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Having running water and some sort of plumbing system inside your van can make your vanlife experience go from feeling like a weekend camping trip to having a true tiny home on wheels. When we decided to build out our own conversion van we immediately knew that running water was a super important feature to us, but honestly, we had no idea how to even begin. When we built out our van there were not as many ebooks and youtube videos on the subject as there are now. We spend hours inside of Lowe’s trying to fit pieces together to make the perfect system for inside the van.
With the help of several Lowe’s employees, we finally figured out how to have the perfect system. I don’t want you to have to go through the same thing! This is why I have created a guide on how to build your van water and plumbing systems.
Conversion Van Water and Plumbing Components
When you are beginning to plan out your conversion van water and plumbing systems, first you need to look at each individual component. From the type of sink you want, your water pump, and even what you want your water system to look like.
Choosing a Vanlife Sink
When picking out the sink to go into your van it isn’t as simple as finding one you think is pretty. There are quite a few considerations you need to make that ensure your new sink will fit properly and make sense for the build that you have.
Things to consider when choosing a vanlife sink:
- Dimensions of the sink: Make sure to consider the dimensions of your sink as you likely will have fresh and grey water tanks underneath your sink.
- Height of your cabinet: You also need to know the dimensions of your cabinets as this will determine how much depth you have from the top of the counter to the floor.
- Decide the layout of your counter: When picking out a sink you need to know how your build is going to be laid out. Where in the build is your sink going to go? Will your stovetop or oven also need to fit on the same countertop?
- Undermount or Drop-in sink: All sinks are not the same. Some sinks are under-mount which means they go under the countertop and others are drop-in which means it literally sets on top of the countertop. From personal experience, I would say that a drop-in sink is easier to install and is less likely to have issues with mold or water retention.
- Holes available: If you want to have a spigot for filtered water and/or soap then check to make sure the sink has the appropriate amount of holes for each item. For example, we knew we wanted to have a soap container, one faucet, and a filtered water spigot.
Choosing a Vanlife Water Tank
In your conversion van if you want to have a plumbing system then you will need to choose a freshwater tank where you keep all your water for drinking, washing dishes, and possibly even showering. The water tank options are endless and you can use any type of tank that you want but these are the top used and suggested for their ease of use, price point, and portability.
Types of Vanlife Water Tanks
Exterior Water Tanks Types
Many vanlifers opt for a water tank that goes underneath the outside of their van. It’s great for being able to have more water available without taking up space inside the campervan.
Interior Fresh Water Tanks
We opted to have freshwater tanks inside our van, that way we could remove them and fill them at any water refill station. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry too much about them freezing and busting if they are inside your insulated van.
Vanlife Grey Water Options
Hole in Floor: Often vanlifers will cut a hole in the floor of their van which directly connects to their sink drain.
Interior Grey Water Tank: An interior grey water tank is probably the most used option in the vanlife community as you have more control over where your water is going and when to dump it. You connect your sink drain to a water tank via the camco sink drain hose which allows you to dump the tank when it gets full.
Exterior Grey Water Tank: Another option is to have your grey tank be underneath the outside of your van. This means you would have more space for greywater and don’t have to worry about dumping it as often.
How to Get Running Water in a Van
To get running water inside your van you need to have a way to get the water from your water tank into your sink. You can do this through a manual water pump or an electric water pump.
Manual Water Pump
A manual foot or hand pump is a cheap and easy option to get running water into your van. Basically, the pump is on the floor or beside the faucet and you use your foot or hand to pump it several times to get fresh water from your jugs to your faucet.
Pros: Cheap, easy to install, does not need any power to utilize, uses less water since it comes out pump by pump.
Cons: You cannot have a water filter since you need an electric pump.
Electric Water Pump (Our Choice)
Despite living in a campervan it’s possible to have an electric water pump for your water system. There are 12V electric water pumps available that you can hook up to your solar system which will allow you to have a water filter as well as pressurized water for showering or washing dishes. The electric water filter was an absolute must for me as I am super picky about the flavor of my water and sometimes we get potable water from friend’s houses and other sources that don’t always taste the best. Not to mention the water can take on the flavor of the container it’s stored in.
Pros: easy to access water, can use an electric filter
Cons: More expensive, can use more water
It’s time to pick out your water faucet! The main consideration here is how tall the water faucet is and whether you want one single faucet or if you want to have a hot and cold water handle. Personally for your van, it’s simpler and easier to have one handle that connects to the faucet. This allows room for you to have the water filter, faucet, and a spot for a soap dispenser.
Originally we purchased a more expensive faucet and it ended up breaking in an ice storm (hint: get all the water out of your line if it’s going to drop below freezing). Afterward, we went ahead and purchased a cheaper faucet that we personally love. The only thing that would be nice is if it had a hose that would allow you to pull out and clean the sink or possibly rinse off outside depending on your campervan layout.
How to install a water system in your van
Below is how we installed our water pump with a few revisions for the way we will do it in our next build. The van water and plumbing system was one of the more confusing things we had to do in our van and hopefully our instructions make it a little easier on you!
Here is a complete list of supplies you will need before installing your van water and plumbing system.
a) Shurflo pump
b) 1/2 in ID “internal diameter” clear braided tubing the length will depend on where your tanks are located in comparison to the Shurflo pump.
c) Hose clamps for each end of the pump and any connections you may have after the pump depending on whether or not you use a filter.
h) Sink and faucet of choice
Before we get too far into this installation make sure to use plumbing tape on all threaded connections.
Step 1: Mounting Your Pump
Step 2: Connecting Your Water Pump to Filter
Run clear braided tubing (b) from the outlet side of the pump to the supplied white plastic cutoff coupling that comes with the Premier water filter. Use a hose clamp (c) to securely fasten your hose to the outlet side of the pump. Use the 1/2in barbed to 1/2in male threaded coupling (e) to connect the braided tubing (b) with a hose clamp (c) to the cutoff coupling supplied with your filter.
Step 3: Attaching the PEX Pipe
Attach the 1/2 in PEX male pipe thread x 1/2 in female swivel (f) to the coupling supplied with the water filter, and use plumbing tape on the threads.
Step 4: Connecting hot and cold water lines
Next, attach the hot and cold water lines from your faucet to the threaded male ends of the PEX coupling with plumber’s tape.
Step 5: Mounting your Water Filter
Mount your water filter, then run one end of the green hose supplied with your water filter to the white filter coupling and attach via the press-fit spout on the bottom side of the coupling. Next, run the other end of the supplied green hose to the filter inlet side, this will just screw on with all the supplied hardware that comes with the filter kit.
Step 6: Connecting the filter water line
Run one end of the blue hose supplied with the filter kit to your filter faucet then attach the other end to your outlet side of the filter, this will screw on with the supplied hardware just like the green hose.
Step 7: Connecting Your Grey Tank
Attach the Camco flexible drain trap hose system (g) to your sink and run the drain hose to your grey tank. Remember to use plumber’s tape on those threads.
Step 8: Power Your Water Pump
Finally, wire in your pump to power and test run some water through your system to check for leaks.
Notes for the filter: In the fine print of your filter installation manual it will say you may need to run a few gallons of water through before drinking to clear any debris and prep the filter for use.
The system described above has been phenomenal for the past 2 years without any issues. With that being said in our next build, the only thing we will do differently from the set up above is add a Shurflo accumulator tank after the pump. The accumulator tank will smooth water pulsations at the faucet and reduce the pump from cycling, therefore, keeping water pressure up and the pump motor cool. This will also increase the life of your Shurflo pump, save battery life, and reduce pump noise.