8 Easy Ways to get Hot Water in a Campervan

If you’re anything like me a cold outdoor shower in the middle of winter might not sound very appealing! Luckily, there’s now lots of solutions for getting your campervan equipped with hot water so you can enjoy a lovely (albeit quick!) hot shower no matter where you are.

We knew early on in our van build that we wanted a bathroom in our Sprinter conversion. Eventually we settled on a small but practical space with a urine diverting toilet and a shower. Once we’d decided on the design we set about finding the best solution for getting hot water to our shower. During our research we came across eight ways to get hot water in a campervan which we’ll outline below, including the option we chose for our van.

How to get hot water in a campervan

We’ve found eight different ways to generate hot water in a van. They each come with their own advantages and disadvantages so there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution.

When deciding which method will work best for you it’s a good idea to sit down and think about your hot water requirements. A family of four living full time in a van will no doubt require more hot water than a solo weekend traveller.

All the below methods require some kind of energy source, whether that’s via the sun, LPG, diesel or electricity.  The great news is there’s lots of solutions for generating hot water in campervans now so it’s easier than ever to wash the dishes, bath the dog and take a shower whatever your budget.

our van kitchen with copper tap and recycled scaffold worktop

1. Boil water in a pan

This is by far the simplest and easiest option for getting hot water. Whether you use a campfire, wood burner, camping stove or built-in cooktop it’s easy to simply fill a pan or kettle and boil your water. Therefore, if you just want to wash your dishes and have a quick sponge bath this an ideal option. However, if you’re wanting to transfer this to a portable shower it can become less efficient as you need larger amounts of water.

  • Cheap
  • Heats the exact amount of water you need so very efficient
  • No complicated installation
  • Labour and power intensive for a shower
  • Releases moisture into your van

2. Solar shower

One of the things we love about living off grid is using solar power to charge our batteries. Solar is also a great way to heat up water through the use of a solar shower. This is simply a bag filled with water that you leave out in the sun to heat up. When you’re ready to shower simply use the power of gravity and the attached hose/shower head. Some larger solar showers also feature a foot pump for a more powerful flow.

If your budget stretches a little further you could install a Road Shower on the roof of your vehicle (or make your own DIY version). This is essentially a black tube filled with pressurised water that’s heated by the sun. It allows for a higher volume of water than a solar shower but is less portable.

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Cheap
  • Portable so perfect for use off-grid
  • Packs away small and can therefore be easily stored
  • Not a great option in winter or countries with limited sun, so not ideal for the UK!
  • Takes a few hours for the water to heat
Example of a solar shower for getting hot water in your campervan
Larger solar shower with foot pump

3. Tankless propane water heater

If you don’t want to install a hot water tank but do have gas in your van an instant hot water heater may be a great solution for getting hot water in your campervan. These heaters use an internal heat exchange to warm your water on demand and are therefore efficient as well as easy to install.

There are a large range of options available. You can opt to keep your heater portable and just connect the gas supply when required or install it in your van. If you do the latter, however, make sure you properly vent the unit to ensure combustion gases can fully escape from your van as they are designed to be used outside.

  • Relatively cheap
  • Doesn’t take up too much space
  • Self contained and safe
  • Features internal batteries so can be used off-grid
  • Must be properly vented if using inside your van
  • Requires an on-board gas supply
  • Not suitable for use at high altitudes

4. Water Tank: Calorifier

A calorifier water tank features an internal coil that’s connected to your engine coolant line. This is the option we use in our van and we absolutely love it! After around 15 minutes of driving we have a full 16lt tank of hot water simply by using the heat from our engine.

As you drive your engine heats up. The coolant line draws heat away from your engine, flows through the coil within your tank, heats the water as it passes through and then flows back to your engine via the radiator.

We have an insulated Isotemp Slim tank that sits behind the baskets in our kitchen. The water stays hot overnight except in very cold weather and it also features an electric heating element as a back up.

  • Generates a full tank of hot water so great for showers
  • Enables additional water storage
  • Reliable, safe and easy to install
  • Relatively cheap
  • Doesn’t require an additional heat source
  • Water heats up quickly – usually after around 10-15 minutes driving once the engine is hot
  • If you stay in one place for a few days and don’t drive you won’t have hot water (unless you have a secondary electric element as well)
  • Involves working close to your engine so can be daunting to install
Isotemp slim square calorifier hot water tank
SureCal campervan calorifier hot water tank

Want to know how we installed a calorifier into our van?

We have a full article all about how we use the heat from our engine to get hot water, including all the steps we followed to install the hot water calorifier tank and connect it to our engine. Head to our Hot Water Installation Guide for more information.

