Whether you have dreams of building an integrated and fully functional plumbing system in your RV or simply desire a modest DIY setup, having a RV water system & plumbing solution is an integral part to any camper van build.
We shouldn’t underestimate just how important storing water and dispensing water is to mobile living. After all, water is essential for all of us to live.
In this article, we discuss everything you want to know about building a water and plumbing system in your own camper. This includes:
- how to store water,
- how to dispense water,
- fresh water vs grey water,
- plumbing products
- toilets, and more.
So if you’re ready to learn more about setting up your own plumbing system in your motor home, keep reading!
Table Of Contents
Essential Products For Building A RV Water System
When putting together your own RV plumbing system, you’ll likely need to install several ‘big ticket’ items.
Fresh & Grey Water Tanks
Whether it’s fresh water or dirty sink water (‘grey water’) it’s important to be able to store your fresh and waste water.
When talking about water storage in a camper, there are two different styles of water containers.
RV-specific Water Tanks
These water tanks are made to be used, abused, and to withstand harsh environments of camper van life. Made from high-grade polyethylene, these containers are odorless, tasteless, corrosion resistant, and rust proof.
Because they are rectangular in shape, they’re also space efficient.
Inside and/or Outside Installation
One of the best advantages of this style of water tanks is that you have the option of installing these tanks either inside your camper or under your vehicle’s chassis (under mount).
Having your water tank mounted outside means greater space efficiency, but you won’t be able to use the tank if you’re traveling in below-freezing temperatures.
Inside tanks are convenient and great for winter travel, but they do take up valuable interior space.
Water Tank Sizes
The ideal water tank size is ultimately up to how much water you use on a daily basis.
In our case, we’re quite stingy with our water usage and use about 2 gallons of fresh water per day for cooking and cleaning.
Under Mount Tanks
* Click size links above for more info on Amazon
How To Fill A RV Water Tank
First you’ll need a hose. We carry a 25 ft. long expandible hose in our van. It’s space efficient, lightweight, and the walls are surprisingly strong.
Second, with your hose, you have the option of connecting straight to the water tanks or you can connect the hose to a water inlet port, which you can install on the side of your van. This can make filling your tanks easier without having to open any door to bring the hose inside.
For more specific help, check out the Water Tank Help Guide from Class A Customs
We use jerry cans to hold our fresh and grey water under our sink. We love these containers because, with a quick connector, we can easily unhook these cans to refill and dump outside the van.
These containers are also made of high-grade plastic and have survived the years of abuse we’ve thrown at them.
A wide variety of jerry cans can be easily found at camping/outdoor stores and Walmart. We’ve looked at lots of different sizes and styles, but we prefer the 7 gallon jerry cans from Reliance to hold our fresh water.
Sinks & Faucets
PEX Plumbing Pipes & Fittings
The easiest way to build your camper’s plumbing system is with PEX pipes. These pipes and all related fittings are available at Home Depot or most local hardware stores.
- Lightweight: Great for RVs & campers
- Quick installation: Easy to cut and connect PEX pipes
- Flexible tubing: Perfect for DIY jobs and imperfect measurements
- High-grade plastic: Resists high-temperatures, corrosion, and abuse
To build a plumbing system using PEX pipes, you’ll need:
- ½” PEX Pipes: This set INCLUDES the pipe cutter, which makes cutting the PEX quick and easy.
- PEX fittings: 90-degree, splitters, and extenders.
- Copper Rings: Crimp these onto the PEX tube and fittings for a water tight seal
- Copper Ring Crimper: You’ll need this massive crimper to crimp the copper rings
PEX Pipe Installation Tutorial
This simple video is a great tutorial on how to cut and crimp PEX pipes. It really is that simple.
Though you can go old-school with a foot pump, we think the addition of a 12v, electric water pump is a great upgrade to your camper van’s water system.
These are some of the products you might need for an electric water pump installation:
- 12v water pump: You’ll need to wire your electric pump to your batteries. Check our post on building a camper van electrical system.
- Water pump silencing kit: Essentially rubber hosing that fits on either side of the pump to reduce pump vibration and noise.
