Plumbing a van can be as simple or complicated as you make it, and like electrical work, it’s a daunting, unfamiliar task that isn’t too hard. The most challenging element of plumbing a van is working in weird, cramped spaces.
If you’re installing a shower or a toilet—neither of which I recommend for reasons we’ll get into below—it’s a heftier project and you will want to track down some additional resources. If all you’re plumbing is a sink system, I got you and it’s really not too bad.
A note on toilets and the not so glamorous side of van life
The problem with toilets in a van is that at some point you will need to get your poop out of the van. This literally requires shit shoveling, which is not on the list of things I like to do. Personally, I find that it is much easier to just poop outside of the van the first time. Many of my friends who live in trailers with built-in toilets never use their toilet for these same reasons.
Sometimes it’s cold and you don’t want to get out van. Thats why pee bottles kick ass or pee pickle jars for the ladies. While not ideal, it’s still better than paying rent. Also, bathrooms are available at all grocery stores, coffee shops and gas stations; some even have wifi.
If you’re living on the road, you won’t shower every day. If that’s a deal breaker, van life probably isn’t for you. Showers can be installed in vans and there are some cool options (my personal favorite is basically just hanging a removable shower curtain in the middle of the van with a floor drain or plastic bin to catch the water). However showers take up a lot of valuable living space, require extra work and use a ton of water. In my opinion, external solar showers are the best addition to rivers, hot springs, gyms, churches, some laundromats, baby wipes and friends’ houses. I keep a simple solar shower in the van and my pullout faucet head actually reaches outside and can be used as a shower, but it goes through water really fast. Tankless water heaters with a little shower head is another option that is growing in popularity.
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plumbing your van
Very simple overview: For my system I use 2 of these water jugs. I would get 3 if I had the space. I insert a 1/2” piece of straight Pex tubing into each jug with a quick-connect near the mouth of each jug.
The water gets sucked out of the jug by the water pump and fed into the faucet. It then lands in the sink. From there it goes down the drain through a hole in the floor and straight to the ground . In my opinion, collecting grey water is a waste of space. It all gets dumped on the ground eventually. That being said I do dry dishes using a food scraper and pretty much no water goes down the drain. If your putting food waste down the drain a grey tank might be a good option.
Step 1: Buy your sink, faucet and water pump first. I always go with electric water pumps because sometimes I like a cup of water without getting out of bed (a perk of living in a small space). However, many people enjoy the quiet and water savings achieved by a foot pump.
Step 2: Take your water pump, faucet and sink drain to a plumbing store! Yes, plumbing stores exist in most medium to large towns. Don’t go to Home Depot and expect good results. The guys at the plumbing store know their shit and will get you out the door with right parts really fast. Don’t forget to pick up some teflon tape while you’re there.
Step 2.5 If you want to tackle the challenge yourself Pex tubing (comes in red blue and white) has made van plumbing a whole lot easier.
Step 3: Mount sink to countertop. Installation depends on your sink. Many sinks can be under mounted or dropped in from above. Under-mount sinks are sexy but require a super clean cut. Try making the cut for an under mount and if you mess up simply make the hole a little bigger and drop in the sink from above. This will hide an ugly cut.
Step 4: Put it all together. It’s really simple when you have the right parts. Wrap the teflon tape around the male threads about 5 times for any threaded connections. Wire up the pump. I always add a toggle switch on the positive wire.
Step 5: Enjoy running water in your van!