This article is about how to build a shower in a camper-van or converted truck or bus. I believe my plan is the cheapest, most environmental, simplest option for anyone who has some serious space limitations on board their home on wheels, for anyone who doesn’t spend much time at RV parks or hotel parking lots, for anyone who wants the ability to look and feel fresh at a time of their choosing, after a long, hot dusty drive parked up by the roadside.
Basically the key to this is to use a typical metal, flat-bottomed sink as the base and a cheap, submersible water pump to provide the shower power. The total floor space of the shower itself will take up little more than the sink (i.e. the sink with most of its corrugated drainer cut off) at its minimum – the advantage of the submersible pump is its flexibility in use, in a variety of situations, locations, temperatures, etc. – it can feed from a container that you have filled with solar-heated water, wood fire heated water, propane stove heated water filtered river water or just plain cold water.
- Cut the draining board part off the metal sink. Not too much – leave around 20cm to act as a step into the shower.
- Make a hole in the floor of the van to take the plug hole of the sink. Depending on the thickness of your floor you might have to attach a drain hose as you install the sink. Remember to check under the van to see where the water is coming out. You have to decide whether you want the water to drain into a grey-water tank or just out into the nature. As we only use environmentally sound cleaning products, we just let the water out onto the ground. The outlet is just behind the rear wheel which means we can back up onto a piece of grass or even over a city rain-water sewer. Ultimately we could just put a container under the outlet to catch the water – we don’t have space in or under our truck for grey-water tanks and, in any case, they wouldn’t make much sense in most of the countries we travel.
- Build a box under the lip of the sink so that the whole thing sits level on floor and won’t distort or bend if you stand in it.
- Build the rest of the shower, with the size of the sink as your minimum limiting size and the size of you and your truck as the maximum. My average physical build finds the 45cm x 60cm sink sufficient. The cheapest shower build would be plywood with a good coat of waterproof varnish and paint. I noticed that in North America, showers in houses were always a one-piece plastic surround which must be pretty easy to find, recycle and adapt. You can even tile the shower if you don’t have any issues with weighing your truck down. Surprisingly, well done tiling will survive thousands of miles of bumpy roads although you can use vibration-proof glues, grouting and polymers to be super safe.
- Seal the entire structure, paying extra attention, of course, to where the walls meet the metal sink. Also the draining board segment that you have left is corrugated so seal that up well too.
- Make sure the doors are as snug and tightly fitting as you can get them – and put a shower curtain in that’s long enough to hang inside the sink itself.
- For the shower itself, use a 12V submersible pump that can be dropped into any tank or container (with an opening big enough). These pumps are notorious for not lasting all that long – remember never to use it out of the water and always let it dry off after use. We had problems finding such a pump in USA, where they prefer these massive RV in-line pumps that cost $100 and are too powerful. Too much power means you’re going to be using a lot of water – they’re designed for a mammoth American RV where the tank might be 7m away from the actual shower and the owner is after, essentially, a real-house-experience. With a submersible pump, you can put the water container right outside the shower. A good quality pump (which will still only cost $30 in Europe) will lift water 3m and still give a good pressure at the business end. This means you can lead the shower hose out of a window to a container that’s been heated by the sun or by wood and is too heavy to bring inside. The point is that if you don’t fix the pump to anything, and leave it free to move, you have endless options in terms of your water source. Remember, however, to take a spare along with you…
- 12V submersible pumps have a waterproof cable attached to them. You need to add an extension to this, as lengthy as your hose will ever be. At some point close to the shower, take the positive wire to bring into the shower to feed into a switch and then back out towards your batteries. It doesn’t have to be a fancy waterproof switch. As long as you don’t direct the shower directly at it, putting the switch higher up the shower wall then you won’t be having any problems here. Remember, it’s only 12V.
- You can also put a light with its own switch onto this positive feed – unless you’ve got a skylight in the roof and you only take showers during the day.
That’s it basically. It’s not a fancy shower but it’s very practical. Your dedicated water container can be kept inside the shower itself when you’re not using it. Aan advantage of using a metal sink is that it’s a single piece of strong metal that will with stand you or a 30l barrel bouncing around on a rough road.
It’s surprising how small a space you need to have an adequate shower – even the smallest of vans will have room for this as long as you can you just about stand up in it. If you don’t have the headroom, leave more of the draining board attached and you can have a sit-down shower using the same design.
Just a few words, then, about, why you should have a shower installed at all. The mission we’re on is through many different countries: Some developed, some not so developed; some tropically hot, some sub-zero; some which tolerate public outdoor nudity, some which will quickly have 50 people gathered around watching how a foreigner washes themselves. You can use this shower after a hot, sticky ride into a crowded city where you don’t want to pay $5 for the privilege of refreshing yourself in a smelly, cockroached concrete room. Or in a cold, cloudy landscape where your out-door, black-bag, solar shower isn’t going to cut it.
Coming from a nation of, ahem, notorious soap-dodgers, this is the first truck I have ever had with a dedicated body-cleaning space. In the past, I’ve managed to get away with jumping (screaming) into cold rivers – I’ve flooded the van a few times in the process of a bucket-and-sponge-bath – I’ve talked endless crap with people for hours in the hope they might invite me in to use their bathroom… Do yourself a favor; unless you have a real posh, factory-built RV, do it the way I’ve described. And if you don’t ever end up using it, you got yourself a nice big cupboard.