Water System Guide for DIY Camper Van Conversion

Water System Guide for DIY Camper Van Conversion

Camper-Van-Water-System-(Heading-1920px)

Here is our guide on how to build a DIY water system in a camper van conversion. Having running water and a hot shower draws the line between “van camping” and “van life”, so it’s well worth the efforts. Designing a van’s water system is much simpler than the electrical system. A few items will do the trick: a water pump, fresh & grey water tanks, a sink, and some plumbing hardware. Let’s build stuff!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not.

Portrait-FarOutRide-Isabelle-Antoine-Van

1- Campervan Water System In A Nutshell

The role of the water pump is to create and maintain the pressure in the system at all times. As a result, opening one (or multiple) faucet(s) will produce water immediately. But taking water out of the system lowers the pressure… that’s OK because the water pump is pressure-activated; there is no ON/OFF switch. When the pressure drops because a faucet is opened, the pump senses it and starts pumping to bring back the pressure, and it will continue pumping until the full pressure is restored. 

The accumulator creates a pressure buffer. A larger volume of water has to be taken out of the system in order to lower the pressure. As a result, the water pump starts less often and the pressure is more constant. Note that the accumulator is optional.

The grey water tank collects water from the sink. We opted for a relatively small, portable grey water tank (there’s a handle on it) that is connected to the system via a quick-disconnect; so it’s very easy to dump it. Note that we also have the option to dump grey water through the floor, depending on where we’re parked.

We do not need a black water tank because we have a composting toilet. At last, we added a propane instant hot shower and a bike wash to the system. The final result looks like this:

Faroutride Van Interior (1200px)
Sink.
FarOutRide Garage Van Conversion
Hot shower and bike wash.

1.1- Water System Diagram

Hover your mouse on components to learn more, and click to follow the link!
Tap on components to learn more!

1.2- Items List

ComponentDescriptionQuantityBuy Link
MAIN
Fresh Water Tank25 Gallons1Amazon
Test PlugTo plug the fill hole of the water tank1Amazon
Water Tank Filler with valveTo fill the water tank1Amazon
Fitting: 1/2″ MPT to 3/8″ BarbTo install the vent hose1Amazon
Hose: 3/8″ I.D. clearThat’s the vent hose1Amazon
Fitting: 1/2″ MPT to 1/2″ PEXTo install the drain valve1Amazon
Valve: 1/2″ PEXTo drain the fresh water tank1Amazon
Fitting: Shurflo 1/2″ MPT to 1/2″ Hose BarbTo install the vinyl tubing for the drain1Amazon
Tubing: 1/2″ Braided Vinyl ClearFlexible drain that can be folded away1Amazon
Shurflo Water PumpDiaphragm Pump, 3 gallons per minute, 55 PSI1Amazon
Shurflo AccumulatorTo reduce cycling1Amazon
Shurflo StrainerPrevent damaging the pump if crap enters the system…1Amazon
Shurflo Silencer KitReduce noise from pump vibration1Amazon
ON/OFF switch“Emergency” water pump switch1Amazon
Fitting, “Tee”: 1/2″ PEX to 1/2″ PEX to 1/2″ PEXTo split the PEX pipe for sink & shower1Amazon
Valve: 1/2″ PEXWe turn this valve off in winter and drain to prevent freezing (we don’t use the shower or bike wash in winter)1Amazon
SINK AND GREY WATER
Dometic VA7306AC SinkThe sink… Campervan-HQ
Swivel Fitting: 1/2″ FPT to 1/2″ PEXTo connect the PEX pipe to the sink1Amazon
End Cap: 1/2″ FPTTo cap the unused hot water sink fitting (essential!)1Amazon
DrainThe sink does not include the drain, so make sure to order this!1Amazon
Camco Flexible Drain 1Amazon
Wye & ValvesTo direct grey water into aqua-tainer or through-floor1Amazon
Quick-ConnectTo easily detach the aqua-tainer for dumping1Amazon
Garden Hose 1Amazon
Hose Clamps, Worm-typeTo ensure the garden hose doesn’t slip out of the aqua-tainer1Amazon
Aqua-Tainer4 gallons grey water tank1Amazon
SHOWER
EccoTemp L5On-demand propane shower1Amazon
Swivel Elbow Fitting: 1/2″ FPT to 1/2″ PEXTo install the water valve1Amazon
Valve: 1/2″ PEXWater Valve1Amazon
Valve: 1/2″ FPT to 3/8″ FlarePropane Valve. See our Propane System article for more.1 
BIKE WASH
Spray Faucet with coil hose 1Amazon
Swivel Fitting: 1/2″ FPT to 1/2″ PEXTo connect the PEX pipe1Amazon
End Cap: 1/2″ FPTTo cap the unused hot water sink fitting (essential!)1Amazon
OTHERS
Fitting, “Tee”: 1/2″ PEXThis is required if, like us, installing both the shower & the bike wash1Amazon
Fitting, Elbow: 1/2″ PEXThe PEX pipe can bend 5″ radius max. For tighter turns, use this elbow.As RequiredAmazon
Bend SupportThis has less restriction than an elbowAs RequiredAmazon
PEX Tubing, 1/2″a.k.a. pipe, hose…As RequiredAmazon
Fitting, MISCWe can’t possibly list all the fittings you might need for your installation! Here is the complete SharkBite catalog. SharkBite Catalog
PEX CutterPEX tubing can be cut with a carpenter’s knife, but this tool will make your life easier1Amazon

