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Stopping off at campsites, or in-service stations for a shower can sometimes be your only way to stay clean on long road trips. However, imagine having this convenience inside your own van. If you’re on the road, far and wide and there isn’t a place to stop for miles, pulling up and being able to shower without leaving your camper home sounds ideal right?
Especially if you’ve been hiking, if you’ve been swimming or you’ve been partaking in some other activity with the kids that has led you to become dirty, sweaty, and feeling a little grubby.
Although not everyone will have this luxury, if it’s something you are willing to put time and effort into, installing a full-featured shower in your camper van might be the best decision you’ve made since starting your adventures on the road.
You can buy a portable shower system, and this will do the job, however, a full-featured shower will turn your van into a home whilst also being considerably more reliable and durable. It promises to be convenient, easier to use and when you install it with a water heater, provides you with enough hot water to warm you up on those winter trips. So what are you waiting for?
Let’s take a look at how you would go about building a full-featured shower in a camper van conversion.
The first stage of installing a shower is planning. This comes with any type of project and is always essential for a successful finished outcome. When planning your shower build, you need to work out where in the van you want to have it located. It is common among the van community to prioritize the bed and the shower and this is why a lot of van owners choose to build around these necessities when converting their van.
These two areas can provide a base for a layout for most van types. When it comes to other areas of the van, it’s then a lot easier to be more flexible. We would recommend building your bed first so that you know where this will go and how much room it will take up, before moving onto the full-featured shower.
There is a range of different locations van owners decide to install their shower, from behind the driver’s seat, to directly in the middle, or to right next to the bed. If you want to make use out of a certain area, for example, or if you wanted to convert the extra seats into extra living space, avoid building around this area and opt for something nearer the back.
Planning is personal and building the layout of your van has to work for you so ensure you are happy with your decision before you start building.
You can also take into account that wherever you decide to build the shower, extra walls will be fitted. If you want to make use of these walls, you could use one of them as a divider between the living space and bathroom, or the bedroom and bathroom for extra privacy.
If this is something you are considering making use of, plan accordingly and work out where exactly you would need to build the shower to utilize this wall.
After you have decided on the location of your shower, you need to start measuring. Shower pans come in a range of different sizes and picking the size of your shower pan will depend on both the size of your camper van as well as your individual needs. You don’t want it to take up too much space in the van, but you also want it big enough so that you and other members of your family or friends can use it comfortably.
You also need to measure out how much room under the shower pan you will need to install a drain system and allow room to make repairs if they are needed. This can vary according to the size of your shower and camper van but generally, about 3-4 inches should be enough.
Next, you will need to consider the framing of the shower system. This might prove difficult even for those who have converted vans before as you need to get the framing squared up with the ground for the whole shower to end up squared and straight. A lot of patience and ingenuity is needed to get this right and you need to be certain everything is perfectly straight before moving on.
The first step of getting this squared and straight is to build the wall. If you are using this wall as a divider, between the bed and the shower, for example, the wall will need to be attached to the bed that had been built first, and then once this is up, you have a perfectly squared wall in which you can begin to build the rest of the shower on.
There are several factors in this, however, that can make it tricky. If your floor is uneven, even by a few millimeters, you will need to take this into account to get your first wall straight. You can use a standard square to get this wall as straight as possible and then don’t be afraid to simply eyeball it against the front or rear window, whichever is clearer, to double-check this is straight.
After the first wall has been put up, you need to frame the back wall. Camper vans come in all shapes and sizes and curvier vans can make this step slightly more difficult. Use furring strips to bolt them to the frame as they can bend on their way up. This should create a kind of contour at the rear of the shower that follows the shape of the van.
For the back wall, strong plywood is a good material to use as this is durable and easy to bend. Fasten a layer of these to the furring strips that you attached to the wall in the previous step. Ensure your plywood is not too thick and aim for it to be no thicker than half an inch.
