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Water System & Plumbing Guide For Camper Vans

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Get started on your camper van water system and plumbing adventure with this guide. From this page you’ll find resources on how to build a camper sink & faucet system, install a shower, and pick up key product recommendations that have made van life easier and more convenient.

Throughout our camper plumbing section you’ll come across detailed diagrams and step-by-step installation instructions.

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it.

Table of Contents
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    Chapter 1:

    Fresh Water Tank

    If you plan to carry water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and/or showering, you will need a water tank to hold the ‘fresh’ water. In this chapter, we discuss the different types of fresh water tanks and how much water you will need for your camper van.

    1.1 - What Size Tank Do You Need?

    The larger your tank, the longer you can travel without having to refill with water. Everybody’s water usage rate is different, but to give you an idea we list our own usage rates below.

    • Drinking: 0.5 gal/day (2L)
    • Meals: 0.5 gal/meal (2L)
    • Shower: 3 gal/use (14L)
    • Other: 0.1 gal/day (0.5L)

    In our camper van, we have a 7-gallon portable tank for our sink/faucet and a 10-gallon fixed tank for our outdoor shower. Our 7-gallon tank lasts us ~4 days.

    1.2 - Portable Containers

    For people who don’t intend to spend much time in paid campground with water services, we recommend using portable water containers. They’re easy to disconnect (we’ll show you how below) and can be refilled practically anywhere, not just standard garden spigots.

    If you choose to use a portable container, we highly recommend you to use the Reliance Aqua-Tainer. This is because the the container cap has a unique spigot hole that we can utilize to connect the container to the water pump.

    #1 Recommendation
    Reliance 7 Gallon Water Container

    Product Recommendation: This removable 7-gallon tank lasts us ~4 days. Because the tank can be removed (with a quick-release fitting), it is easy to fill and clean. Useful cap design for attaching a PEX straw to draw water. Hard rigid plastic is durable for van life.

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    12/03/2023 05:12 am GMT

    The biggest downside of portable containers is that they have limited size options, with the largest practical size at 7-gallons (32L). But you can buy multiple containers and swap out the empty container for a full one.



    Portable Container Setup

    In the below diagram, you can see how to setup the portable water container. By following this setup, you will have a water container that is able to draw and deliver water to the pump AND that is easily disconnected and removed when empty.

    Modifying the water container cap

    Three things to pay attention to in the above diagram.

    1. PEX Pipe Straw: We crimped PEX pipe (blue) onto the  PEX to Male NPT fitting. The tube runs the length of the container and acts as a straw to draw out water to the pump.
    2. Water Tank Cap: See the two brass fittings that ‘sandwich’ the white tank cap. The PEX to Male NPT fitting inserts through the cap spigot hole and connects to the Quick Release.
    3. Quick Release Fitting: This is a tw0-piece fitting that easily separates at the middle. This is how to disconnect the water container from the rest of the system. In this diagram you only see the bottom half.
    Setup Materials
    • Description:

      Makes it easy to separate the water tank from the water system to refill with water.


    Perfect all-in-one starter plumbing kit. Includes all basic materials & tools.


    Inserts through Reliance cap's threaded hole and attaches to NPT-GHT adapter.


    Adapter to switch from NPT to GHT threads.


    Makes it easy to separate the water tank from the water system to refill with water.

    When finished, the Reliance water container cap should look like in the pictures below. When we want to integrate the water container with the rest of the van’s water system, we insert the PEX straw into the container, tighten the cap, and connect the quick release bottom half with the upper half.

    Note: In the photo we used RED PEX for the straw, but in the diagrams we used BLUE PEX to denote cold water.

    Showing how to connect PEX pipe to a water container cap to create a straw
    Showing how to insert a metal plumbing fitting through the water container cap

    For more information how to connect a portable container to the water pump and faucet, read our sink plumbing guide.

    1.3 - Fixed Tanks

    If you require lots of fresh water (5+ gallons/day), a fixed water tank is what you should be using. Fixed tanks can be installed either inside or outside the camper van and can range in size between 10-65 gallons.