2.1- Fresh Tank Anatomy

Fresh-Water-Tank-Anatomy-Description
Fresh Water Tank

2.1.1- Fill Port

You guessed it, the fill port is used to fill the tank. While motorhomes and most pro-built campervans have a port outside the van to fill the tank, we don’t because we don’t want the van to look like an RV; we like our van to look like a normal cargo van from the outside (people refer to that as being “stealth”). So here’s how we fill:

Faroutride Third Month Vanlife (15)

We carry a 50 feet hose (lead free and BPA free) to fill our fresh water tank. If we had to start over, we might consider carrying two 25 feet hoses, because 25 feet is what we need 95% of the time and using a longer hose slows down the process (more length adds flow restriction). So for the rare cases when we need over 25 feet, we could connect the two hoses together...

Because the hose end may be too large to fit in the fill port of the water tank, the use of this neat “Water Tank Filler” from Camco is handy. Plus, the Water Tank Filler has an integrated shut off valve, so the pressure can be turned off instantly when the tank is almost full (no spill), making the fill process a one-person job:

Camco Water Filler with shutoff valve 1
Camco Water Filler with shutoff valve

The tanks we recommend (see “Water Tank Links” table above) have 15/16″ inner diameter fill holes (no threads). We plug it using this test plug:

Water-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(plug)
Water Tank Vent and Fill Hole Plug

2.1.2- Water Pump Port

The tanks we recommend (see “Water Tank Links” table above) have 1/2″ NPT female outlet ports (so a 1/2″ NPT male fitting is required).

Fresh Water Tank Van Pump Connection

2.1.3- Drain Port

The tanks we recommend (see “Water Tank Links” table above) have 1/2″ NPT female outlet ports (so a 1/2″ NPT male fitting is required).

2.1.4- Vent Port

When pumping water out of the tank (or filling the tank), the water volume has to be replaced with air. That’s the role of the vent port. To prevent water coming out of the vent port (when braking or on steep or rough roads, for example), a hose is connected to the vent port, and we installed it about 15 inches higher than the tank.

The tanks we recommend (see “Water Tank Links” table above) have 1/2″ NPT female vent ports (so a 1/2″ NPT male fitting is required).

See section 1.3.1 for picture.

2.2- What Size?

