to do” list, maybe next summer. I’ll send one more picture of the floor in another email. Take care, Alex!



Images © Marsha Cowan

Related: Woman Turns School Bus into DIY Tiny Cottage Motorhome

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Lake Lili
    July 23, 2015, 10:11 am

    Great job Marsha! I really like that this is a continual work in progress that you are refining as you sort out what works well for you. Best wishes with your continued life in the Red Bus… hope you’ll keep us all updated.

    • Marsha Cowan
      July 23, 2015, 11:24 am

      Thanks Lili, it really is a continual process, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment!

  • Mary Rex
    July 23, 2015, 11:41 am

    Thanks for the update, Marsha:) I am a big fan of your work…from your first teeniest effort to this efficient adorable abode on wheels. Of every tiny dwelling I have seen, this is closest to my own fantasy of getting small. Thanks for all the useful information and inspiration.

    • Marsha Cowan
      July 24, 2015, 9:19 am

      Thank you, Mary, for your sweet comment!

  • john
    July 23, 2015, 11:49 am

    Like the ideas there Marsha and enjoy reading about your updates . . . gives me ideas and additional inspiration to get off of my own gutes and do something. 😉

    • Marsha Cowan
      July 24, 2015, 9:21 am

      Thanks John…what’s a gute? Lol!

      • john
        July 24, 2015, 10:56 am

        Lol, sorry, as in gluteus maximus . . . missed the ‘L’ in my rapid fire keyboarding . . . I was referring to the major muscles of the posterior, as getting up off of my ass and doing something. 😉

  • Elizabeth Denny
    July 23, 2015, 2:18 pm

    Loved your article today! 7-23-15 We live in Davidson County, NC. IF your family lives anywhere near here-you would be welcome to come and park in our area. Just email me IF you would like to come and visit a while. We live in a small community between Thomasville and High Point, called Wallburg. Would love to have visit! Elizabeth

    • Marsha Cowan
      July 23, 2015, 5:27 pm

      Oh my gosh! My daughter lived in Wallburg before buying this house in
      Thomasville! I have four children in this area, so plenty of places to park, but it was extremely sweet of you to offer a space. Thanks!

    • Marsha Cowan
      August 13, 2022, 5:01 pm

      Hello Elizabeth, are you still in Davidson county? If so, email me at [email protected]. it’s not about a place to stay. Lol! Just thought we might meet. Thanks!

  • Kat
    July 23, 2015, 2:34 pm

    A girl has to love your stamina and creativity! If I had the magic of a retake on my life, I most absolutely would have been a bus chick in the 70’s. Great job!!

    • Marsha Cowan
      July 23, 2015, 5:34 pm

      Never too late, right?

  • Susanne
    July 24, 2015, 2:19 am

    Wonderful bus!!! I imagine one day living in a tiny home such as yours and visiting my children also, spending time parked at (or on their property), rotating between them and doing alittle traveling in the U.S.
    My question is, why are you living in Arizona so far away while they are in North Carolina? Why not in the same area? Not necessarily always parked on their property but at least close enough to see them anytime… You are so blessed they all are in the same state! 🙂

  • Marsha Cowan
    July 24, 2015, 9:15 am

    I am not on facebook, so will try to answer some of the facebook questions here. Yes, I do drive my bus a lot; it is my only mode of transportation. That is why it is so important to have everything organized in it in such a way as to be able to crank and go and not have to do a lot of packing first or unhooking from water and electricity…thus the off grid convenience. The bus travels as you see it in the picture. The only thing I put away first is a statue of a mother hugging her little girl that my daughter gave me as a gift. I had to go 2 hours away from where
    I lived to find a good deal on a bus. The closer you are to a large city, the more expensive they become. I got mine from a day care going out of business, so it was in pretty good shape when I bought it, though while
    I was in AZ this past year, I did have some work done to it, and I bought 4 new tires for the back. Why am I not living in NC close to my children? Because my children are all adventurous people making plans to move away from NC when opportunity arises, one even thinking of outfitting an RV to live in like me. So I would soon end up there alone. We are a close family, but my children, who have each traveled all over
    America and many foreign countries before they reached 25, totally understand that I have a western mindset, and that I fit in so much better here than anywhere else. They are each still finding his/her fit. Oh, and no, we are not wealthy. They traveled on scholarship or on the back of their hard earnings, and creativity. Hope this answers some questions for you all. Happy trails!

  • alice h
    July 24, 2015, 10:21 am

    So enjoyable to see your bus updates. It’s a much nicer job than the old short bus that brought me on several adventures in my younger years but as rough and ready as that one was it was still a comfy home. One of our adventures included having to replace an engine half way down the Alaska Highway on our way from the Yukon to Kelowna so my husband could attend carpentry apprenticeship classes. Right there on a little side road just off the highway (which was a mess with construction) my husband built a log tripod, winched out the engine, hitched a ride with a really nice man who helped load the engine into his truck and brought him back with a new one. Meanwhile I hung around with our two sons and met a lot of interesting locals who came out of the woods to see what was going on. Luckily we were well stocked up and only needed our fresh water topped. The road crew helped us with that and we all had a great time swapping books. I was able to do some baking in trade as well. The whole process took a week and we were back on the road again.

    • Kandy
      July 27, 2015, 6:37 pm

      Alice H…I admire you and your husband’s creativity and adventurousness! Your sons are very lucky to have such great memories.

    • Marsha Cowan
      August 13, 2022, 5:05 pm

      That is an amazing story! Your boys are fortunate to have two frontiersman for parents. I’m your new biggest fan : )

  • Patty
    July 25, 2015, 12:29 am

    Great job on the floor! Really love what you have done on each of your tiny places. I think my fav is the fence dividers. Blessings to you on your new endeavors.

  • Kate
    July 25, 2015, 10:55 pm

    I love the finetuning you have done. I still think of how lovely it is from the first time you shared.

  • Rue
    July 26, 2015, 6:53 am

    Great updates on an already charming and livable bus!

    Also encouraging to see that everything doesn’t have to be perfect first try – that even a great build can keep getting better.

    Happy travels, Marhsa!

  • Darlene
    July 26, 2015, 12:50 pm

    I really want to also live in a short bus/RV. Family is not happy with m plans. I am going to show them this great RV you have made. Also you drive across the USA with it. Good job!

  • M
    July 27, 2015, 10:28 am


    What kind of mpg does your bus get?

    • Marsha Cowan
      August 13, 2022, 5:08 pm

      I know this is 7 years late, but I just saw your post. The little bus was diesel and after I started using engine cleaner every other tank, it got about 20 on the highway, a little less in the city. It was probably because the bus seats weighed about 10 times more than what I put on it, so I was traveling very lightly.

  • Reggie Greenleaf
    September 27, 2017, 2:21 pm

    Love what you did with the bus! Thanks for the references to Goal Zero. I’m planning on getting a camper van and I want solar but hadn’t seen any brand names to look at.

  • Marsha Cowan
    August 13, 2022, 5:12 pm

    Hello Reggie, just saw this comment (7 years late) and wanted you to know that I’m still using Goal Zero, but moved up to the smallest yeti for my truck camper. Still loving it. I’m thinking of getting another even bigger Yeti so I can run a cooler in the camper. There is another brand, Jackery, that I also like very much. Try to get the Lithium batteries if you can as opposed to the lead ones. I think they are easier to use and safer.

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