I’ve covered parts of the kitchen build in a few other posts, but there is just so much to do when it comes to the kitchen area that I had to break it up into a few posts! In this post I’ll cover setting up your sink and how to get running water. Luckily this part isn’t too hard so let’s get flowing!

Timing & People Needs

2-3 hours. Certain elements of the sink require some drying time but overall it doesn’t take too much time.

2 people needed. Several of the steps require one person to hold while the other screws it in or lines it up so make sure you have a buddy!

Level of difficulty. Easy to moderate. These parts require a steady hand and a good eye for straight lines, but it’s not too tricky.

Materials You Need

Material How Much You Need Cost Range Where to Get It
Bar Sink 1 $$ Amazon
Manual Hand Faucet 1 $$ Amazon
Clear Vinyl Tubing 5 feet $ Home Depot
5 Gallon Plastic Tanks 2 $ Amazon
Flexible Extension Hose 1 foot $ Amazon
Sink Clips 1 package (10-14) $ Home Depot
Adhesive Caulk 1 tube $ Home Depot
Plumber’s Putty 1 jar $ Home Depot

Tools You Need

Tool Cost Range Where to Get It
Jigsaw $$ Home Depot
Power Drill $ Home Depot
Hole Saw (various sizes) $$ Home Depot

Cost of Setting Up Your Van Sink and Water

I was pretty lucky to find a brand new bar sink at the Salvation Army for just $10! If you’re not so lucky, it may cost a bit more. However with everything included the sink and plumbing cost under $200.


How To Set Up Your Van Sink and Water Supply

  1. Cutting a hole for the sink
  2. Attaching the sink to the counter
  3. Attaching the hand pump
  4. Setting up the tubes
  5. Filling and emptying your tanks

As you can tell there aren’t too many steps to setting up the sink. In fact, I found it was one of the easiest elements and I was amazed that in just a few minutes I could have (semi) running water in my van! Let’s get started on this thing.

Step 1: Cut a hole for the sink

When everything is all done and flowing, hopefully your sink will look something like this:

Important note: Some people opt for installing an electric sink and even a heater to allow them to have hot water. When I calculated the amount of power I would have with my panels and how much I estimated I would use on a daily basis, I had more than enough to try an electric sink that would just turn on and off like a house sink instead of pumping to get the water. So I ordered an electric sink on Amazon (the only one available for a sink my size) and it went HORRIBLY. The first pump didn’t work at all, so we ordered a second one. This one turned on for about a minute and then shorted out my entire electrical system! I tried it again and it shorted out the system again and I had to unplug my solar panels and reboot the entire system. Even when it did turn on for that short minute, the stream of water was so powerful that it splashed water everywhere and there was no way to control it. Long story short: while manual pumps are a bit more annoying to use than an average electrical sink, you aren’t going to risk screwing up your whole electrical system with a cheaply made electric faucet.

ANYWAY, let’s install the sink. First things first, you’re going to have to cut a hole in your countertop for the sink to fit into. Hopefully you haven’t attached your countertop yet or you’re going to have to take it off again unless you want to get real cozy working upside down for the next couple hours. The hole is simple enough: trace your sink on the counter and use the jigsaw to cut out the shape. A trick I’ve mentioned in previous posts about cutting large holes is to use the power drill to drill holes in the corner of the area you want to cut out so that you can wiggle your jigsaw in.

“I sink I’m doing this right?”

Step 2: Attach the sink to the counter

Once you have your hole, the next step is to firmly attach your sink. Luckily, my dad has installed a sink or two so he knew how to attach it properly. The whole process really made no sense to me mathematically, but I trust him and so far I haven’t had any problems!

First, make sure you’ve got a pretty big space to work with. I found having sawhorses helped a lot. Flip the countertop upside down and after lining the bottom inside edge of the sink with caulk, fit it through the hole. With one person holding it up and in place (make sure it’s straight in comparison to the edge of the counter!), the other will use the sink clips to attach it to the rim of the hole.

Tightening up the clips to make sure they’re secure

This is what your sink will look like underneath when you’re all done!

Step 3: Attach the hand pump

So now you’ve got a sink installed with your countertop! The next step is to add a pump so that you can get some water running into that sink. While my original intention was to put the pump in one of the two holes in the top of the sink, unfortunately it was too big. I had to get a little creative here and I opted to cut a pump-size hole in the countertop next to the sink and attach it directly to the counter. Using the hole saw with the size right for your manual pump, carefully drill a hole in the countertop.

