Are you converting a camper van and need to create a water system 💦? Building out the water system can seem overwhelming, but it’s quite simple! Once you have figured out the puzzle pieces of the water system, it should run smoothly. Below you’ll find a guide to figuring out the camper van water system.
I have been living in a camper van full time for months 🚐. My partner and I converted and built out the entire thing. I was in charge of the water system and it was challenging at the time. However, our water system has been great and now I want to share everything I learned.
You will find everything you need on building a water system below! It includes materials, steps to fill the water, and a complete water diagram ✍️. Let me know if you have questions in the comments!
This post contains affiliate links, which means we’ll receive a commission if you purchase through our links at no extra cost to you. Most links are things that we use in our own van. Thanks for your support!
Table of Contents
Camper Van Water System Components
Once you start to build your camper van water system 🛠, you may get confused about all of the different components and things that you need. However, it is actually much simpler than you may think. You need a few key components to get started and then you can piece them together!
This may be the biggest decision in the entire design of your water system. The fresh water tank is your water supply 💧 and it will allow you to use water to cook, drink, and clean things while you are on the road. There are all kinds of options to choose from, so you need to think about your lifestyle and what you need to use on the day to day.
The tank you choose for your van should easily fit into your van build and space 🚐. Also, you will want to think about how large you need the tank. If you have a shower 🚿 in your van, then you will probably want a larger size tank, so that you don’t have to fill it up constantly!
Fresh Water Tank Options:
- Water Jugs – These tanks are easy to fill and are portable. You can keep a few of them in the van, so that you can refill one at a time. You simply need to hook up the system to one of the tanks when you want to use it and then you can easily switch to another.
- RV Fresh Water Tank-RV tanks take up a lot of space, but they also provide a lot of water. We have a 33 Gallon water tank, which means that we don’t have to fill up very often. However, it does take up a large amount of storage space in our van. You can try to mount these under your van, but that is a difficult task.
- Wheel Well Fresh Water Tank– Special companies design water tanks that go over your wheel well, to take up less space. You can buy them for your specific van model and they seamlessly fit in your build. The only problem is that these tanks can be extremely pricey, and we didn’t want to spend that much.
Grey Water is water that is relatively clean 💦. It is the excess water that is leftover from baths, showers, and sinks. Most people add a Grey Water tank to collect water and then dump it in designated areas. Grey water tanks are usually considerably smaller than Fresh Water tanks at around 5-6 gallons.
In our build, we chose not to add a grey water tank. We do not usually shower in our van and we only use Nature Safe Dr. Bronner’s soap in our sink. If we are in a sensitive area, we just put a bucket under to collect it. Then, we dump it elsewhere. Connecting the grey water tank is simple, you need piping that runs from the sink drain to the tank.
You will only need to have a Black Water tank if you have a system with a running toilet 💩. The Black Water Tanks collects the solid waste and water that runs out of the toilet. Most camper vans use pit toilets or composting toilets, so if you have one of these you won’t need a Black Water tank. We do not have one in our build.
In order to get the water from the tank into the faucet, you will need some sort of water pump. You can choose between a manual pump where you use your foot to power it or an electric pump ⚡️. Manual pumps are easier to connect, but just require you to pump it every time you want water. We use the electrical pump, because we thought this would just be easier over time.
Setting up the electrical pump is pretty straightforward if you read all of the directions in the manual 📝. The only think you will need to add to this is wiring and a fuse. If you have set up your electrical system yourself, then this will not be very hard to add!
Water heaters 🔥 are definitely an optional part of any van build. I only recommend getting a heater, if you plan on having a shower. Otherwise, it’s not necessary, you’ll just wash dishes with cold water and you can get a kettle to boil water you need. Our water heater is very simple and we only turn it on if we ever need to shower. It takes 15 minutes for it to warm up before the shower is ready to use.
While designing your build, you’ll need to pick out a sink and a faucet 🚰. Most of the time these two pieces do not come together. The faucet is how you’ll get the running water from the fresh water tanks you put in. We chose a faucet that had two different settings and it had been recommended on other van build sites. You can opt for something simpler or cheaper, but ours has worked really well in the van.
Now, you will have to put all of the pieces together with piping and fittings!
We used polytubing for our entire water system, because it’s flexible. Plus, we could buy one roll and just cut where needed. You will need to get a specific tool to cut your tubing to size. If you have a water heater, you will want to get both cold water tubing and hot water tubing, so that it can withstand all the temperatures.
Honestly, this is where I got the most confused in the entire system. When designing it, you will realize that there are many different connection types and many different sizes. I opted to use Sharkbite connections where possible in the build. The size of the connections will depend on the width of your tubing, so for example, you will get ¼ inch connections for ¼ inch tubing.
Then, you will need both female connections and male connections . Male connections fit into tubes and female connections allow tubes to fit in them. When you are staging all of the different components, you will easily see which connections you need for which part. Each system is so unique that it is hard to tell you exactly which pieces you may or may not need. Finally, you will want to pick up thread tape to make sure those connections are tight.
How the Camper Van Water System Works
Now that you have all of the components, it’s time to fit it all together and make it work! This sounds a lot easier on paper than it is in reality. The water system is a puzzle, where you have to figure out how to make all the parts fit together. I highly recommend that you draw out the entire system, and then stage it somewhere before you move on to putting it together. That way you will know if you are missing any connections or need any more parts!
Quick Outline of How it Works:
- Fill the water into the Fresh Water Tank with a hose
- The tubing runs from the water tank to the pump
- Tubing connects to the other side of the pump that runs to the water heater or to the sink faucet
- If you have a water heater, you will then need to run more tubing from the outlet of the water heater to the sink faucet
- The faucet should run with water, so you will need tubing from the drain out to either the ground or to your Grey Water Tank.
How to Get Water on the Road
People always ask “where is your water stored?” “How do you fill up your water tank?” We made the decision of connecting a hose to our water tank at all times. This way we can easily fill up the water and we never have to worry about moving things around in the van to get to the tank. Of course, we also have the hose connected to an RV filter so that we can feel safe to drink the water.
In order to find places to get water on the road, we use the iOverlander app 📱. This app has a map with icons for different overlanding resources. We use it to find campsites, showers, and water as well! Once you click on the icon for water (a picture of a faucet), you can read all the reviews to figure out which ones are quick and open.
My partner and I do not like to pay for water, so we always look to see if the reviews say the water is 🆓. In some places you may have to go in and ask someone to use the water spigot and in other places you just pull over and fill up your tank. The process of filling up our water tank usually takes anywhere from 5-15 minutes, because our tank is so big.
If you can’t find any places near you that have water and you are in desperate need, then you can try a few spots. Many gas stations have water spigots on their property either by the side of the store or behind it ⛽️. Rest areas, state parks, and national parks also usually have water sources somewhere on their property, you may just have to look around. Finally, you can drive through town and see if any random stores have spigots. If you go to a store or gas station, remember to ask the workers if you can use them!
We have been living on the road now for months and have never run out of water completely. We try to fill the water tank every 1.5 weeks-2 weeks. If we see a place that has a convenient water spigot, we may top off our tank even if we don’t need the water urgently. I hope this helped you figure out your camper van water system and that you feel confident to hit the road!
Let me know in the comments if you found this guide helpful!
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