Van Water Tanks: How to Select Tanks for Your Van Build
How Do Van Lifers Get Running Water?
If you’ve ever dreamt about jumping into your van and seeing where the open road takes you, you’re not alone. Now, more and more people are turning this dream into a reality by living in their vans. While van life is fun, there are many practical considerations. For example, how are you going to get running water on the road?
Anyone who plans to drink water, wash dishes and shower in their van will need van water tanks. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about campervan water systems, from installing tanks to connecting them to your vans plumbing. By the end, you’ll be a bona fide expert on van life water tanks!
Types of Water Tanks You May Need in Your Van Build
The typical van life water system uses around two to three tanks, each one fulfilling a different purpose. Let’s take a closer look at some common water tanks for vans and how they work.
Fresh Water Tanks
Fresh water tanks supply your camper van sink and shower with clean water. They’re used for things like drinking, showering and washing hands. Typically, the tank is filled outside the van before being connected to your campervan plumbing. To keep water flowing, freshwater tanks rely on three main parts:
- Pump: As you consume water, your supply will diminish and the flow of water will become weaker. A van life water pump keeps the water pressure strong so that you can enjoy high-quality showers.
- Valve: If the water pressure in your tank gets too high, it may burst. The valve prevents this from happening.
- Air vent: As you use water, more and more air will enter your tank. The air vent keeps this circulating so it doesn’t interfere with the flow of water.
Ultimately, a van fresh water tank is a must-have if you plan on spending extended periods of time in your van.
Grey Water Tanks
Grey water tanks hold the wastewater that gets drained from your van sink system and shower. As you use water, it enters the tank and remains there for a short period of time. Then, it’s sent to a treatment or irrigation system before being emptied manually.
Like fresh water tanks for campervans, grey water tanks have valves to prevent excess pressure. Some may also have van water pumps that can be used to discharge the water to the treatment system.
Black Water Tanks
Black water tanks collect wastewater from your van toilet. They’re usually located underneath the van (next to the van life grey water tank) and typically contain the following:
- Liquid and solid waste
- Septic safe toilet paper
- Biodegradable enzymatic product (used to clean toilets)
Black water tanks are only necessary if you have a flushable toilet — if you use a composting toilet, you can avoid them entirely.
Where Do You Buy Water Tanks For Vans?
The first step to setting up a van water system is buying a tank. The majority of sellers offer plastic water tanks for vans, which are lightweight and capable of holding large amounts of water. When selecting a tank, you’ll find two options: custom and premade tanks. Let’s take a closer look at the unique benefits each one offers.
Custom Built Van Water Tanks
Custom water tanks for vans are designed to accommodate your van’s size and weight requirements. The manufacturers will take into account where you plan to install the campervan water tank, how much space you have and how much water you need — then, they’ll create a one-of-a-kind tank that meets those demands.
Where Can I Buy a Custom Built Water Tank For Campervans?
You can find custom van water tank manufacturers online. Most sellers will ask you to complete a form, where you’ll share vital information that will help them create a custom sprinter van water system. Here are a few popular sellers:
Benefits of Custom Built Sprinter Water Tanks
Here are the main benefits of custom water tanks for vans:
- High functionality: Because they’re designed precisely for your van, custom tanks tend to be of high quality.
- Long-lasting: Custom van conversion water tanks take more time and effort to build, which leads to a longer-lasting product.
- Durable: Custom tanks are durable and can withstand rocky road or weather conditions.
On the downside, custom water tanks can be expensive and hard to find.
Premade Van Water Tanks
As the name suggests, premade camper water systems are tanks that are ready to install in your vehicle. They come in a variety of types, sizes and weight capacities — it’s up to each individual van owner to determine which one they need.
Where Can I Buy a Premade Van Water Tank?
- Wheel Well Water Tanks: The van wheel well water tanks by Northwest Conversions takes advantage of wasted space around your wheel well. They fit many makes and models and will supply a steady flow of water to your vehicle.
- Under Van Water Tank: This product is ideal for anyone looking to save space — you can easily slip this van water tank under your sprinter van (just below the driver’s seat area). It’s made of high-quality steel, which makes it durable and long-lasting.
- Spare Tire Basket Water Tanks: This water tank rests in your tire basket (you’ll have to move your spare tire to the rear door first). It must be securely drilled to your vehicle first.
You can also find water tanks for sale (such as this Class A Customs tank) by visiting online retailers like Amazon or brick-and-mortar stores like Lowe’s.
Benefits of Premade Water Tanks for Van Conversion
Here are some of the benefits of premade van water tanks:
- Versatility: There’s a wide variety of premade water tanks available, which makes it easy to find one that fits your needs.
- Affordability: If you don’t plan on using your van conversion water system frequently, you can find a budget-friendly model through online sellers.
- Convenience: If you need a water tank in your van quickly, premade tanks are the way to go — they can be bought from stores and installed immediately.
On the cons side, premade water tanks might not fit your van as well as a custom-built version would.
How Much Do Van Water Tanks Weigh?
Before investing in a camper van water system, consider its weight. You want to ensure you’re not going over the weight capacity for your van — otherwise, the tank may be too heavy for your vehicle to support.
To determine how much your water tank for van conversion weighs, multiply the number of gallons in your tank by 8.34 (which is how much one gallon of water weighs). For example, say you have a 20 gallon tank — when it’s filled with water, the tank will weigh about 166 pounds (20 x 8.34). Don’t forget to add on whatever the van water tank itself weighs (this information should be made available by the seller).
