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Water System & Plumbing Guide for Camper Vans

With this guide, get started on your camper van water system and plumbing adventure. From this page, you’ll find resources on how to build a camper sink & faucet system, install a shower, and pick up key product recommendations that have made van life easier and more convenient.

Throughout our camper plumbing section, you’ll come across detailed diagrams and step-by-step installation instructions.

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Chapter 1: Fresh Water Tanks

If you carry water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and showering, you will need a tank to hold the ‘fresh’ water. This chapter discusses the different types of freshwater tanks and how much water you will need for your camper van.

1.1 – What Size Tank Do You Need?

The larger your tank, the longer you can travel without refilling with water. Everybody’s water usage rate is different, but to give you an idea, we list our daily water usage rates below.

  • Drinking: 0.5 gal/day (2L)
  • Meals: 0.5 gal/meal (2L)
  • Shower: 3 gal/use (14L)
  • Other: 0.1 gal/day (0.5L)

Our camper van has a 7-gallon portable tank for our sink/faucet and a 10-gallon fixed tank for our outdoor shower. Our 7-gallon tank lasts us ~4 days.

1.2 – Portable Containers

We recommend using portable water containers for people who don’t intend to spend much time in paid campgrounds with water services. They’re easy to disconnect (we’ll show you how below) and can be refilled practically anywhere, not just standard garden spigots.

If you choose a portable container, we recommend using the Reliance Aqua-Tainer. This is because the container cap has a unique spigot hole that we can utilize to connect the container to the water pump.

Reliance 7 Gallon Water Container

This removable 7-gallon tank lasts us ~4 days. Because the tank can be removed, it is easy to fill and clean. Useful cap design for attaching a PEX straw to draw water. Hard rigid plastic is durable for van life.

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The biggest downside of portable containers is that they have limited size options, with the largest practical size at 7 gallons (32L). But you can buy multiple containers and swap out the empty container for a full one.

Portable Container Setup Diagram

The diagram below shows how to set up the portable water container. Following this setup, you will have a water container to draw and deliver water to the pump, which is easily disconnected and removed when empty.

Diagram showing components required to integrate a portable water container into a camper van plumbing system
Modifying water container cap to integrate with a camper van plumbing system

Three things to pay attention to in the above diagram.

  1. PEX Pipe Straw: We crimped PEX pipe (blue) onto the  PEX to Male NPT fitting. The tube runs the length of the container and acts as a straw to draw out water to the pump.
  2. Water Tank Cap: See the two brass fittings that ‘sandwich’ the white tank cap. The PEX to Male NPT fitting inserts through the cap spigot hole and connects to the Quick Release.
  3. Quick Release Fitting: This is a tw0-piece fitting that easily separates at the middle. This is how to disconnect the water container from the rest of the system. In this diagram, you only see the bottom half.
Materials List

When finished, the Reliance water container cap should look like in the pictures below. When we want to integrate the water container with the rest of the van’s water system, we insert the PEX straw into the container, tighten the cap, and connect the quick-release bottom half with the upper half.

Note: In the photo, we used RED PEX for the straw, but in the diagrams, we used BLUE PEX to denote cold water.

Showing how to connect PEX pipe to a water container cap to create a straw
Side view of water tank cap
Showing how to insert a metal plumbing fitting through the water container cap
The underside of a water tank cap

For more information on connecting a portable container to the water pump and faucet, read our sink plumbing guide.

1.3 – Fixed Tanks

If you require lots of fresh water (5+ gallons/day), a fixed water tank is what you should be using. Fixed tanks can be installed inside or outside the camper van and can range in size between 10-65 gallons.

We recommend the ‘spouted’ RV tanks from Class A Customs. The unique spouted design simplifies the installation process, which we detail further below.

Recommended Fixed Tank
Class A Customs Spouted 20 Gallon Water Tank

We also use a water tank from Class A Customs and love the strong, rigid plastic build. We recommend getting a 'spouted' water tank, which simplifies the water inlet installation process.