It totally depends on your usage and how many days of autonomy (without having to fill) you want. As a rough guideline and to help you make your calculations, here is our usage living full-time in the van:

  • One shower (one person) uses a little less than 3 gallons of water (that’s being very careful not wasting water, i.e. turning shower off when soaping, etc.).
  • We dump between 2-4 gallons of grey water from the sink every day (we cook a lot, so we wash a lot of dishes; you might dump less than that).

That being said, we fill our 25 gallon tank every 4-5 days in summer (depending on showers). Every 7-10 days in winter (we shower in aquatic centers or gyms and try to fill our 1L water bottles as often as we can in public places).

When choosing the size of your tank, remember that water is not a luxury, it’s essential! Having to search for water frequently is no fun, so make sure to select a tank that gives you plenty of autonomy!

Water Tanks

SIZEBUY LINK
7 gallonAmazon
10 gallonAmazon
16 gallonAmazon
21 gallonAmazon
25 gallonAmazon
30 gallonAmazon
40 gallonAmazon

2.3- Inside or Outside the Van?

By installing our tank and plumbing inside the van, we can use our system even during skiing season, nice! We tested it in temperatures as low as -24F (-31°C). Of course, having the tank inside occupies precious space in the garage, but that’s a compromise we are happy to make.

If we were to use the van exclusively in summer, we might consider installing our tank outside the van, underfloor. Installing the tank underfloor frees garage space AND improves the van handling because it lowers the center of gravity.

If we were to start over, now that we know that we use much less water in winter, we would consider installing a tank inside the van AND a tank outside the van. The idea is to maximize water capacity without occupying too much space in the garage:

  • In summer, we would use both tanks (extra capacity for showers).
  • In winter, we would winterize the outside tank and use only the inside tank.
  • Remember, this extra precaution is because we use the van below freezing temperatures! If that’s not your case, there’s probably no point in doing this.
  • That’s food for thought, we don’t have any installation layout/details for that…

2.4- Wheel Well Water Tank

Wheel well water tanks are a thing now, and we wish that option existed when we built our van! As the name suggests, wheel well water tanks are shaped so that they embed over the wheel well. We see several benefits over the “old-school” rectangular tanks:

Space Optimization

Decrease the waste of space, increase the living/storage space. That’s the name of the game when building a van!

Lower Center of Gravity

The fresh water tank carries a significant weight; lowering the center of gravity will improve the handling of the van.

Simpler Installation

No need to build a raised shelf to clear the wheel well.

Where to buy

Northwest Conversions has the largest offering of wheel well water tanks, and it’s almost certain you’ll find a size and shape that suits your needs. Here are a few examples:

Water-Tank-Sprinter-Transit-Van-Wheel-Well-(SP-R-20-Gallon)
20 gallon.
Water-Tank-Sprinter-Transit-Van-Wheel-Well-(SP-C-32-Gallon)
32 gallon.
nwconversions-wheel-well-water-tank-(SP-R-L-AFT-scaled)
Weight distribution on point!

Sizes: 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 30 & 32 gallon.

3- Grey Water Tank

Grey water is what comes out of the sink drain (and shower, if we had one): water from washing dishes, washing our hands, brushing our teeth, etc. There is no excrement or chemicals in grey water.

Grey-Water-Valve-768x1024-(van)
Our take on the grey water system!

3.1- What Size?

That depends on how often you don’t mind having to empty it. As a guideline, we empty our 4 gallon grey water tank almost every day:

  • Washing dishes is what uses the most water. We cook a lot, so we wash a lot of dishes! You might get less grey water than we do.
  • If we use our hole-in-the-floor, we don’t have to empty our grey water tank every day…

3.2- Inside or Outside?

Because we use the van for skiing in winter, we had to install our grey water tank inside the van so it doesn’t freeze. It uses some space under the sink, but we’re happy that we can use our sink during winter!

