Fresh water tanks are an essential component of any camper van’s water system.
These tanks help you to store water to drink, to prepare meals, wash dishes, and even shower. And without proper containers to hold fresh water, it can be difficult to travel to more remote places and to boondock for extended periods of time.
In this post, we will go over the popular methods for storing fresh water in camper vans, and the pros and cons for each method.
Additionally, if you are interested in installing a fixed water tank, which is popular for large water capacity storage, we will discuss HOW to install these tanks (with critical accessory recommendations) and WHICH specific tank makes installation the easiest.
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Table Of Contents
Types of Fresh Water Tanks
In this chapter, we will go over four popular methods for fresh water storage, starting from the most affordable and basic and ending with the most costly, but space efficient.
Standard 5-Gallon Water Bottles
For the most convenient, headache-free fresh water storage solution, purchasing a 5-gallon water bottle is the way to go.
This is for three reasons:
- Exchangeable: If you buy your 5-gallon bottle at a major grocery store (e.g Walmart), you’ll be able to easily exchange your empty bottle for one of their full bottles. You won’t have to pay again for the plastic bottle, just for the water.
- Easily Refillable: Using Google maps and the iOverlander app, you can find fresh water refilling stations. Sometimes these are small kiosks outside grocery stores and sometimes these are larger filtering service stations.
- Affordable pump accessory: For an additional purchase, you can attach a manual pump to the mouth of the water bottle that makes it easy to pump water into a drinking cup or to do your dishes.
Manual Drinking Water Pump
Portable Water Tanks (Jerry Cans)
Jerry cans are possibly the most popular fresh water storage option for budget camper van builds. The biggest reasons for their popularity are:
- Cost Effective: Considerably cheaper than standard RV water holding tanks.
- Space efficient: Their thin, rectangular design makes them fit conveniently under sinks.
- Easy to remove: With the right accessories, these tanks are easy to remove in order to refill.
How To Build A Plumbing System With Jerry Cans
If you’d also like to build a camper plumbing system using jerry cans, check out our RV water system post. There we show you how to build your own sink plumbing system using jerry cans for both your fresh water and grey water tanks.
Build A Van Water System
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Fixed Fresh Water Holding Tanks
For larger water storage capacity, fixed water tanks are a popular option. This is especially true for more expensive, professional camper van builds.
These tanks are built with high-grade, UV-stabilized, medium density polyethylene (MDPE), which is a great material for storing potable drinking water.
One of the largest benefits of these fixed tanks is total capacity. Online you can easily find water tanks ranging anywhere between 5 and 75 gallons. Therefore, these tanks are an ideal water storage solution if you intend to install a shower system in your van.
One of the largest drawbacks is that these tanks can take some time to install and finding the right components and accessories to fit around these containers can be frustrating.
Undermount vs. Interior Water Tanks
Another benefit of these fixed fresh water tanks is that these tanks can be installed either inside or outside (under the chassis) of the vehicle.
Installing a water tank under the vehicle’s is more complicated but frees up the camper interior for other purposes. One of the downsides of an underbody installation is, depending on the outside temperature, you may not be able to use these tanks in sub-freezing temperatures.
Pros of Fixed Tanks
Cons of Fixed Tanks
Parts Of A Fresh Water Tank
Fresh water holding tanks will often come with four prefabricated ports/holes.
Sometimes these holes will already be open and sometimes you’ll have to drill open the holes yourself.
Each of these four ports are essential to a well-functioning fresh water tank.
These ports are:
- Inlet port: This is the port used to fill the tank with fresh water.
- Air vent port: When water is filled, or pumped out, of the water tank, air will need to enter and exit the tank. The air vent port allows the transfer into and out of the tank.
- Outlet port: This is the port where water is pumped out of the water tank and fed to the sink and/or shower.
- Drain port: This port is used to full drain and empty the water tank.
Wheel Well Water Tanks
“Wheel well” water tanks are perhaps the most space-efficient interior water tanks available on the market today.
These tanks are specifically molded to fit exactly over and around a camper van’s wheel well.
This is incredibly useful because the area surrounding the van’s wheel wells is often wasted space due to its awkward shape.
But wheel well tanks eliminate this wasted space by hugging the wheel well area and eliminating wasted air gaps.
Check them out at NW Conversion
The largest drawback of these style fresh water tanks is the cost. Even the smallest tank will cost around $300.
How To Install A Fixed Fresh Water Tank
Installing a fixed fresh water tank is easier said than done.
When we first received our 10 gallon tank, we had a difficult time sourcing the right components to fit each entry and exit port. Finding the right plumbing components was one of the most frustrating parts of our van build.
We’ve learned so much since then and below are our recommendations of what is needed to easily install a fresh water tank in a camper van.
Step 1: Get A Spouted Water Tank
Compared to standard fixed water tanks, a spouted tank has a 2” spout protruding from the tank. This spout makes it SUPER easy to attach a 1.25” ID plastic hose to fill the tank with water.
Our standard (non-spouted) water tank came with a 1.5” threaded water fill hole, which we found frustratingly hard to locate the right hose fitting to attach to the water tank.
Step 2: Purchase The Following Components
For a headache free installation, we recommend getting these exact fittings to attach to the spouted water tank.
Air Vent Port
Step 3: Strap Down The Tank To Prevent Movement
Lastly, to prevent the water tank from sliding around while driving, getting some sturdy straps is a good idea.
We recommend the following strap and footman loop.
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How To Clean A Fresh Water Tank
Once every 3-4 months, we like to sanitize our fresh water tanks (fixed tank & jerry can) by flushing chlorine solution through our water tanks, pipes, and pump.
Water Tank Sanitation Steps
- Prepare a chlorine solution by mixing ¼ cup of household, unscented bleach with one gallon of water.
- You will need one gallon of this chlorine solution for each 15 gallons of tank capacity.
- Never pour pure bleach directly into your water tanks.
- Pour the diluted chlorine solution into your water tank and fill the remaining capacity with water.
- Turn on the water pump and allow chlorine solution to sit in the pipes.
- Allow the solution to sit in the water tank and pipes for 3 hours.
- After 3 hours, drain and flush with fresh water
How Much Fresh Water To Carry
The amount of fresh water you want to carry is entirely dependent on your daily water usage amount.
Below, we list our approximate daily water usage. We are fairly frugal with our water usage so please keep that in mind.
- Drinking water: ~0.4 gallons/person/day (1.5 liters)
- Food prep & dish washing: 1.6 gallons/day (6 liters)
- Shower: 3-4 gallons/person (11-15 liters)
Final Thoughts: Thoroughly Plan Your Fresh Water System
Just as water is important to life, selecting the right fresh water tank that meets your camper van needs is equally critical.
There is no ‘single best fresh water tank’.
When planning what type of fresh water tank to purchase, we recommend thinking about how you plan to use your camper van.
- How long do you plan to travel for?
- Do you plan to boondock often. And for how many days, ideally?
- Will you have a built-in shower?
- How important is it to remove your water tanks to refill?
- Do more expensive water tanks fit in-line with your budget?
Once you build around your selected water tank, it can be difficult to go back later and change the configuration. So it’s a good idea to plan ahead and design your RV water system in advance.
DIY Plumbing Series