Outdoor Shower & Supplimental Fresh Water System

Today we’ll talk about a big modification to our camper to make things a bit more tailored to our style of living. Fresh water and sewer capacity are our limiting factors for remaining away from services so changes were necessary!

One of the creature comforts that makes life so much more pleasant is a shower, especially for outdoor adventurers that accumulate a nice dirt patina after a few days! The indoor shower is really cramped and at 5’10” and 6′ it’s really just not comfortable at all. The Lance 815 from the factory also drains the shower water to the already small 7 gallon black water tank (most RV showers drain that to grey water). Even though we’re really conservative with how much water we use in the shower, the stock shower water configuration really limits our black water capacity in terms of number of days before finding a dump station. Plus, the 20-gallon stock fresh water tank is already small for dishes, tooth brushing, and drinking water for three.

To address our fresh water storage issue and cramped, inefficient shower issue, we designed a outdoor auxiliary water storage system with shower!

The flat bed on our truck is 9.5′ long instead of the standard 8′ so we have the extra needed room to put our water system between the camper and the headache rack. The tanks and all related hardware are separate from the camper and stay on the truck bed when the camper is removed so that if the the truck goes into town (or work or the ranger station) without the camper, it can top off with water too.

Water Storage Vessels:

A rectangular poly tank that would fit our available space retails for $300 or more so we set out to find a better option. We used 15(ish) gallon containers are 14.5″ in diameter. These food grade blue barrels can be purchased for $10-$15 just about anywhere. We bought ours at a farm supply store used (they started life as Dr. Pepper syrup containers), using three of them gives us a total of 45 gallons of extra water. Since they were used, we filled them with a dilute bleach solution, then a vinegar solution, and flushed them several times with just water. (This order was copied from several RV manufacturers recommendations for cleaning RV fresh water tanks.)

Water System Assembly:

All three barrels were connected at the bottom with 1″ PVC tubing using Uniseals then they were linked at the top with 3/8″ flexible tubing for venting. Assembling the barrels in this manner means there is just one opening for filling and one outlet for discharge. All of the fittings are 3/4″ hose so if any lines ever wear out or burst, one can be made out of any garden hose found at any store.

The water tanks are attached to a SHURflo pump. This 12 volt unit is the same as the pump in the camper so if that one ever breaks, we have a spare on board! It’s also the pump used in 99% of RVs and can be frozen. Downstream of the pump, water can be dispensed from a spigot for refilling the camper, the dogs bowl, Nalgene bottles, washing the motorcycle, etc.

Outdoor Shower

Our shower is a Camp Chef Triton 5L. It will flow 0.5 to 1.5 gallons a minute and can boost the water up to 100 degrees for a nice hot shower. We use it at 0.5 gallon a minute and it is plenty of water. Although outside can be chilly, we generally stay with the warm weather, plus being clean is totally it. Its propane use is minimal and runs off our spare 5 gallon tank.

In short, our 65 gallon system works great! We don’t always carry the extra weight but can if the trip requires it. Being able to take a shower after a ride or hike is heavenly!

Building A Van For $200

After putting together our awesome Sprinter and working hard on the Scamp, we were anxious to get on the road and didn’t want to spend tons of time working on the Chevy. After traveling off and on for the last few months we have a pretty good idea of what is really necessary in a van to be comfortable and live on the road. We were also attracted by the challenge of building out this van as affordably as possible (see yesterday’s post) as an exercise in what it really takes to hit the road.

We purchased 3/8″ sheeting for the floor and installed it directly on top of the sheet metal. The bed is 3/4″ A/C plywood (11 layers!) cut to fit the sides of the van (our van tapered about 1″ from front to rear); conveniently, the left over plywood was the right height to support the bed below our torsos (placement was determined by the width of our storage totes).

There are a few key items that you probably need inside your van. The items we chose to include in our budget breakdown are things that we’ve judged to be necessary to “make the jump” to living in your van comfortable. There are always ways pare down and make the entry costs cheaper and never ending ways to make things more complicated or expensive—these just represent our thoughts on the matter.

Budget Van Build:

  • 2 sheets 3/8″ sheeting for floor: $36 (Home Depot)
  • Box of self tapping screws for floor: $6 (Home Depot)
  • 1 sheet 3/4 A-C plywood for bed: $34 (Home Depot)
  • Two burner propane stove: $25 used (garage sales, Craigslist) or $40 new.

A single burner can also work but for minimal extra cost two burners can be quite nice. 1 pound propane cylinders will work just fine and you can upgrade to a 5 pound container when you can. We’re actually just cooking with my backpacking stove outside the van right now, so whatever you’ve got will get you on the road!

  • Cabinet: $15 (garage sales)
  • Futon mattress: $40 (thrift store, Craigslist)

Non-spring mattresses can be trimmed with a razor blade to fit around ribs in the van body. A full-size futon will hang over a plywood bed (48″ wide) but at 54″ this size works fine. Or just cut it down and resew the cover.

This is one of the vandwelling necessities we already had. Any clean container will work but having a good supply of water on hand is key! We keep 4 1L Nalgene containers full for drinking water and cooking and refill them from our large container.

Here’s something that you probably don’t need to get started but being able to charge a computer while going down the road is really important to us—and probably to lots of potential van dwellers

  • LED dome replacement lights: $6 (eBay)

Since you’ll be going in and out of your vehicle a fair amount, switching the dome lights to LEDs (or simply removing the fuse for them) will probably save you from killing your van battery repeatedly.

Total van build: $208

So You Want To Live In A Van…

The open road is calling your name but how do you even begin? There’s more than one way to live in a van.

There’s the $120K Roadtrek way:

There’s the DIY Sprinter conversion way ($15-25K):

And then, there’s the budget way ($1-4K):

We recently purchased a 2001 Chevy Express contractor van with 118,000 miles for $2500. For this build, we decided to do a budget build to figure out what’s really necessary to live in a van.

Budget vans come in all varieties, most common being the cargo van although conversion models are also available. Among cargo vans, budget options vary from $1000 older or high mileage vehicles to $4000 low mileage late models.

Although there are cheaper options out there, we decided to go with the newer van because of several factors. The newer van has a few more creature comforts: it is quieter and rides more smoothly. Our 2001 with the 5.0L V8 gets 20MPG which is as good as it gets for a gas powered van. Some mechanical improvements also make the newer models desirable; for example, the transmission is much stronger and modern fuel injection. Parts are widely available in junk yards and are more likely to be in stock at auto parts stores. This van has a high stealth factor for exploring towns and cities. A 1991 “Free candy” van sticks out a lot more.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue with a look at how to build a Budget Van.. for less than $200!