New To Skoolies? Need help or inspiration? Resources and discussions and links for your own build. Lightly updated for '20 and Beyond! : skoolies

New To Skoolies? Need help or inspiration? Resources and discussions and links for your own build. Lightly updated for ’20 and Beyond! : skoolies

UPDATED DEC ’20! Some users quoted are no longer using those names.

MANY thanks to /u/cptnobservant for poking me with links and stuff to FIX this post up. Kudos!


You are responsible in doing things legally correct. Anything found here is a suggestion from people varying from experts to hobbyists. It is up to YOU to be legal.

Remember as you read this, I could be wrong. That semi famous YouSkooler probably did it wrong, too – I can think of one couple who just pushed along making mistake after mistake and now are paying for it on the road as they travelblog (they also split up). So take what you read here as a guide but not as gospel. What is right for your build is right for your build. Just stay safe and legal.

Remember this – there is a reason why everyone does something the way they do. From beds in the back to insulation, certain things can’t really be cheaped out on… unless it is a conscious decision to be different, or you are trying a new product that compares with the old way, odds are someone has tried it.

Ask questions. Someone, somewhere, has run into your issue. Hopefully one of the awesome people here will have the answer.


If you are here, the answer is yes. ONE OF US! ONE OF US!

But… MAYBE not the first one you can afford. Do some research. Would you buy that 1984 used Toyota hatchback with 350,000 miles for 2200 bucks? It’s in your price range, and it LOOKS good buuuuuut… there are a lot of buses out there, and yours is just waiting for you.

Why a Skoolie? Well, they are solid machines. They get the same MPG as an RV, and you can make yours the way YOU want, without cheap parts, an engine maxxed to its capacity, and a vehicle that can actually take a roll without turning into confetti.

Plus they are cheap to buy, and keep a better resale value.

This post is to try and have a one stop place for info. And if a post online is older than 2019, disregard anything it says. Even if it turns out to be right, it’s best to think anything (Text based, video is fine, because you can see what might be outdated there such as how to install a VHS player) 2 years or older is outdated as a general rule of thumb. Except this one if it has been recently edited.


Craigslist, ebay, your local school district. Google, really. Also, promotion time – r/skooliemarketplace and this post of mine which has questions and considerations.


Short answer: Most likely not, even with air brakes! Federally (USA), you do NOT, as long as you get rid of all the seats toot suite and your bus is under a certain weight unloaded. There is a state or two that is a little more restrictive on licensing, so if you are in the USA, check with the BMV/DMV or the web.

Is it a good idea to learn about the CDL process? Sure.


Taken from a discussion between me and /u/ShortBus-Nectar . I was being my usual anti shortbus self, and ShortBus-Nectar had a thoughtful reply (edited by me):

I do agree that van body anythings are more expensive to do engine removals/overhauls than other vehicles with more accessible bays. This also applies to a truck vs van with the same driveline (Like F350 vs E350). I don’t agree that van body fronts are expensive to maintain outside of the horror stories you hear about engine replacement.

… I said not all short or van-front buses can be covered under a blanket statement, I meant that not every engine/transmission combination is prone to massive services, and there are other considerations as well. I used the 6.0 as an example because basically every 6.0 on the road will eventually need heads, along with all the other stuff that needs to get replaced when they go (EGR cooler, etc) and its crazy expensive to do it all in one shot. Whereas something like a mechanical 7.3 or a 6.5 have issues, but not frequent services requiring the removal of the engine, followed by a build killing bill. Not trying to turn this into a discussion about which engine is better, I have no love for any manufacturer after spending 15 years as a tech.

You have another good point with the cost of tires on a larger bus. Likewise service for the brakes and basically everything else will have a higher cost in parts and labor. I do all my own work, but if I had to take it somewhere, I could go to basically any shop and they could service it. With a full size bus, most small shops will turn you away or might not have the tools to do the job. Manufacturers in the “light truck” industry are not required to provide service information to companies like Alldata, Mitchell, etc so most shops will have zero technical information to aid in diagnostics. Heavy duty shops tend to charge more per hour than general service shops.

I’m not saying go out and buy any van body you see, but I wouldn’t avoid checking them out.


And then, to look deeper under the skoolie hood…:

/u/MostImprovedPlayer, many thanks!