    We recommend the ‘spouted’ RV tanks from Class A Customs. The unique spouted design simplifies the installation process, which we detail further below.

    Recommended Fixed Tank
    Class A Customs Spouted 20 Gallon Water Tank

    We also use a water tank from Class A Customs and love the strong, rigid plastic build. We recommend getting a 'spouted' water tank, which simplifies the water inlet installation process.

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    12/03/2023 04:14 am GMT

    The biggest downside of fixed tanks is that they’re more expensive, require more fittings, and are more technical (but not impossible) to install.



    Fixed Tank Setup

    When setting up a fixed tank, there are normally four ports to be aware of.

    Fresh Water Tank Ports/Openings
    1. Water Inlet: This is where water enters the tank. (Top right)
    2. Air Vent: Where air enters and is displaced when water enters and exists the tank. (Top left)
    3. Drain: To drain water during maintenance and vehicle storage. (Bottom left)
    4. Water Outlet: Where water exits to the water pump, faucet, and/or shower. (Bottom right)

    In the below diagram, we show you how to setup the fixed tank for all ports EXCEPT the water outlet. One thing to pay attention to in the diagram is that we provide two options to fill the water tank. It is up to you to decide which of the two options is best suited for you.

    1. Fill Tube: Connect standard hose to fill tube and insert front tip into tank. Note: Water inlet port must be easily accessible.
    2. Water Inlet Dish: Connect standard hose to water inlet dish, which is installed on the outside wall of the vehicle. Backside of dish is connected to tank’s water inlet port.
    Connecting various plumbing components to a fixed water tank
    Setup Materials
    • Description:

      Connects to fixed water tank and allows water to drain out of tank.

    • Description:

      Plugs RV tank's water inlet port to prevent leak. (Used in conjunction with Camco water fill tube).


    Connects to fixed water tank and allows water to drain out of tank.


    Attaches to fixed water tank and connects to 1/2" ID braided hose.


    Clamp's 1/2" ID braided hose onto 1/2" barb fitting.


    Attaches to air vent port.


    Plugs RV tank's water inlet port to prevent leak. (Used in conjunction with Camco water fill tube).


    Inserts into fixed water tank to fill tank with water.


    Connects the water inlet dish to the recommended spouted water tank.


    Attaches to van's exterior and allows you to fill water tank from a public source.

    For more information how to connect a fixed tank to the water pump, read our shower plumbing guide.

    Still need more tank information? Check out our camper van water tanks post for a comprehensive breakdown on all the different types of tanks available for vans and RVs.

    100% Free Download
    Plumbing eBook For Camper Van Conversions

    Download our free PDF to help build your van's plumbing & water system. From the fresh water tank to the pump and finally to the faucet and shower, this free eBook has you covered. 12+ pages of detailed diagrams and product recommendations.

    Download PDF More Free eBooks
    * Our eBooks have been known to lower stress * blood pressure.

    Chapter 2:

    Plumbing Materials & Fittings

    Once you have selected the fresh water tank, you will need to connect the tank to the water pump, faucet and shower. To make these connections will involve piping and various plumbing fittings. Below, we detail many of the basic plumbing materials you’ll need.

    2.1 - Plumbing Pipes

    There are three pipe materials to choose from when building a camper van water system, each with their pros & cons.

    • Tough
    • Long lasting
    • Aesthetic
    • Cheap
    • Easy to install
    • Lightweight
    • Easy to cut & install
    • Lightweight
    • Great for tight spaces
    • Vibration resistant
    • Difficult to cut & nstall
    • Heavy
    • Expensive
    • Susceptible to vibration
    • Not heat resistant
    • Not ideal for tight spaces
    • More expensive than PVC
    • Tough
    • Long lasting
    • Aesthetic
    • Difficult to cut & nstall
    • Heavy
    • Expensive
    • Cheap
    • Easy to install
    • Lightweight
    • Susceptible to vibration
    • Not heat resistant
    • Not ideal for tight spaces
    • Easy to cut & install
    • Lightweight
    • Great for tight spaces
    • Vibration resistant
    • More expensive than PVC

    It’s no secret that we recommend PEX tubing when installing the plumbing system. It’s a material that is easy to use, even for absolute beginners, and is virtually leak-proof if installed correctly. Below, we recommend a PEX Kit, which includes the tubing, installing tools, and all the fittings you’ll need for a simple water system installation in a van.

