Everybody loves a hot shower. Even more so after a hike in the mountains or after 10 hours of driving in the hot desert. During a recent trip my wife, Julie, said that it would be nice to take a shower, but doing so would use too much of our limited water. This has been an ongoing discussion between the two of us, and after several years, it was time to finally do something about it. The question was how to do it with only a 20-gallon freshwater holding tank like the one found in our truck camper? How do we take a shower without using up a good portion of our limited water supply?
The idea of an RV recirculating shower was the ticket to achieve said goal. Fortunately, YouTube was a big help. There are loads of videos by those who have tackled this project previously. However, the videos I watched were by owners of RV motorhomes, vans, and trailers with plenty of space for all of the needed plumbing and equipment; none were installed in the limited space of a slide-in truck camper like my Bundutec BunduVry.
A lot of trial and error was involved in the final design. Unlike some water recirculation systems that were designed for portability, the system I designed was incorporated into the plumbing system of my camper. Fortunately, there is a small storage cabinet underneath our wet-bath, but as you can see in the photographs, the size of this storage space is very limited, great for shoes and other small items and that’s about it. As a result, the limited space forced me to “go small” with my choice of equipment and parts. There may be additional changes in the future, but for now, the system is adequate for our needs.
Recirculation Shower Parts List
For those who are interested, here is a list of parts and where I sourced everything:
- eBay: USA G 1/2-inch Flow Control Shut-Off Valve Shower Head Hand Bidet Sprayer Water Saver. Aloe Vesta Cleansing Foam. Three-Way Shut-Off Ball Valve 1/2-inch. Hose Barb Two Switch Brass Y-shaped Valve. Rec Pro RV Water Pump 12 volt 3.0 GPM with strainer for camper 4008-101-A65 replacement.
- Missouri Wind and Solar: Submersible DC Water Heating Element with an Adjustable Thermostat.
- Lowes, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware: Hoses, ABS pipe, P-trap, brass fittings, hose clamps, Inline RV Carbon Water Filter, and ABS cement.
Installing the Water Recirculation System
Before installing the system, it’s a good idea to bench test everything first. For this testing, I used the kitchen sink in my camper as a substitute shower basin. Everything worked fine using cold water. However, I noticed that the returning water still had dissolved soap in it that wasn’t being filtered out. Further research showed I would need a much more elaborate filtering system that my camper didn’t have room for. Fortunately, I found a simple work-around to this problem—a no-rinse body wash and shampoo called Aloe Vesta. A quick test using this product resulted in no soap or shampoo residue in the filtered water.
How much amperage did the water recirculation system consume during testing? I noted that the heater, which is adjustable by the way, can pull up to 15 amps DC and the water pump up to 8 amps DC. What I typically see is a consumption of about 18 amps (15 amps heater plus 3 amps pump).
With the design work and delivery system completed, it was time to modify the return drainage under the shower basin. The tiny compartment under the basin was indeed tight and would require me to literally lay down on the job in order to get the job done right. This is because the existing drainage system runs diagonal and would have to be engineered as far as possible along the back wall to make room for the shower delivery system. A test run after the installation was finished revealed no leaks.
Modified drainage with a 1-1/2 inch slide stops to isolate part of the system.Getting the new drainage system in place (pictured below) took a bit of twisting and pushing. In the photo, you can see where the brass suction fitting for the pump is located (white T-fitting).
Next, I worked the pump and filtering system into the small narrow space under the shower basin and installed all of the plumbing. While showing my brother, Howard, the installed system, he exclaimed, “you got all that in that small space?” Yes, I did as you can see in the photo below.
Next, it was time to install the 12-volt wiring to control the portable water heater and pump. The plan, originally, was to wire the two devices to the DC fuse panel using existing wire runs, but I quickly discovered that the gauge of wire was too small for the portable water heater’s amp draw. As a result, I ended up going with inline fuses and wired everything directly to the main battery posts using rocker switches that are mounted in the kitchen. These two switches are labeled using a special label plate made locally (see photograph). Please see the video below for the rest of the story of the electrical setup.
After all of this work, it was time to take a real shower using the completed system. The results were excellent. Using the Aloe Vesta, the two of us used only 7 quarts of water. The heater kept the pre-heated water warm enough for a very satisfying shower. Better yet, the water was clean enough to use a second time. As you can see, using only 1-3/4 gallons of water for two people barely puts a dent in our 20-gallon water supply.
Did we learn anything during the real-life test? We did. We learned that one has to keep a little flow of water going through the shower head at all times. If the water flow is stopped inside the heater, the water will get too hot and result in an unpleasant surprise when the water is turned on again. Letting the water drip would normally be an issue, but not for this system because the water is recirculated.
Building this water recirculation system was both rewarding and fun. Yes, there were some challenges along the way with the size and space restrictions, and it was not an inexpensive project—about $250 for everything—but I learned a lot, used problem-solving skills to come up with solutions, and ended up with a very useful system for our camper. More importantly, the wife is happy now that we can take showers regularly while we boondock. As they say, “happy wife, happy life!”