- Pump filter: Filters out impurities in the water that might damage the water pump
- Water accumulator: Helps to lengthen water pump lifespan by making it work less (less pulsation & cycling). This product is optional.
Water Heater - Build A Hot Water System
Having a hot water boiler in an RV is a very nice luxury to have, but it’ll mean having to carry additional battery capacity or propane in order to heat your water.
Mini-Tank Water Heater: Bosch Tronic 2.5 Gallon – This water tank heater is a popular option for those building their own camper plumbing system. However, you’ll need decent battery capacity and at least a 3000VA Inverter to power it.
Tankless Water Heater: Camplux Propane Water Heater – This water heater was made for campers and RVs in mind as it comes with a built in shower head and hose. However, having a propane water heater takes up more space than an electric heater and you’ll need a larger propane tank if you plan to use your heater often.
Planning Your Water System Build
The first step in building your own plumbing system is to plan. And I can’t understate this enough.
The better you plan ahead at this stage, the easier your installation will be down the road.
And trust us here. Without adequate preplanning, assembling your own water system can be a headache!
There are two main areas to plan for.
1 - Get product dimensions
You’ll often be able to find each product’s dimensions online. Since most of our purchases were on Amazon, locating the dimensions on each product’s Amazon page was straightforward.
On each product’s listing page, product dimensions are often displayed either in the images section, the product details section, or sometimes you can do a quick “dimensions” search in the Q/A section near the bottom.
2 - Plan your interior furniture dimensions to fit products
Next, based on these product dimensions, design your interior furniture to fit each product.
In our Camper Van Floor Plan & Interior Layout post, we discussed how you can use any simple drawing software to create an accurate, proportioned outline of our interior furniture.
Above, you can see our own digital sketch and how we planned ahead and designed our back benches and kitchen counter to fit our two fresh water tanks, grey water tank, and sink.
Our sink and fresh & grey water tanks are shaded in TURQUOISE.
Our 10 gallon water tank is shaded in DARK BLUE
(You can also see how we sized our Fridge and propane tank when building our kitchen counter.)
For specific build advice, check out the following posts:
RV Water System Diagrams
After planning your camper water system build, you’re ready to start piecing together your plumbing system.
Based on your desired complexity, we created several RV water system diagrams to give you some ideas of what your camper’s plumbing architecture could look like.
- RV Sink & Faucet Installation
- Hot Water Shower System
- Complete, integrated RV plumbing system
RV Sink & Faucet Plumbing Installation
We put together a simple sink plumbing system in our camper van. It’s low maintenance, simple, and our removable fresh water tank means we can fill our tank from any clean water source.
What You Need:
Hot Water Shower Plumbing Diagram
We also built a way to take hot water showers out the back of our van. The hot water system diagram below shows all the connections you need to recreate our setup.
What You Need
Water Tank + Accessories
Water Pump Region
Water Heater Region
Complete, Integrated RV Plumbing System
For a more comprehensive setup, we put together an RV plumbing system that integrates the following all into one system:
- Fresh & grey water
- Cold & hot water
- Sink, faucet, & shower
- Water filter
Integrating a toilet into a camper’s plumbing system is tricky and potentially messy. Plus, it involves having to install a separate black water tank that is separate from the grey water tank.
If at all possible, we recommend going with a self-contained toilet, like the Nature’s Head composting toilet or the Thetford Porta Potti. Toilets like these make dumping the sewage easier and more manageable.
In our case, we don’t have a toilet in our van. This has allowed us to free up space in our van and keep our camper free of strange odors. Instead, we use old water bottles (and a pee funnel for her) and public toilets when a #2 comes calling.
How To Clean & Sanitize A RV Water System
Once every 3-4 months, we like to sanitize our water & plumbing system by flushing chlorine solution through our water tanks, pipes, and pump.
Water Tank Sanitization 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 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
Watch Our Camper Van Water System Video
In our van tour video above, we skip directly to our campervan’s water system. Here we talk about our sink and faucet installation and give a quick look at what’s under the sink.
Hope you enjoy!