Van build | Water and Plumbing

It doesn’t matter if you intend on weekend getaways or living in your van full time, the fact of the matter is you’re going to need water. Consequently, your plan should help you decide on whether to install a full-blown water system or just carry smaller water containers.

There are many awesome designs out there incorporating permanently installed tanks, hot water, and fully plumbed-in showers and sinks. Just like your system at home. While this is ideal, very quickly it will become expensive, not to mention complicated. These systems have to meet certain standards, and will probably need to be installed by licensed plumbers (for registration and insurance purposes). Yes, it would be great to have one, but is it really worth it? After all, we are camping!

We have seen some pretty nifty designs incorporating sinks, manual foot pumps, and water tanks. Quite simple really; install two tanks under the sink (one for clean water and one for dirty water), plumb the clean water tank through the foot pump to the sink, and have the water drain into the dirty water tank. There are but a few problems, you won’t be able to fit massive water tanks, thus, having to fill and empty quite often. And you will be sacrificing that space under your cupboard. This is fine if you plan for this ahead of time.

At the other end of the spectrum and the simplest option available, just take small water drums and free pour everything. While this will most likely become annoying, it is a very cost-effective and easy way to transport water.

Then there is us. We managed to make a fully heated ‘portable’ water system, on a budget!

First, we set criteria:

  • Able to be Self-sufficient for at least two weeks
  • Have a sink set up
  • Have hot water

For us to be self-sufficient, we decided 150L was enough. You may think that this is a lot, but Candace is a fish and goes through water like there is no tomorrow! Better to be on the safe side right? We purchased two 75L tanks to accommodate this.

Secondly, the sink. We struggled to think of a sink solution. After contemplating several different ideas, we came to the conclusion that we just couldn’t sacrifice any more storage space. So a built-in sink was out of the question. Luckily, we found collapsible sinks. It has been perfect, having the freedom to move the sink outside works well for us, as that’s where we wash 99% of the time anyway!

Last but not least, the hot water. Through researching, we came across portable gas instantaneous hot water systems. These systems heat water as it passes through the unit ‘instantaneously’. To be honest, we were skeptical at first, but after watching reviews we decided to give one a go, what’s the worst that could happen? To our surprise, it works great! We bought the Joolca Hottap (including pump and hoses) and while there are cheaper models out there, we decided to spend the money on a top brand, as confidence in our equipment that uses gas and electricity was a high priority. The electric pump provides more than enough pressure and is as easy as plugging into the cigarette lighter outlet. In addition, this pump has a built-in pressure switch which removes the need to turn the pump off after use. This model came with everything except the actual water and gas! The plumbing connections are even colour coded, making the setup very simple.

Mounting The Hot Water System

First, we mounted the Hottap unit. To mount, we hung the unit on hooks attached to the underside of our bed frame in order to keep it portable. Next up was the pump, which we installed by screwing it into our wheel arch box using the rubber mounts supplied. And finally, the hoses, the connections on the Hottap unit are colour coded and are exactly the same as your standard 12mm garden hose, allowing a super simple setup.

The best thing about this design is you don’t need to keep the gas turned on – only when you’re wanting hot water. There’s no need to worry about a slow gas leak!

Hottap unit and pump installed

Initially, the sink and the showerhead were one and the same. Turn it to the kitchen, you got a sink, spin her around and there is your shower! Even though this worked fine, we weren’t sure if running water through the unit with no gas on was ok, and since we didn’t want hot water all of the time we added another ‘tap’.

Shower head as sink and shower

Adding A Second ‘Tap’

While this decision was made for peace of mind, having a second ‘cold water tap’ has proven to have its advantages. At first, we looked to find a permanently installed solution, for no reason other than looks… apparently harder and much more expensive than we expected. Looks like the garden hose will have to do for now!

In the end, we used a small length of garden hose and a trigger gun. Honestly, we like being able to move the head around. Also, having different settings like jet and shower come in handy. And the best part about this was keeping garden hose connections common throughout the van, not to mention the $10 price tag.

To allow for a second connection, all we needed was a two-way hose adapter that connects to the outlet of the pump.

Upgraded sink system

Tank Storage

As for the tanks, we set up a little bund using structural timber as walls and waterproof carpet to help in the event of a leak! Well worth it as it turns out. We essentially flooded the area trying to fill the tanks one day! Needless to say, the bund served its purpose well…

Included with the tanks were valves and thread tape, so all that was required was hose connectors in order to link it to the system. As you can see there is a small filter connected to the tank (supplied with the unit). We wouldn’t use bore water with a filter like this though it does at least provide some filtration.

Luckily enough, the gas bottles fit perfectly in behind the water tanks and as a means of securing this setup, we installed ratchet straps to firmly hold the gear in place.

Water and plumbing
Water and gas finished product

There you have it, our cost-effective ‘fully plumbed and removable water system’. We love it! Everything is super easy to use and automatic. The Hottap works really well, while they claim to heat water up to 40 degrees celsius above ambient… we’ll see how that fairs at the snow!

Going with the removable sink in our opinion was another great decision… even though this choice was forced upon us, sometimes things work out for the best. Besides, washing up inside the van after cooking outside would have been a pain in the butt.

The tanks are the only downfall. Don’t get me wrong, they do the trick, but the top lid doesn’t seal properly. If filled to the brim, a slow leak will occur when the road becomes a little bumpy (serves me right for getting cheap eBay tanks). Simply resolved by slightly underfilling the tanks. Now we are probably left with 130L of water (sorry Candace)… as was mentioned earlier, always a good idea to overcompensate!

This took one day to complete and was very simple.

Equipment used:

  • Joolca Hottap system
  • 2 x 75L plastic water tanks
  • Ball valves (supplied with tanks)
  • Garden hose
  • Hose trigger gun
  • Garden hose connectors
  • Ratchet straps
  • Structural timber
  • Waterproof carpet

Tools used:

  • Drill and drill bits
  • Timber screws
  • Stanley knife
  • Rubber mallet
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Right angled brackets

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