Water Supply Options/Basic Intro: Whether you are going on an off-grid road trip for a few days or living in a van full-time, water supply is a necessity that you don’t want to skimp out on. There are many options to have a supply of water in your van. The simplest option being storing water in some sort of storage tanks (whether plastic or steel) with no pump at all. You can manually pour it out to use as needed or place it somewhere high and use a gravity-fed approach for running water. The other non-electric options are using either a manual hand pump or a manual foot pump. Meaning each time you manually hold up/push down a pump with your hand/foot, it creates pressure for water flow and will turn off when you release that hand or foot. These are the most energy-efficient ways to gain water supply in your vehicle. The last option, and the option that this blog is about, is through a 12volt electric water pump. I highly recommend this for full-time and longterm van lifers.
Once set up, it is very similar to that in a standard home and will be super convenient for cooking, washing dishes, washing up, etc. while only drawing about 5-7 amps/power when in use. The cost of ours was very affordable as well.. cheaper than most manual foot pumps actually, and are small in size.
Here are two 12volt pumps I recommend:
Although it may seem overwhelming, once you have a functioning auxillary battery with 12volt DC power, it is relatively simple to set up your electric water pump. (Click here if you need help with setting up power first). I will walk you through a 10 step process to have running water in your vehicle below↓↓
Things you will need:
- 12 volt fresh water pump
- positive/negative electrical wires for the pump
- fresh water storage tank
- vinyl hosing for fresh water to sink
- tubing for your waste water through the drain
- hose clamps
- a sink and faucet
- male and female plumbing adapters
- PTFE tape
- a grey water tank if desired
*Please note: Size of water tanks vary greatly and depend on personal preference, as does the type and power of the water pump. This blog is based upon the materials we chose for our van and is meant to serve solely as a guide to help you set up the materials you choose. This does not describe setting up a shower, just a sink.
Setting it Up in 10 steps:
- Securely run your positive/negative electrical wires from your fuse box to the location where your water pump will be located. Make sure they are secured along their route using cable clips or wire staples so they don’t move around while the vehicle moves. Also suggest putting them in protective conduit housing where it is possible for added protection. (Electrical sidenote: The gauge of this wire depends on the amperage of your exact water pump as well as how far your wire will be running. Should be around 12-14awg though).
- For example: Ours had to run across our van from right to left and then from the rear to the front. We secured it along the underside of our bed frame to get it across the van, and then placed it along the inside of a metal rib of our van wall, while inside of plastic conduit the entire way.
- Connect the wires. The water pump typically comes with a short positive and negative wire attached to it. Connect the ends of those positive and negative wires to the end of your wires you set up in step 1, using cable connectors. Do so by placing the positive end of your longer wire into one side of the connector and the positive end of the pumps shorter wire into the other side of the connector. Making sure the 2 wires are touching or intertwined, squeeze the connector until very snug so the wires cannot fall out. Then repeat this with the negative wire. If your pump comes with 2 negative wires, you can place them both in the same connector. Then connect the other end of the long wires to a positive and negative terminal on your fuse box respectively. (Side note: if your water pump happens to be located near your fuse box for some reason, the short wires on pump may reach the fuse box and you can skip the connectors part in this step).
- Hang/Secure your 12 volt water pump on the wall. Self explanatory, but it should have screw holes built in, so simply screw in until tight against wall.
- If you haven’t already done so, place your water storage tank wherever you have decided to keep it/them. Some choose to have 1 large tank (for more water supply) that is typically stored further away from the sink (under the bed for instance) and have the tubing run further from tank to sink. But most choose to have smaller size storage tanks and keep them directly under the sink with a short tube run.
- Size of tank is personal preference based upon the amount of water you will use daily, ability to lift the weight if refilling outside van, how long you will be away from somewhere to refill, and where you want to refill it. We personally wanted a large amount of water supply in our van to go offgrid, but without sacrificing the physical ability to pick up our storage tank and fill it up in common places (such as a park or sink), without needing a hose or fill station. For this reason, we opted to buy multiple (3) smaller tanks. This way we still have a large water supply (18 gallons) in our van, but are able to pick them up and fill them up in a more variety of places. When one tank is empty, it’s as simple as moving the end of the tube from one tank to another, and/or moving the empty tank and swapping out for one of our other full ones. One large 18-20 gallon tank would have required us to fill with a hose, which is not always readily available.
- The material of your tank is also personal preference. Plastic is most common and most affordable and comes in various sizes. Steel is more environmentally friendly and possibly healthier to store water in, but is more expensive and harder to find.
- Measure and cut the length of hosing you will need from the bottom of your water tank to the “in” side of your water pump, as well as the hosing from the “out” side of your water pump to the underside of your faucet. They should be 2 separate pieces of hosing. It can be clear or it can be braided. The braided hosing is probably the most popular option because it is more heavy duty so can handle higher pressure.
- Connect the pieces of hosing you just cut to your water pump. Do this by placing the hosing around the inlet and outlet of the pump, and then tightening with an appropriate size hose clamp. The water pump should have come with 2 hose clamps that fit perfectly on your pump’s inlet/outlet. If not, an average size would be between 3/8” & 1/2” for hosing and clamps. On the “out” side of our pump, it was required to place a brass coupler before we attached the hose. This is not always the case, but the pump should come with it if it is required. See photo below.