Once the wall framing at the back and the plywood wall is up, you can build the third wall frame. To build the third wall frame, you need to measure in inches how wide your shower room will be from the first wall. To square this wall up with the first wall, you can make use of both a measuring tape and a squaring tool. Once you have finished this, your three main walls will be built.
Ensure you add extra plywood to the other two walls after installing the wiring for the light. This brings us to our next step.
Installing A Light
You of course need to be able to see in your new shower and this is why installing a light is not a step you want to skip. Installing a dedicated light in your shower means you don’t have to leave all the other lights on in your van when taking a shower or when you get up in the dark at night and need to use the bathroom.
A lot of van owners when installing a dedicated shower light opt for the easy on and off switch.
To install this, you can begin by running a wire from your solar system to a place on the wall in your shower where a switch would fit. From here, a wire will need to run up to the ceiling where you should have a hole drilled especially to place the light into. This hole will depend on the size of your light however will probably be around 1-2 inches.
A lot of van owners like to stick with the same light company they have used for all their other lights to reassure them of quality and durability as well as power and strength. Whether your lights are waterproof or not, it is a good idea for them to be sealed enough so that any water that might splash up or steam that might get onto it won’t cause any lasting damage.
If the light does get damaged or stops working overtime, do not fret as you can simply change it for a new one.
The switch for this light needs to be in a convenient place so that users of the shower can switch it on and off as they step in and out of the shower. One light will usually be enough to give off enough light in the shower area and an LED light might be an option as it uses minimal electrical power, yet produces a lot of light and makes it easy to see what you’re doing in the shower area.
Finishing The Shower Walls
Finishing the shower walls is what you’ll need to do next after the framing and the wiring is done. You can start by adding foam board installation on each wall. This installation should be about 1 inch thick and will help to deaden the noise from inside the bathroom. It will also ensure the walls have adequate insulation and padding.
Next, you need to install FRP shower paneling and this should line each wall. The purpose of this paneling is to make the shower stall waterproof. FRP is practical and can be cut to the size you want. It is also easy to work with and customize for your exact area. Create a template onto the FRP and then after you have cut and adjusted it, it should be easy enough for you to attach to the walls using paneling glue.
To create your template, you can use construction paper and then trace this template onto the FRP material.
Stick one wall at one time and then let it sit for at least two days. Leave some boards pressed against it so it would be sturdy and reliable, and be as stuck on as possible.
For the ceiling, you can use the same material you had used for the back wall. This should be one full piece and you can easily curve it from the ceiling, back down to the back floor.
After you have finished sticking the walls to the frame of the shower room, you are going to need to seal the seams using silicone. You want to make this as clean and as tidy as possible. Make it look neat the entire way down so it’s nice to look at when someone is in the shower. Ensure it is properly sealed too so that no water will leak through.
This is important as the last thing you want when you have put all the time and effort into building a new full-featured shower in your campervan is for it to flood the rest of your home on wheels.
Shower pans come in a range of different sizes that suit your campervan and your individual needs, so you need to measure how big you are going to want this and ensure you buy one that will suit you and your family.
You need to make sure you have built the walls so that they can easily fit around your shower pan, allowing for it to sit perfectly and still allowing room inside for the user to move around.
A lot of shower pans that were built for campervans have a slight downhill. It is designed this way so that it can drain properly. If your van has a slight downhill towards the front, you will want to situate it this way to help with the drainage. You want the shower pan to sit tightly, be secure and work properly within the walls, so ensure you take time to fit this properly.
This is where we return now to the joys of plywood. There should be room underneath the floor to allow room for plumbing, but this floor on top should be made of a reliable material such as plywood. Using plywood that is around three-quarter inches thick for the flooring allows the shower pan to have a supportive base that is sturdy and durable and will allow it to sit comfortably.
Underneath this plywood, it is a good idea to place some kind of support blocks in various places. This makes sure there is no give on the floor.