5. Water Tank: Gas

If you have space for a water tank and carry LPG on board your campervan a gas powered water heater might be a great option for generating hot water. These water tanks feature an internal gas burner that heats your water to give you a plentiful supply of hot water. Some feature both electric and gas options which can speed up the heating time.

  • Generates a full tank of hot water so great for showers
  • Enables additional water storage
  • Reliable and safe when fitted correctly
  • Needs to be properly vented
  • Requires an on-board gas supply
  • Not suitable for use whilst driving
  • Can take up to 45 minutes to heat up

6. Water Tank: Electric

Similar to the above option is installing a water tank with an electric heating element. The main downside of this option is it uses a lot of electricity to heat your water so is really only suitable if connected to mains power.

We used this option for a couple of months when the calorifier element of our tank wasn’t connected and it uses a lot of power! We therefore only heated our water on days we were doing a long drive and could generate power to replenish the battery from our alternator whilst driving. That being said, if we do have mains power we revert to using this method so we don’t have to drive.

  • Generates a full tank of hot water so great for showers
  • Enables additional water storage
  • Reliable and safe when fitted correctly
  • Doesn’t require gas to be fitted in your campervan
  • Can be used whilst driving
  • Uses a lot of electricity and will therefore quickly drain a leisure battery
  • Additional costs if paying for electricity hook-up
  • Water tank adds additional weight
  • Can take up to 45 minutes to heat up

7. Combi Heater: Diesel

If you plan on travelling in areas that aren’t always nice and warm you’ll most likely need some kind of heating in your van. Most van conversions we’ve seen install either a gas heater or diesel heater (read more in our Complete Guide to Campervan Heating).

If you opt for a diesel heater it’s worth looking at a combi heater that will heat water as well as the air. Combi heaters work in a similar way to combi boilers in a house. When hot water is needed it’s created by pulling cold water from your campervan tank into your diesel heater boiler and heating it via a heat exchange.

  • Designed to be installed externally so saves on internal space
  • Generates a tank of hot water so great for showers
  • Reliable and safe when fitted correctly
  • Doesn’t require gas to be fitted in your campervan
  • Can be used whilst driving
  • Currently an expensive option
  • Additional costs if chose to have it installed professionally
  • Most units can’t be used at high altitudes, for example, above 2,200m

8. Combi Heater: Gas

This option is similar to the above but using LPG instead of diesel as your energy source. All the gas combi heaters I’ve come across have an integrated water tank as opposed to an on-demand system. The water heater can, however,  be used with or without the air heater to ensure they’re suitable for summer use.

  • One unit for heating air and water so saves on space
  • Reliable and safe when fitted correctly
  • Generates a full tank of hot water so great for showers
  • Enables additional water storage
  • Currently an expensive option
  • Requires an on-board gas supply
  • Can take 20-80 minutes for water to heat depending on whether air heater is in use as well
  • Internal water tank so adds additional weight
Truma Combi gas campervan heater and hot water tank

Looking for more information on our Sprinter van bathroom?

If you’re thinking about installing a bathroom in your van conversion make sure you read our How to Build A Sprinter Van Bathroom guide. This explains everything we used in our build and how we put it all together.

We also have a dedicated Van Bathroom page in our shop so you can easily find links to everything used in our tiny wet room.

What’s the best way to get hot water in a campervan?

It very much depends on your priorities and how you’ll be travelling as to which option will suit you best. If you don’t plan on installing a fixed shower then a fully plumbed in solution is likely overkill, likewise if you’ll always be travelling in warm climates an outdoor solar shower might be perfect.

It’s also advisable to think about the fuel sources you have onboard your van. If you’re planning on installing gas during your van for cooking and heating then it might make sense to utilise this for hot water as well.

You should also bear in mind the space you have available as this will determine whether a hot water tank is viable or an on-demand system will serve you better. Also remember a hot water tank will add weight to your van when full if you’re trying to keep your conversion below 3.5t.

We love the calorifier water tank method as using the heat already generated by your engine seems like a nice efficient and passive solution. It’s worked really well for us so far and it feels like a real luxury having hot water whenever we need it.

If you opt for this method I’d highly recommend a tank with a secondary electric heating element for times when you’re connected to power. For example,  this works really well if you’re parked up for a few days at a Stellplatz or campsite.

Hot water coming out of our shower with our tiny kitchen in the background

Can you think of any other methods to get hot water in a campervan? We’d love to know if there’s any we’ve missed. Let us know in the comments below if so.

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