The lowest temperature we have experienced so far is -31°C (-24F), and we could still use the water system! 🙂

4- Black Water Tank

We don’t have a black water tank and we don’t need to search for RV Dump Stations. Neat! How is that? Because we installed a Nature’s Head composting toilet 🙂 And we’re SO GLAD we did! We talk about our composting toilet here (how it works, how it’s emptied, what frequency, etc.):

5.1- Diaphragm Pump

A diaphragm pump keeps the water system pressurized at all times. It means having running water just like at home in a house. 

The pump has no on/off switch. It starts automatically when the pressure drops, and it shuts-off automatically when the appropriate pressure is reached. For example, using the sink (or shower, or whatever) creates a pressure drop; the pump senses it and runs until the pressure goes up again. 

One of the most common and reliable diaphragm pumps out there is made by Shurflo:

Shurflo Revolution 4008

  • Shut-Off Pressure: 55 PSI
  • Re-Start Pressure: 40 PSI
  • Recommended Fuse: 10 amps
  • Flow: 3 Gallons Per Minute

5.1.1- Connecting The Pump

The Shurflo Revolution 4008 has one 1/2″ NPS male inlet and one 1/2″ NPS male outlet. Because the pump produces quite a lot of vibration, it’s better to connect the pump using flexible pipes. We recommend using the Silencer Kit from Shurflo:

It’s also a good idea to install a strainer at the inlet port of the pump, so debris can’t find its way through the pump and damage it:

We connected the silencer to the strainer with this fitting (to save some space):

5.1.1- Electrical Wiring

By now, we understand that a diaphragm pump doesn't require an ON/OFF switch... However, we recommend adding one to manually shut the pump off. It'll prevent the pump from running indefinitely when the fresh water tank runs empty (it'll happen!). 

The pump has to be connected to the electrical system. Don't worry, we also have a guide for that 🙂

5.2- Manual Pump

To keep things really simple and to save on electricity, a manual pump can be installed:

6- Accumulator

If installing a diaphragm pump (like the Shurflo we recommend), you might consider adding an accumulator. The accumulator contributes to longer pump life, less noise, less amperage draw, and reduced water pulsation. It also reduces cycling (the pump starts less often), nice.

Per manufacturer: “The most efficient use of the accumulator occurs with the accumulator pressure set at the same pressure as the pump’s re-start setting.” (Hint: it’s 40 PSI for the Shurflo Revolution 4008 pump). We tested different pressures, and we prefer to set it to 30 PSI as the water volume capacity is greater at that pressure (therefore, the pump cycles less).

The pressure can be checked with a normal tire gauge (you have one in your glove compartment, right?) and adjusted with a bike pump (it’s a schrader valve), it’s super easy. When checking or adjusting pressure, just remember to turn off the pump and to open the sink faucet (this is to read the static pressure). The accumulator comes unpressurized.

Shurflo Accumulator

7.1- For Pressurized System

Pretty much any sink will do. We have the Dometic VA7306AC sink because it’s compact, foldable and looks great. If your counter space is limited, it’s a great way to optimize it. The only downside we found is that the foldable faucet is in the way when washing/rinsing large items (such as full size plates or pot/pan); we wish it was located further back so we didn’t have to swing it around.

Edit 2020: Looks like Dometic is now making this sink square (VA8005 model) instead of round (VA7306AC model):

Dometic Sink

(Faucet is sold separately, see product description)

A newer option that recently caught our attention! It looks super classy, yet functional. We would love to see one in person (if you have one, please send us your feedback!)

  • Made from 3mm stainless steel coated with a thick layer of oil-free nanotechnology coating resistant to staining.
  • Folding faucet (included).
  • Removable cover (can be used as a cutting board!).
  • Cold & hot water fittings: 1/2″ NPT.
  • Drain size: 3-1/2″ fitting (strainer not included).
  • Exterior dimensions: 450mm x 390mm (17.72″ x 15.35″).
  • Interior dimensions: 380mm x 347mm (14.96″ x 13.66″).
  • Cutout: 420mm x 365mm (16.54″ x 14.37″).
  • Depth: 238mm (9.37″)

Tec Vanlife

Ships to USA and Canada. More photos on TecVan.ca

7.2- For Manual Pump

If going for a manual pump, keep things simple!

