Hot water, cold water, showers, faucets, pumps, waste water, filtration, piping, and much more. This guide is your complete one-stop-shop for campervan plumbing. Learn everything you could ever want to know about campervan water systems, and more. In this guide I will walk you through several different campervan plumbing diagrams and look at how the campervan water pump system works. I hope this resource helps you build a beautiful campervan that you can be proud of for many years to come!
I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for many years, I'm the author of The Van Conversion Newsletter, the van conversion instructor at Udemy, and the proud owner of a beautiful self-build campervan called Beans. So let's jump in and see how to build an awesome campervan water system!
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Supplies List 🛒
Water tanks, piping, and fittings
Selection of bulkhead fittings
Fittings for inlets and outlets on the water tanks. 0.5-1.5 inch required.
Campervan Water Pump Kit
What is a campervan water system?
Simply put, a campervan water system pipes water from a storage container out to a tap or a shower. A simple water system may just have a foot pump and cold water going out to a tap, while a complex system will have an electrical pump feeding hot and cold water to a shower and sink. The complexity you wish to add is up to you!
In this article we will first look at the five types of campervan water systems at a high level. After that we will go deep on the different components that make up the water systems and how you can do the installation for yourself.
Now then, let's have a look at five campervan plumbing diagrams, increasing in complexity at each tier.
Five Campervan Plumbing Diagrams
1. Water Dispenser Bottle
Okay, not really a campervan plumbing diagram, but as simple as it gets... You can pick up a water dispenser bottle online very cheaply. Put water in the top, get water out the bottom 💦. No more need be said.
2. The foot pump: Cold water campervan water pump
The manual foot pump is a nice option that gives you cold water flowing out to a faucet. No electricity is required because the pump is operated manually with your foot! We have two large plastic portable containers, one for grey water and the other for fresh water. Here is a campervan plumbing diagram for the foot pump to help you get started 👇
3. The Submersible Pump: Cold water campervan water pump
The submersible pump is a really great option that gives you cold water flowing out to a switched faucet. The 12v faucet is connected to a submersible pump, when the faucet lever is pulled, water flows! The submersible pump simply sits in a large plastic portable container full of fresh water. We will look at the wiring of the microswitch faucet later in this guide. Check out the campervan plumbing diagram for the submersible pump below.
4. Heated Sink and Shower Water System
This is the god-tier campervan water system. This system gives you pressurised hot and cold water running out to a sink and shower. There are mounted fresh and grey water tanks; the fresh water tank is filled from an inlet in the side of the van and has an electrical water level gauge. The grey water from the sink can run either to our grey water tank, or outside the van. The cold water running to the sink tap is filtered, and we can get a mix of hot and cold water (to our liking) to our pressurised sink and shower.
Wow. How good does all that sound!! 😍
Though this campervan plumbing diagram can be a little complex to understand at first, it is incredibly rewarding/fun building this system; it feels like plugging Lego blocks together. We are going to go deep on the different components of this system throughout the guide. So strap in, and get ready for the ride! I guarantee by the end of this guide, you will be able to plumb your own campervan water system.
5. Hot water sink
If you don't want a shower in your van, but still want hot water faucets, the campervan plumbing diagram below will sort you right out! However beware! You will need at least a 3000W inverter if you want to use this type of faucet. Pretty cool though!
What do I need for a campervan water system?
Now that we have seen the five campervan plumbing diagrams, let's explore some of the components of each diagram. We will explore the following essential concepts in depth:
Fresh water tank
Grey water tank
Water pump system
Sink and faucet
Water level gauge
Pipe insulation / heating
Water tank sanitisation and smell management
Let's go! 🍻
Fresh water tank
A fresh water tank holds... fresh water.
What size fresh water tank should I get?
Generally there are three sizes of fresh water tank: small (5L), medium (20L), and large (75L). I personally have four portable 20L fresh water containers in my campervan. If I were to do another conversion, I would install a large 75L fixed fresh water container instead and add a fill point in the side of the van.
Find out how to install a water inlet in your van.
Where should I put the fresh water tank in a campervan?
You have two options for where to put your fresh water tank:
Inside the van
Underslung to the bottom of the van
Having a fresh water tank underslung to the bottom of the van is a little more complex to install, but a really nice option that gives you more space inside the van. However, if you are are a winter vanlifer (like me) an underslung water tank is probably not the best idea as you are pretty snookered if it drops below freezing outside!
Winter vanlifers should keep all parts of the water system inside the van. Installing your fresh water tank inside the van is a safer bet and an easier install.
For small/medium water tanks (like mine), you can simply house them directly under the sink, for larger water tanks, you will probably house them at the back of the van (out of the way).
Next, let's look at how to mount a large water tank under a van - feel free to skip this next section if you are not planning on installing a large tank.
Anatomy of a large water tank
A large fixed water tank should have four water outlets:
A Large filling inlet, where we fill the tank with water. This is normally piped to the water filling inlet installed in the side of the van.
A smaller outlet running to the appliances (shower/tap)
A vent outlet (the water that runs out of the tank needs to be replaced by air). If you have a filling inlet in your van, this often comes with a vent installed which means you don't have to install an inlet.
And sometimes a drainage outlet which is used when you want to drain the water tank for cleaning.
NOTE: A water tank filling inlet and outlet drain operate by gravity. Ensure your filling inlet is mounted higher than the water tank, and ensure your drain outlet is mounted lower than the tank.
A large water tank may also have metal water-level probes pre-installed. These metal bolts (with spade connectors on the end) are there for if you want to install a water level sensor in your van. We will look at how to install a water level sensor later in this guide.
How to manually install inlets in a water tank
Sometimes you will end up with a blank water tank that has no outlets pre-built. In this case, you will need to install them yourself. This can actually be a good thing as it means you get to choose the diameter of the outlet, rather than relying on the supplier.
If your water tank does not have outlets, you can easily install them by first cutting out an appropriate sized hole in the plastic container with a holesaw. The holesaw you use should match the OD (outside diameter) of the outlet fitting you will be using. eg. if the OD of the fitting is 1", use a 1" holesaw!
Next install an appropriate outlet fitting. Here are the typical sizes we use for the inlets for our fresh water and grey tanks
Fresh water tank:
Water outlet & drain: 1/2" ID (interior diameter) water tank connector fittings
Water inlet: 1.25" water tank connector fittings
Grey water tank:
Grey water inlet: 3/4" water tank connector fitting
The connector comes with a backing flange that normally goes inside the container and into which we screw. However if you have no access to the inside of the water container (because there is no access hatch installed), worry not! Without using the backing flange, you can still screw the fitting into the cavity you cut in the container; if you have used the appropriate hole saw size, you should have a perfect seal. Make sure the rubber O-ring is placed between the connector fitting and the water container to get a nice seal.
If the cavity in the water container is a little small, you can heat the plastic a little (using a small blow torch) and then tighten the fitting in place (a pipe wrench is best to tighten fully). If you heat the plastic first, you are actually doing some minor plastic welding which can improve the seal. After the fitting is in place, I would recommend adding sealant around it to ensure a watertight joint.