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The biggest downside of fixed tanks is that they’re more expensive, require more fittings, and are more technical (but not impossible) to install.

Fixed Tank Setup

When setting up a fixed tank, there are normally four ports to be aware of.

Fresh Water Tank Ports/Openings
  1. Water Inlet: This is where water enters the tank. (Top right)
  2. Air Vent: Where air enters and is displaced when water enters and exits the tank. (Top left)
  3. Drain: To drain water during maintenance and vehicle storage. (Bottom left)
  4. Water Outlet: Where water exits to the water pump, faucet, and/or shower. (Bottom right)

In the diagram below, we show you how to set up the fixed tank for all ports EXCEPT the water outlet. One thing to pay attention to in the diagram is that we provide two options to fill the water tank. It is up to you to decide which of the two options best suits you.

  1. Fill Tube: Connect a standard hose to fill the tube and insert the front tip into the tank. Note: The water inlet port must be easily accessible.
  2. Water Inlet Dish: Connect a standard hose to the water inlet dish, which is installed on the outside wall of the vehicle. The backside of the dish is connected to the tank’s water inlet port.
Connecting various plumbing components to a fixed water tank
Materials List

For more information on connecting a fixed tank to the water pump, read our shower plumbing guide.

Need more tank information? Check out our camper van water tanks post for a comprehensive breakdown of all the different types of tanks available for vans and RVs.

Chapter 2: Plumbing Materials & Fittings

Once you have selected the fresh water tank, you will need to connect the tank to the water pump, faucet, and shower. To make these connections will involve piping and various plumbing fittings. Below, we detail many of the basic plumbing materials you’ll need.

2.1 – Plumbing Pipes

There are three pipe materials to choose from when building a camper van water system, each with its pros & cons.

 
 
 
  • Tough
  • Long lasting
  • Aesthetic
  • Cheap
  • Easy to install
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to cut & install
  • Lightweight
  • Great for tight spaces
  • Vibration resistant
  • Difficult to cut & nstall
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Susceptible to vibration
  • Not heat resistant
  • Not ideal for tight spaces
  • More expensive than PVC
  • Tough
  • Long lasting
  • Aesthetic
  • Difficult to cut & nstall
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Cheap
  • Easy to install
  • Lightweight
  • Susceptible to vibration
  • Not heat resistant
  • Not ideal for tight spaces
  • Easy to cut & install
  • Lightweight
  • Great for tight spaces
  • Vibration resistant
  • More expensive than PVC

It’s no secret that we recommend PEX tubing when installing the plumbing system. It’s a material that is easy to use, even for absolute beginners, and is virtually leak-proof if installed correctly. Below, we recommend a PEX Kit, which includes the tubing, installing tools, and all the fittings you’ll need for a simple water system installation in a van.

PEX Pipe Kit (1/2")

Convenient all-in-one plumbing kit. Includes blue & red 1/2" PEX pipe, ring clasps, brass fittings, and assembly tools. Everything you need to get started ASAP.

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*Note: PEX pipe is supplied in two different inner diameters: 1/2″ & 3/4″. For most camper vans, 1/2″ pipes are sufficient.

PEX Installation Tutorial

To see just how easy it is to cut, crimp, and attach PEX piping, check out the below installation tutorial.

Installing PEX how to attached and crimp fittings

For more specific information on PEX pipes, read our PEX pipe for camper vans post.

2.2 – Common Fittings

Most common household plumbing fittings are manufactured to standard 1/2″ and 3/4″ threads, called National Pipe Thread (NPT). Since we recommend using 1/2″ PEX tubing, we recommend 1/2″ NPT fittings.

‘Male’ & ‘female’ terminology is commonly used to describe plumbing fittings. The male end has threads on the outside of the fitting, and the female end has threads on the inside of the fitting. The male end is inserted into the female end to connect two fittings.

Indicating male and female NPT fittings
Male and female NPT fittings

2.3 – Gaskets

There is a good chance that when you connect two NPT fittings together, there will be a leak between them. (We had three leaks in our own van). These leaks happen because the tip of the male connection isn’t compressing properly against the base of the female fitting. That’s why we recommend picking up a pack of rubber ring gaskets.

