Budget Breakdown: A Prison Bus Becomes a Couple’s First Home For $26K
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Budget Breakdown: A Prison Bus Becomes a Couple’s First Home For $26K

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By Michele Koh Morollo
A young couple converts a 31-foot, 1989 Chevy B6P bus that was formerly a prison transport vehicle into a charming tiny home.

When Meag and Ben Poirier were living in Maine in 2016, they snapped up a 31-foot bus on Craigslist for $8,000, planning to convert it into their first home. The bus, previously a prison transport vehicle and a mobile command center for the Sherriff’s Department in Fairfax County, Virginia, had a storied history, and its previous owner had planned to transform the bus himself. After turning down several other potential buyers who wanted to strip it for parts, he was thrilled to connect with the Poiriers.

$8,000
1989 Chevy Bus
$1,000
Tools
$850
Miscellaneous Supplies
$900
Lumber
$900
Paint
$1,600
Furniture, Fixtures, & Appliances
$1,500
Hot Water & Plumbing
$1,405
Wood Stove & Tile Hearth
$1,030
Composting Toilet
$3,900
Solar Power
$575
16-Month Registration
$4,450
Repairs & Maintenance
Grand Total: $26,160

The original interiors were set up like a mobile command center with server stands, long tables, rows of electrical outlets for equipment, six seats, three locking prison cage doors segmenting the interior, and bars on the windows. 

The first impression Meag got from the bus—which had its original black paint chipped away to reveal the dull, red primer underneath—was "don’t come too close, I’ll bite you," but Ben felt that it had great bones and plenty of potential. 

The first impression Meag got from the bus—which had its original black paint chipped away to reveal the dull, red primer underneath—was "don’t come too close, I’ll bite you," but Ben felt that it had great bones and plenty of potential. 

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The bus is about nine feet shorter than a standard-size school bus, so the Poiriers did their best to keep the floor plan as open and spacious as possible. 

The bus is about nine feet shorter than a standard-size school bus, so the Poiriers did their best to keep the floor plan as open and spacious as possible. 

For the next two years, the Poiriers spent most weekends working on the bus themselves, converting it into a 165-square-foot home.

Ben and Meag built everything themselves, and used as many secondhand materials as possible.

Ben and Meag built everything themselves, and used as many secondhand materials as possible.

They used plenty of reclaimed wood, and kept two of the original cage doors: one at the front and the other at the back of the bus. 

They used plenty of reclaimed wood, and kept two of the original cage doors: one at the front and the other at the back of the bus. 

Further along is the kitchen to the right of the driver’s area, and the dining area to the left. 

After the kitchen and dining comes the living room, which is fitted with a DIY couch that pulls out to a twin-sized bed.  Across from the couch, in the heart of the bus, is a tiny wood stove and hearth, which is the primary source of heat. 

After the kitchen and dining comes the living room, which is fitted with a DIY couch that pulls out to a twin-sized bed. Across from the couch, in the heart of the bus, is a tiny wood stove and hearth, which is the primary source of heat. 

"Everything from the cabinets and drawers to the bed frame and curtains are fully custom; we made it all from scratch," says Ben, who has since driven the completed bus to its current site in Gorham, New Hamsphire, where the Poiriers now live with their dog, Moose.

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The kitchen table is a maple butcher block from a farmhouse in Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

The kitchen table is a maple butcher block from a farmhouse in Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

A recycled and re-milled factory maple and beech blend from Longleaf Lumber in Berwick, Maine, was used for the floors, cabinet face frames, upper wall panels, and the tops of the bathroom and shower.

The floor plan begins up front with the driver’s area. The passenger jump seat is mounted securely on the front cage door. 

The floor plan begins up front with the driver’s area. The passenger jump seat is mounted securely on the front cage door. 

The hearth is reinforced inside, and is faced with tiles that look like brick. To the left of the hearth is a wooded storage space. 

The hearth is reinforced inside, and is faced with tiles that look like brick. To the left of the hearth is a wooded storage space. 

Beyond the hearth is a composting toilet and tub shower. 

The bus is equipped with propane, providing hot water for the sink and shower, and a tank that stores 80 gallons of fresh water. It has 600W solar panels installed on its roof, and an AGM battery bank. 

The bus is equipped with propane, providing hot water for the sink and shower, and a tank that stores 80 gallons of fresh water. It has 600W solar panels installed on its roof, and an AGM battery bank. 

The couple’s queen-sized bed is located at the back of the bus, and raised on a platform with clothing and electronics storage underneath.

The sleeping area is accessible from the living space. The entrance to the home is through what the Poiriers call their "garage door" at the back of the bus. 

The sleeping area is accessible from the living space. The entrance to the home is through what the Poiriers call their "garage door" at the back of the bus. 

"We are able to spend extended periods of time boondocking in beautiful and remote areas of the country with these systems in place," says Meag. "Our lights, refrigerator, fans, device-charging station, and kitchen appliances all run off of solar."

The folding chairs are made from scraps of antique, hickory barn board. Even the bolts that hold them together were recycled from the bus itself during the demolition process.

The folding chairs are made from scraps of antique, hickory barn board. Even the bolts that hold them together were recycled from the bus itself during the demolition process.

The composting toilet with exterior vents, and reclaimed, southern yellow pine tub/shower are housed in half-height built-ins near the back of the bus. 

The paint process, share the Poiriers, was especially grueling.

The paint process, share the Poiriers, was especially grueling.

According to the Poiriers, the most challenging aspects of their DIY prison bus home project were the painting and insulation processes.

"It took us four solid weekends of tedious rust treatments, body work, sanding, feathering, cleaning, and taping," says Meag. "It was a true test of patience. The actual painting process only took four hours. We couldn’t believe it! We’re thankful we did the job ourselves in the end; it only cost us about $900."

The couple have been living in the bus for eight months now, and have traveled over 12,000 miles in 26 states in it, as well as parked in Northern New Hampshire.

The couple have been living in the bus for eight months now, and have traveled over 12,000 miles in 26 states in it, as well as parked in Northern New Hampshire.

Ben spent an entire summer meticulously insulating the bus from floor to ceiling. After conducting research, he sealed up all holes in the bus body and ceiling from the inside.

"This was an investment of time and energy, but we’re reaping the benefits now," he says. "The ceiling has layers of hard foam XPS, reflectix bubble wrap insulation, and an air gap in between to help reduce conduction. It all works brilliantly to keep us comfortable in cold temperatures and on hot days. It was well worth the extra effort!"

"Challenging as this DIY kind of life is, the benefits outweigh the negatives, and the challenges only bring us growth, perspective, and appreciation for the littlest things," says Meag. 

Project Credits: 

Builder, interior, cabinetry, and lighting design: Meag and Ben Poirier / @wilddrivelife

Photography: @satisfaction_garrickteed; @wilddrivelife; @rachelhalseyphotograph  

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