8.1- Nope

We don’t have hot water in the sink, and we’re totally OK with it: we just use our kettle to heat water. That’s the most economical way (water and gas) for sure! The most annoying part is that it’s not really practical to rinse the dishes using the kettle, so we rinse using cold water; that makes drying the dishes more difficult. For everything else, we don’t mind.

Kettle With Thermometer

8.2- Propane

8.2.1- Tankless Water Heater (On-Demand)

As the name suggests, a tankless water heater has no tank. Water is heated instantly on-demand, so it can provide a continuous flow of hot water. It’s super-efficient since it doesn’t have to keep water hot all day.

Mr. Heater BOSS

This is what we used for the first 10 months in our van. But then we realized we don't need to have a portable system. It is quite bulky and cannot be integrated to our water system. So we decided to try something else...

Eccotemp L5

We've been using the Eccotemp since 2018 and we're super happy with it. It's good, cheap, and easy to install. It can be integrated into a pressurized system, it's not bulky, and the water is surprisingly HOT.

8.2.2- Water Heater With Tank

Atwood has a wide range of water heater models, but the one that catches our attention is the G8A-6E model:

  • Tank Capacity: 6 gallons
  • Water Temperature: 100F to 150F
  • Energy: Propane
  • Recovery: 11.6 gallons per hour
  • Dimensions: 16″ high x 12.5″ wide x 18″ deep

Make sure to check Atwood’s website for all their available models: http://www.atwoodmobile.com/water-heaters.asp

Atwood 6 Gallon Water Heater

8.3- Diesel

If budget is not an issue, you might consider the Webasto Dual Top Evo. It’s an air heater (similar to ours: faroutride.com/air-heater-installation) AND water heater combined. It works with diesel and has an 11 liter water tank integrated. Fun fact: it’s over $3K…

Webasto Dual Top Evo

9- Bike Wash

Washing a bike uses quite a lot of water, so we obviously don’t use it very frequently. But there are some occasions where the bike wash is a real life saver; removing a layer of mud from the down tube by hand is no fun!

Now, can someone explain why Antoine is CONSTANTLY walking in dog poo while Isabelle is not??! We’re thinking of renaming it the “Dog Poop Wash” as it has become the primary use…

Exterior Spray Faucet

10- Pipes & Fittings

10.1- Pipes

Let’s get straight to the point, PEX tubing is what you want.

  • PEX tubing has become the standard for houses and RVs.
  • It’s cheap and readily available in any hardware or RV store.
  • It comes in red/blue color to differentiate hot/cold side (both colors have the same properties).
  • It resists freezing (but fittings might crack, don’t let it freeze!) and high-temperature.
  • It’s easy to cut, easy to connect, and easy to route (flexibility: 5″ minimum radius for 1/2″ diameter PEX).
  • It won’t corrode.
  • Note that PEX is NOT UV resistant and should not be installed under constant sun exposure.

PEX tubing can be cut with a carpenter’s knife, but a PEX cutter will make your life easier:

10.2- Fittings

10.2.1- Clamping

This is the method we recommend for permanent, leak-free connections. It’s easy, fast, fun (yep!) and there is very little chance for error. It’s also good to know that a clamp tool can clamp any ring size (as opposed to crimp). Here is how it goes:

  1. Insert the clamp ring on the outside of the PEX tubing.
  2. Insert the barbed fitting into the PEX tubing.
  3. Using the Clamp Tool, compress the clamp ring. The clamp tool will not release from the clamp ring unless a properly-secured connection has been made; therefore, a GO/NO-GO gauge is not required!
pex-crimp-fittings-pex-pipe-fittings-images

PEX Clamp Tool

For 3/8" up to 1" rings

PEX Clamp Rings

1/2"