Rust is bad, but not as bad as rust holes. A rusty floor takes 24 hours of work to fix up. But that means you have to remove your floor, which means you have to look under the bus with a strong flashlight.

If you are buying an already converted bus, and want to know how the underbody was when they purchased it, grab a magnet on a stick, and sweep the floor from below. Bondo isn’t magnetic.

Rust holes take days, unless you know how to weld. Bondo smells funky.

Big bus tires are expensive. If you can find a good bus under $5000 with excellent tires, you are basically buying tires with a free bus on them.

This doesn’t count for short bus van front styles.


From /u/Ashandrik

Here’s my kind of defacto answer for these kinds of things. The rust comments assume you’re somewhere that salts the roads in the winter. This also assumes you’re a novice at this stuff and not a diesel mechanic, body work expert, etc.

New tires on a full size skoolie can run between $1600 and $3000. Ask me how I know… Haha. Don’t just check tread on tires. Also check for dry rot, small cracks in the sidewalls that may seem minor, but actually mean the rubber is breaking down making it more prone to failure. Most tires should also have a date of manufacture stamped on them. Even tires sitting in a cool, dry, dark warehouse are aging, albeit slower than if they’re out in the hot sun. So, that date matters even if the seller tells you they’re new-old stock and just put on the bus. Tires over 10 years old are probably garbage or approaching it. Also, keep an eye out for super shiny tires. Some assholes will throw a little Armor All on the tires before you go look. If they’re not brand new, they shouldn’t shine like they are.

As for rust… One of the best places to check for rust are on the back door frame and where the rubber flooring ends. You’ll also see it most in the stairwell(s). Don’t be afraid to crawl under the bus and check. Take a flat head screwdriver (and a flashlight and/or headlamp) with you. If you see a rusty spot, poke and scratch at it. That’ll tell you how bad the rust is. If it’s just a thin layer that scratches off and shines underneath, then great. If your screwdriver plunges all the way through the metal, it’s fucked. Check the frame for both heavy rust and straightness. Check the brakes on the tires from behind. If the bus has airbrakes, the chambers that hold the air bladders get rusted to fuck there. Check the exhaust too. That’s another problem area.

I would even consider driving down south to buy a bus. I bought mine in Texas, and she’s rust free. Almost as pure as the day it rolled off the assembly line. I could own this bus 10 more years and never have to worry about rust.

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As for engines… First of all. Tell them not to start it before you get there. You want to do a cold start. First thing you do when you get there is have them open up the dog nose so you can feel the engine. If it feels like it’s been running, tell them you’ll stop back another day when it’s been sitting a while. Check the coolant. It should be green or orange. If it’s any other color, the bus hasn’t been maintained properly. If it looks brown, kind of like, like peanut butter, then there’s a head gasket leak letting oil into the coolant. This is bad. Walk away.

Check the rest of the fluids. Check the airfilter. If anything seems grosser than it should, take that into consideration.

A cold engine should still start easy (as long as cold doesn’t mean below freezing). Less than 10 seconds of cranking should get it going cold, and it should start in a couple cranks after it’s warm. Diesels aren’t mysterious, moody creatures. They pretty much sound as healthy as they are. If it sounds rough, it probably has problems. If it sounds smooth, it probably is. It should have a nice even rumble. If you hear any pinging, ticking, etc., it might mean a problem. Look for white or blue smoke out of the tailpipe when you first start it. If it’s blue, that means engine oil is getting into the cylinders, and you probably need an engine rebuild. Walk away. If you get a white cloud, then you might have some air intake or injector problems. I’d probably walk away from this one too unless the rest of the bus was near perfect, met nearly all my preferences, and was cheap (<$2,500).

Mileage probably isn’t a big deal. Most diesels can hit 500k before they need a rebuild, and another 500k after that. If you put a million miles on your bus, congratulations! Go buy a new one and start over. Haha. Or just drop a new engine in for a few grand.

Get maintenance records if you can. Call the school district the bus was from if the seller doesn’t have them. Sometimes their maintenance folks will still have them.

