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Van Shower: The KEY to Full Time Van Life

Van Shower: The KEY to Full Time Van Life

Having a van shower inside is a GAME CHANGER. 

The ability to shower after a long sweaty hike revolutionizes full time van life. 

No one is creeping on your solar shower outside the van. 

And, you don’t have to track down a planet fitness and drive there.  You can stay out longer.

However, it was not the easiest to conceptualize or build.  I’ll take you through our process so maybe you’ll have an easier time. 

We discussed so many options regarding: location within the van, water we needed, components of the shower, how we built the shower stall, and how we mounted the gray tank underneath the van.

Read on to see our whole process of building a shower in a van from start to finish!

Van Shower Location

With a fixed bed, we saw three main locations to build a van shower inside. 

First, we thought about the shower between the bed and the slider door.  Pros to this approach are its proximity to the water tank and the ability to swing the showerhead out the door.  Cons include water right next to the bed and it begins to block the slider door view.  This idea led us to think we might want the sink in the slider door area.  Although, that would further block the best viewing area. 

Second, we thought about a van shower next to the bed on the driver side.  This ranked as the easiest build spot due to being the spot with the least number of odd angles.  However, we thought this location would segment the van in an unpleasant way.  The flow of the layout never felt right with it there.

Third, we had seen many people place the shower right behind the driver’s seat.  The major pros to this location included a partial wall between the cab and the back.  Moreover, having the shower behind the driver’s seat allowed for a good flow within the van.  It also provided an excellent view from the toilet we wanted to place inside the shower.  We saw the drawbacks as the shower would be the furthest possible location from the water tank and it would be the first thing seen upon entering. 

After months of debate, we chose option three.  We liked the idea of a partial dividing wall and having the shower away from our bed.  I guess the thru-hikers in us came out as a strong aversion to water near our bedding!

Each of the options are viable.  It’s all about how you want your own van to function.  There is no right or wrong.

Water Needed to Shower

We discussed this in depth when we sized our water system.  Our shower largely depends on “start-stop” showering.  This means that we get into the shower, get our hair sufficiently wet, and turn the water off.  While the water is off, we shampoo.  Then, we turn the water back on to rinse the shampoo.  Here, we add conditioner.  In wetting our hair and rinsing the shampoo, we have largely wet our bodies well enough to soap.  Once we’re all soaped up, we rinse the conditioner and soap away.  That’s it!

I would note that we make sure to use only biodegradable soaps with natural ingredients.  That way, when we find a place to release the shower water, we’re not adding chemicals.

Using this method, we do not use more than about four gallons of water for two showers.  However, if we’re filthy from a few days of hiking, we do use about five total. 

Components of the Van Shower

Shower Pan

The main components in our van’s shower dictated a lot of how we built it.  Initially, we bought an RV shower pan.  This shower pan helped immensely to determine the exact location of the van.  First, the pan drain had to rest on a location that we could drill through the floor.  Second, it helped us gage the kitchen size.  Thus, we ended up picking up a small one: 24 x 27 inches. 

Our small shower pan works for us because we’re not big humans.  We built the shower for Karma since he’s 5’10”.  Anyone taller might have a harder time with our design.  Most vans with indoor showers use 24 x 32 inch pans and they are usually the extended length vans. 

Low Flow Shower Head

Next, we needed a low flow shower head.  After reading a billion reviews and watching lots of YouTube videos, we decided on the High Sierra Shower head with 1.25 gallons per minute rate.  We bought the hose with it.  This shower head works well for us because it has a feature to slow to flow down to a small drip.  Thus, we can have “start-stop” showers and use less water.

Van Shower Mixer

Since we really made the shower small, we had to find a shower mixer where the hose connected inside the shower. We had about a 2.5 inch gap between the fridge space and the shower that only went up from the floor 36 inches.  Most shower mixers mix hot and cold from the bottom and it comes out the top inside the wall.  Ours mixes the hot and cold inside the wall, but it comes out in the shower and up to the showerhead.  