How to use: Fit a single ring gasket inside the female end and insert the male end. Ensure there is a solid compression onto the rubber ring.

1/2" Rubber Washer Gaskets
$6.59 ($0.33 / Count)

Place in between 1/2" NPT fittings to create a water-tight, leak-proof connection between them.

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04/07/2024 02:17 pm GMT

Chapter 3: Water Pumps

You have the freshwater tanks and the plumbing pipes; now, you need a device that draws the water from the tanks and delivers it to its intended destination. That’s the job of a water pump. In this section, we go over several popular RV pumps and how to integrate one into a camper van’s water system.

3.1 – Electrical Pumps

Electric pumps operate on 12-volt DC power and deliver a strong flow rate (up to 3 gallons/minute). The Shurflo-branded pumps are specifically designed for marine and RV applications and are the most popular for DIY van conversions.

Though there will be electrical wiring required, this should not be overly complicated to do if you skip to section 3.4 – Water Pump Electrical Wiring and follow our diagram.

Top Pick
SHURFLO Water Pump

Compact electric water pump for camper vans & RVs. Can be installed in any direction and comes with attached wires to connect to the leisure batteries. Pair with filter, accumulator, and silencing kit to complete installation.

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3.2 – Manual Pumps

Manual water pumps are a popular alternative for people who want to conserve water & electricity and for those on tight van conversion budgets. If we had to pick between a foot and hand pump, we would go with the foot pump to make dish washing easier.

3.3 – Popular Pump Accessories

If you choose to install an electric pump, there are a number of great accessories to help you get the most out of the pump.

  • Pump Silencer Kit: Mutes the noise from the pump by reducing vibrations
  • Pump Filter: Strains out unwanted sediment before they enter and damage the pump.
  • Adapter: Connects pump to accumulator
  • Accumulator: Maintains water pressure in the water system to smooth out flow and reduces pump workload.

In the diagram below, you can see how the water pump and the four accessories fit together to form a connected group.

Diagram connecting 12V water pump to the pump strainer, adapter, and accumulator
Water pump accessories

Material List

3.4 – Water Pump Electrical Wiring

Wiring a 12V electric pump to the leisure batteries isn’t as daunting as it might seem. In the electrical diagram below, we show you how to connect the pump to the 12V panel via a switch.

Wiring 12V water pump to switch and fuse panel
Wiring water pump to switch and fuse panel

For more information on wiring the panel to the batteries, read our 12V installation guide.

Materials List

For more detailed information on water pumps and how to install them, read our camper van water pumps post.

Chapter 4: Hot Water Heaters

If you think van life means taking cold water showers, think again. It is absolutely possible to have a reliable source of hot water in your camper van. In this section, we go over water heater options and how to set them up.

4.1 – Electric Heaters

Electric water heaters can be a fantastic option for camper vans provided you have a robust electrical system to meet the demands on the heater. This 2.5-gallon mini-tank from Bosch is a popular model and one that we personally installed in our own van.

Top Heater Pick
Bosch Electric Water Heater (2.5-Gallon)
$231.99

Compact, yet powerful, mini water heater. Plugs into standard household sockets. Requires 1440W, but you will need a 3000W inverter to power this heater.

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04/21/2024 05:56 pm GMT

How Much Electricity To Power An Electric Heater?

Electrical sizing for water heaters is an inexact science that depends on your usage. For example, two people taking showers every day is a different conversation than a single traveler who showers twice a week.

But based on our personal experience, we recommend the following minimum electrical system for anyone who seeks to install an electrical heater in their van conversion.

  • 3,600Wh of lithium batteries (12V x 300Ah)
  • 300W of solar panels
  • 30A DC-DC charger
  • 3000W inverter

Electric Heater Diagram

Below is a diagram showing how you can integrate an electric hot water heater with a water pump. After the heater, the water lines lead to a water mixer valve and then to the shower head.