- Note: Even though it is not connected to the faucet yet, if you have a fuse in your box and water in your storage tank, you should have running water at this point. We opted to test our hoses out before connecting the faucet by running the end of the hose out of the window as a test. It did not leak and we had running water. Also note that it may take a few seconds for a new pump to turn on and get the water flowing.
- Connect your “out” hosing to the faucet. Your faucet will most likely come with both a cold water and hot water hose hanging underneath it.
- First, attach the hosing to the cold water hose on the faucet. (Each faucet is slightly different and may vary based upon the size of the hose. All of ours had a 3/8” inner diameter, and most should be similar to that). The faucet should have a threaded female on the end of it’s cold water hose. Attach a threaded male to the faucet’s female. The other side of threaded male should have a ribbed end to fit inside your water pump hose. Then secure/tighten the ribbed end inside of the hose by placing a hose clamp around the exterior of the hose. I also highly recommend I recommend placing some PTFE tape on the male threading before attaching it to the female end, as it will add an extra seal to ensure no leakage in the connection.
- For now, we opted to not have hot water in our van, so we blanked off the hot water hose (simply meaning close off the end of it, but still let it hang there connected to nothing). Blank off the hot water hose by connecting a threaded blank adapter to the hot water hose of the faucet. Make sure you secure in this blank SUPER tight. If it is loose, it WILL leak out water droplets. For extra security, I recommend placing some PTFE tape on the threading before attaching the 2 together.. This will add an extra seal to ensure no leakage. — This is simple to change to allow hot water if we opt to buy a water heater in the future.
- Choose where the water will exit from your sink’s drain. Some people opt to have a grey water tank (plastic or steel) so the sink’s dirty water goes into that tank safely and then emptied at their discretion. Other people choose to have the drain hose empty to the outdoors on the underside of their van. There is no right and no wrong choice, as long as you are mindful about where you dump your waste water. Both ways end up being disposed somewhere. Both have pros and cons. Some people may not have room for both a fresh water and gray water tank. Others have found that their grey water tanks may cause a bad odor in the van, fill up quickly, or become too heavy to lift to empty out. The second option of draining outdoors is actually quite common, but you must be environmentally aware with this option. Any any time you are using your sink drain to the outdoors with something other than just plain water (hand soap, washing dishes, etc) you should put a bucket under your van where the drainage hose is located so the soap goes into the bucket. You can then empty the bucket in a safe place that won’t harm animals or the environment. I recommend a small bucket that folds up when not in use. Also, if you choose to have it drain outdoors, a small hole must be cut in the floor as narrow as your drainage tubing is. Use common sense with the location of this hole, making sure it is close to the side of your vehicle and not by any important auto parts on the undercarriage.
- Measure and cut your drainage tubing/hosing from the underside of your sink’s drain through to either the bottom of your grey water tank, or to the exit hole on your floor. Once the drain hose is measured and cut, it is time to attach it to the drain. To attach the top of your drainage hose to your drain, you will most likely not need a sink trap (the U-shaped pipe under your sink in a typical household) because this sink trap is used to prevent sewer gases from passing back up into your piping, and you aren’t connected to sewer lines in a van. But you will still need some sort of piping to fit around your drain, followed by a connector with a ribbed end to fit inside of your drainage tube. We used some white PVC piping to fit around the bottom of our drain. Each drain size and drain hose size varies slightly so be sure to get the correct size for a snug fit. Secure the drainage tube using an appropriate size hose clamp. You will want to make sure this clamp is very tight to prevent any leakage of gray water as it drains from the sink. If you opt to drain to the outdoors, you’ll need to use an adhesive sealant around the hole on the floor to close any cracks/gaps/air around the sides of the drainage tube. This will not only seal the vehicle, but also help keep your tubing in place.
- TURN ON YOUR SINK! You should have running water 🙂
HOT WATER options: Although this blog does not include hot water setup specifically, there are various ways of getting hot water into your van. Electric water heaters are an option but require ALOT of power being drawn. There is a propane water heater in my van build shop that requires no electrical power. It comes in many various sizes and also comes with an attached shower head. On warm days, you can also rely on the sunshine to heat up a solar bag of various sizes for hot water. You can then use this to shower right from that solar bag, or transfer it into your water storage to use for anything you desire.
Installing Sink: I skipped the step of installing the sink into your countertop because every single one is different. You basically just cut a hole in your counter and secure it in that hole. But they come in all different shapes and sizes, requiring different sizes of holes to be cut in the counter. Some are undermount, and some are top mount. Some come with faucets already attached, and others opt to buy a separate faucet. But the one thing I want to mention is to be sure you use plumber’s putty between your sink and your countertop. This will not only help secure your sink in place to make sure it doesn’t move around when the van moves, but most importantly it will ensure no water can get between the sink and the counter to leak underneath your sink.
If you have ANY questions whatsoever or want more in depth details of a specific step, item, or general inquiry, please feel free to email me at KellyNicoleTravel@gmail.com or send me a message on Instagram @KellyNicoleTravel