We found options for these on marine websites and RV websites.  Many different styles exist in four main colors: stainless steel, brushed nickel, black, and that parchment off-white.

Nautilus Retractable Shower Door

Our shower stands front and center when we open the slider door.  Therefore, we wanted it to look nice.  A shower curtain just seemed a little cheesy to us.  We had seen these installed on YouTube and it seemed relatively easy. 

These retractable doors are awesome, but they are custom.  So, measure many times before you purchase one because you cannot return it.  The company also custom makes these shower doors to order.  This means they often seem to have a two-week turnaround time. 

We picked the square housing, opaque plain door, brushed nickel frame color, 36” width, and 67” height.  Thus, our High Sierra Showerhead and shower mixer became brushed nickel as well.  The 36” width works with width up to 36”. 

The company, Stoett, also has fantastic customer service.  One of the small u-shaped pieces was missing when we pulled it out of the box two months after ordering it.  I called them up and the representative was incredibly kind and mailed one in the correct color out right away.

Gray Under Mounted Tank

Based on our calculations, two showers would produce 4-5 gallons of gray water.  We bought a 10-gallon undermount tank from Class-A-Customs.  We figured, if we got in a pinch, that would hold two showers each of gray water. 

This particular tank worked well for us because it does not extend down further than the gas tank.  In fact, when mounted, you cannot see it underneath the van.  This adds a small element of stealth.  Where we could, we wanted to look like a fancy construction van.  Having a water tank showing underneath the van would be pretty obvious.

How We Built the Van Shower Stall

Shower Base

We began by sitting Karma in the driver’s seat and adjusting the seat to his driving position.  I’m fairly short, so if the driving position worked for him, I could always move it forward. 

Keeping the seat fixed, we began by building a base to go around the shower pan.  The shower pan measured 24 x 27 inches, but it had an upper lip that needed support.  Karma created a three-sided base out of 2×4 and some spare eucalyptus bed slats we found in the garage.  This firmly supported the shower pan and gave the bottom some structure.

One major complication occurred when we realized we needed a 4 awg wire to travel through the base frame toward the front seat.  The frame would block this passage.  Karma took a hand saw and made a notch to allow this wire to travel from behind the shower out to the front seat.  This wire had nothing to do with the shower other than its need to go around it.  It goes between the Sterling Battery to Battery charger and the front seat customer connection point (CCP2).

Within the three-sided frame we made an extra 1/2 inch thick base to protect the sub floor.  When we were sure of where we wanted the base, we used a Kreg Jig to make pocket holes.  Those allowed us to screw the base into the floor.  Next, we screwed in the base and siliconed around all the edges. 

Shower pieces laid on a table getting treated.
Shower Base Frame and Furring Strips getting a Coat of Penetrating Waterproofer.

Shower Walls

Most van builds sacrifice a lot of space by making all their side walls first.  Opting not to provides a significant amount of extra space, however, it also provides many more headaches.

To make the walls, we made templates.  We used one 4×8 sheet of hardboard to do so.  Magically, with one sheet, we managed to make three wall templates one at a time.

Using a template to cut out a van shower wall.
Using the Hardboard Template for the Van Shower Wall.

Based on measurements, the three walls we needed to make perpendicular to the side walls were three different widths. 

So, we started with the biggest wall.  While making templates is a pain in the ass and often involves significant cursing, it makes the actual wall seem easy.  We spent about one day per wall template tinkering, checking, and re-checking. 

Once we were satisfied with the template, we laid it out on a piece of 1/2 inch Baltic birch plywood and traced it.  Since it had many curves, we used the trusty jigsaw to cut it out carefully.  During the pandemic, the wood shortages shot up prices on plywood, so we became extra careful when cutting into them. 

This process repeated for each of the three walls: one that divided the bed from the kitchen and the shower’s side walls.