Pro tip: If you are attaching the hand pump to the side of the sink like I did, make sure it’s in a convenient place! Practice using the pump and make sure your hand isn’t hitting the side of the sink or the backsplash. I almost put it in a place that would have gotten the handle stuck every time I used it!

With the hole drilled, next is to insert the pump and firmly attach it to the countertop. Using plumber’s putty, line the bottom of the pump with the putty and press it firmly in the hole. Here’s what mine looked like with some of the clear tubing attached to it as well:

When the pump is in the place you want it to be, use the power drill and two ¾” screws to screw it into the countertop.

Clearly I was really excited about getting this sink up and going!

 

Step 4: Set up the tubes

At this point, all the hard stuff is out of the way – woohoo! With your sink and pump totally installed, I would recommend finally attaching your countertop. Before this point I was flipping it over and moving it around to attach the sink. With that all installed I wanted to attach my counter before I added any other elements that would get in my way. I mentioned it in another post, but a few L-brackets connected to the cabinets and the back wall is all you need!

From this point on, you need to make sure clean water is rising up through your faucet and into the sink and draining down into another plastic tank used for waste water. This means that the clear plastic tubing is going to be attached to the manual faucet and go into your clean water tank. The drain in the sink will then will be attached to the flexible extension hose which will go to your waste tank. Both the water tanks come with two spouts that could be used to file in the tubing but I found it was awkward to get the tubing into those holes. Instead I chose to use the hole saw to drill a hole on the top of both the tanks. With the hole drilled, the tubing went into the tanks super easily.

Pro tip: To make sure the tubing doesn’t kink and get caught in the bottom of the tank, use about 12 inches of PVC pipe to keep it straight. I also made a mark on the tube to let me know how far down to push it into the tank.

The drain from the bottom of the sink into the waste plastic jug

The clear piping attached to the hand pump

Your water setup is all set!

Step 5: Filling and emptying your tanks

With your sink and tubes all set up, now all you have to do is add the water! Just to test out my system, I poured a gallon of water into my clean water tank and started pumping. It will take about 10-15 pumps to actually get the water up there but you should hear it working as it moves its way up the tubes. A few seconds later I had “running” water! I filled up the rest of the clean water tank by refilling the gallon jug and carefully pouring it in. There are a few methods to filling up your tank but keep this in mind: the tanks are 5-gallon tanks so they will each hold 5 gallons of water which will get heavy. It was very awkward the first few times I was filling and dumping because I had to carefully unhook them, lug them outside, and dump them in a safe spot without spilling everywhere. Filling them is much easier and while it’s not the most time-efficient method, I’ll fill them a gallon at a time using a gallon jug with water from my friends’ sinks or clean water stations.

Pro tip: To avoid facing a situation that requires you to lug and dump out 5 gallons of dirty water all at once, try to dump out a little bit at a time as you find appropriate dumping spots. As much fun as it would be to drag 5 gallons of leftover toothpaste and hand washing grey water, dumping in increments is much easier.

Tips and Tricks

Where can I find clean water while on the road?

Like I mentioned before, I fill up on water whenever I get the chance when I’m staying with friends or family. It’s free, easy, and I know it’s clean. When I’m not in an area where I know anyone, I have a few other options.

  1. Buying gallons of water (not cost-efficient or the most eco-friendly but if you’re desperate this will work!)
  2. Gas stations – some of them have spigots outside with clean water. If you aren’t using the water for drinking, this is perfectly fine.
  3. National parks, visitor’s centers, rest areas, etc. Don’t be afraid to just ask!

Where can I dump my grey water?

Although you might be thinking “This water only has some soap and toothpaste in it – how dangerous could it be?” you absolutely CANNOT just dump your grey water anywhere you want! Grey water, or water that has residue of soap, food, toothpaste, etc. after being used, is illegal to dump anywhere and accumulates toxic chemicals as it sits. As such, you’ll have to plan ahead about where you can dump out. Luckily there are a lot of grey water dump stations around the country in campsites and RV parks. Use SaniDumps or RV There Yet to find a spot near you. They will let you know if the dump site costs money or if it’s free.

How do I keep my tanks from smelling?

If you can, each time you empty your grey water make sure to wash them out! Soap and food residue will start to build up on the walls and they can get pretty gross. I put about a tablespoon on bleach in there just to keep it sanitary. I also avoid washing too much food down my sink because that has the highest chance of molding. If I just have a few bowls and spoons to wash, I’ll put them in a big bag and bring them into Walmart or Starbucks to wash them in their bathroom sinks. You can’t beat real running hot water!