Van life: water

This post belogs to my van life series. Check the first post and the electricity post.

Water is a big deal. They say up to 60% of the human body is water. Brain and heart are composed of 73% water. Mind blowing, right?

All I know is that I need to drink a lot of water every day.

But water is not just for drinking.

You use water to wash yourself, to wash dishes, to wash your clothes, and I even use it to wash the dogs, sometimes, when they are really dirty.

Water is super important for cooking, as well.

The amount of water you can store in your van depends on the van itself. I have 100L of clean water, and 100L of gray water tank underneath the van, that is where the “used” water goes.

Water, like electricity, is not an infinite resource like in a house. Unfortunately.

Smaller vans will have smaller tanks. Bigger motorhomes will have bigger tanks.

Motorhomes built by smart people have the gray water tank inside the vehicle, not underneath. My van has that underneath, and with winter comes, problem come as well, because it is more exposed to the outside temperature and it can freeze.

Managing water is easy until winter comes.

Every system is different, of course. I will describe mine. The 100L clean water tank is stored in a closet under the bed, and I can charge water from the outside.

Inside the van I can inspect the content of the tank, which is great to clean it, and I can trigger a mechanism to empty it. There’s a thing I have to pull at the bottom of it.

Inside the tank there is a water pump. In some systems the water pump is outside of the tank. In mine, it’s right inside it.

Then the pipes bring water to the appliances:

  1. the water sink in the kitchen
  2. the water sink in the bathroom
  3. the WC in the bathroom
  4. the boiler

The 10L boiler is a Truma Combi 4 that works both as a propane boiler, and also as the main heater of the vehicle, a propane heater.

From the boiler, hot water flows to the kitchen/bathroom water sinks.

Right before leaving home with the van I add water to the tank, and from time to time you need to offload the gray waters that accumulate in the gray tanks. You do this offloading in places that are built for this. Many places offer those for free. And they let you charge clean water, sometimes for a fee.

My 100L water tank will last 7 days or even more, then you need to re-fill it at public places or campings.

You just need to remember this, very clearly: bring your own pipe. Disconnect the pipe that you see, connect yours. I’ve seen people use the pipe to clean their dark waters (e.g. poop) with the pipe that then the next person uses to fill their van with. It’s sad but true. It’s a source of bacteria and possible bad days for you.

Speaking of that, having a toilet on board is super important. I see many people on “van life YouTube” and in real life use “nature” as their toilet. It seems very hippy and all but it’s very damaging to the environment, in the long run. Use your own toilet. Discharge that once a week in places that are built for that. I find many of those are free, at least in Europe, because no one wants you to put those in nature. Nature should be kept as clean as possible.

So bring your own pipe and use that. An option if you don’t have your own is to re-charge your tank by keeping the end of the pipe far from the entry point, and just let the water get into (don’t put the pipe inside the van!).

It’s also important to note that this clean water might not be as clean as you think. This is why I almost always buy drinking water in bottles from the supermarket when I’m out there. You never know.

I happened to fill the tanks with water that had some unspecified items in it, maybe algae, in one of the nicest places in Norway, which you imagine the most pristine water sources. You never know (and you learn about water filters when it happens).

To solve this, you can get fancy filters like the ones produced by Alb Filter, but they cost a lot and you always need to buy a recharge. You can use them when you add water to the tank, or even install them permanently between the tank and the tap.

I have a minimal transparent filter I use when adding water which that’s what everyone uses, that lets me detect if the water contains a lot of impurity before adding it to the tank, and it filters it.

That’s basically all I have to say about water.

It all works wonders until it gets cold. If you plan to only use your van during summer, there’s not much you need to know about. You also don’t need to worry too much if it’s -10C or -15C during the night. If you’re weird enough to like camping at -20C, the problems start to rise.

This is because water is great but it has this tendency of turning into ice when it gets cold. But I will expand on this topic on its own post.

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