Returning to that space underneath the floor, after the shower pan is set in place, next comes the plumbing. Although this might scare a lot of people, especially those who are new to van conversions, it usually isn’t as difficult as people may first think. Do your research, plan and prepare and figure out exactly what you will need for this plumbing and you should be heading in the right direction.
There are many different solutions when it comes to installing the plumbing for your full-featured shower in your camper van.
A few different options include having the plumbing go straight out of the bottom of the vehicle and have the P-trap installed underneath however you can also have a plumbing system that stays in the van and will be located under the shower pan in the small space you have left underneath the floor. After all, you should be making use of this space.
Do your research on what kind of trap you are going to use. Make sure you find one that is suitable for RVs and tight spaces such as your shower room. Also, check out different designs and opt for something that works for you. You want to be able to install a P-trap whilst also keeping it inside the van.
A P-trap is essential for keeping those nasty odors out and allowing the wastewater to drain properly, helping you avoid any messy leaks.
An option for installing your P-trap is to use a 90-degree fitting from the drain of the shower pan and some piping to connect the trap. Once this is fitted, use a 90-degree fitting that then goes through the van floor.
You will need to seal any gaps around the pipe and place a reliable strip of tape over that to ensure a maximum leakproof design. You will then need to continue this pipe under the van into a water tank that once fitted, should stay there permanently.
Also, take into account that you need to seal the pipe off. You can do this using mental screen netting. This will make sure no creatures will be able to climb up the pipe and end up nestling in the van. This is a disaster you want to avoid, especially if your trips involve nature and woodland areas.
When you are boondocking where there are no rules around drainage, you will be able to take a shower and allow the water to run straight out of the bottom of the van. If this is something you choose to do, however, ensure you use a biodegradable soap that is safe for the environment.
If you end up at a campsite or area where draining water like this is an issue, you will need to rethink how you are going to take a shower. We recommend keeping a jug in your van, that can hold at least 5 gallons of water. If you do this, you will be able to place this jug under the pipe that is coming out of the floor of the van.
The shower water will then run into this jug and you can seal it and empty it at a dump station or alternative suitable place.
For a shower to work, you’re going to need an adequate water supply. Fortunately, choosing a water supply is usually quite simple and we recommend a freshwater tank that can double up and also supply water to your kitchen sink. Ensure the tank is big enough and can hold enough water to share this water between both the kitchen and the shower.
You can still keep these areas separate and use separate water systems instead if you want to, but this would cause more hassle, more money, and take a lot more of your time up. This is because it would be double the amount of work and you would have to fill and dump both systems separately.
This is why a lot of van owners opt for a tank big enough to share the water between both utilities. Combining both systems and making an extra-large freshwater tank therefore can be a lifesaver when you’re trying to save time on the road. Ensure however it is big enough and buy a tank that holds no less than 16 gallons. You can buy water tanks directly off the internet.
The shower plumbing for the faucet comes in above where the water tank is fitted. This makes it super simple and easy to access at any time. It’s also an idea to build a waterproof connection area in case there are any leaks or dripping problems.
If the faucet area were to start leaking, it would leak into this waterproof connection area, and straight down into the waterproof area where the fresh water tank should sit.
A water detector is advised to be installed in the same area too. Installing a water detector means that if any water gets into the area, you are aware of it and can solve the problem as quickly as possible and before you have to call in a professional for help.
Some van owners opt to use clear vinyl tubing for their plumbing, however, if you tend to travel in very hot climates or live in a hot country, we suggest you stay away from this and perhaps use PEX pipe instead. We advise this as the vinyl material can sometimes give off a nasty smell in the summer and often, this smell rubs off on the water too.
To avoid any nasty chemicals or plastic getting onto the water, PEX pipes could be more suitable.
PEX pipes are also the standard to use for plumbing supply lines and are simple to work, as long as you own and use with it a good crimp tool and have a reliable way of cleaning the pipe out.
