Bus Build: How we made Custom Skylights for $72 Each for our Bus Conversion – S03E14

By Mela & Don | Bus Conversion

We looked into various options for skylights and decided to try our hand at a very inexpensive DIY approach using a wooden frame and polycarbonate.  The first skylight turned out fantastic, so we are putting in more! 

For only $72/skylight in material costs, we were able to build and secure our DIY custom skylights in place. And how are they holding up? We have experienced some pretty severe storms since we put them in with a tornado ripping through our local area and hurray - no leaks!

Here’s the steps and materials we used for our Skylight:

Plan out Where the Skylight Will  Go

We planned where to attach the skylights between the beams of our bus and checked for obstructions on both the ceiling and on the roof being careful to account for where seams and rivets were mounted.

Make Wooden Frame

We cut down 2x4’s into 4 pieces. As with most buses, our ceiling is curved so we followed this curve by tracing it off the beam of the bus. We then cut out notches where there were obstructions (rivets and seams) so the wooden frame would sit nice and snug up against the ceiling. We used corner clamps, wood glue and screws to secure the frame together.

COST $2.84 for the 2X4 lumber

Paint Frame for Protection

We chose to spray Rustoleum primer onto the frame to help protect the wood from any moisture.  

COST for Rustoleum primer $4.16

Cut Polycarbonate to Size of Frame

For our skylights we choose AmeriLux polycarbonate that is rated at 100X stronger than glass. We got ours from Menards. We were advised to use a blade with a carbide tip on the table saw to cut the Polycarbonate to the  size of the frame, keeping the protective film on.

COST for Polycarbonate $44.49

Drill Pilot Holes in Polycarbonate & Frame

We removed the polycarbonate protective film only from the sides where we made the pilot holes to continue to protect the skylight from getting scratches. First we made pilot holes about  2 inches apart through both the polycarbonate and the frame with the drill bit, then we removed the polycarbonate from the frame and used a bigger sized bit to make larger holes in the polycarbonate.  This is important as you want the screws to bite into the wood, but you don’t want the polycarbonate to splinter and web out from the screw.  We checked with the manufacturer to find the recommended size drill bit for our polycarbonate.

Mark then Cut Roof Metal Flush with Frame

We mounted the wooden frame up against the ceiling with a couple jacks so we could mark the inside of the frame onto the ceiling.  Then took the frame down and used an angle grinder with a Diamond edge blade to cut the hole for the skylight.

Mount Frame to Bus Ceiling Beams

First, we drilled pilot holes through the wood frame and metal beams.  Then applied Loctite Polyurethane Construction Adhesive to secure the wood frame to the metal ceiling and Teks 2-3/4" Wood-to-Metal Self-Drilling Screws to secure the frame to the beams.

COST for the Polyurethane Adhesive $4.68

COST for Wood-to-Metal Self-Drilling Screws $7.46

Sand Roof Metal Flush with Frame

We used the angle grinder with a 36 grit sandpaper face to buff and smooth the edge flush with the frame.

Align Polycarbonate to make Pilot Poles in Roof Metal

Next we cleaned off the area around the skylight hole, then aligned the polycarbonate in place and marked off the holes to make the pilot holes into the roof and wood frame.

Glue Polycarbonate to Roof

We applied Henry’s Roof Sealant to the roof (the same silicone sealant we used to paint the entire roof) and placed the polycarbonate on top, being sure not to get the glue too close to the edge because as you screw the polycarbonate down the glue will spread.

COST for Henry’s Roof Sealant $11.97

Screw Polycarbonate to Roof

We used #9 1-Inch Teks Sharp Point Roofing Screws to secure the Polycarbonate through the metal of the roof and into our wooden frame.

COST for Teks Roofing Screws  $9.33 for a 110 CT

Seal Polycarbonate Edges to Roof

We used Henry’s Roof Sealant all along the edge of the polycarbonate. Silicone sealants do not degrade in sunlight.

Glue Over Screws

We covered the screws with OSI QUAD Window, Door and Siding Sealant as an extra precaution to prevent any leaks around the screws.

COST for QUAD Window, Door and Siding Sealant $6.25

Remove Polycarbonate Protective Film

And finally, now that we are done we remove the protective film to reveal our beautiful skylight!

We are so in love with our skylights, they make a huge difference to our space. One of the reasons this is such an economical way to install skylights is that once you have purchased the screws and sealants your only remaining costs are the polycarbonate and wood for each additional skylight. Once we have built our ceilings we will add a metal frame to the inside of the skylight to finish it and are considering adhering a ceramic tint film to the polycarbonate to ease the heat transferred through the skylights and to protect our furniture and floors from the sun damage.  We’ll keep you posted on progress for tinting and finishing the interior of the skylights when it happens.

 

Up Next
While all we want to do is get to the big exciting steps, there are a ton of little jobs and lots of preplanning that must take place beforehand.  We remove the buses original AC, make an electrical plan, get a little further along with our bus pad and more!

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Rustoleum Primer
Ideal for use on ferrous, non-ferrous metal, wood, concrete, masonry and other such surfaces to prepare surfaces for painting, provide rust protection and a tough finish that withstands weathering

 

Amerilux Polycarbonate
Virtually unbreakable, lightweight, and transparent, polycarbonate is the premium replacement option for glass.  It can be used in applications such as garage door windows, safety shields, and other home repair applications.

 

Loctite Polyurethane Construction Adhesive
Premium quality commercial grade sealant developed especially for forming permanent, water and weather resistant seals in most exterior gaps and joints. Outstanding durability, tear resistance and a movement capability of +/- 25% which accommodates construction material movement to protect the original seal

 

Henry's Roof Sealant
For best results on your roof use Henry 884 Tropi-Cool 100% Silicone Roof Sealant. It provides strong adhesion to many different building materials. Features of the sealant include UV resistance and weathering characteristics with no hardening, chalking, crazing or cracking. It's also mold and mildew resistant.

 

OSI QUAD Window, Door and Siding Sealant
OSI QUAD bonds without a primer to most common substrates like cedar, painted or stained woods, fiberglass, vinyl, coated aluminum, steel, metal, brick, masonry and concrete. With resistance to UV and extreme temperatures (20°F to 120°F) and proven wet surface application, OSI QUAD is the versatile and durable choice for professional contractors. 

 

Teks 2-3/4" Wood-to-Metal Self-Drilling Screws
For attaching wood to thicker 20-12 gauge metal. Special winged fasteners ream a hole in wood preventing thread engagement during drilling

 

Teks 2-3/4" Wood-to-#9 1-Inch Teks Sharp Point Roofing Screws Metal Self-Drilling Screws
Teks hex washer head sharp point roofing screws with washer provide secure, weather sealing for all metal to wood applications, stable hex head & sharp point allow fast penetration.

 

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About the Author

Mela and Don are sharing their journey as they make conscious decisions to live a more healthy, environmentally friendly life together.

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