For the shower’s back wall, we had to add a few furring strips.  These we attached with Loctite Marine Adhesive.  To take advantage of as much space as possible, the back wall would have a slant part way up inward to the top. 

To make matters complicated, we had to build a funky triangular piece to allow room for the van’s wiring harness.  You know, because the van had odd angles everywhere!

For the back wall of the shower, we grabbed one of the templates for the subfloor and repurposed it to make this template in two pieces. 

Accounting for the Nautilus Shower Door

Part way through constructing the walls, we had an “oh shit” moment.  “Oh shit” moments are common while building the van, but this was a big one. 

At one test point, we turned the shower pan to better account for leg room on the toilet.  This meant that the shower door would be on the 24 inch side instead of the 27 inch side. 

What we forgot was the width of the toilet and the decreased width of the shower opening from the Nautilus door housing.  The shower door housing and the front of the door stretches about 4 inches.  While the toilet’s overall width was 19 inches, that only gave us 1” of room to slide it in and out.  It seems doable, but when the toilet is full, it becomes heavier and harder to move. 

After lots of cursing and fiddling, we decided to make an extra 2.5 inches of space just for the housing of the door.  We cut the wall between the cab and shower a little more lengthwise.  Busting out the handy Kreg Jig, we made pocket holes on a piece of poplar by the foot cut to the shower’s height.  We managed pocket holes going both directions. 

We screwed in the poplar easily to the side of the wall.  Then we cut a 2 inch wide strip of Baltic birch that we screwed to the other side of the poplar. 

In effect, this gave us 2.5 extra inches to pull out the toilet.  After using it, it was WORTH IT.

Adding and extra punch out for the shower door.
Adding Extra Space for the Shower Door.

Inner Wall Hatch for Composting Toilet Vent and Electrical

Before we fully added the walls, we had to think a few projects ahead.  We bought a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet and it needed a 1.5 inch hose to vent outside the van.  The toilet also needed an electrical connection to run a small van to circulate air inside. 

Many people don’t think this one through in their van build or add the toilet after the fact.  However, it did not seem like a good idea to have a live electrical wire chilling in a shower. 

While searching the wonders of the internet, we came along a solution that we liked in this Mather’s on the Map video.  We modified the idea to make it work for us, but the essentials are the same.  They used a 6 inch watertight marine hatch to secure the electrical wire and hose while using their shower.

We measured the inner wall space we had and built a box that we could screw into the back of the back wall.  We could use 4 inches deep, 8 inches wide, and 10 inches tall including the half inch wood. 

After cutting all the pieces, we glued them together and let it dry overnight.  The next day, we grabbed the hole saw and made a 1.75 inch hole in the bottom.  Then, we grabbed a thick drill bit and made a smaller hole next to it.  This would allow the 1.5 inch vent pipe to come up from outside the van into the box and out through the hatch in the shower wall.

This was a “you must think ahead” project that was well worth it.

Shower Ceiling

Like most van projects, the van shower ceiling had a few headaches.  We had to figure out how to attach the top of the walls securely to the roof of the van.  Of course, it was not straight. The Ford Transit has a significant taper from the ceiling to the cab.

Karma eventually figured out how to carefully shape 2×3 pieces to the curves of the van roof.  Once we had the upper supports made to size, we grabbed out the drill and the riv nut tool.

On the cab side, a cross support beam existed, but without any convenient holes to add nutserts.  So, we measured and drilled a few.  Once drilled, we added some rustoleum to the raw metal to protect it.  When it dried, we used the riv nut tool to add in nutserts.

We bought the corresponding bolts and pre-drilled countersunk holes.  When ready, we added the bolts and tightened up the supports. 

For the back wall’s upper support, we used pre-existing holes that we added nutserts to and bolted. 

We felt comfortable having our walls having supports bolted directly into the van’s metal frame.