Connecting the 12V water pump to an electric water heater and a shower head.
Connecting pump to heater and shower head

For complete plumbing diagrams with a heater, read our camper van shower plumbing guide.

4.2 – Propane Heaters

Propane heaters require natural gas to create the fire that heats the water and, therefore, don’t have the same power requirements that electric heaters demand. The great thing about these heaters is that there are a number of compact & portable models specifically designed for camper vans & RVs.

Portability Pick
Portable Propane Water Heater (1.32 GPM)

At only 10lbs, this compacy portable propane water heater makes an easy addition to any van conversion. Connects directly to any standard propane tank and feeds hot water to the provided shower head.

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The biggest downside of relying on a propane water heater is that, due to its high propane usage rate, you will need to carry a sizable propane with you.

4.3 – Solar Showers

We also carry a solar shower bag, and we love it. It is our primary shower solution because it requires no electricity or propane to generate hot water. We simply fill the bag with water, put the bag out in the sun, and have hot water ~3 hours later. (If it’s a cloudy day, we boil a few cups of hot water with our camping stove and mix it in with cold water).

Top Shower Pick
Advanced Elements Solar Shower - 3 Gallons
$33.59

Forget the plumbing, this solar shower bag is the perfect solution for minimalist van life. Fill the bag with water, lay it out in the sun, and several hours later you have hot water. No sun? Boil some water and mix it with half a bag of cold water.

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04/08/2024 04:17 pm GMT

A solar shower is also a great solution because it packs away and takes up virtually no storage space when we don’t need it. After all, it’s just a thick plastic bag. This is unlike an electric or propane heater, which takes up space even if you don’t need to use it.

Chapter 5: Water Faucets

There are numerous faucet models for you to choose from, and it’s up to you to find a design that best fits your van conversion. Most standard hot/cold water faucets will come attached to two supply hoses. The cold line connects to the water pump, while the hot line connects to the water heater.

water faucet diagram showing hot and cold supply hoses

In most camper van conversions, the water faucet is only connected via the cold line, and the hot line is closed off. This is because it is typically not worth the electricity/propane required to heat water just for washing dishes.

2.1 – Faucet Plumbing Diagram

In the below diagram, we detail how to connect the water faucet to the pump. You can see how only the cold line is connected to the pump. The hot line connects to a stop valve, which is turned to the ‘off’ position.

Diagram connecting water pump to water faucet
Water pump to faucet

Materials List

2.2 – Faucet Recommendations

Water faucets come in a dizzying array of sizes, shapes, colors, and features. It’s up to you to sort through them all to find one that most appeals to you. In our camper van, we selected a ‘gooseneck’ style faucet with a pull-down head. Read our APPASO faucet review for more information.

Showing how the camper faucet swivels to the side & out of the way

Our Recommendation: Avoid small, compact faucets designed for camper vans. These ‘space efficient’ models make dishwashing a frustrating chore. Instead, opt for a full-size faucet that can spray water directly in the center of the sink. This makes washing up a simple affair.

GIMILI Pull Down Faucet
$59.19

We've been using a pull-down faucet like this model and love it. We love the two different spray modes, the pull down spray feature, and that the hole faucet swivels out of the way when not needed.

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04/07/2024 02:01 pm GMT

Chapter 6: RV Sinks

Just like with faucets, there are lots of different sink designs to choose from. Two of the most important sink terminologies to know are in regards to how the sink is mounted to the countertop.

  • Under Mount Sink: Installed from under the countertop.
  • Top Mount Sinks: Inserted from above and sits on top of the countertop.

We use a top mount sink in our camper van and believe they’re easier to install since the sinks simply ‘drop in’.

Under mount sink from Ruvati
Under mount sink example
Top mount sink from Ruvati
Top mount sink example

Our Recommendation: Since we intended to cook frequently in our van, we opted for a high-quality, spacious sink to make meal prep and cleanup easier. We love the Ruvati sink because it meets our demands for a robust and functional sink design. It is also designed for mobile homes and includes a drying rack and cutting board that fits snugly into the sink when driving.