You are able to cap off the hot water side of your faucets so that they are not used at all if this is something that worked for you and you haven’t got a water heater installed yet. Luckily, if you decide to later get a water heater installed, you can pop them back on. If you are using your shower in the winter, we highly recommend getting a water heater.
Bear in mind before moving on to the final touches that the faucet will not be as good or powerful as one installed in your house. This is because it will be made specifically for RV use. It is also made of plastic and therefore will be lightweight, yet not as strong as some that are built inside homes. You can buy different designs and different color faucets and it’s a good idea to buy one that also matches your van.
After the shower has been installed and the walls are up, it’s time to make some final touches to make it as full-featured and as homely as possible. You’re going to want to place a trim along the outside and along the top. This will ensure the shower has a final look that is neat and tidy.
You can paint this trim whichever color that you feel suits the interior of the rest of your van. We recommend however a light or neutral color such as gray, white, or black.
You’ll also want to install an access panel on the bottom of the shower. Installing a panel allows access to the space underneath the shower pan that has now been used for plumbing purposes. Installing a panel therefore is handy if you ever spot an issue with the plumbing that needs addressing, if you ever spot a leak, or even if you simply need to change the batteries out of the water detector that is installed in the same area.
The space underneath the floor should allow you enough room to reach in and work on the drain piping, allow you to unscrew and change the pieces of pipe when needed and simply be wide enough that you can check every so often that things are still in working order.
This will give you peace of mind that whatever happens with the plumbing system, whether you never have to change it or whether it, unfortunately, fails after the first month, you have direct access to it and can easily fix and repair issues as they arise.
Shower Curtain And Shower Door
Installing a shower curtain or shower door is vital to maintain privacy and stop leaking when showering. It might also be an idea to install an Extend-A-Shower. This is so it will give you the most room when utilizing the shower. The rod on an Extend-A-Shower works well as you are able to keep the rod pushed to the side and inside the shower stall when you are not using it.
This also creates a useful place to hang wet items from washing to wetsuits, to swimsuits, or jumpers that have been caught out in a storm.
When your full-featured shower has been installed and you are ready to take a shower, you will need to rotate the shower rod to the outside with an Extend-A-Shower. This will give you maximum space to take your shower comfortably. This also opens up the shower nicely and gives you the feel of a much larger shower area. A larger shower area is what makes an Extend-A-
Shower so popular amongst van users. It can almost be essential if you have a smaller campervan and as a result an extra small space for a shower room.
To install it, all you need to do is screw it to the sides of the shower using studs that you can install in the wall of your shower frame. The device holds tight and is super sturdy. It not only allows you to hang wet clothes on it, but it is also a great place to hang towels too.
Installing a full-featured shower in your campervan also allows you to build a bathroom. If you build it big enough, the shower can also be the place where your toilet can live. However, depending on the size of your shower room and the size of your van, it might be an idea not to install this toilet permanently, but it could be a great little storage space for when no one is using the shower.
To do this, it’s good to start by installing hooks on either side, where the toilet will sit. This means you can strap the toilet down when you are on the move. It means it won’t slide, or shift around, or even fall over completely which would leave wastewater leaking all over the van. This would not a pretty sight and would be very hard to clean up.
We hope by reading this article, whether you are simply thinking about a van conversion, have started a conversion, or have planned out the whole thing, you will opt for installing a full-featured shower.
Having a full-featured shower in your home on wheels can allow you to pull up anywhere and take a shower, rinse off in the heat whenever you need to, and allow you to wash without leaving your cozy campervan on those winter trips if you have a heater installed too. Building a shower for your campervan, we hope we have proven, is not actually beyond anyone’s capabilities.
By following instructions, doing your research, and taking it slowly, it can be a simple and hassle-free project and we highly recommend you give it a go. It can be a worthwhile addition to your van and can make you feel at home wherever you are on the road.
Discover How To Prepare, Launch & Grow Your Dream Digital Nomad Business!
Become financially independent by building a passion-based online business
DO YOU BELIEVE ADVENTURES ARE WORTH CHASING?