10.2.2- Crimping

Crimping is very similar to Clamping; a crimp ring is used instead of a clamp ring. Both methods give equally good results, except a GO/NO-GO gauge has to be used for crimping to ensure the crimp ring was sufficiently deformed. Crimping is the cheapest method for large projects.

pex-crimp-fittings-pex-pipe-fittings-images

PEX Crimp Tool

For 1/2" rings

PEX Crimp Rings

1/2"

10.2.3- Compression Fittings

The disadvantage with clamp/crimp is that it might be impossible to operate the tool in tight spaces. In that case, you could use Flair-it compression fittings as they require no tool for installation. We personally haven’t tried them, but they’re quite popular in the RV industry. Flair-It fittings come in a variety of shapes and functions:

10.2.4- Push-To-Connect Fittings

Push-to-Connect fittings are almost too good to be true. Just push the PEX tubing into the fitting and voilà! …In fact, maybe they are indeed too good to be true. We tried them and when we pressurized the system, many fittings had slow leaks.

  • Slow leaks are the worst because they’re hard to notice and could create damage in the long run… Why did we have a slow leak? The Sea Tech fittings rely on an O-ring that goes on the outside of the PEX tubing (not inside); the surface of the PEX tubing must be scratch and damage free. These fittings are “reusable”, but the action of disconnecting creates scratches on the outside surface of the tubing…
  • O-Rings dry and lose efficiency in the long run.
  • Some people reported having no issue at all after many years, but we think they are too sensitive to install, to outside tubing surface conditions and to O-ring deterioration. We’re not 100% confident, so we pass (we would be OK with them for temporary repair or outside installation).

10.2.5- Threaded Fittings

For all threaded plastic fittings:

  • Do not use Teflon tape or Teflon paste! These are lubricant, not sealant, designed for metal fittings and they will promote over-tightening of plastic fittings = cracks = leaks.
  • Don’t over-tighten: finger tighten plus one or two turns.
  • Use non-hardening, plastic-safe, non-toxic thread sealant (not lubricant). It’s a paste that does not dry and can be removed easily (not permanent).
  • We did not use thread sealant on the Shurflo fittings attached to Shurflo appliances (pump & accumulator).

Thread Sealant

Compatible with plastic fittings (PVC, CPVC, ABS, Nylon). Non-toxic (OK for potable water). Non-hardening. See product info (pdf).

11.1- To Winterize

When water turns from liquid into ice, its volume expands by approximately 9%; as a result, any water trapped into a component that freezes will crack said component.

In an RV, it is almost impossible to completely drain the water from everything. The best way to achieve this would be to use an air compressor to blow out the system, but it’s not guaranteed to work… That’s why most people winterize their water system with antifreeze.

Our water system, however, is quite simple; there are few components, and these components are all accessible. So it can be winterized by draining all the water and without adding antifreeze. Empty the water tank completely and, with the pump activated, open each faucet independently (sink, hot shower, bike wash) for a rough “pre-drain”. Disconnect the water pump, the accumulator, the hot shower (Eccotemp), and the bike wash. Water will come out, so have a large bowl and some towels ready! If you can, take all these appliances inside your house for the winter (hey, the removal should only take a few minutes of your time it’s not that bad!). If removing them is not possible, blow out with compressed air to drain them well. Be extra careful with the hot shower (Eccotemp), it’s much harder to drain because of the heat exchanger (we’d really take this one inside the house for the winter..).

11.2- Or To Not Winterize

Since we usually live full-time in the van and all our components (pipes, water heater, fresh water tank, etc.) are located inside (warm-side), we can use our water system ALL-YEAR, sweet! We even used it when it was -24F (-30°C). We only take the precaution of winterizing the bike wash / shower at the back of the van; this area can freeze occasionally (it’s far from any heat source), so we avoid taking any risk and drain it.

Seventh Month on the Road (1)
-15F (-25°C) outside, water still works so we can still do our things!

12.1- Water Bandit

To increase our chance of finding water while we’re on the road, we carry a neat Water Bandit. It can be fitted on almost any tap (thanks to the rubber side), then a hose can be connected to it (thanks to the “garden-hose-fitting”) on the other side. We're using it occasionally.