Take it for a drive. If they argue with you over not having a CDL and won’t back down, make them drive it for you. Sit halfway in the stairwell and listen, if they’re driving. Listen to how it shifts. Feel for vibrations that seem unusual. If a bus has been sitting for too long, the tires might be out of balance. Make sure you get some highway time in. Many school buses find speeds over 55mph to be difficult or impossible. This is something you should know before you buy your bus. See how it handles turns. Wiggle the steering wheel a bit while you drive. Don’t do it enough to swerve the bus. You’re feeling for play in the steering. You should have about 30 degrees of play. Anything over 60 degrees means worn out steering components. My bus had a bad power steering pump and a worn out pitman arm. Repairing the pump cost me over $500, and I haven’t done anything about the pitman arm yet. I will probably end up spending a couple thousand to put a whole new front steering system on my bus eventually…

Check all the lights, in the dark if possible. The clearance lights at the top of the bus are hard to tell in the daytime if they’re on or not. When lights on older buses go bad, it can be the sockets that failed instead of the bulb. Depending on the age of the bus, finding matching replacements might be time consuming (driving to half a dozen junk yards in hopes of finding a $12 light socket), and replacing all of them so they match is expensive (up to $50+ per light sometimes).

Check the seal around the windshield. Check for rust inside the bus around the windows and doors. Sometimes a little water gets in, and you have to reseal those areas. These kinds of problems probably aren’t deal breakers, but it’s good to know.

As for preferences in buses…

Try to find a bus with belly boxes. They are infinitely useful (general storage, mounting your generator, house battery boxes, etc.), and adding them later is a royal pain in the ass, unless you are or know a body work expert. Belly boxes also generally imply the possibility of highway gearing that would mean higher top speeds and better gas mileage on the road. Buses that have belly boxes are generally special ordered by school districts for long-distance field trips (football games, state competitions, band trips, etc.)

My personal engine preference goes (best to worst): Cummins 8.3, Navistar DT466, Cummins 5.9 (what I have), Navistar T444e. The T444e is the only one I’d really avoid, but know that with the Cummins 5.9 you’re going to have to do some tinkering to get the kind of power I’d be comfortable with (enough for highway speeds and hills). Rear Differential ratios will determine your highway speeds more than anything else. Aim for a 4.33 or lower. I’m almost positive mine is like a 5.57, and that’s why my top speed is stuck at 55mph.

Transmission: The most common transmission is the Allison AT545. It’s an automatic transmission, and it’s rock solid. However, it doesn’t have overdrive or a locking torque converter. This means slightly worse fuel economy, not as good highway speeds, and overheating issues in hills and mountains. I would avoid the AT545 if possible, but you might find that impossible. They are ridiculously common. What I would want is basically any other Allison transmission. The AT643 is better, but a 1000, 2000, or 3000 (particularly the 3060, which happens to be the most common of these) would be the best. It doesn’t matter which of those your bus has as long as it came that way from the factory. They are just rated for different weights.

Air brakes are much better than hydraulic brakes, but some states require a CDL for any vehicle with them. Each state has different rules about CDLs. In Texas I didn’t need one because my bus was an RV that carried less than 14 passengers. If you do need it, getting your CDL isn’t hard, but if you get a ticket with one, the penalties are a lot harsher. Avoid it if the law allows.

Air ride suspension is amazing, but chances of finding a bus with it is pretty much zero. So consider it a perk if you find one that has it. Brag about it to your friends until they hate you. I would. Haha. Last thing to talk about is price and some purchasing options. You can get good buses on auction from government organizations (especially schools, of course) for around $1500, sometimes less. The downside of this, is you have to buy a little more blind. You often can’t test drive them or do much more than look around them. Many of them don’t come with batteries and assume you’ll be towing them home. You are also given NO leeway in when you can take them. Third party sellers are often much more expensive, but they’ve vetted the buses and possible done enough to get them running again. They are likely to let you test drive them, and they will let you pick up the bus at your convenience. I know r/SkoolieMarketplace lists buses as they become available, and /u/CascadesDad put a lot of info up on this subreddit’s sticky.

Good luck!


Honestly, the only engine to stay away from is the Ford Powerstroke 6.0 (short bus). All other forms of the 6.0 are fine, if a little wimpy. Pushers push, are quieter, and don’t haul things as well. Front end engines haul well and handle a bit better.