I love the system but (You knew that there would be a “but”.) I do think you need a better filtering system.
No matter how well you and your wife wipes there will always be fecal matter (Yes it will be small but it will be there,) in the recycled water. Also, I missed the how the recycled water is only used once and then is dumped into the Gray Water tank.
I like the idea of putting a Y that could drain out the heavy sediment before it hits the pump or any of the filter system.
I have a smallish storage box that I could drill in the corner up into the under shower to put the bottom part of the Y with a clean-out valve with a hose fitting.
I have the same small area under the shower to add something like this.
Now I have to get to work.
Let us know how your project comes out!
Part 2B, now the 3rd of 5
Clogs-3: The filter you chose is not able to be opened cannot be monitored for clogging. These filters are designed to remove large particles (the combination carbon/sediment filter have fiber pad type 100 micron particulate pre-filter). They can be blocked quickly with the type of contaminant stream likely to be generated by a shower. The granular activated carbon, (GAC) can provide particle filtration down to around 20 microns (which is why the whole filter is rated to filter down to 20 microns) but using GAC to filter particles simply blocks access to the carbon for other needed purposes. These filters are also 15-$20 each and probably 3-5x the price per unit area of separate filters so making them work longer is pretty important. I would recommend that you put a differential pressure gauge across the filter to measure how clogged it is becoming. That way you can diagnose low performance and replace it ‘on-time’.
Part 2A (now of 4 parts):
Clogs-2: Letting the water ‘settle’ before introducing it into the pump is a key part of debris removal. Normal system design has a reservoir tank immediately after the shower drain, allowing sediment to settle on the bottom and foam to rise to the top. Drawing recirculation water off the middle reduces particles/foam from getting into the pump or active filter system. I think your method of drawing water from the side of the drain pipe will not accomplish this and you will have a lot more debris than you could otherwise have. If you could remove the shower trap and replace it with a small ‘shoebox’ sized tank that would also contribute water volume to the system (which I think is also necessary). Since you have the gate valve in the drain, shutting it could accomplish the ‘gas trap’ the P-trap is intended to provide.
Effectiveness-1; Filter systems are designed to operate coarse to fine as coarse filters are usually the least expensive and increase in cost as they become more effective. The normal 3 filter sequence is; 1) sediment (~100-30 micron), 2) granular activated carbon (‘GAC’ ~10 micron), 3) carbon block (~1 micron). Sediment filters remove ‘suspended’ particles and cannot remove any dissolved material. Carbon filters remove dissolved organic chemicals and they rely on particle filters in advance to prevent carbon granules from being blocked. Your filter has crude/small versions of the first and second but none of the third. That is likely why soap is not removed. I think your use of the ‘no-rinse’ soap is as good a solution as you can have given the ineffectiveness of your filters. With such a small quantity of water in your system, I can imagine soap concentration will be very high in recirculated water, possibly/probably leaving a significant residue on your skin. I think that in order to have a legitimately effective recirculation system, you have to include a carbon block filter to remove the soap, which will also be small enough to remove some bacteria.
Effectiveness-2; I have read some reviews of the type of cartridge filters you use by people who measured ‘Total Dissolved Solids’ (using a ‘TDS meter’ costing ~$15) and they report no reduction in TDS. This is not surprising because these filters are really only intended to remove suspended particles and some odor/chlorine. I feel that in order to reach a hygienic level of filtration, you should target the removal of bacterial and soap to a significant level (these would be views as ‘dissolved solids’). I think this will only be achieved with a higher capacity (more filter area to treat high water flow) filter system which contains a carbon block (or better) filter as the last step.
I’m entering my comments in pieces since it won’t take this much all at once.
Part 1: Interesting project. I’m impressed that you made something work in the space you have. I’ve been investigating doing a recirculating shower for some time so am pretty familiar with all the components and processes needed. You clearly were working with such constrained space that you had to cut things to the bone and then more. I am concerned you have compromised so much that you’ll have safety and reliability problems. I’ll try to address each issue I see in a constructive manner.
Safety: I feel that scalding hazard has to be eliminated. The ‘just let it drip’ is not ‘inherently safe’ which is a standard I apply to all designs; I think you could put a $25 thermostatic mixing valve output directly on the wand hose with the hot input from your boost heater and the cold input from your recycled water. It will prevent any hot surge and would have the additional benefit of allowing you to control and maintain a steady shower temperature (within the range of the two input temps).
Clogs-1: Diaphragm pumps are pretty intolerant to particle ingestion and I presume a shower to generate a lot of particles. I think the pump screen is too small and likely to rapidly clog with the larger debris. It also appears to be difficult to reach/service and likely will spill water when it is. You may be able to find some type of ‘Y-strainer’ (think of a ‘Y’ fitting where the screen is in the side branch) that will be an improvement over the pump screen. They have more screen area and are designed to be changed regularly (possibly without dewatering the system) if you can orient it properly in the space you have. I think it would be best if you could get a large one, the size of your drain pipe because I think you’ll have to access and clean the pump pre-screen every few showers.