12.2- Sillcock Key

Following this post, many of you recommended we get a Sillcock Key. Apparently, this tool can open water supplies at some rest areas, campgrounds, corner stores, etc. After a few years on the road, we actually only used it once, but we're happy we had it!

13- Monitoring Tank Levels

13.1- Keep it simple!

For a majority of people, monitoring the level of the tanks just by looking through them does the job. That’s what we did for the first year or so we lived full time in our van; it worked just fine, and it’s the cheaper solution.

13.2- Simarine Pico

After a year or so living full time in our van, we decided to upgrade for a fancy monitoring system. The Simarine Pico is not only sexy, it is also packed with cool features: battery monitoring, tank level monitoring, temperature sensors, inclinometer, etc. We appreciate the tank level feature (fresh tank, grey tank & Nature’s Head liquid tank) and the low/high level alarm. It would be hard to go back after getting used to it…

14- How to sanitize the Water System

Because we live full time in our van, our water system is constantly refreshed (we fill our tank approximately every 4 days). Therefore, we sanitize our tank every six months. If you must leave your van alone for a week or two without draining the system, consider sanitizing before using it (especially in a hot climate!). 

1- Prepare a bleach solution

2- Sanitize

3- Rinse

15.1- Tank Installation

The tank is installed above the wheel arch:

Water System Installation Camper Van Conversion (11)

The tank is secured with BoatBuckle Kwik-Lok Tie Downs 2″x4′ (Buy on Amazon). They’re super strong and easy to install/remove. They are attached to Stainless Steel Tie-Down “D” Rings (Buy on Amazon):

Tank Straps

When the tank is full, there is noticeable “bow” on the unsupported side of the tank; we therefore added a wood support to counterbalance the bow (the straps alone won’t help). Note that the wood support must go across the entire height of the tank (from bottom to top) to be effective (otherwise the strap will flex):

Water Tank Bow Support

15.2- Water Pump, Accumulator & Plumbing Installation

Water pump & accumulator:

Water System Installation Camper Van Conversion (10)

We built a “shield” for the pump and accumulator and installed the switch on it:

Water System Installation Camper Van Conversion (4)

It looks like this with the “shield” on:

Water Pump Hidden

This is the tubing near the pump and the accumulator:

(Note that our tank has a water pump port at the back; unfortunately this tank is not made anymore… The tanks we suggest have all ports on the same side)

Water-Flow-Direction-1

And this is the tubing where it splits toward the bike wash / shower:

Camper-Van-Water-System-(9)

15.3- Sink and Grey Water Tank Installation

The sink installation into the cabinet is covered in our Sink & Stove Cabinet article: faroutride.com/sink-stove-cabinet

Camper Van Water System (4)

This is our grey water tank:

Grey-Water-Valve

Meanwhile in China:

Garden Hose Under the Van

15.4- Bike Wash Installation

Camper Van Bike Wash
Spray Nozzle Bike Wash Camper Van Conversion

15.5- Hot Shower Installation

To connect the cold water (blue PEX tubing), we used a swivel-elbow adapter followed by an elbow (per our water diagram); this way the valve (which acts as the shower handle) is easily accessible and is routed around the propane valve (see also following picture for a different view angle).

Camper Van Hot Shower PEX
Connections (left to right): Propane, hot water, cold water. They’re all 1/2″ NPT.

When not in use, the shower head is stored using a Quick Fist Clamp mini (Buy on Amazon):

Eccotemp L5 Camper Van Conversion Hot Shower

The shower head temporary mounts in the window using a suction cup adapter (Buy on Amazon):

Eccotemp Shower Camper Van Conversion

And that’s our exterior shower setup. We documented how we built it here: faroutride.com/exterior-shower

Exterior-Shower-Campervan-Conversion-7

16- On Second Thought...