The transmission is all about what you want to do with it. Mountains? Flat? Haul? Odds are, there is no one perfect transmission for your needs. Be aware of that. Google is your friend here – remember, everyone either loves or hates your transmission of choice, so no matter what you pick, someone will say it’s terrible. Look for what’s good about it, and decide from there.

NONE of them, excepting maybe the infamous Ford Powerstroke 6.0, is a zippy engine capable of hauling butt.

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TIME T’PLAY! Start thinking hard on your design, and where you are going to put the remarkably large amount of waste product that it will generate. Seats, metal, insulation, bits and bobs, screws, lenses, lightbulbs, skin and blood, and whatnot.

Seriously consider not putting in sideways facing seats. In the USA they don’t really care (unless you are or have a child), but in other countries, riding on a sideways seat is illegal!

A lot of old posts that spread false or misleading information still exists. The only place that will have the answer is your local D/BMV or its website. If you are not satisfied with the answer you get from the person on the other end of the phone, look up your revised code. Here’s Washington state’s.


The quickest way is this way:



You CAN get insurance.

First off, only ask for insurance on what the title says it is. If it says commercial right now, get commercial. If it says RV, get RV. Do NOT say, “Oh it’s a bus that I am converting in my spare time.” Insurance agents get wobbly with what may be’s. Just show the title, and say this is what I have, this is what I want. Get the bus converted, get the title changed, get the insurance you want.

You may have to investigate getting the bus titled in Vermont as an RV. See a few lines above.

Sidenote: if this will be your primary residence, let the insurance provider know. Especially if you bought the bus with a mortgage (which you can do for primary residences!). If they pull some BS about “You need another vehicle, this can’t be your home AND be a primary way to drive places” drop them and move elsewhere. They are not right.


Know your state laws re: bus color and lights. Know your state laws re: seatbelts (resource here Consider how passengers will travel. Sideways seats are not good for kids, and may be illegal to use with safety seats. It is up to you to be legal.

SEATBELTS NEED TO BE CONNECTED TO THE FRAME (or a seat designed to hold belts from a seat maker). This is where reusing the bolts from the bus seats can be a great idea.

Measure your bus. Use graph paper to start a build design, and remember:

WATER – POWER – KITCHEN – BATHROOM – BEDROOM – TRASH (liquid and physical) – ELECTRICAL – SEATING (more may be added, but keep these in mind).

Also, remember comfort for when you are traveling. Sitting side mounted for hundreds of miles is exhausting on bulky wooden homemade seats. And really, recycled bus seats are not comfy sideways. And like I said, it’s not a great idea in general, and wrong for kids. Lap belts sideways in a forward facing accident change the shear rates and really… bench seating is not comfy for rides. Consider doing it somehow else. I know, it really messes up the space on the bus.

Are you going to bring your bus to bare rims and metal? That usually is the best way to go – it allows you to see holes, places that need attention, and then allows you to fill in insulation as needed. You also get rid of some of the disgusting materials that have been subject to kids. And, as we all know, kids be gross.

Don’t be afraid of cutting holes in your bus. You are gonna need to for plumbing, and power. Remember to think carefully on roof cuts.

Any cut can be fixed with welding, but remember to try and get a welder to fix all at once. Find a local fabricator and talk with them, unless you know how to weld, or have a welding buddy. And practice safe welding.

If you decide to remove the rear heating fan, know that they are looped into your engine system. You will need to examine the system, and be prepared to loop the lines near the front. If your bus is old or rusty down below, wear good eye protection or a face shield. And watch out for coolant.

Check in with your local community college or technical school if you need welding done.


Impact Drill. Chop saw. Hammer. Angle grinder. With these, you can build a skoolie to rival the gods! Well, you can do most of the work. I once saw a family using handsaws to cut things.

My goodness.

A tool I love that isn’t required but is nifty, is a pocket jig. Also, a bit that extends and bends for your drill – helps you get to hard to reach places.

Battery operated tools can travel with you, but you need to buy ones with good batteries. If your batteries don’t hold a charge, buy a new battery. If it still doesn’t hold a charge, you need a new tool. Modern battery powered items are amazing.

Also, buy tons of drill bits. And if you have issues removing bus screws in the ceiling or walls? Try a square bit.

Self tapping screws are worth it, too.


