Plumbing System

The day before we left on this trip, we were finalizing the kitchen sink plumbing, the modern bathroom sinks and decided we really didn’t like the set-up, so decided to abandon our original plan. And for several weeks it had been all too easy to put it off since there were plenty of other things that were more interesting; yes, anything was more interesting than fixing our plumbing. We finally came around to completing it in Parry Sound, also out first test of handyman work in a Home Depot parking lot.

We had the sink (Amazon) and faucet (Amazon) already set in the counter, as well as the plumbing from the sink drain but not the hoses or fresh and grey water tanks.

In Parry Sound we found 5-gallon water tanks that (randomly and luckly) fit perfectly into our bottom cabinet so we stopped at the next Home Depot and got to work. The system is pretty simple. As I mentioned, we already had both the faucet and sink set into the counter, using silicon to reinforce the edges and seams to seal off any potential leaks between the sink / faucet and the counter. Here is our set up for the grey water:

Grey Water Set-up: We had very limited space the sink to attach the plumbing so traditional plumbing solutions just didn’t seem to work for us. Think of that when you go to service your drain, measure your tools! The sink has a 1-½ inch drain, and we used 3 PVC pieces that connect to a vinyl hose. We used rubber cement to combine the PVC pieces and plumber’s tape to seal any threads. Because of the shape of the elbow connector, we filled the PVC with some epoxy to prevent grey water from pooling. From the PVC, a ½inch inside diameter clear vinyl tube runs to the grey water tank.

Fresh Water Set-up: Our choice of faucet require ⅜ inch inside diameter hose, which we attached with a simple hose clamp. We had to make sure the hose had ample length to reach the bottom of the fresh water tank. We also needed to allow for air flow to replace the pumped water but prevent any spills. Our water tanks had ¾ inch threads, so we attached a vertical piece of PVC pipe (made up of 2 pieces from the hardware store), which the vinyl hose loosely runs through, to the bottom of the tank. We played around with the idea of adding weight to the bottom of the fresh water hose, but the system works fine without.

In addition to the 5-gallon tank connected to the faucet, we carry a 6-gallon canister in the trunk and a 2.5 gallon container with a spigot (which Nikki really likes). So in total we have 13.5 gallons of capacity.

If we could do this on the spot in a Home Depot parking lot with very limited tools, anyone can do it! We were laughing that it had taken us so long to get motivated. So far, so great! Having a sink in the van is a game changer, especially when stealth camping. Now if only we had a toilet…

As we’ve been traveling, we’ve been debating getting an electric water pump for convenience. It wouldn’t be a drain on power, and probably very little work, but the hand pump is fine for now. We’re wondering which of the two would result in more efficient water usage. The other thought is to install a second 5-gallon freshwater tank for a quick switch.

Note: We originally were planning to use only 1.25-gallon tanks and attach them almost directly beneath the sink behind the fridge. In hindsight, this seems like a ridiculously foolish idea given our water usage. The 5-gallon tanks fit perfectly under the other side of the cabinet and allows us to use the sink for dish-washing, drinking and cooking water needs, as well as brushing teeth etc. The lost space that is taken up by the larger tanks, we realized, wasn’t ideal for storing of frequently used materials, so figured it was good space to use up with larger water tanks.

Lessons learned

  • We are using about 2 gallons / day. So we have to refill the tank attached to the faucet every 2-3 days. Our full system (13.5 gallons) needs to be refilled roughly once a week. Canada and the US have been really easy for fresh water access (and for free!), so we may need to make adjustments depending on the country.
  • Grey water tanks fill up at about half the rate that fresh water empties out. Half our freshwater is used for drinking and cooking, the other half for dishes and cleaning.
  • Grey water tanks get dirty fairly quickly, although we haven’t noticed any smells from the sink. We bought some grey water tank cleaner that we fill in the sink occasionally, but results have been mixed. We tend to wash out the grey water tanks every now and then.
  • If leaving the van standing for multiple days (without using the sink), always empty out the tank to avoid residue buildup.
  • The sink is fine for our purposes – it’s big enough for dishwashing, although inconvenient for larger items. We do like that it’s deep and has a flat bottom (you can leave stuff in the sink while driving). If we were to do it again, we may pick a wider sink – we certainly wouldn’t go smaller than what we have right now.
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  1. I’d love to see a post about how you cook and prepare food. Also, do you you use the grey water for anything? I’ve been trying to think of what it might be useful for while on the road, but am coming up blank!

    • Thank you for asking about that! We will post something shortly on what we’ve been doing so far. It’s taken us a while to figure out the best way for storing and preparing food.

  2. Have you had trouble finding clean drinking water on you CA/SA trip? I hate buying bottled water. Have you considered a water filtering system?

    • Hi Toddies,

      We didn’t have any issues finding potable water in Central or South America. In countries that didn’t have potable taps, you can buy 5 gallon exchangeable jugs for fairly cheap, often $1-2. 5 gallons would last us anywhere from 3-5 days, for drinking, cooking and dish washing, and we have capacity for 16 gallons in the van. So for these purposes buying purified water was hassle-free and economical.

      If you plan on using an onboard shower or think that your water usage will be much higher than ours, a water filter would probably make sense. An interesting site to check out for a setup is Drive Nacho Drive, but I think they may have had some issues over the course of their (3-year!) trip.

      • Thanks for the information. My wife and I are planning a trip through South and Central America and are planning a sprinter build. Our website has been very informative and very inspiring. I can imagine that putting this quality of content is a lot of work. It is appreciated. Your site will be a great resource during our build and on the road.

        We keep wondering what you guys are up to since getting back to the US, and I am sure that we are not the only ones in suspense. Looking forward to the continuing story.

        You have mentioned in your IG feed a couple times that you’ll sell the van at some point. If you are, please let me know, your setup is right along the lines of what we are thinking. Cutting out he building part would not be horrible either.

        Thank you again,

        P.S. I usually go with Toddius, Toddies what a typo, but I that works too. 🙂

  3. Hey, i was curious about the attachment INTO the tanks. Did you alter the spigot or find another lid somewhere with a port on it for the hose? If so, what do you call that lid? I’ve not been able to come up with the right search words.


  4. Did you think of just drilling a hole in the bottom of the fan to drain water? This seems like the most simple solution, but I’ve only seen it on one other person’s van build. What made you guys use the two tank system?


    • Eric,

      We did consider just draining the sink to the outside, but decided against it given that it’s often frowned upon to dump your grey water at your campsite (for example because of bear issues). However, I researched a couple of cheap options to install some PVC piping under the van body to catch the drain water. TheSamba and Sprinter-source had some good inspiration. That’s probably what I would do next time.

  5. Pingback: Feeding Station Build (ie the Kitchen) | Sprinter Van Diaries

  6. Hi there, how did you end up addressing the venting of the water supply tank to avoid spillage or slipping out?

    • Matt,

      We added a short piece of PVC pipe to the top of the grey water tank. The grey water hose goes into the tank through that. With the tank tied down, there wasn’t ever any spillage. You can see what we did in one of the pictures above.

      Hope this helps!

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