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Water -- fresh, grey, black

Category: Facilities in your home-on-wheels. Published: 23 Jun 2009

Appliances using water

As with everything else, the number of water-related appliances in a campervan, motorhome, caravan or recreation vehicle ranges from none at all to all the latest in modern luxuries.

My first van had nothing but the kitchen sink. Cold water was drawn from the 60-litre tank by a hand-operated pump, and hot water was obtained by boiling the kettle. Grey water storage was a 25-litre bottle that required emptying every few days. About mid-way through my life in that van I added a portable toilet.

My current van has hot and cold running water. Taps are powered by water-pressure when connected at a caravan park, or drawn from the 110-litre tank by a 12-volt pump. Hot water is obtained from a gas-powered water heater. The van also has a bathroom containing a shower, hand-basin and cassette toilet; but in a caravan park I use the park's facilities -- to save money on gas required to heat the water and to reduce the number of times I have to empty the toilet (which is not the most fun part of living in a van!). I'm limited in the amount of time I spend bush-camping by the size of my fresh water tank and grey water storage (the same external 25-litre bottle - but at least I now have a sullage hose for when I'm in a caravan park or other location where its use is appropriate). I also have an external shower which is rarely used.

My bathroom is very small -- it is a small van -- but some of the larger motorhomes have bathrooms with all the modern conveniences to rival any luxury mansion and some even have the toilet separate from the bathroom. Those who take the term "self-contained" to the extreme also have a washing machine, a clothes dryer and/or a dish washer.

Fresh water

Generally, caravan parks provide a town water connection with each powered site. Alternatively, water can be sourced from visitor information centres or from service stations if you ask nicely - but if you've just paid over $100 for fuel they're not likely to say no! Most people add a filter somewhere along the line -- between the tap and the van or within the internal plumbing system -- as the quality of water varies from site to site.

Most campervans, motorhomes, caravans and recreation vehicles have fresh water tanks; the size and number vary according to how often and for how long the occupants intend bush-camping. A pump, usually a 12-volt electric-powered, is required to supply water from the tank when a tap is turned on. Some people have one tank for fresh drinking water separate from a tank that provides water for washing etc. Most vans also have the facility to connect to the caravan park connection for a semi-permanent pressurised supply that bypasses the on-board tanks and does not need a pump.

Grey water (sullage)

Grey water, also known as sullage, is the general description for waste water generated from processes such as dish washing, laundry and bathing. Grey water can be either directed to a sullage point generally situated near each powered site in a caravan park or directed to on-board holding tanks, which must then be regularly emptied into a dump point.

Toilets and black water

There are a variety of toilets that can be installed in campervans, motorhomes, caravans and recreation vehicles, and there are also fully portable versions. Toilet waste is generally referred to as black water. Some installed toilets are equipped with cassettes, while others have holding tanks for storage of black water. Either way, these must be regularly emptied into a dump point.

Chemicals for waste water tanks

A variety of commercially produced chemicals are available to control odours and break down the contents of grey and black water tanks and toilet cassettes. The CMCA has an article on Toilet Chemicals and "strongly advise the use of formaldehyde-free, ‘bio-stimulant’ toilet chemicals as they are safer to store and handle, are better for the environment and can be disposed of in any toilet or dump point system". 

Dump point

A dump point is where waste water tanks or toilet cassettes are emptied. Without any doubt this is the worst part of living in a van.

Many caravan parks have dump points, others are located at tourist information centres and at a number of other locations. The CMCA has an article on Dump Point Etiquette and also has a Dump Point Subsidy Scheme to assist councils with increasing the number of dump points around the country.

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