Water is one of those necessities that’s in sparse amounts when you’re on the road. If you’re planning a family caravanning trip, then having an ample supply of fresh drinking water goes without saying. Caravans are no longer the basic vehicles they used to be, and one of the reasons they’re selling in droves is because of the luxuries they provide.
Kitchens, bathrooms and toilets are now common features in all caravans and campervans and provide both hot and cold water when turning on the tap or shower. Behind these relatively simple amenities is an elaborate caravan plumbing system. Any caravanning veteran will know the ins and outs of all the different components, but for caravan newbies, how everything works and what’s involved can be a lot to take in.
Basic Caravanning Plumbing Parts
Drinking water comes from freshwater tanks. Wastewater from sinks and showers is collected in grey water tanks, and that from toilets in black water tanks. These are emptied at designated disposal sites. The 12V water pumps powered by the caravan battery get water from the tank and through pipes or hoses and the appropriate fittings to the taps. Additional components and useful caravan plumbing accessories like strainers and filtering systems clean water from impurities, and water heaters provide a warm dose of luxury.
Besides drinking water, freshwater tanks provide water for washing your hands, the dishes or dirty clothes, and even having a shower. Tanks come in different sizes and are made of different materials. Smaller tanks, averaging 25 litres, store enough water for two people for a short weekend trip. By comparison, a 100-litre tank will hold water for two people for roughly a week, without showering. With this in mind, it’s important to choose the capacity of the tank(s) based on the number of people and the duration of the trip.
Plastic tanks are made either of lightweight and food-grade polyethylene or polypropylene and are safe to use. These are some of the more common types and come in different designs that are easily fitted under sinks and showers. Bigger caravans and campervans have larger galvanised steel tanks, which are also more durable (being resistant to knocks and corrosion) but at the expense of weight.
You can combine these two types for more available water with smaller nylon or PVC variants. These are the lightest and most compact and as such suit tighter spaces in smaller caravans. Freshwater tanks are fitted in different locations. You’ll often find one under the sink, while larger tanks are usually found under the floor. They are filled from the mains supply by an inlet valve at the side of the caravan or camper.
Grey and Black Water Tanks
Grey tanks collect runoff from sinks and showers. They’re often of similar (or slightly bigger) sizes to the freshwater tank and are standard in newer caravans and RVs. They’re usually found under the floor or beneath the vehicle. Smaller, portable grey tanks are emptied by hand, and larger and fixed types are emptied by parking the vehicle at a disposal site, connecting a sullage hose to the nozzle and opening the valves.
The same is done with black water tanks that store waste from the toilets. All tanks need to be emptied on a regular basis. While you can guess how full the tanks are, water level gauges are necessary caravan plumbing accessories that provide more accurate info as to how much water’s left. Freshwater tanks should be cleaned with an appropriate cleaning solution, while those collecting wastewater need a good dose of chemicals after being emptied.
Pumps are crucial caravan plumbing essentials as they draw water from the freshwater tank and distribute it throughout the caravan. Submersible pumps are suspended directly in the tank. They turn on with a microswitch that is activated when the tap is open. These types of pumps are commonly found in caravans. Pressure pumps are usually a feature of larger campervans and RVs, can be installed anywhere in the plumbing, and maintain constant pressure. These are preferred if you also want to have a shower as they are more powerful, but also slightly more expensive.
Pipes, Hoses, and Fittings
The different tanks are fitted with different caravan plumbing accessories like hoses and pipes. Hoses that are food-graded are the only ones used for freshwater. They’re also colour-coded for easy maintenance, with hot water hoses coloured red, and cold water hoses blue. Alternatively, 12mm pipes are used with the appropriate threaded fittings and connectors. Most are made of durable plastic.
Hoses emptying wastewater are grey and made of corrugated plastic. They connect to the corresponding tanks with screw connections. Retailers make it easier by selling combo fittings kits for both fresh and wastewater plumbing which are good to have around in case of damage or leaks.
Hot water systems can use a range of different water heaters. This can be a separate boiler that runs on LPG bottles and heats the water pretty quickly, an electric heater using a 12-Volt battery or 240-Volt mains power (or both), a combined gas/electric heater giving you the option and convenience of both power sources, and diesel heaters that also double as air heaters in campervans and RVs. Get a heater with the required capacity and the right power output, especially if you like long hot showers.
Filters and Strainers
The quality of the water exiting the tap or shower will depend on whether and how it’s filtered. Strainers use steel screen meshes to catch larger particles and debris and are fitted on the inlet side of the water pump. They also help keep pumps clean and free of damage. Filters are often of the fixed type and found just before the tap. Carbon filters can cleanse water of most common impurities, including sediment, lead, and algae, as well as remove any unpleasant odours and tastes. If you’re also worried about bacteria, then get a reverse osmosis filter.