Sprinter Van Bathroom: Pros and Cons & Would I do it again?

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Sprinter Van Bathroom: Pros and Cons & Would I do it again?

I’ve been getting a ton of questions about my Sprinter Van bathroom, and a lot of people have said they want to copy the exact layout of my 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 Sprinter Van bathroom 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?

••• Why I decided to put a bathroom in my Sprinter Van? •••

Last year I was traveling in a small van in New Zealand for three months. I obviously didn’t have a shower in my van there, 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 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 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, and we incorporated a bathroom into my Sprinter Van design.

••• My Sprinter Van Bathroom set-up •••

— Bathroom Basics —

My Sprinter Van bathroom is 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 are made of, but the rest of the walls in my van are made of powder-coated aluminum. The walls in the bathroom have a slightly different texture, but that may be due to a water-proofing membrane that was used to coat the walls.

The floor is made of teak and is removable, and underneath the teak is a drain that goes into my gray water tank.

— My Sprinter Van Toilet —

My toilet is 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’m by myself and using it exclusively at night and occasionally during the day, it can hold a weeks worth of pee, no problem. When its 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’ve only used it for #1, but the whole process is not as bad as I expected it to be.

Sprinter Van porta-potti

The porta-potti is also only $120 on Amazon and leaving space for a porta-potti was one of the smartest decisions I made in my Sprinter Van build. I’m so happy I don’t have to go outside in the middle of the night or to try to pee in a bottle with one of those She-Wees when I’m trying to be stealth. As a female, the toilet is one of the things that makes the van most livable for the long-term.

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

— 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 too much in freezing temps, then you can store water outside the van. But what if you live in a cold place 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.

So where does that leave me? In winter climates, the 15 gallon tank is pretty much unusable, and I have to leave it empty so it doesn’t freeze. That leaves me with 10 gallons.  If I’m traveling with another person, and we only have 10 gallons, a shower is VERY low on the priority list if we want 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 suggests 12v heating pads, but those consume a lot of precious battery power…so if any experienced van people have tips for me, I’m all ears.

In the summer, I can 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, with a couple of showers thrown in, 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 now with the way my water tanks and plumbing are set up, the shower is only practical in summer. Knowing that, I could have built some sort of outdoor solar shower setup off the rear doors instead. That would have been ALOT cheaper and maybe a better use of the limited space inside my van.

Shower in Sprinter Van bathroom

Now, if I had the longer Sprinter – the 170” wheel base – perhaps I would have had room inside the van to store all of my water. In that case, I’m still not sure 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. If I could go back, I think having an aluminum shower pan would have been a better bet.

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.

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. After my installation, I found the part online for $2100, which is cheaper than I paid for the part. Most of the quotes I got were in the (gasp, I’m embarrassed to say) $7,000-10,000 range for the part and full installation. Without the shower, I could have installed a normal air heater for a 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 shitload 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.

I will note if you are handy, Steve from FreeTired has a post on his blog about self-installing the Webasto Dual Top EVO 6 on his van. The only downside of buying the part from and installing it yourself is that I’m pretty sure (but not certain) that it voids the warranty.

••• 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 bathroom and where you can find them. I’m 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.

Toilet: Thetford 92360 Porta Potti 550E Curve Portable Toilet

 Shower Pressure Valve: Grohe 35015000 Grohsafe Universal Pressure Balance Rough-In Valve

Shower handle: Grohe 19457001 Concetto Pressure Balance Valve Trim

Shower head: Camco 43710 Shower Head with On/Off Switch

Shower head holder: KES F200 Hand Shower Slide Bar with Height Adjustable Sliding Sprayer Holder, Chrome

Shower hose: Shower Hose, Fivanus (8 Ft)

••• Would I build a Sprinter Van bathroom again? •••

Do I like my shower? Yes. 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.

The complications that the shower has presented in cold climates have caused me a lot of headaches, which I’m slowly figuring out how to manage. Maybe once it’s summer and I’ve been in the van for an extended period of time, I’ll feel differently…but I wanted to address all of your shower questions as soon as possible before you embark on your builds. This winter, the shower has 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.

If I could start over, I think I’d do things a little more simple. I think I’d have a couple of 5 gallon jugs under the sink with a water pump and a gray water jug that I could easily unhook and take out of the van. That way they’d be easy to fill up and dump if the weather dropped below freezing. I can only fill my tanks up with a hose, and sometimes it’s hard to find places to do that. If I really wanted a shower, I’d consider adding something like the Eccotemp L5 Portable Tankless Water Heater and Outdoor Shower to the backside of my kitchen galley, which I recently saw installed in @americabaldbeautiful’s Sprinter Van.

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. I also don’t want to blame my builder entirely, but I probably wouldn’t hire someone to build me a bathroom again who has zero bathroom experience.

With all this said, I’m sure there are some people who would love having a bathroom. I think it makes a lot more sense in the 170” wheelbase or for people who are only going to use their van in warmer climates. 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’ll make sure to come back and update this once I’ve had a chance to use the van in the summer for more extended periods of time. In the meantime, 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 van….it was a small company in Santa Barbara, and unfortunately I cannot provide a recommendation for them. 

HAVE QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS ABOUT MY SPRINTER CAMPER VAN BUILDOUT? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, TWEET ME, OR WRITE ME A POST ON FACEBOOK

Bearfoot Theory

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Any purchases you make help to support this blog at no added cost to you. I only recommend products that I stand behind, and if you ever have any questions about any of the products featured on my site, please email me. Thanks! Kristen

All photos copyrighted by Kristen Bor / Bearfoot Theory

There are 36 comments on this post.

About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

36 Comments on “Sprinter Van Bathroom: Pros and Cons & Would I do it again?

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  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.

      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.

    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. 🙂

      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.

    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.

    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

    Great info and insight, thanks!

    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!

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

    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.

    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.

    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

    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 ~

      Thanks Eli. I’ll check that out. Cheers – Kristen

    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!

    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!

    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. >)

      Yes, that heating pad is definitely a possibility but they draw a lot of power like you said.

    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?

      I didn’t, but my friend has the Nature Head and loves it. I haven’t had any problem finding places to dump my porta potti.

    When you do dump the toilet is everything contained well, or do you need to wear gloves and such? Thanks!

      I wear rubber gloves. And I wipe it down with Clorex Wipes afterwards.

    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

      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.

    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

    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

    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.

    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.

      Hey Mike, do you have a link to the one you used?

      Thanks

    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!

      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!

    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!

A little Instamagic