Once we had the supports in, the walls went in smoothly.  With the walls in, we could measure the exact size of the ceiling, make a template, and cut it out.  We made the hole for the ceiling light centered on one plane, but moved it forward on the other.  This turned out great.  When we sit on the toilet, the light is just in front of us.  It makes it so our heads don’t block all the light.  A single LED puck light worked well.

Shower Pan and Drain Installation

The shower walls, ceiling, and pan installation happened all at once.  When we had the walls secured to the van’s roof and our shower base frame, we placed the pan in and drilled the shower drain hole.  The hole saw got a workout on this one.  Once we sawed through the shower pan into the shower base, we paused and pulled the shower pan out. 

With a perfect circle to begin again, we went through the shower base, the subfloor, part of a furring strip, and the van’s metal floor.  We had to pause and take some of the layers out of the hole saw to get through all of it.

We attached the shower drain and tailpipe the previous night.  The tailpipe had to add the extra length required to get properly underneath the van. 

Adding Loctite Marine Adhesive to the bottom of the shower pan, we placed it back in, aligning the tailpipe with the drain hole.  This worked great.


Aqua Tape

With the walls and ceiling all screwed in, we had to create the waterproof area. 

First, we started by using aqua tape to tape the upper lip of the shower pan to the walls.  This was a simple step that made the bottom of the shower significantly more waterproof should the silicone fail in the bottom. 

Adding a waterproof tape to connect the shower pan to the walls.
Adding Aqua Tape Around the Shower Pan.

FRP Board

Second, we picked up three 4×8 sheets of FRP.  We hemmed and hawed at using FRP, however, it was so much lighter than other options.  Environmentally, it was probably my least favorite part about our van build. 

We used our hardboard templates wall templates to make new templates for the sheets of FRP.  This worked well, although, we did have to adjust several areas.

To cut the FRP, we used all the precautions.  We pulled out the respirators and the intense goggles for this shit.  You do not want FRP dust in your lungs…it is fiberglass.

To begin cutting, we laid down scrap plywood.  On top of that, we laid down the black inner wall panels that came with the van.  Those are made from the same material as political signs. 

Then, we drew our template onto the back side of the FRP making sure it went in the correct direction.  Since the front side has bumps, it does not take a sharpie mark very well. 

Using a straight edge that I stood on top of, Karma grabbed an Oscillating Multi Tool with a Carbide tipped blade to cut the FRP.  After extensive online research, we found it kept the dust lower than other options.  Jigsaws and circular saws both shot FRP dust everywhere, especially up at your face.  Meanwhile, the oscillating tool moved it side to side on the ground.  Therefore, I could use a shop vacuum at the same time removing most of the dust quickly and efficiently. 

This was definitely one of our least favorite parts about the van build.  It also came at a time when the weather began pushing into the 90+ degrees zone.  Not fun with a respirator.   

FRP Glue

After we tested all the FRP panels for the shower, we researched FRP glues.  Most of the people that had trouble either used too much glue or not enough glue.  I discovered in the reviews that either too much or too little mostly resulted in using the wrong trowel. 

The other things people did wrong was using the glue outside of the recommended temperature range. 

We ended up using the Liquid Nails FRP glue the trowel specified on the glue label.  It worked.  The correct trowel adds the right amount of glue, so the thinking goes away.  The temperature range was between 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit.  So, we made sure to work in the morning and tried to finish the section before it hit 85 degrees.

Karma spread the glue and I lobbed more glue on the trowel as he went.  FRP was definitely a two-person process.  Since we made a small shower, Karma had to press each panel into place.  He pressed from the center outward up and down the length of each panel. 

Because temperatures pushed into the 90s while we worked on this project, it took several days.  We worked in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings after the temperature dropped again.


Once all the FRP glue firmly held all the panels, we had to add silicone to all the corners.  Because FRP expands and contracts, we left between an 1/8 and 1/4 inch wiggle room in the corners. 

While Lowe’s had FRP corner pieces, we did not like the look of them.  Most of them in the stores were scratched and bent. 

Instead, we just added about three layers of white silicone in the corners.  This provided an adequate seal.