    All-In-One Plumbing Kit
    PEX Pipe Kit (1/2") - Tubing, Fittings, Clasps, & Tools

    Convenient all-in-one plumbing kit. Includes blue & red 1/2" PEX pipe, ring clasps, brass fittings, and assembly tools. Everything you need to get started ASAP.

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    12/02/2023 05:32 pm GMT

    *Note: PEX pipe is supplied in two different inner diameters: 1/2″ & 3/4″. For most camper vans, 1/2″ pipes are sufficient.

    PEX Installation Tutorial

    To see just how easy it is to cut,crimp, and attach PEX piping, check out the below installation tutorial.

    For more specific information on PEX pipes, read our PEX pipe for camper vans post.

    2.2 - Common Fittings

    Most common household plumbing fittings are manufactured to standard 1/2″ and 3/4″ threads, called National Pipe Thread (NPT). Since we recommend using 1/2″ PEX tubing, we recommend 1/2″ NPT fittings.

    ‘Male’ & ‘female’ terminology is commonly used to descrive plumbing fittings. The male end has threads on the outside of the fitting and the female end has threads on the inside of the fitting. To make a connection between two fittings, the male end is inserted into the female end.

    Indicating male and female NPT fittings

    When walking down a plumbing aisle, there are tons of fittings. It can get overwhelming. But just know that when using PEX pipes, there are only three groups of fittings to know. We list the three groups below and link to the common fittings we will use in our plumbing diagrams (further below).

    2.3 - Gaskets

    There is a good chance that when you connect two NPT fittings together that there will be a leak between them. (We had 3 leaks in our own van). These leaks happen because the tip of the male connection isn’t compressing properly against the base of the female fitting. That’s why we recommend picking up a pack of rubber ring gaskets.

    How to use: Fit a single ring gasket inside the female end and insert the male end. Ensure there is a solid compression onto the rubber ring.

    Leak Prevention
    1/2" Rubber Washer Gaskets
    $6.59 ($0.33 / Count)

    Place in between 1/2" NPT fittings to create a water-tight, leak-proof connection between them.

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    12/02/2023 08:10 pm GMT

    Chapter 3:

    Water Pumps

    You have the fresh water tanks and the plumbing pipes, now you need a device that draws the water from the tanks and delivers it to its intended destination. That’s the job of a water pump. In this section, we go over several popular RV pumps and how to integrate one in a camper van’s water system.

    3.1 - Electrical Pumps

    Electric pumps operate on 12-Volt DC power and deliver a strong flow rate (up to 3 gallons/minute). The Shurflo-branded pumps are specifically designed for marine and RV application and are the most popular for DIY van conversions.

    Though there will be electrical wiring required, this should not be overly complicated to do if you skip to section 3.4 – Water Pump Electrical Wiring and following our diagram.

    Top Pick
    SHURFLO Water Pump (3.0GPM)

    Compact electric water pump for camper vans & RVs. Can be installed in any direction and comes with attached wires to connect to the leisure batteries. Recommend to purchase filter, accumulator, and silencing kit to complete pump installation.

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    12/03/2023 05:07 am GMT



    3.2 - Manual Pumps

    Manual water pumps are a popular alternative for people who want to conserve water & electricity and for those on tight van conversion budgets. If we had to pick between a foot and hand pump, we would go with the foot pump to make dish washing easier.



    3.3 - Popular Pump Accessories

    If you choose to install an electric pump, there are a number of great accessories to help you get the most out of the pump.