What Size Fresh Water Tank Do I Need for My Van?
When purchasing fresh water tanks for sprinter vans, you’ll notice they’re available in many sizes. To determine what size you need, consider the following:
- The total number of people (and pets) living in the van
- How often you shower
- How much water you drink
- How often you use your sink
- How often you plan to refill your tank
In general, a standard campervan with around four passengers needs about 25 gallons of water. However, this number may increase if everyone takes showers, cooks and cleans daily.
How to Install a Fresh Water Tank in Your Van
As you look through potential van water tanks, consider how you plan to install the tank. Ideally, it should be able to easily connect with your van plumbing without getting in your way. Here’s a brief guide on campervan water tank installations.
1) Decide Where You Want to Install Your Fresh Water Tank
First, determine where you want the water tank. Many models are designed for the exterior of your van — these include:
- Wheel well water tanks: These fit in the wheel well space.
- Mounted water tanks: This tank is mounted to the outside of your van.
- Under van water tanks: Some van owners choose to situate their water systems underneath their vehicles.
You can also place your tank inside your van and conceal it with paneling. Many van owners prefer outdoor tanks, as these take less space and are easier to fill. However, they’re also more vulnerable in cold weather and can be damaged in cold climates.
Whether you go with an outdoor or indoor tank, try to install it in a central location. Since water is heavy, avoid placing holding tanks on one side of the van. To help find a good installation spot, try consulting a camper water system diagram.
2) Securely Attach The Van Water Tank
Once you’ve selected your desired location, attach the tank to your vehicle. Before you do this, perform a quick campervan water tank fitting to ensure you’re getting the right sized tank — this involves measuring the area where you intend to place the tank, then picking one that meets those dimensions.
If you’re putting the van water tank outside, make sure it’s securely attached so that it doesn’t fall off. You’ll need the following materials:
- Heavy duty metal brackets
For extra protection, strap down the tank using a strap and footman loops.
3) Get Accessories For Your Tank
You’ll need the following materials to go with your tank.
Make sure you have a properly sized hose that fits your campervan water container’s fill port. You’ll connect this to refill stations whenever you need a fresh water supply.
Water Pump For Vans
As mentioned earlier, pumps help maintain pressure as you consume water. There are two main types:
- Electric pumps
- Manual pumps
Electric pumps work automatically and are connected to your van plumbing and electrical systems. Manual pumps, on the other hand, require physically pressing the pump when using water.
If you want to save electricity and don’t need to use water extensively, a manual pump is a good choice. Many people use a hand water pump for sinks in vans. which requires pressing a small mechanism on your camper van faucet. You can also get a foot pump.
Van Life Water Heater
If you want to enjoy hot water in your vehicle, you’ll need a van life hot water heater. This is a separate appliance that’s connected to the plumbing system of your campervan.. It’s best if you want to take showers — if you only plan to use your sink, you can probably get away with just boiling water occasionally.
Where To Get Water For Your Van’s Fresh Water Tank
As your water source depletes, you’ll need to refill your tank. You can usually find water refill stations at the following locations:
- Gas stations
- City/state parks
- Travel centers
To fill your tank, attach your hose to the fresh water fill and water tank’s fill port. Then, fill until the tank reaches capacity. Some tanks come with indicator dials or lights to let you know when they’re full.
How to Install a Grey Water Tank in Your Van
Installing a grey water tank for campervans is similar to installing a fresh water tank. First, decide where you want it — once you’ve settled on an indoor or outdoor spot, securely attach the tank to your van.
Because grey water tanks remove used water, you must attach them to your van sink and shower drain using a valve. You’ll also need a sewer hose for removing wastewater from the tank. A campervan plumbing diagram can help you with installation.
What Size Grey Water Tank Do You Need for Your Van?
The size of your grey water tank depends on how often you want to empty it — the bigger it is, the longer you can go without dumping it. As a rule of thumb, it should be big enough to hold enough water from one shower, but a few gallons smaller than your freshwater tank (since much of that water is for drinking, not waste).
How to Install a Black Water Tank in Your Van
If you have a flushable toilet, you’ll need a black water tank for getting rid of waste — this usually goes next to the grey water tank. Size varies depending on how often you plan to dump it, but black water tanks are usually smaller than grey and fresh water tanks. Once you’ve chosen a model and attached it to your van, connect it to the following pieces:
- Flush valve
- Dump valve
The toilet is connected to the tank through the flush valve. After waste enters the tank, it’s released through the dump valve.
Where to Dump Grey and Black Water
Generally, you should avoid leaving wastewater in the grey water tank for too long (as this can attract vermin). Dumping stations can usually be found at the following places:
- RV campgrounds
- Wastewater treatment plants
- Gas stations
- National parks
Start by putting your sewer hose in the dump site. Then, open your tank’s valve to release the water. For safety purposes, we recommend wearing rubber gloves. Once you’re done emptying your van water storage unit, add an RV water tank treatment to clean it.
Always make sure a location lets you empty wastewater before doing so. You should also check the prices — while some campgrounds and parks offer dumping sites for free, other locations (particularly gas stations) can charge up to $25.
Prepare For Van Life Today!
It’s hard to beat the convenience offered by van water tanks. From cooking and washing dishes to brushing your teeth and taking showers, there’s no shortage of advantages when it comes to campervan water systems. If you have any questions about choosing, sizing and installing your tanks, feel free to contact us. Our goal is to help as many people as possible enjoy the wonders of van life.