Wood. I used 2x3s to cut a bit of weight. You use what you feel right with. You CAN use metal framing.


Every carpenter I talked to about skoolie builds (one of them) said that every piece of furniture starts life as a box. Get used to building boxes. Boxes can become chairs, beds, shelves, tesseracts – the possibilities are endless.


A playlist of all the electrical questions you might have.

Electrical can be as simple as an extension cord that goes out one of your windows, to 50 amp fuse boxes.

Here’s a quick overview.

/u/gilliganphantom’s youtube channel has one of the best pre planning videos for running electrical out there.

Also, instead of romex wire, people tend to use extension cords for wire runs. There is talk of extension cords being more robust in a vibrating world. I use both, never had an issue myself. That doesn’t mean much, really… but just know either is viable for a time.

Wire stripper

wire crimper

Those two things are great, used in conjunction with butt connectors you should have code worthy splices. And lots of electrical tape.

When it comes to batteries, it’s all about uniformity and amp hours. There’s a lot of complicated math that talks about power usage and what not, and honestly, I am terrible at it.

Lead acid batteries put off gasses when charging. Deep cycle batteries are what you want, and this is an area you shouldn’t cheap out on (but you can!). LiPo batteries are both amazing and can be dangerous. Your house batteries (those are your power my stuff batteries, not the power my bus type) need to be safely contained. It’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher nearby rated for electrical fires.

/u/Ashandrik talks about Solenoids, and why they are a good idea:

“I used a 200A Cole Hersee Battery Isolator Solenoid. You can use anything similar, but make sure the amperage capacity is higher than your alternator puts out (my alternator was rated at 160A). 160A is really common on skoolies, but some buses that had a lot of accessories in them (charter buses mostly) have two alternators at 240A each.

I wired the control contacts (the ones on the top) to switch on my bus’ control panel. You don’t want the bus trying to use the house batteries to start from. You’ll damage them. So, with the switch, I can turn it on after the bus has started. You could also wire it into a 12V source that is only one when the bus is running, but I didn’t want the batteries connected until a few minutes after the bus had started and the starter batteries were topped off. This way I never have to worry about any deep draws between the starter batteries or the house batteries.

The other benefit of the switch is that if I’m ever in an emergency situation where I decide damaging my house batteries to get the bus started is worth it, I still have that option. I also let the house batteries top off the starter batteries if I sit for a while. If I have a net gain of solar or if I’m on shore power, I can turn on the switch for a couple hours to act as a battery maintainer.”

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/u/Carolina_tiny_homes suggests a DC to DC inverter. They are expensive, but will extend the life of the battery and pay for itself in no time.

Depending on your power usage, you may not need house batteries. It’s a discussion for another day.



Solar power is free energy. Setting up Solar is not. It’s cheaper to build your own system, but easier to buy pre-built. No matter what system you go with, there will be positives and negatives.

From /u/c4pken:

Rule of thumb. If you can turn it off, do it. That’s how you save power and passive draining. Ideally have a switch that takes it off the breaker.

Things you can’t control or use a lot… try to see if there’s a DC version.

Using an Inverter does get you AC power, but at the cost of 15%-20% energy loss during the inversion process.

This is why we made DC refrigerators, depending on where you’re at, you can recover the consumption for all our appliance through a single 200W panel over a day.

…Lights and even a TV doesn’t take too much juice out of a solar setup. Solar doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. It doesn’t even need to be overbearing, know and understand what your needs are and then work from the consumption up.

(( check out for more info, or the blog for more specifics ))


Plumbing. It’s simple, good water comes in, bad water goes out. Like the tides. Water can be hot or cold. You can use a propane tank to heat your water. You can go with a tank or tankless. With the water flow, tankless may be the way to go, especially with space issues.

When designing, remember in and out and leave space for that.

Also, leave space to work on your pipes. Pex is so easy to work with

You are going to have leaks. Vibration will cause joints to shift. Make them easy to get to.

Toilets in a skoolie – if you do traditional black water toilet, it is just like putting one in your house. If you use an expensive but well worth it composting toilet, plumbing is not needed. You can even use a bucket and Walmart bags and Ice Tea bottles.

Just be aware, getting sick in a composting toilet is a special kind of treat.