    • Pump Silencer Kit: Mutes the noise from the pump by reducing vibrations
    • Pump Filter: Strains out unwanted sediment before they enter and damage the pump.
    • Adapter: Connects pump to accumulator
    • Accumulator: Maintains water pressure in water system to smooth out flow and reduces pump workload.

    In the diagram below, you can see how the water pump and the four accessories fit together to form a connected group.

    Diagram connecting 12V water pump to the pump strainer, adapter, and accumulator



    Reduces vibration to/from the pump, helping to quiet the pump when in operation.


    Filters out particles before they enter the pump and cause damage.


    Required to attach the Shurflo water pump to the accumulator.


    Maintains water pressure to deliver a smoother flow of water to the faucet. Also prolongs pump lifespan.

    3.4 - Water Pump Electrical Wiring

    Wiring a 12V electric pump to the leisure batteries isn’t as daunting as it might seem. In the electrical diagram below, we show you how to connect the pump to the 12V panel via a switch.

    For more information on wiring the panel to the batteries, read our 12V installation guide.

    Wiring 12V water pump to switch and fuse panel



    Distributes power from the leisure batteries to each 12V device, including the pump.


    Fuses individual 12V circuits and protects 14 AWG wire.


    Attaches 14 AWG wire to 12V fuse panel.


    Ideal wire size for connecting 12V devices to the fuse panel. Pure copper wire with protective outer jacket.


    Turns water pump on & off.


    Attaches 14 AWG wire to switch.


    Extends water pump wires to switch.

    For more detailed information on water pumps and how to install them, read our camper van water pumps post.

    Chapter 4:

    Hot Water Heaters

    If you think van life means taking cold water showers, think again. It is absolutely possible to have a reliable source of hot water in your camper van. In this section, we go over water heater options and how to set them up.

    4.1 - Electric Heaters

    Electric water heaters can be a fantastic option for camper vans provided you have a robust electrical system to meet the demands on the heater. This 2.5 gallon mini-tank from Bosch is a popular model and one that we personally installed in our own van.

    Top Heater Pick
    Bosch Electric Water Heater (2.5-Gallon)

    Compact, yet powerful, mini water heater. Plugs into standard household sockets. Requires 1440W, but you will need a 3000W inverter to power this heater.

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    12/03/2023 08:12 am GMT

    How Much Electricity To Power An Electric Heater?

    Electrical sizing for water heaters is an inexact science that depends on your usage. For example, two people taking showers every day is a different conversation than a single traveler who showers twice a week.

    But based on our personal experience we recommend the following minimum electrical system for anyone who seeks to install an electrical heater in their van conversion.

    • 3,600Wh of lithium batteries (12V x 300Ah)
    • 300W of solar panels
    • 30A DC-DC charger
    • 3000W inverter

    Electric Heater Diagram

    Below is a diagram showing how you can integrate an electric hot water heater with a water pump. After the heater, the water lines lead to a water mixer valve and then to the shower head.

    Connecting the 12V water pump to an electric water heater and a shower head.
    Connecting pump to heater and shower head

    For complete plumbing diagrams with a heater, read our camper van shower plumbing guide.

    4.2 - Propane Heaters

    Propane heaters require natural gas to create the fire that heats the water and therefore don’t have the same power requirements that electric heaters demand. The great thing about these heaters is that there are a number of compact & portable models specifically designed for camper vans & RVs.

    Portability Pick
    Portable Propane Water Heater (1.32 GPM)

    At only 10lbs, this compacy portable propane water heater makes an easy addition to any van conversion. Connects directly to any standard propane tank and feeds hot water to the provided shower head.

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    12/02/2023 03:47 pm GMT

    The biggest downside of relying on a propane water heater is that, due to it’s high propane usage rate, you will need to carry a sizable propane with you.

    4.3 - Solar Showers

    We also carry a solar shower bag and we love it. It is our primary shower solution because it requires no electricity or propane to generate hot water. We simply fill the bag with water, put the bag out in the sun, and have hot water ~3 hours later. (If it’s a cloudy day, we boil a few cups of hot water with our camping stove and mix it in with cold water).