How We Under Mounted the Gray Tank

Using an old yoga mat and z-rest, we spent a considerable amount of time examining mounting options underneath the van.  Under the van work is difficult.  Dust and mud almost always gets in your eyeballs no matter what you do.

We decided to mostly follow this YouTube video.

We grabbed some 1/8 inch thick metal by the piece at Lowe’s for homemade brackets to mount it.  Basically, we placed each metal piece in a vice and smashed it with a mallet into the shape we wanted.  The method was crude, but oddly effective.

With a drill, we made bolt holes exactly where we wanted them in our homemade brackets.  Only one pre-existing hole worked under the van to mount our gray tank.  Better than none!

For the other three holes, we carefully made sure we wouldn’t drill into anything important and drilled three holes.  In those and one pre-existing hole, we sprayed some Rustoleum and add riv nutserts.  These allowed us to securely bolt the tank into the van’s metal frame.

Like all van projects, we had one complication.  We had a little extra wiggle room in the bottom of the brackets.  For a solution, we found a 1/2 inch thick rubber floor mat that we cut to size on the tank bottom.  Grabbing the trusty Loctite Marine adhesive, we glued it to the bottom of the tank. 

This ended up serving two purposes.  First, it filled the wiggle room in the brackets to make a perfect fit.  Second, it kept the metal brackets from rubbing on the plastic tank.  This prevents future break down of the tank.

Now, the gray tank is securely bolted to the van’s frame.

Van Shower to Gray Tank Plumbing Connections

Gray Tank Plumbing Inspiration

Of course, we attended YouTube university for this portion of the van shower as well.  For the gray tank plumbing, we followed this Dare’s Drives Pluming video.  His tank had 1.25 inch entry points, while ours had 1.5 inch entry points.  Therefore, we just substituted the parts he used for their 1.5 inch counterparts. 

Before we fully glued our shower pan into place, we had attached the shower drain and tail pipe.  We definitely had the shower tail pipe open under the van for about a month before we mounted the gray tank.

Since the top of the drain had a wider circumference than the tailpipe, we added some “Big Gap Filler” by “Great Stuff.” It was indeed “great stuff!”

All Gray Tank Plumbing Connections

For the gray tank intake we added several connections from the tailpipe to the tank:

  • A 1.5 inch p-trap to keep the smells down.  This also has a cleaning hole in the bottom to bypass the gray tank if needed.
  • Small piece of 1.5 inch PVC pipe (measured to size)
  • 45 degree 1.5 inch PVC angle
  • Small piece of 1.5 inch PVC pipe (measured to size)
  • 1.5 inch PVC to 1.5 inch NPT (Pipe threaded) adapter.

View up underneath the van at the plumbing connections for the shower gray tank.
An Upward View of the Gray Tank Connections.

Between the PVC pipe connections we used PVC Pipe Primer and Cement.  On the pipe threaded connections, we used pipe tape.

On the other upper 1/2 inch opening, we added a 1.5 inch long 1/2 inch nipple.  Then, we added a cap that we drilled several holes into to make a vent.  As water flows into the gray tank, this allows the air to adjust.

On the 1/2 inch bottom opening, we added:

  • Plastic 1/2 inch, 1.5 inch long nipple
  • Brass 1/2 inch Pipe Threaded Elbow
  • Galvanized Steel 3 inch nipple (not for potable water, so galvanized is ok and cheaper)
  • US Solid Motorized Ball Valve, Brass, 1/2 inch, 2 wire Auto Return

We also have a 1/2 inch NPT (pipe threaded) to 3/4 inch GHT (garden hose) if we want to add a 10 foot hose to the ball valve.  This is helpful if we’re parked and want to drain the tank away from the van.

A Complete Shower

This project gave us plenty of headaches. Creating a van shower really encapsulated many projects in one. It was not easy, but damn, is it nice.

For more information about how the water gets to the shower, check out how we built our water system.