One of the premises of this van conversion is to build an affordable, yet comfortable RV/Camper. Including a full bathroom, would go a long way to achieve that.
Exploring the issues around showers and toilets soon reveal many of the limitations that come with a smaller sized Cargo Van. The Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster and MB Sprinter are featured with many different length and height options, that will determine how fancy you can go in the plumbing department.
Let’s get the expense out-of-the-way first: buying a low-cost porto potti and use of an exterior shower, would set you back less than $100 and could work quite well, but would be disproportionate for a $40.000-$100.000 conversion project. On the other hand, a still small, yet luxurious toilet/shower combo can set you back $2,500 and add some complicated plumbing work to the conversion.
While working on a decent layout for the van, I encountered several constraints, that limit the size and location of a bathroom.
Wheel wells may have an adverse effect on the size or type of shower pans.
Access to underfloor black water tank(s) is in limited supply.
Height of low or medium high roof vans doesn’t lend itself to full-height showers.
Short-Wheelbase vans really can’t accommodate a permanent toilet or shower installation. Only extended length cargo vans have sufficient space available, to implement a somewhat regular toilet and shower stall.
Besides stealth, one of the main uses of this van will be boondocking or camping for extended periods at locations where no utilities are available. Under these circumstances, electrical power can be supplied almost indefinitely by solar panels, but water storage still remains a major limitation to using your shower. In my situation, the longer I stay at one location, the less use I have for a regular shower.
While every situation is different, this project deals with a one-person van conversion with a medium roof and, although LWB (long wheel base), not an extended version. Fortunately, the needs of one (male) person are less demanding than a family of four, but even that ultimately may not make much of a difference!
A Practical Implementation
I have to make many compromises with regard to the bathroom during this conversion. Max. standing height is already severely restricted to less than 70 inches [ 1.76m ]; additional flooring, lower ceiling and extra ceiling vent makes taking a shower even more of a hassle. One possible solution may be a sitting shower, but that takes relatively more floor space and that’s the next issue.
Square foot requirements for a bathroom start at a minimum of 24 x 36 inches [ 60 x 90cm ], but likely, substantially more. It takes a major chunk away from the available floor space in my LWB Transit. The extra two feet [ 60cm ] length that comes with an extended version van, can accommodate both shower and toilet, with room to spare, but I would loose 1-2 badly needed closets.
A shower is the largest waterhog in an RV, which is fine if you regularly spend your time in public or private campgrounds, but there are some alternatives, that could make sense for some.
Use campground showers.
Take one gallon (4L) sponge baths.
Built-in exterior shower.
Use open rear doors to incorporate temporary shower curtain.
The Thetford exterior shower box with shower head may be a cheap solution, but would take away from the stealth properties of the van. The combination of limited water, restricted van height and space limitations, tend to lead me to implement the temporary exterior shower curtain.
A plain and basic porto potti occupies little space and is sufficient and practical for me. Comfort (and resale value) will require a better option.
If the layout allows, I may still get a nice (cassette) toilet, put it on rails and slide it out for use. It may not be an optimum solution, but would be an acceptable compromise. Any form of cassette type toilet would reduce the complexity of the plumbing system too, by eliminating the black water tank.
Recently, the composting toilet has made its way into the RV or Camper. They have certain advantages and are a good fit for those who would like to reduce their environmental imprint. The composting aspect is great, but size and designs need more work. And then there are the cost of use and sometimes the extra load on the electrical system or even system failure that may compromise its use. Those interested, should do their research before buying.
Bathroom construction involves a lot of woodworking and plumbing and can get quite complicated. Size, type and number of water tanks have to be determined and are restricted by weight.
Minimizing bathroom requirements leads to a much simpler installation, but always impacts the comfort level of your van with the loss of some badly needed conveniences. Elimination of an underfloor black water tank, could allow for more fresh water storage.
These issues are raised by the stealth requirements/ideas that lay at the basis of this van conversion. My van has to function as my daily vehicle and local deed restrictions impacted the maximum height of the cargo van.
The decision process for a conversion van bathroom is limited by the length and height of the van, how your camping habits are and how much you want to spend! Best advice for those who want to go full out Rving: choose an extended version, with a high roof. But again, you’ll loose some of the stealth features and pay a lot more…