  • October 2017 : One month living full-time in the van! We talk about the water system in our “First Month on the Road” article: faroutride.com/first-month/
  • December 2017: We modified our grey water system so we can dump water directly through the floor (or in the grey water tank).
  • June 2018: We traded the Mr Heater BOSS for an EccoTemp (see justifications above in this article). We also re-plumbed our system using PEX tubing instead of braided vinyl tubing (because that’s the proper way to do it).

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Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017, we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers, and moved into our self-built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then, and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams, and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

135 thoughts on “Water System Guide for DIY Camper Van Conversion”

Heads up! As of Fall 2021, we are currently visiting our families back home and we might not be able to answer all comments due to time constrain. Thanks for understanding and see you on the road! -Isabelle and Antoine

  1. Hello!
    I have a quick question about the tank, I am not knowledgeable on this subject, so I’m confused about something. The tank that you provide an Amazon link to says the following on the specs:

    “NON-PRESSURIZED TANK: tank must be vented allowing air in and out during use. DO NOT make a sealed connection with a garden hose directly to tank, this is a pressurized connection and will cause tank to explode causing damage. For filling tank it is recommended to use a fill dish or other gravity process.”

    But you guys say you do fill yours with a hose. In addition, in section 5.1 Diaphragm Pump – you say your system is pressurized at all times. Are you using the same 25 gal. tank that you provide a link to? If so, how are you able to use a hose to fill it? It’s probably something simple, forgive my ignorance on the subject, I just want to make sure I order the right thing and the tank doesn’t explode or leak when I fill it. I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts, so I can use your link to make a purchase. Thanks so much!!

    Reply
    • In our system, the fresh water tank is NOT pressurized. The pressurized section is what comes AFTER the pump.
      When we fill our tank, we simply insert the hose into the tank and fill it, in the same manner you would fill a bucket; this DOES NOT pressurize the tank.

      Hope that makes sense!
      antoine

      Reply
  2. Hola thank you for the nice write up~

    I am strongly considering installing 1/2” PEX plumbing with the steel clamping tool. Did you ever break a plastic/ polypropylene barbed connector while installing? This is my sole concern~

    Thanks
    Bruce

    Reply
  3. Thank you do much for posting all this info. Just finished roughing in my camper/sprinter and found your easy to follow diagrams so helpful. Can’t wait to start on the plumbing system.

    Reply
  4. We have a question about the accumulator. We have found that when changing altitude the accumulator seems to function differently, which makes sense. We first noticed that the pump was constantly on (but very low) when at altitude from sea level, since the pressure was probably higher than the pump could maintain. We were able to take some air out of it but then the fill valve broke so we ordered a new one. We were wondering if you ever change the accumulator pressure and if so how often you do. Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Hi,
    Question for the silencer kit. I notice in the diagram it looks like you install the silencer directly around the strainer and accumulator, yet in your build photo you have a white elbow bend part installed before the silencer tubes. Do you have a name for that part? I’m trying to shop for it but don’t know the proper description. Your site has been a tremendous help for building our van. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  6. Just a note – I wouldn’t recommend the Plasto-Joint Stik Plastic Thread Sealant. On the label it says “Non-Potable Water Applications Only”.

    Reply
  7. What is the adapter you’re using to connect the quick disconnect to the grey water tank? I purchased both recommended products and my quick disconnect seems to be a different thread count than the cap on the grey water tank so it won’t screw in nicely. Thanks!

    Reply
  8. Have you had any problems with your splitter for the grey water ? Does it clog sometimes since the valves are small?

    Reply
    • Excellent point! I added this to the page:
      “We carry a 50 feet hose (lead free and BPA free) to fill our fresh water tank. If we had to start over, we might consider carrying two 25 feet hoses, because 25 feet is what we need 95% of the time and using a longer hose slows down the process (more length adds flow restriction). So for the rare cases when we need over 25 feet, we could connect the two hoses together… ”
      Link to hose: https://amzn.to/3fTHaro

      Reply

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