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A Quick (But Complete) Guide to Campervan Fresh Water Systems

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Most of us don’t think too much of it as it pours from our taps and shower head at home. It’s only when we lose this easy access that we understand its importance, as any campervan owner will happily tell you.

But there are plenty of ways to ensure that you have all the water you need on the road, so let’s take a look at the key components of a campervan water system, and how you might fashion your own.

How much water do I need, and where do I store it?

The first question: how much water do you actually need? The answer will guide the rest of your system, so it’s worth spending some time figuring out. To help, here are some common activities and their daily water use:

  • Drinking: 0.3-0.8 gallons per person

  • Showering: 6-7 gallons per shower

  • Cooking, cleaning, miscellaneous use: 2-6 gallons per day

If you’re a frugal user, you might get away with 6-7 gallons of water per day. If you don’t want to worry about your water use, you might be looking at 20 gallons per day. The most common number is somewhere in between.

The most common form of tank is a fixed internal storage, which are generally designed to carry 20-25 gallons (approximately 1-3 days’ worth) of water. There are also portable storage options however, designed to be held both on the inside and the outside of your campervan.

Pipes, pumps and fittings

To get the water from the tank to where you want it, you’ll need plumbing. While flexible piping is less durable than rigid, its ability to curve around the corners of your van make it the most popular option. Be sure to choose a high quality hose, and clip it firmly in place.

There are two ways to pump the water from the tank to the tap: manual or electric. Manual options like hand and foot pumps are far cheaper, but they’re also less convenient, and don’t offer the pressure that an electric pump will, thanks to its added power (although the length and diameter of the piping will also affect the pressure.)

As far as fittings go, good news: any household tap will work! That said, campervan-specific fittings tend to be more space and water efficient.

Heaters, showers and toilets

Water on board and flowing, it’s time to add the mod cons.

First is the water heater – perhaps the most luxurious of campervan accessories, but one that can prove a lifesaver for those who enjoy a spot of cold weather camping.

The main heater options include:

  • Solar powered: Get free heated water wherever the sun shines!

  • Coalescer: Use your engine to heat water for that night’s shower.

  • 12v immersion heater: Plug this heater into your van’s 12V outlet to heat your water.

  • Electric propane water heater: These heat water not with power obtained from your engine, but with gas.

  • Tankless water heater: Our preferred choice at Drifter, tankless heaters heat water on demand, rather than heating then storing it, making them super efficient.

Next we move to showers, which can either be placed inside or outside the camper. While an indoor shower is certainly tempting, remember they take up a lot of space, and the water can be difficult to contain.

The more common option: outdoor showers. These don’t necessarily have to be plumbed – the most basic come as self-contained units where a bag of water is emptied above your head – but if you do take the time to plumb your shower in, you’ll get to enjoy all that water you just heated up!

Finally, let’s talk toilets. Very rarely will you see a plumbed toilet in a campervan. Why? Plumbed toilets use a lot of water, are expensive and complex to properly install, and take up a lot of room. It’s possible, sure, but the more common approach is a self-contained and largely dry unit, as we discuss here.

Need help setting up your campervan’s water system? The expert team at Drifter Vans is ready to help! Get in touch today.

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