    Top Shower Pick
    Advanced Elements Solar Shower - 3 Gallons

    Forget the plumbing, this solar shower bag is the perfect solution for minimalist van life. Fill the bag with water, lay it out in the sun, and several hours later you have hot water. No sun? Boil some water and mix it with half a bag of cold water.

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    12/03/2023 06:55 am GMT

    A solar shower is also a great shower solution because it it packs away and takes up virtually no storage space when we don’t need it. After all, it’s just a thick plastic bag. This is unlike an electric or propane heater, which takes up space even if you don’t need to use it.

    Chapter 5:

    Water Faucets

    There are numerous faucet models for you to choose from and it’s up to you to find a design that best fits your van conversion. Most standard hot/cold water faucets will come attached to two supply hoses. The cold line connects to the water pump while the hot line connects to the water heater.

    water faucet diagram showing hot and cold supply hoses

    In most camper van conversions, the water faucet is only connected via the cold line and the hot line is closed off. This is because it is typically not worth the electricity/propane required to heat water just for washing dishes.

    2.1 - Faucet Plumbing Diagram

    In the below diagram, we detail how to connect the water faucet to the pump. You can see how only the cold line is connected to the pump. The hot line connects to a stop valve, which is turned to the ‘off’ position.

    Diagram connecting water pump to water faucet
    Water pump to faucet



    Required adapter to attach water pump to accumulator.


    Maintains water pressure to help deliver a smoother flow of water to the faucet.


    Makes 90-degree turns in your PEX pipe tubing.


    Connects to the faucet's water inlet tubes & PEX pipe.


    We've been using this exact faucet for over 4 years and love it.

    2.2 - Faucet Recommendations

    Water faucets come in a dizzying array of sizes, shapes, colors, and features. It’s up to you to sort through them all to find one that most appeals to you. In our camper van, we selected a ‘gooseneck’ style faucet with a pull-down head. Read our APPASO faucet review for more information.

    Showing how the camper faucet swivels to the side & out of the way

    Our Recommendation: Avoid small, compact faucets designed for camper vans. These ‘space efficient’ models make dish washing a frustrating chore. Instead opt for  full size faucet that can spray water directly in the center of the sink. This makes washing up a simple affair.

    Top Faucet Recommendation
    APPASO Kitchen Faucet With Pull Down Sprayer

    We've been using this exact faucet for over 4 years and love it. We love the two different spray modes, the pull down spray feature, and that the hole faucet swivels out of the way when not needed.

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    12/02/2023 05:37 pm GMT

    Chapter 6:


    Just like with faucets, there are lots of different sink designs to choose from. Two of the most important sink terminologies to know is in regards to how the sink is mounted to the countertop.

    • Under Mount Sink: Installed from under the countertop.
    • Top Mount Sinks: Inserted from above and sits on top of countertop.

    We use a top mount sink in our camper van and believe they’re easier to install, since the sinks simply ‘drop in’.

    Under mount sink from Ruvati
    Under mount sink
    Top mount sink from Ruvati
    Top mount sink

    Our Recommendation: Since we intended to cook frequently in our van, we opted for a high quality, spacious sink to make meal prep and cleanup easier. We love the Ruvati sink because it meets our demands for a robust and functional sink design. It is also designed for mobile homes and includes a drying rack and cutting board that fit snugly into the sink when driving. Read our Ruvati sink review for more information.

    #1 Sink Recommendation
    Ruvati 15x15" RV Sink (Top Mount)

    We love our Ruvati sink. Spacious design and solid stainless steel construction will meet your demands for a high-quality & robust sink solution. Includes cutting board & drying rack, which nestles inside the sink during driving days. Makes dish-washing duty a breeze.

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
    12/02/2023 05:28 pm GMT

    For a complete sink/faucet plumbing diagrams, read our camper van sink installation guide.