I talk about this disaster all the time. One of the earliest skoolie builds I ever saw had a pvc pipe that went directly through the floor and dumped onto the ground below. It was in the middle of the bus. People used it to pee directly out of the bus, parked or while driving.



Urine loves to mess with metal. Splashing happens. So plan to have places for waste product to go, and know that your grey water tank (Soapy water, shower water, stuff like that) has to be slightly higher than your black tank so accidental back fill doesn’t flow into it.

When you do a water dump, you do your grey water first, then close it and do your black water second. You don’t want black water to backfill your grey… because odor.

I will try and find a good resources for grey/black/drinking tanks here. But really, they are easy to do. Mounting is interesting, and you may wish to think of mounting (or cutting holes) these BEFORE you finish the floor. Or at least putting the mounts in, if you end up going through the floor.

Here’s a post I did when a user wasn’t so sure of a bucket full of poopgoop:

Composting toilets are a weird thing. In the USA we are used to flushing away all effluvia – anything else is just not done.

Even holes in the ground are suspect (like camping at a state park) and portapotties are just NASTY.

Even portapotties have fluid in them. So what is a composting toilet?

Well, I can’t answer that easily. But I can link you to a blog I found that answers questions you may have:

Composting Toilet FAQ and Debunking Myths

Here’s NaturesHead’s FAQ, this company is generally considered the luxury brand composting toilet. They are usually very expensive.

Wanna make your own composting toilet? Check out what /u/MajerGlazer says:

“After 8 months of use, it held up great. We mounted it outside our vehicle (trailer tongue) for storage and transport but overall, limited smells were given off. We chose coconut fibers bought on Amazon since it was way easier to store and does the same as peat/sawdust. It came in small compressed bricks that you add a small amt of water and fluff and presto, you have your cover.

Use a bag in your setup, it will make your #2 cleanups infinitely easier. We also liked have an external liquids collection to keep things neat. We could connect the bottle (any size gatorade or juice container) and use inside but a lot of the time would drain to mother nature. Feel free to ask me anything.

Also, my original design had a small flaw when men were using the potty. The funnel worked great for ladies but some man parts were cramped near the funnel. I would have mounted a bit lower in the bin to give the parts some space.”

Youtube has a ton of videos on composting toilets.


A/C is one of the most difficult things to have when boondocking. Heating is easier, due to the fact that it can be done with propane heaters. More to come when I collect resources!

Fans are easier and can do quite well.


Blown or pink stuff? Rigid or foam? How about sound insulation? Links coming!

FYI, larger bus builders tend to go with blown stuff.

Rockwool or Denim? I use both, and they are very similar in sound proofing and R value. I like working with the denim MUCH more because less itch. But if you know Rockwool, you pretty much know denim.


Do you really need large ranges and stuff? Can you get by with butane cooktops? Propane? Electrical? Induction?

I personally use a coleman stove and a hot plate in my skoolie. I have a butane burner and a rice cooker (It died spectacularly in Colorado last year. RIP Rice cooker. I only used you once) as well.

I have a chest fridge/freezer and it has a built in battery. I LOVE IT.


Propane is a lot like plumbing, and you test for leaks the same way – system under pressure! Each joint needs easy access, and to test a joint, you put soapy water on it and look for bubbles. Run your propane to your kitchen and hot water tank. And furnace. It will most likely run in parallel with your water.

Here’s a skoolie conversion that does the propane – they are fun to watch, but I wouldn’t call them experts. It’s a great jumping off place, especially if you watch all their videos. They learn so much by mistake, which is how many of us learn. <-- Ian Robinson

Outdoor Propane tools can cause a bus fire, so make sure you know your propane setup and your state laws on propane canisters.


Alright, so how to do you get your internets on the road? Well, all phone companies have some sort of option, and you really need to be careful with your usage and be aware of what is available.

There are multiple solutions, and change yearly.

PAINTING THE ROOF The best thing to do is paint your roof white. There are those that think the temperature changes are negligible, and sure, we are dealing with a game of inches. But when you are looking at a difference of 4-10 degrees, it can make a HUGE difference in your power usage in cooling or heating.

So paint your roof. Use silicone or latex. Make sure it is RV roof paint, though general white paint can work. A discussion on the pros and cons of latex versus Silicone roof paints. A discussion on WHY you paint the roof white.