Hey there Steve, quite a long winded dissertation you wrote, as with any prototypes it subject to changes/ improvements as you well know. Most of what you did point out I’d was already well aware of and have solution for them in the next stage of the project, when I find short enough filter housing for the given space that there is I’ll install them. Just keep in mind I’m trying to do all this in a very confine compartment. As for the “scalding” problem I’ve a fix for that without the use of a mixing valve.
Looking forward to seeing you guys at the rally.
First 20 gallons is ridiculously low. Second would be to send out a sample of the recycled water for fecal count and bacteria test. Maybe adding a second pump on the gray water and use it in the toilet would be better.
I have an 2009 Eaglecap 950 and it is 46 gallons which is good in more ways than one. It is low weight which increases stability.
Water weight 8.34 pounds per gallon so your 46 gallon (383.64 lbs.) is a heavy load to carry around and not all campers have a 46-gallon water tank built into them nor do the owner wish to carry extra water containers due to lack of space or weight. Owners with limited water capacities have come up with a vary of ways bathing themselves from G.I. bathing to using a large amount of their water supply to bath.
In my system, there is no concern for fecal matter since I have a cassette toilet unless you use your shower as a toilet, my system shouldn’t be used where the shower and toilet share the same waste tank. You may have also missed the point that the water is dumped into the gray tank once used. Now your thought on using gray water for the toilet is a good one, try writing something up for consideration in Truck Camper Adventure Mike is always looking for articles to feature.
Great job but no more peeing in the shower!
Lucky for me I have a cassette toilet in my wet bath.
This is so gross! Showering in dirty water does not seem like you would be getting clean at all. There is a lot of bacteria on your skin that cannot be filtered out of the water in your system. I suggest you get a bigger camper or find a way to carry more water. My Lance 990 has 46 gallons of fresh water (includes 6 gallon water heater) and I have a separate 40 gallon tank installed behind the seats in my Supercab truck. It has a 12VDC pump, shower port and a heat exchanger under the hood that heats the water on demand using the truck engine. Best part is that we can take showers at the same time using different water systems. In total, I can carry 86 gallons of fresh water with me for extended stays while boondocking.
It’s not gross – he put a carbon filter on the line for crying out loud, and maybe he chlorinates the water, and if he doesn’t already, he can always add chlorine to kill bacteria! And yippee for you! All of that extra capacity (water/ gray and black storage) means more weight (and worse fuel mileage) as well that your carrying around! I for one think it’s a great idea, because maybe others don’t have the same options as you did! And if you want a pat on the back, submit your modification too then!
This is a Rube Goldberg contraption. There is absolutely nothing that affects the fuel mileage on my truck. It gets bad gas mileage no matter what I do. I did not build my system to EXTEND the water storage in my TC. I did it so I don’t have to haul a TC to go camping for one or two night. I sleep under my topper in my truck bed. Yet, I can still have hot water and a shower. The real PROBLEM is that these SRW trucks are maxed out on GVWR and carrying more water will exceed the capability of the truck. Getting a DRW with plenty of capacity allows me the flexibility to carry 80 gallons of water if I want to. How much does his rig weigh? I’ll be he is near the max GVWR or over. Everyone wants roomy campers but are too scared to drive a DRW truck. And please don’t talk to me about offroad capability of a SRW vs. a DRW. He’s not going very far offroad with that Bunduvry.
H M, thank you for reading my mod project, I believe that campers that have a cassette toilets don’t have black tank. (?)
Hugh Redmon, it appears that you really didn’t read the project, there’s a carbon filter in place along with using Aloe Vesta cleansing foam that kills bacteria. You have one solution for your bathing needs and I have another and don’t have to carry a ton of water with me to have a shower!
Why are you opposed to carrying more water? You clearly NEED more water or you would not have gone through all of this effort. You took what could have been a simple solution and made it needlessly more complicated. Now you have to change filters and have special soap to accommodate your “mod”. Just a little common sense would have saved you a lot of trouble. I get it though, you are going to rationalize what you did no matter what. But, if you post your mods on the Internet in a truck camper forum, I get to comment on your mod. If that hurts your feelings, then don’t post your mods. It is a two-way street.
Water weight 8.34 pounds per gallon so your 86 gallon (717 lbs.) is a heavy load to carry around and not all campers have a 46 gallon water tank built in to them. All comments are welcome, good or not so well meaning and my feeling aren’t hurt at all by your comments. If you have a story to write submit it to Truck Camper Adventure for consideration.
Well done Alex. Looks great.
Loved reading about this modification. Some of the comments are silly but to be expected. I don’t see anywhere where you said this is for everyone. If it’s not for you …walk away. If you are just looking for an argument, go find a typical teenager to spar with. We enjoy truck camping and the community and love seeing how people personalize the experience!❤️
Barry/Carol Perkins, thank for the kind remarks and your correct this mod isn’t for everyone. It was done mainly for my wife and to show what can be done.