    Chapter 7:

    Grey Water Tanks

    These tanks hold all the ‘grey water’, which is dirty water that comes from the sink and shower. Grey water does not include toilet water, urine, or anything with strong chemicals, which is all considered ‘black water’.

    7.1 - What Size Tank Do You Need?

    The amount of grey water that your camper van will produce is dependent on your water usage rate. In our case, we create about 1.5 gallons of grey water a day, most of which comes from washing dishes (~2 meals per day). So our 6-gallon portable tank fits our needs.

    However, if you intend to cook more frequently and/or plan to have an indoor shower, you may want to opt for a larger fixed tank so that you aren’t looking for a dump station every other day.

    7.2 - Portable Tank

    Portable grey water tanks are the perfect solution for camper vans that do not require lots of daily water usage. And because these tanks are small and easy carry, they can be dumped virtually anywhere that you can find a public toilet, including:

    • Gas stations
    • Rest areas
    • Campgrounds
    • McDonalds/Walmart

    *We just try to be discreet when we do dump our small tank.


    We recommend the Reliance 6-gallon container. It’s narrow, compact design makes it fit neatly under the sink without demand lots of precious real estate. But more importantly the container comes with a white funnel, which is used to help pour water out of the container. In our case, we inverted the funnel so that it extends inside the container. Then we fit the Camco sink drain tube into the funnel, where it sits snugly.

    Recommended Grey Tank
    Reliance 6 Gallon Rigid Water Container

    Ideal portable water container for grey water since Camco sink drain fits snuggly into funnel, when inverter inside container. Read installation guide below for more information.

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
    12/03/2023 05:31 am GMT


    In the below diagram, we show how to hook up the sink to the sink drain and finally to the grey water tank.

    Connecting sink to grey water tank for camper van sink system.

    Perfect high-quality sink for van life. Spacious, tough, and comes with useful accessories.


    Best drain tube for camper vans & RVs. Connects to any sink threading and comes with flexible hose to direct water to grey water tank.


    Ideal container for grey water since Camco sink drain fits snuggly into funnel, when inverted inside container.

    Chapter 8:


    Don’t lie, one of the first thoughts you had when you decided to try van life was how you were going to deal with the bathroom situation. That was us, too!

    In essence, there are four general bathroom options for a camper van:

    We purchased a compact Porta-Potty chemical toilet to start, but never used it once in 7 months of travel. So we threw our toilet away and NEVER LOOKED BACK!

    Seriously. After more than 2 years since the toilet purge, we’ve been improvising just fine. And we think you’ll be OK, too.

    That’s not to say we don’t have a toilet ‘solution’. Learn more by clicking the link below.

    Related read: Do You REALLY Need A Camper Toilet?

    Chapter 9:

    Sanitize A 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

    1. Prepare a chlorine solution by mixing ¼ cup of household, unscented bleach with one gallon of water.
    2. You will need one gallon of this chlorine solution for each 15 gallons of tank capacity.
    3. Never pour pure bleach directly into your water tanks
    4. Pour the diluted chlorine solution into your water tank and fill the remaining capacity with water.
    5. Turn on water pump and allow chlorine solution to sit in the pipes.
    6. Allow the solution to sit in the water tank and pipes for 3 hours.
    7. After 3 hours, drain and flush with fresh water

    Free Plumbing eBook!

    If you’re looking to build your own van plumbing system, we created a free eBook with detailed diagrams that show you how to set up your own:

    For more, click the banner below to download. It’s completely free and no email sign-up required.

    Water System Van Tour

    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!

    Thank You For Reading!

    We’re Yuko and Eric! We both grew up in Asia ( Japan & Hong Kong ), we left our jobs and homes in 2018 and started traveling full time from Canada to Argentina in our self-converted camper van since end of May 2019. “Asobo” means “Let’s play” in Japanese. We named our site “Asobolife” because the life is always uncertain and we live only once so it’s important to always keep positive, playful mind and enjoy the moment you are in the present. We also want to use this website to share our road trip and van building experiences to inspire our readers. We hope you enjoy!

    © 2022 Asobolife. Design by Asobolife

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