Under the back seat.

Van Utilities

We had a great response from our van packing post. So much so that I thought I would do a second post about utilities on the road. We selected a van because you can have all the same things in an RV but crammed into the original shell of a van making the vehicle more attractive, efficient, and stealthy. So what all is in the van and how does it work when you live in it all the time?


260w solar panel on top

260w solar panel on top

Our van uses electricity instead of propane for most things. The refrigerator, cooktop, and instant hot water are all electric. While we drive an extra large alternator keeps the battery bank charged. When we are parked a solar panel kicks in. It works so well that we never have to plug in to a power source. We have left the van parked for over a week with the refrigerator running the whole time. The batteries were still topped off full when we returned. Eight large batteries help make this possible. This also allows us to run high draw appliances without the need for a generator. It’s untraditional but convenient.

Electrical Diagram



This is the heater unit, it hangs under the back of the van.

Where electricity is not as efficient, diesel is used in its place. The heater is a dual purpose furnace that uses diesel from the fuel tank to heat both our air and water. For the typical eight hour night the heater uses around 0.36 gallons to keep us warm. It takes just under an hour for the unit to heat up 6 gallons to 158°F (40°C) for showers. It’s incredibly efficient if you ask me. They developed these units in Germany to help precent truck drivers from idling their engines to keep warm at night. A typical big rig would consume a few gallons an hour at idle to keep warm. Quite an solution!


Water is probably the most difficult utility to find on the road. If we are showering every other day or so we can last about six days. It would be great if we could just use the radiator water spigot at gas stations but that is a little too risky for us. So we settle for a slightly less sketchy method: look for hoses. It turns out that lots of places have hoses out front ready to slip into the fill spout. Churches, small businesses, and hotels often have hose hookups in plain sight. They are usually very willing to share some water. We use a carbon filter to keep buildup in the tank to a minimum and a potable water hose to keep the hose taste away.

Potable water at a truck stop

Potable water at a truck stop, our first fresh water fill (too cold up north)


The only recycling spot we found in Florida

The only recycling spot we found in Florida

We still produce waste. Trash is the easiest thing to manage. Every grocery store has a bin out front and we don’t create too much of it. Recyclables are another story. In florida and across the south it was very difficult to find recycling bins anywhere. California has been easier but still a challenge. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are usually a good bet.

Our grey and black water come out through this green hose

Grey and black water come out here

Liquid waste is a mixed bag. We have two liquid waste tanks; a black and a grey. The grey is easy to manage since it is just shower and sink water. We leave the valve open and the water very slowly drips out on the road. The black tank, toilet waste, is more difficult to dispose of properly. We only fill it up every two weeks or so depending on how many coffee shops we made use of. Some residential houses have “clean out” openings in the front yard. It has not proven to be very reliable or fun to ask “Can we dump our toilet waste in your front yard?”. Else there are gas stations, truck stops, and campgrounds. Prices vary greatly from free to $25 a dump. I use an online database to help find affordable ones in a pinch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *