Sprinter Van Bathroom: Pros, Cons & Would I Do It Again?

I get a ton of questions about my first Sprinter Van bathroom, and a lot of people have said they want to copy the exact layout of my first converted Sprinter Van. Before you go doing that, I wanted to write a blog post about the pros and cons of a Sprinter Van bathroom. Yes, it’s nice to have access to a shower, but it comes at a cost, in terms of space, price, and maintenance.

In this post, I share my thoughts on my previous Sprinter Van bathroom (my current van without a bathroom is here) and answer the question, if I could start all over, would I still build a shower in my van and would I do it the same way?

UPDATE: For a more comprehensive overview of van conversion toilet and shower options, see this detailed blog post and watch the video that are part of my free online course, the Van Life Roadmap. 


Why I decided to put a bathroom in my Sprinter Van

A couple years back, I traveled in a small camper van in New Zealand for three months. That van didn’t have a shower, and as a result I found myself searching for a shower every 3 or 4 days. I’d either pay for a campground that had showers or I’d find a gym I could shower at. All in all, it wasn’t that big of deal…but I preferred camping at more off-the-grid spots.

What was annoying, however, was getting up in the middle of the night to go pee. Now for you guys out there, it’s not such a big deal. All you have to do is slide the door open with your eyes half-shut, wave it in the wind, and then fall back in bed. Easy peezy. On the other hand, for us ladies, peeing in the middle of the night when you sleep in a van means getting dressed, putting on shoes, and popping a squat, or walking to the nearest bathroom if you’re in an established campground. It’s pretty disrupting to your sleep schedule.

At the same time I was in New Zealand, I was in the middle of designing my first Sprinter Van with my builder back home, and it got me thinking…maybe I should put a bathroom in my Sprinter Van. It sure would be nice to not have to go outside in the middle of the night to pee, especially when I was traveling alone and didn’t want everyone to know it, or to search for a shower every few days like I was in New Zealand. Staying at KOA campgrounds was not how I envisioned traveling in the states, and besides the bathroom, I was self-contained and self-powered and would have no need for KOA-type services.

Ok, so a shower started to seem like a good idea. What about an outdoor shower? An outdoor shower would have been a great option, but I wanted to be in my van year-round, and an outdoor shower would only work in the summer.

On a phone call with my builder, he said he could build me a full bathroom with shower for an added cost. “No big deal,” he said. Even though he had never built a shower in a Sprinter Van before, I trusted him (mistakenly), and we incorporated a bathroom into my Sprinter Van design.


My Sprinter Van Bathroom Set-Up

Bathroom Basics

My first Sprinter Van bathroom was built in the back corner along the passenger side, and it’s completely enclosed with permanent walls and a plexiglass door. The dimensions of my bathroom are shown in the image below.

If you are thinking about building a bathroom in your Sprinter Van...read this first! Here's my thoughts on the pros and cons of building a shower in your camper van with 6 months of van life under my belt.
Sprinter Van bathroom dimensions

I’m not exactly sure what the walls were made of, but the rest of the walls in my van are made of powder-coated aluminum. The walls in the bathroom had a slightly different texture, but that may be due to a water-proofing membrane that was used to coat the walls.

The floor was made of teak and was removable, and underneath the teak was a drain that goes to the gray water tank.

My Sprinter Van Toilet

*Update: I recently wrote a post sharing some of the most popular campervan toilets for van life and the pros and cons of each

The toilet I had in my first Sprinter Van was a Thetford portable-potti. That means there is no plumbing associated with it, and the entire toilet is self-contained. You fill up the toilet’s clean water tank which you use for flushing, and then the toilet has its own built-in black water holding tank. You put a little deodorizer in the holding tank which keeps the smells under control.

There’s an indicator that tells you when it’s time to dump it. If I was by myself and using it exclusively at night and occasionally during the day, it could hold a weeks worth of pee, no problem. When it was time to dump it, you take out the entire toilet, separate the bowl from the holding tank, and pour the contents down the drain at an RV dump. I only used it for #1, but the whole process was not as bad as I expected it to be.

Sprinter Van toilet porta-potti

The porta-potty was inexpensive and at the time I thought leaving space for a porta-potti was one of the smartest decisions I made in my Sprinter Van build. I was so happy I don’t have to go outside in the middle of the night (I’ve since learned that even for females, a pee bottle is a much smaller, easy alternative to a porta-potty.

My only complaint was that my long legs, combined with the small dimensions of my Sprinter Van bathroom, made it pretty hard to shut the bathroom doors when sitting on the toilet. So I would usually go with the bathroom doors open. This wasn’t a big deal, but you gotta be pretty comfortable with anyone who you might be traveling with.

Learn about the best campervan toilet options for your Sprinter Van!

My Sprinter Van Shower: Pros and Cons

What I didn’t think about is how much more complicated a shower makes your plumbing system. All of a sudden you need hot water and a lot more of it. With only a sink, you can get away with 10-12 gallons and be off the grid for 4-5 days, maybe even more if you conserve. Introduce a shower, and you need more like 25 gallons, especially if there’s two of you.

See…complicated much?

Plumbing in a Sprinter Van

And then, you have to think, where are you going to store all of that water? If you live in a warm climate and don’t plan on using the van much in freezing temps, then you can store water outside the van. But what if spend time in cold places in winter such as Salt Lake City, like me? In harsh winter climates, any water tanks and lines you have outside the van with water in them will be frozen solid if the temps drop below freezing, including your gray water tank. Even pipes inside the van can freeze if it gets cold enough, and if the pipes burst inside your van, you are looking at some complicated repairs.

Before moving forward with my Sprinter Van bathroom, these considerations weren’t something that my builder discussed with me, and I made the mistake of not educating myself on all this stuff. He ended up putting a 10 gallon water tank inside the van and a 15 gallon tank underneath the van. Seemed fine to me…thoughts about the pipes freezing didn’t even cross my mind. He lived in California, so I’m not sure it crossed his mind either.

When it was all said and done, in winter climates, the 15 gallon tank outside tank was useless, and I had to leave it empty so it did’t freeze. That left me with 10 gallons.  If I was traveling with another person, and we only had 10 gallons, a shower was VERY low on the priority list if we wanted to conserve water and be off the grid for more than 2 days at a time.

There are probably ways to insulate that exterior tank and lines. Most of what I read back then suggested 12v heating pads, but those consume a lot of precious battery power so it wasn’t a good option for me.

In the summer, I could carry a total 25 gallons with my inside AND outside tank in use, and that is enough for drinking and cooking for 5 or so days, and maybe a shower or two, if you turn the water off while you are soaping up.

Remember, I said the whole reason I wanted a shower was because I was planning on living in the van year round. Well with the way my water tanks and plumbing were set up, the shower was only practical in summer. Knowing that, I could have built some sort of outdoor solar shower setup off the rear doors instead (which is sort of what I ended up doing with my current Sprinter Van). That would have been ALOT cheaper and maybe a better use of the limited space inside my van.

Shower in Sprinter Van bathroom

With the the longer Sprinter – the 170” wheelbase and perhaps a different floor plan, I would have had room inside the van to store all of my water. In that case, I’m still not sure a full indoor bathroom with a shower it’s worth the hassle for the points I’ll discuss in the next section.

The other thing I’ll mention about my shower is that the water was leaking through the floor the day I left my original builder’s shop. They didn’t use a shower pan and failed to seal the floor properly underneath the teak. I fixed this myself by putting a thick layer of rubber flex-seal which filled in all of the holes, but having an actual shower pan would have been a much better option.

If you are thinking about building a bathroom in your Sprinter Van...read this first! Here's my thoughts on the pros and cons of building a shower in your camper van with 6 months of van life under my belt.

Sprinter Van Water Heater

The other thing to consider for a Sprinter Van bathroom is if you want hot water and how you are going to heat the water. Hot water requires additional plumbing lines plus the water heater itself. My builder installed hot water lines, but didn’t install the actual heater because he didn’t know how. I had to go somewhere else for that after my build was already completed.

While maybe obvious, that is definitely not the way to do it. If you are going to build a shower in your Sprinter Van, you should figure out what type of hot water heater you want and where you are going to put it before you build out the rest of the van.

With my build already completed and plumbing lines in, I had very limited space left in my van for a water heater. Even the tankless water heaters were too big. So I opted for the Webasto Dual Top EVO 6, which runs off diesel (plus a little battery power) and heats both the water and the air in the van. It’s not too compact, but it fits nicely in the spare tire area underneath the van.

The downside of the Webasto Dual Top EVO 6? The price. On top of what I had already spent on my build, I had to pay quite a bit for the part and full installation. Without the shower, I could have installed a normal air heater for 1/10th of the price (or less). I also could have saved a lot of money on the shower if the water heater had been incorporated into the floor plan from the get-go, since that would have opened up a lot of other options, like a tankless heater.

Also with the Webasto, any time the temps drop into the 30s and you have water in the lines and the boiler, you must have the unit on. So in cold climates, you might be running the unit 24 hours a day just to prevent water from freezing in the unit.

Webasto Dual Top EVO 6 in Sprinter Van

Installation was complicated because some of my water lines had to be rerouted and ended up costing me ALOT of money. If I had known just how much it was going to cost to have hot water in the van, I probably would have thought twice about the shower. It was a ton of money, but since the shower was already built, I felt I didn’t really have a choice but to install hot water. Otherwise, it was a complete waste of space. Also winter was approaching fast and I was desperate for a heating solution.


Sprinter Van Bathroom Components

If you are set on building a shower in your Sprinter Van, here’s a list of all of the components used in my previous bathroom and where you can find them. In the end, I was happy with all of these components. The shower head has an on/off switch which is very useful for turning off when you are soaping up, and the shower hose is 8 feet long so I can use it outside to hose off my feet or gear.


Would I build a Sprinter Van bathroom again?

Did I like my shower in the end? Sometimes. Would I do it again? Probably not. I once went 22 days without showering on the John Muir Trail, and I don’t mind being dirty. If I do have a shower in a future van, it will be quite different than the one in this van. It also certainly wouldn’t have tile (which adds so much unnecessary weight).

The complications that the shower (due to my specific setup) presented in cold climates caused me a lot of headaches, which I slowly figured out how to manage. In the winter, the shower mostly served as a very expensive storage area.

If you are thinking about building a bathroom in your Sprinter Van...read this first! Here's my thoughts on the pros and cons of building a shower in your camper van with 6 months of van life under my belt.

I also wonder if I had asked the right questions of my builder before hiring him, I would have ended up with a different builder or a different design. Now I wouldn’t hire someone to build a bathroom in a van who has zero bathroom experience.

With all this said, I know there are many people out there who would love having a full bathroom. I think it makes a lot more sense in the 170” wheelbase. If a shower is fitting for your lifestyle, then I’d highly suggest doing more upfront research than I did, so you can weigh all of your heating and plumbing options before your van build begins. That way you can figure out how to do it cost-effectively.

I hope this helps those Sprinter folks out there who are considering a shower whether or not it is a good use of van space and a good fit for your lifestyle.

Oh, and for those of you who want to know who built my first van….it was a small company in Santa Barbara, and unfortunately I cannot provide a recommendation for them. 


Do you want a full bathroom in your Sprinter Van? Why or why not? Share your questions, comments, and experiences below!

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77 comments on “Sprinter Van Bathroom: Pros, Cons & Would I Do It Again?

  1. Curious…did you ever consider a propane fired h2o heater like you find in a regular r.v.? If not, why? Was it just a space problem?
    We are due to get our sprinter at the end of april sometime. I\\\’m pretty much following your design with a few changes like the bathroom on the drivers side and a twenty gallon tank inside the van and a propane fired water heater. It all works on paper. We\\\’ll see.

    1. I considered the truma combi, which is a propane heater, but I wanted to stick with diesel to minimize the number of different tanks I’d have to fill up.

      1. Hi Kristen – BTW the link to the Webasto dual top – thats 2100 in UK pounds (not USD), $2900 USD plus shipping and duty.
        Mount it INSIDE the van and you don’t have to worry about outside temperatures.
        Its my heater/ water heater of choice for sub zero climates.
        You’re other option is the ITR Oasis Zephyr – one machine (made in Canada) that does everything – engine preheat (and vice versa – engine heats hot water), heat, hot water – just don’t make coffee in the morning for you.
        Jon

        1. hi there. I am designing my sprinter van build and am interested in the oasis Zephyr and wonder if any one out there has ever used it and what are your comments please and thank you . it is quite pricy.
          Does anyone have any suggestions, they would really be appreciated!

      2. Hey Kristen, wonderful job. What is your favorite RV shower head for your van’s bathroom. I am too curious to know.

    2. An additional point with propane vs diesel heat/heater/hot water heater. Propane gas can displace oxygen, and it is an explosive gas. In addition to needing sniffers to detect if there is a leak, you have the requirement to make a propane locker sealed, only vented to the outside and as a life safety concern, you should have a c02 alarm.

      Additionally propane when burning inside the van cabin releases carbon monoxide, a poison, as well as, moisture as part of the burning process, increasing the humidity content with in the cabin. Both elements are not desirable. CO2 kills directly, moisture creates a habitat for mold, and over time mold kills.

      Diesel systems obtain their combustible oxygen from the outside, and vent their spent fuel outside as well. Diesel heat, is a very dry heat, has a good relationship between fuel btu’s, where as propane does not have as high btu energy. In other words more bang for the btu buck, although diesel appliances/cook tops/ heaters/ hot water heaters are more expensive up front.

      Last, if your in a diesel powered vehicle, you have 30 plus or more so gallons to burn thru at a rate of less than a couple of quarts +/- a day.

  2. When I was growing up back in India we used to boil couple of gallons of water on the stove top and mix it with a cold water in a bucket, use a mug to pour the water over the head.. I would probably go back to my ancient day method if I ever buy a sprinter van instead of building a shower especially after reading your post. 🙂

    1. Sam, Not a bad idea. You could take that one step further and pump the water to the shower head. Might be a little more convenient and less messy.

    2. This. I think we overdo things. It’s not a real home. Adventure comes at cost of washing in comfort. I’d get a wide plastic tub, half foot deep. Heat stove water mixed normal water and bingo. Also a huge folding bucket can be stored easily. I use sea, lake, surf showers and gyms. Have a huge dry bag/solar which hooks onto the rear door and has holes in bag like a shower. idm cold showers just a quick rinse

  3. I haven\’t done the van thing yet so have no practical experience. However, couldn\’t you keep your shower area but just use the long faucet from your sink to drizzle some water on yourself, then turn it off, lather up, rinse yourself off, and be done? In the winter you could just heat your van a little more with your propane heater so you don\’t mind the cold water so much.

    I\’d think a shower this way 3-5 times a week wouldn\’t really use much water. For days when you really want a good shower you could go to a gym.

  4. Thanks so much for the inspiration. As a single 73 year old woman who spent the winter months in a tent with my little schnauzer, I am determined to find a good van . I would like a bit of advice on where to find a van conversion company. I am north of Chicago in Wisconsin.

    Thanks for all the wonderful advice.

    Dee

    1. Dorothy, did u find a van yet ? I am in the Chicago area and could help you locate or plan the build of one.
      Ive lived in a motorhome for 10 years and have had vans etc.
      I’d be happy to help.
      If you’ve found one, what did u get ?

    1. You have done one of the most perfect set ups i seen in a long time. I also was looking for that Sprinter Van Bathroom pros and cons but couldn’t find them. Thanks.

  5. Really love your honest and thoughtful blog posts. With my van have similar thoughts – will have a toilet (composting type with 12v fan) to avoid trekking into the great British freezing July rain for a wee. Decided similarly ahead of time not to go with a full shower, but will have a submersible pump and shower head to drop into a bucket of warm water (much like Sam’s method above) and a storage container with drain fitted so have somewhere waterproof in the van for a decent low tech wash. When the buckle and storage box aren’t in use they can store other things. At least that is the plan!

    1. Hi Faith,
      I am beginning van conversion now. Am considering a composting toilet, just wondered how yours was going?
      Kindest regards, sophy

  6. I felt for you, the much extra cost you have to cough up for the water heating. Your original builder didn’t know what he is doing n screw you. can’t imagine he didn’t even seal the bathroom floor. smh. He is not a good man, just a cheat.

    1. Don’t assume malice when incompetence is a sufficient explanation. He did after admit he did not know how to install the heater. Clearly a novice beginner.

  7. For an alternate perspective we love having a simple bathroom/shower stall in our short Sprinter. Like you we use the Thetford Porta-Potti, which can be easily moved into the aisle while showing. Our stall enclosure is 24×33\” and that extra three inches length is crucial for having enough knee room to comfortably sit on the toilet.

    Although that Webasto Dual Top is an awesome piece of engineering, those seeking a simpler solution will be well served by an all-in-one camping shower/pump such as the Neno Helio or Zodi Extreme. No complex hot water plumbing, although a grey water drain tank, and of course a real shower pan, are still needed. Totally agree with you that 20+ gallon inside water tank is minimum.

    I\’m not such a fan of the Eccotemp or Zodi Instant style portable propane hot water heaters because they require constant water flow to maintain proper temperature, water that\’s precious in a van camper. The Helio and Extreme units have positive on/off flow control that makes 1-2 gallon showers both practical and refreshing after an active day outside covered with sunscreen, sweat, bug spray, and trail grime.

  8. Thanks so much for the detailed and honest review. Following your van build is REALLY helping me thing about mine… in the future. I’m a JMT thru-hiker too and going a couple of weeks without a shower is no big deal. Now, if I’m meeting clients regularly and doing corporate training than regular bathing may be a different story. I’m looking forward to learning more from you and I hope we can trade some PM in the near future. -Kevin

  9. Such a pleasure to read your blog. Love your honest review of your van conversion. I totally agree with you on van-conversion values. Since this is a life style, the conversion need to take social norms and public facility utilization/integration into consideration.
    I converted my Promaster myself last year and eventually went with the standard 5 gal water bottle approach for freshwater because of the exact same reason you mentioned regarding the “hose refill only” issue.

    I have been considering to install a shower closure in my van for after running refresh and just find your article in time! I did some researches for the shower closure. You may want to try fiberglass + resin to waterproof your shower. This youtube video demonstrates the process (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhWud4a5Aj8&t=8s)

    Happy camping ~

  10. Hey! I was wondering if those tile- like hexagons are made of ceramic. I am making my own conversion, but dont know if ceramic will be too heavy, don’t want to end up having too much weight added to the van just for aesthetics.

    Thanks!

  11. We have had the same thoughts! We are just working on our second van, without a galley, shower, toilet, hot water in our first. We aren’t adding them this time either!

    1. Well, sort of. Our galley is modular and can be removed. It will hold our 12v fridge and have a counter on top. All water will be as you mention from 5 Gal container to a grey water container. We have a 12v pressure washer 5Gal that we use as the faucet. Holds the water and is pressurized. Can add hot water if we heat it on stove.

    2. We make a “room” off the back of the van for the same portapotti and use the same pressure washer for the showers. Putting teak on the down would be nice. We have outdoor mats we put outside the side and back doors to keep the grime out, so sort of a floor.

    We just haven’t yet felt the need to spend the money to haul the plumbing around!

  12. I’m not exactly positive if this product exists (and I’m too lazy to look it up) but I think someone makes a heating element for the undercarriage water tanks. It’s like a heating blanket that wraps around the tank. Similar products are sold for diesel engines that basically hug the core of the engine, the block, and keep it at above freezing temperatures. If I remember right the product draws power from the battery bank. Anyway, I don’t see why you couldn’t do something like that. (I am just guessing though)

    For me, I’m gonna go with the weed sprayer and whatever temp water I can find. (Maybe boiling a bit too from time to time)

    Nice build. >)

  13. Thanks so much for writing this article. My husband and I are in the planning stages of our first van conversion and we keep going back and forth about having a toilet and whether we would get a porto or the composting kind. Our first trip will be a ski trip for at least 2 months in 2018 chasing snow (and the accompanying freezing weather) and this article just convinced me that we need some kind of toilet for me for the middle of the night. Did you consider a composting toilet? Do you have any trouble finding RV sites to dump your bowl?

  14. Kristen,
    What are your white, grey and black water tank capacities? If I am reading this correctly, you don’t have any black, and your grey is 15. What about your white? We are so excited about our new conversion and both of us enjoy your insight. One other question, on your battery system and storage, are you happy with your choices there? Would you change anything? Thank you so much. Have a safe weekend.
    Shannan

    1. Clean water is 25 gallons, grey water 15 gallons. I don’t have a black water tank because my toilet is a porta potti. I’m happy with my battery capacity.

  15. Greetings from Denmark.

    I have read throughout your wonderful website till teaching this horrible struggle with the hot water shower. I want to suggest a small simple solution I use in a very small motorhome I sometimes use in subzero winters. This is a small and very cheap solution that actually works very good for me. Maybe this can put some smile on your face!

    I use a big preseruzed pump, which is actually a container with hot water with a pump on the top. This is used to spray over plants. If you come to 120squarefeet.com to the tiny house tour, you can see such container in the bath. I just full it with warm water, measure the temperature, hang the top pipe of the shower to the bath wall and spray hot water. I managed to changethe top end of the pipe with a small showerhead. I use a deep large bucket and then drain it out of the motorhome. The pressurised pumpe is manual and after few pumping you have enough pressure for a good bath. Water consumption is half the normal use in a campervan.

    Since the pressurised pump is very economical with water usuage, you can make a small hole in the floor and drain the water directly out of the van. I place a bucket under the van when in a civilised area and then water the plants around.

    Another way is to use a bucket and a deep submurge pump. This can give more water in each second but this requires Electricity.

    Another idea is to minimise baths by using Tena wash cream which is a cream that also has a cleaning and reparation effect – currently used by many elederly in nursing homes all over Denmark. It cleaning better than water and soap.

    To sum up: I always love the low tech solution. I use the kitchen sink as i do not want to have a sink in the bathroom – too much complications in the pipe system. I love the toilet you use. I use the same! But i am more inclined to use a simple shower with a big large bucket for the feet and pressurised pump to make things easier, avoid leaks and save on energy. Water can always be heated with gas and i need 5 liters for a full bath. Draining the water into a bucket inside the van or directly out of the van via a hole can avoid the problem of frossen grey tank in winter.

    Please share your thoughts and let us discuss the issue further as you are not the only one in this issue.

    Kind regards
    Jonathan

  16. when my husband was contracting in Holland, then France and Germany, we bought a big enough campervan that he could live in and the family could go and stay with him. He insisted it have a proper shower as it was very important to turn up at work looking smart each day. As my husband always stayed on ‘proper’ sites with great showers when he was working we never used that shower once in the eight years we had the van! As the toilet and basin were in there plus a huge mirror we all used it as a dressing room and like you, a dumping ground for big stuff. The only problem was that despite having a removable carpet, we were so heavy on it, the shower tray broke and we had to have it repaired when it came time to sell the van!
    The other thing that we never used was the big water tank which took up all the space under one double seat – it was a weight to carry round when travelling and for drinking we preferred to get bottled water to make sure it was always fresh. For washing we always used the facilities on site. Neither did we use the grey water tank – just always put a bucket under the sink outlet to catch if we used the sink. So the only thing we used as we should was the thetford porta potti, which as you say, is wonderful for nocturnal trips – at all other times we were instructed to make use of outside facilities!
    it’s good to share the cons – thank you

  17. I spent a few months on our small sailboat and dealt with similar issues. I discovered there are two reasons for taking a shower – to get clean and because it feels good. If you want to get clean with the minimum amount of water, put a quart of warm water in a hand sprayer, spray your body and wipe down with a wash cloth or hand towel. If it’s cold then do one body part at a time. Soap is not necessary. Wash your hair with another quart of water in a pitcher.

    Keep another spray bottle filled with alcohol. Spray the damp wash cloth with alcohol to prevent mildew and hasten evaporative drying.

    I use the sprayer for cleaning dishes also and spray the damp dish towel with alcohol too. When I wanted to conserve water I could live on less than a gallon a day with this method. No holding tanks needed either.

  18. Hi Kirsten,

    If you are driving the van most days a really cheap option for hot water is a Calorifier, we use one in our van and it is essentially an insulated stainless steel water tank which has a coil inside which you plumb into the cooling system on the van engine, when you are driving this coil heats up your domestic hot water, on the front of the tank is a thermostatic valve which mixes the super hot water with cold to the temperature you set giving you a much larger quantity of usable hot water.

    Ours also has an immersion on for stops with EHU but this doesn’t really apply to you if you are wild camping most of the time.

  19. Hi Kirsten,

    I know this thread’s a bit old, but having had a Sprinter 4×4 170 for two years now that I had custom converted, I wanted to share my experience with having a bathroom put in.

    My SO and I live in Denver and are avid climbers (primary activity), snowboarders, and mountain bikers. When planning our build before settling on a Sprinter model we borrowed a friend’s 144 with a very minimal build, including a 7-gallon under-sink blue jug with a hose that runs to a water pump for the sink, which drains directly to ground, and no bathroom. While we loved the simplicity of the build, we realized that it was primarily built for weekend use; we are hoping to move in full-time at some point and as we are professional clinicians we would need showers on a regular basis. Wanting to primarily boondock, we didn’t want to hunt for showers–on joint van trips our friends will have to sometimes drive 30-40 minutes to find a shower (eg Maple Canyon, where Nephi is the closest). We had seen several builds that put a bench seat in behind the driver’s seat and decided we liked the living space it created, but having that and a bathroom wouldn’t work in a 144. We realized we’d need a 170 and pulled the plug.

    The company I used is not one of the big ones (eg Outside Vans or Sportsmobile), but they have plenty of experience building camper vans in addition to their bread-and-butter of luxury tailgaiters and corporate Sprinter limos designed for mobile meetings, and have installed all the systems used in our van in other builds so they weren’t newbies. Their shtick is that they can do anything–if you want it, they can custom build it, and overall they used all the right products in our build. We’ve definitely had our share of custom builder woes including things that were simply installed incorrectly and required a lot of work to fix (which at least they paid for), and at this point I don’t know that I’d recommend our builder either. But I will say that their choices for all of the components of the systems were very good. I designed the floor plan with their CAD engineer, gave them my requirements (such as platform bed we could put our mountain bikes under upright on fork mounts, a 25-gal water system with a grey tank all contained inside the van living space, a cassette toilet, and no propane/generator), and while we’ve had issues with a number of components that failed under warranty (and some that were improperly installed and gave us fits until they finally got fixed), we don’t regret our choice of having a bathroom put in.

    The internal water tanks definitely take up some space, and part of me wonders if we could have just drained both the sink and bathroom to ground as our friends do and eliminate the grey tank. Turns out, it’s perfectly legal as long as it’s just grey water *which is never held in a tank*; the moment it’s held in a tank for any period it’s considered black water by the government. But some National Parks and RV parks don’t allow this so we wanted to keep camping options open, and with the grey tank we can use the water system year round without worrying about a drain line freezing. We do have a sump under the drain in the shower that pumps the water to the grey tank; the sump is actually mounted outside the van shell, underneath next to the furnace, and in the winter we pour RV antifreeze down the drain after using the shower to prevent any freezing. So from a winter perspective we’ve had no issues, though we realize that when full-timing having to carry a lot of RV antifreeze will be prohibitive. We may just unhook the drain from the sump and run it directly to ground anyway, a trick we had to do once when the sump pump died under warranty.

    The furnace and hot water system installed are the Mobile Comfort System by Rixen’s in Oregon. The owner and designer of the system originally worked directly with Espar (aka Eberspacher) to manufacture these as a joint product and the control plate is actually branded as an Espar, though they no longer are involved with its manufacture. It’s essentially an Espar D5 furnace mounted below to the driver’s side frame rail, which heats propylene glycol supplied from a small tank also mounted inside the van, under the bed. This is then pumped to two heat exhangers, one for air heating and a small tankless water heater. The system is pretty quiet and fuel-efficient. Water heats up fast, and gets quite hot! (We joke that finding cold is easy, and finding hot is easy, but finding Goldilocks takes some work, especially when showering.) In the winter, having the glycol tank under the bed makes it so that we are ‘sandwiched’ in warmth when the furnace runs as hot air floats above us and the tank heats the storage space below, it’s quite cozy. We did have problems with the furnace this summer requiring two rebuilds, first for failing temperature sensors and second for a failing blower fan that became loud enough to wake us up at night. I haven’t been particularly impressed with Rixen’s but they did fix both issues the day they received the furnace each time, though it cost us a week each time to pull the thing, send it in, get it back and reinstall it. (I’ve always done all my own vehicle maintenance so it wasn’t a terrible job, just annoying.) Overall though when the system works, it works great, and our furnace has now been completely rebuilt good as new.

    The converters did use a shower pan, though in our case it’s some fiberglass or thick molded plastic pan; we’ve never had leaking from the floor. We did have problems with water coming out around the bathroom door, but I figured out it was due to water soaking into the nylon shower curtains they installed inside the bathroom, which let water soak through, run down the door, and out around the door frame. Had they installed the door so that lip it rests against when closed were on the outside of the wall instead of the inside, water would have just run down into the shower pan and been fine. But I found NeverWet, sprayed down the curtains and waterproofed them, and we’ve had no leaking since.

    Instead of a porta-potty we picked a Thetford cassette toilet, where the water is plumbed off the fresh tank and the ‘throne’ is built in. They hold about the same amount of waste as a porta-potty, and the holding tank is hidden behind a door on the outside of the van–open it, pull the tank, dump, rinse, and replace. In some ways a porta-potty might have been nicer since our shower is quite small and the toilet takes up space, but it does act as a shelf to hold our shower caddy and a footrest when my SO shaves her legs.

    I do wish we had gone with the builder’s recommendation of a “marine shower” mounted toward the roof of the bathroom, where the valve, shower head and hose are hidden behind a door in a small compartment separated from the above-sink storage–pull out the shower head, set your temp and turn on the water, and seat the shower head in a bracket on the wall. This would have kept the shower head, hose, and valve handle out of the main bathroom space–I once accidentally turned on the shower and got doused while getting up from the toilet! And we have to be very careful not to bump the shower handle while using or the water will suddenly become freezing or scorching. We were worried that the marine shower would have taken too much space from the overhead storage above the sink outside the shower so picked a regular shower valve setup, but we did have the marine shower put in near the back doors underneath the bed for an outside shower as well. After seeing how little space it takes up we wished we’d listened to their suggestion.

    I share your pain of needing a hose connection to fill my tanks, not always the easiest to find. However, I learned about the Water Bandit on an RV forum, got one, and can now fill even without a threaded connection; I once filled our tanks off of a public water fountain with just the drinking jet! Took a while, but hey we got water! I carry 60-feet of RV hose, stored in a flat plastic bin along with an RV water filter, and with only a couple of exceptions have been able to fill from the first free water source I find.

    All in all, we’ve been very happy we had a bathroom put in. Our plumbing system is simple, takes about 15 minutes to fully winterize when needed. I use a Viair compressor I carry along for low/flat tires anyway, with an air tool adapter that lets me screw it into the water port and blow out all the lines. I periodically ask my SO if she regrets having a shower/bathroom installed and always get an immediate and emphatic “No!” We just got back from an 3+ week-long trip, showering roughly every 2-3 days depending on activity level (eg stink); every time we get out of the shower we’re both grinning and happy from how good it feels to be clean.

    Regarding potential fixes to your current system, especially tank pads: My parents have been RVers for many years and full-timed for several. I asked them about this when designing our build and they advised against them. First, you *must* be on shore power to use them; anything that generates heat via electricity takes so much power your solar system would never keep up and you’d destroy your batteries. Second, their friends who’ve had them report that they’re usually only good down into the low 20’s, “maybe” the teens. Otherwise there’s just too much uninsulated surface area on the tanks, the pads can’t keep up and ice starts forming anyway. Perhaps if you spray-foamed the external tank it would help, but spray-foam insulation will crack with normal van-driving vibration. I’m not sure there’s much you can do at this point to make the outside tank usable in the winter. Perhaps some kind of propylene glycol heating system from an Espar diesel furnace (like our Rixen system) could be used, with the glycol hose making radiator “s-curves” all along the bottom of your tank? It would allow you to boondock and use diesel for the heating, but I’ve never seen any such system before. You could call Jim Rixen (www.rixens.com) and see if he had any ideas, as he’s been making mobile heat systems for decades.

    Good luck on fixing this! I can certainly understand why you might regret having put in a bathroom (especially in a 144–our friends just use a porta-potty with a hung curtain in theirs), but we haven’t regretted it at all, though it did indeed require the right planning and appliances. Maybe we’ll see you on the road some time!

    1. Drew, thanks for the extensive write-up! First, I was like TLDR; but there’s quite some info in there 🙂 I’m sorry you went through all the trouble even with a professional builder. On the other hand it quietens my anxiety to build by myself. Seems like one has to do some adjustments / repairs either way.

      Thank you!

    2. Drew – Sorry for never responding to your extensive writeup. This is all super helpful insight, especially as I go into my next Sprinter Van build. I’m nixing the shower and keeping it a lot simpler. Still trying to figure out the heating and whether or not I really need hot water. Appreciate you reading the blog and for taking the time. Cheers, Kristen

    3. Drew,
      Great write-up. Thanks! I’d really appreciate learning about your build. Sounds very similar to what I want to do myself. Curious about your not using a diesel furnace/water heater. Would *really* love to see your whole layout and any/all details of the build. Don’t know if you’ll see this reply of mine, but I hope you do!

  20. Kristen, thank you SO MUCH for the insight. I love your van’s interior design and the bathroom and wanted to copy it. I was thinking about a composting toilet (read: mobile / no plumbing) and seeing your bathroom reinforces that. Just move that thing out of the way while showering – but still have a little privacy when going #1 or #2. I’m not too comfortable doing my business right next to the “kitchen” or “bedroom” by pulling the portapotty out from under the counter. I think it’s nice to have a dedicated space.

    Even though I was planning to use the shower only very sparingly, your honest assessment of the situation will make me use it even more sparingly. After reading your thoughts and the comments here, I’ll go for a simple jug with a shower head, which will be filled with hot water from the kettle mixed with cold water to dial in the temperature. That should be good enough, especially for the limited use the shower will see.

    Again, thank you so much!

  21. Was this your first buildout?
    I do enjoy your writing style.
    Building out any camper takes more planning than most people realize. Thanks for sharing your experience. Your process can help a lot of folks in the decision-making process.

  22. Hi
    You could install a very simple trace heating system that will run off your trickle power from battery. Fairly simple to post fix and will stop your freezing issues with limited consumption as u just need to get the pipes and tank to +2-3deg

  23. Love your article but I have to say your builder was moron if he had no clue how to install a water heater. That’s like Basic 101 when it comes to contracting. Unless he didn’t know how to install it based on the fact that it was going to be put onto a van vs. a house then I can see why he wouldn’t know how.

  24. We plan to travel around Europe in a VW T6 and I try to figure it out how to set up a shower/toilet inside. Thanks for this precious information 🙂

  25. I have designed, (but not yet built) , a Transit Jumbo 350 RV conversion with a bathroom with an electric power shower fed by 1200 watts of solar and 1000AH of battery!
    All the math adds up and negates the need for a water heater of any kind

  26. Hi !! New to your blog. A 4×4 is a cool feature but damn did u get roasted by the builder and shower setup !!
    It looks good though now that it’s done.
    There is a reason that where there is natural gas that is what all homeowners use and not diesel. Lol natural gas(and propane) are much simpler and less expensive systems which require less maintenance. If you drive the vehicle much you could also run a heat exchanger unit from the engine or construct your own w a 12v pump and a coil of copper tubing in the engine bay or wrapped around the exhaust pipe and then insulation around it. This could them be plumbed to your tank. They also make them for purchase. You could also use a propane stove(or a yard weed torch burner) to heat water in a pot that’s plumbed to your shower mounted outside or on the roof. Keep in mind that if your water is inside it will only need to be raised a few degrees to shower. I live in a motorhome and I often just shower without using the heater. It’s cool water but not freezing once it’s been inside for a day. If you are building from scratch again, 1 piece of PVC pipe used as a tank on your ceiling(aluminum even better) below the insulation will work for lukewarm water as heat rises, or if u put it on pulleys you could lower and add two gallons of water heated up on the stove.
    When I tent camp I’ll use a few half gallon juice bottles and just fill them and put them under the hood for the ride out and then put them in a cooler w a tap for a shower or reheat them over a fire(they won’t melt when full of water), but the cheapest/simplest way for a small area like a van is just a small inline on demand heater on a cold water only line to shower that draws from your 1 inside tank that raises the water to a reasonable warm without having separate lines for hot and cold and separate tanks. If your inside temp is 78 and you mount your tank up high so it gets to 80, then you only need the temperature to rise a few more degrees for a warm shower.
    Your webasto is nice but wayyy overkill.
    Any other questions feel free to ask. Ride on !!

  27. Kristen, awesome job on your shower! Re: lack of hot water: have you considered using a ‘Summer (Solar) Shower’ bag inside your shower area? (as an alternative/addition). You can hang it outside in the sun or pack it on the roof while you’re driving, to warm the water.

  28. I like the toilet setup – thanks for your writeup and pics. Re: alternatives to a shower, I have a VW Westfailia van and we don’t have a shower installed as you probly know with those. But, we have a Zodi shower that we use inside (or outside) the van. We got a plastic tub from amazon that we sit in for a shower to avoid getting water everywhere (not much/korean or chinese company – it’s probably 3 feet high i forget – has a little inflatable pillow to sit on) and you can sit in that while you shower inside and it’s very easy and fast to setup and tear down. The Zodi pump runs on batteries (zodi has other models – another uses a hand pump which many ppl like) and it comes w a bin for water (and for storage of the pump and hose/shower head) – pretty handy. the cheap plastic tub we use has a tube at the bottom that expands so you can even have it empty out of the van while using it if slide door sllghtly open – also the zodi runs on small propane bottles (or can get adapter for larger propane tank like you use for home grills). and we use organic soap so don’t worry about dumping if boondocking.

  29. Thank you for sharing so much information and being open about possible mistakes. Many people don’t always want to discuss what they maybe regret slightly and would do differently. But it is helpful.

  30. Suggestions: you could have used your van’s engine to heat the water. Just pass the water by the engile like the engine cooler does.
    For storing more water, are you reusing your water from shower to your portable pee pot?
    I would also have used maybe a solar panel to heat the water (not a photovoltaic panel, but a water heating panel).
    Never tried by myself, but heard about it.

  31. Hmmm, Speaking from the perspective of one who has built out a couple offshore sailboats and currently lives in a completely off grid 4800sq. ft. building in the desert west of Tucson, I would have to say the Ecotemp is a good choice. I am currently using one as the main H20 heater in my building. I plumbed it through a recirc. pump on a sprung timer switch, so when you set the timer, the pump starts, the water heats in the loop and when you turn on the shower, you don’t lose and precious water waiting for it to warm up. My $120 Ecotemp has been going for 8 years without a grumble. My only complaint is that since it mixes some cold water, the normal newer shower valves with anti scald protection have trouble delivering enough hot water when it is really cold. I would not use a modern shower valve on the next build. In the offshore community, it is popular to use foot pumps to limit the amount of water that goes down the drain, if I were to do this, I would still put the hot water loop in place to not waste water waiting for the heat to arrive. If you shower with the get wet, wash, then rinse method. All of that being said, I don’t want to carry multiple fuels, so I am looking at other options.
    You can get away with less than a gallon. As soon as you let water run, you are looking at 2 to 3 gallons. I am just starting my sprinter build and am thinking about an insulated 5 gallon tank under the floor with coils from the engine water, or oil lines to heat it whenever the engine is running and an on demand loop for when it is not running. There are diesel heaters for under $300 . the Ecotemp for under $150 and a simple water heater element and control for about $40. My current build will have a higher capacity alternator, probably half the lithium pack from a wrecked “Leaf”, and at least 800W of solar so I will probably go electric on everything to avoid carrying extra fuel. I am also leaning towards the aft 16″ of the van being a “Mud room” with the shower hose, water proof floor area and bicycle storage located there to minimize dirty activity anywhere else in the van.

  32. I’m planning on putting a shower in my van but not plumbing. The only plumbing will be in the kitchen sink which will be big enough for me to wash my hair. I lived in the Dominican Republic for 6 years and lived without running water. I got used to showering with a 5 gallon bucket and a yogurt container. It worked just fine. I’m thinking it will be a good and simple solution for van life.

  33. Hi Kristen, nice review of the sprinter van bathroom. I just love the images of work progress. The portable bathroom is the best solution for the full time travelers.

  34. I have had the bathroom without a water Hook up.. During winter I kept water jugs in my bed just a few . With my winter sleeping bag around them. One bag for me and one for things I didn’t want to freeze. I would heat a pan of water pour it into a another jug with the cold water. This made the water warm enough to shower. Hanging the plastic shower jug I would sit on the toilet and wash myself . First enough to get my body wet and lather up the rest to rinse myself . One gallon per shower it took.

  35. Hi Kristen,

    Loved the blog.

    We have just installed a Quick Nautic Calorifier which uses the coolant from the engine and/or a 1500W heating element to heat 25L of hot water to 65C-80C . Installed cost $600/£450 including running the rubber pipes from the heat exchanger in the engine. I believe that if we took it to the next stage we could use these pipes to heat the water tanks mounted below the chassis but we haven’t done this yet.

  36. beautiful tile. is it real tile? i am looking to do this exact tile but everyone says i shouldn’t use tile because the grout won’t withstand the vibrations over time and eventually crack. has it cracked at all since you put it in? how old is it? do you drive on smooth or rough terrain? thank you in advance for all your input!

  37. To Shower or Not to Shower… (as in installing one in a van)
    Several Observations Not Explicitly Addressed in the Article:
    1) FUNDAMENTAL VANNING PRINCIPLE: IF IT CAN BREAK, IT WILL BREAK. This applies to the lunacy of putting tiles in a house on wheels that twists, rattles and bends. Yes the grout, no matter how “good” will eventually crack. This applies to complex plumbing for the same reasons
    2) EVENTUALLY YOU WILL FORGET TO WINTERIZE YOUR VAN’S WATER SYSTEMS: All it takes is letting the van get below freezing one time, and you’ve probably broken your plumbing. So keep it simple smart. The most robust plumbing systems are the simplest, like swappable jerry cans of fresh and waste water and no holding tanks.
    3) IF YOU’VE GOT A STOVE IN YOUR VAN, YOU HAVE A SOURCE OF HOT WATER Think twice about whether you need dedicated hot water plumbing. We heat a teapot full of water to boiling on the stove, combine it with two teapots full of unheated water, and voila, we have a 2.5 gallon shower that is plenty adequate for a shower and washing your hair. We deliver that shower using an 11 litre NEMO Helio Pressure Shower with the sprayer hanging from a hook inside our shower/toilet area.
    4) KISS – KEEP IT SIMPLE, SMART We have a combined shower/toilet area where the closed toilet becomes a seat in the shower if necessary, the shower is provided using a portable NEMO Helio Pressure Shower with water heated on the stove, the waste water drain through a drain in the shower pan and down into a bucket underneath the van. Dead simple, reliable, easy to use, and low water usage (2.5 gallons per person). The only real down side, is the process is slowed down by having to boil water on our diesel fueled stove. If one is in a hurry you can always use an electric teapot (but that drains 120v)
    5) SMALL EFFICIENT SHOWER AREAS SERVE OTHER PURPOSES like storing wet clothing, towels, etc. and doubling as a toilet. We use the very nice, very lightweight rollup sliding Nautilus 69″x60″ Square RV Shower Door Opaque Plain. While our doorway is only 27″ wide, using the 60″ wide shower door provides a complete spare door at the end of the roll if ever the front 27″ wears out, tears, or is otherwise damaged.

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