Read our Ruvati sink review for more information.

Ruvati 15x15" RV Sink (Top Mount)

We love our Ruvati sink. Spacious design and solid stainless steel construction will meet your demands for a high-quality & robust sink solution. Includes cutting board & drying rack, which nestles inside the sink during driving days. Makes dish-washing duty a breeze.

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For complete sink/faucet plumbing diagrams, read our camper van sink installation guide.

Chapter 7: Grey Water Tanks

These tanks hold all the ‘greywater,’ which is dirty water that comes from the sink and shower. Grey water does not include toilet water, urine, or anything with strong chemicals, which is all considered ‘blackwater.’

7.1 – What Size Tank Do You Need?

The amount of grey water that your camper van will produce is dependent on your water usage rate. In our case, we create about 1.5 gallons of grey water daily, most of which comes from washing dishes (~2 meals per day). So our 6-gallon portable tank fits our needs.

However, if you intend to cook more frequently and/or plan to have an indoor shower, you may want to opt for a larger fixed tank so that you aren’t looking for a dump station every other day.

7.2 – Portable Tank

Portable grey water tanks are the perfect solution for camper vans that do not require lots of daily water usage. And because these tanks are small and easy to carry, they can be dumped virtually anywhere that you can find a public toilet, including:

  • Gas stations
  • Rest areas
  • Campgrounds
  • McDonald’s/Walmart

*We just try to be discreet when we do dump our small tank.

Recommendation

We recommend the Reliance 6-gallon container. Its narrow, compact design makes it fit neatly under the sink without demanding lots of precious real estate. But more importantly, the container comes with a white funnel, which is used to help pour water out of the container. In our case, we inverted the funnel to extend inside the container. Then, we fit the Camco sink drain tube into the funnel, where it sits snugly.

Recommended Grey Tank
Reliance 6 Gallon Rigid Water Container
$27.89

Ideal portable water container for grey water since Camco sink drain fits snuggly into funnel, when inverter inside container. Read installation guide below for more information.

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04/08/2024 02:52 pm GMT

Diagram

In the below diagram, we show how to hook up the sink to the sink drain and finally to the grey water tank.

Chapter 8: Toilets

Don’t lie; one of the first thoughts you had when you decided to try van life was how you would deal with the bathroom situation. That was us, too!

In essence, there are four general bathroom options for a camper van:

  • Composting Toilet
  • Chemical Toilet
  • Foldable Toilet (with plastic bag)
  • No toilet

We purchased a compact Porta-Potty chemical toilet to start, but never used it once in 7 months of travel. So we threw our toilet away and NEVER LOOKED BACK!

Seriously. After more than two years since the toilet purge, we’ve been improvising just fine. And we think you’ll be OK, too.

That’s not to say we don’t have a toilet ‘solution’. Learn more by clicking the link below.

Related read: Do You REALLY Need A Camper Toilet?

Chapter 9: Sanitize A Water System

Once every 3-4 months, we like to sanitize our water & plumbing system by flushing chlorine solution through our water tanks, pipes, and pump.

Water Tank Sanitization Steps

  1. Prepare a chlorine solution by mixing ¼ cup of household, unscented bleach with one gallon of water.
  2. You will need one gallon of this chlorine solution for each 15 gallons of tank capacity.
  3. Never pour pure bleach directly into your water tanks
  4. Pour the diluted chlorine solution into your water tank and fill the remaining capacity with water.
  5. Turn on the water pump and allow the chlorine solution to sit in the pipes.
  6. Allow the solution to sit in the water tank and pipes for 3 hours.
  7. After 3 hours, drain and flush with fresh water

Camper Van Water System Video Tour

【車中泊仕様】DIY経験ゼロの初心者がキャンピングカーを完全自作 【バンライフ】

In our van tour video above, we skip directly to our campervan’s water system. Here, we talk about our sink and faucet installation and give a quick look at what’s under the sink.

We hope you enjoy!

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