Hippy Bus Hot Showers!

If you’ve ever traveled in developing countries, you’ll know that one of the missing comforts of home is the hot shower.  We grew up in the US, so we’re soft to the bone.  Cold showers feel great after long exercise in the desert, but nobody ever preceded the act of snuggling up with a good book with lingering under a cold shower.

The shower system is fed by tubes hidden behind the driver’s side wall.  There is a hot line and a cold line.  They cut underneath the rear cabinet and into the wheel well for a couple of inches before diving into the engine compartment.  The lines come together at the shower controls, which are attached to the back of the flip down license plate.

To operate the shower, you flip down the license plate and attach the shower head using the quick release fitting.  The shower head then clips to the door.  There are two levers on the license plate backing: one for hot and one for cold water.  There is also a flow restrictor on the shower head itself in case you want to stop or reduce the water flow.

We added Velcro to the edges of the rear door so we can attach a shower curtain.  The curtain has stake holes around the bottom edge in case it’s a windy day and we need to use tent stakes to keep the curtain from blowing.  Is it trashy?  Maybe if you used it at home.  But out in the middle of some remote desert/beach/jungle/urban metropolis?  Not a bit. We actually used it on the side of a busy road in Monterey, California, and it worked great!

The sand ladders work well as a shower floor; they have holes to let water through and are elevated 2” above the ground to keep your feet out of any mud created by the water.  There is also room in the shower stall for the toilet.  Let’s just say I’ve been in smaller bathrooms in Europe.

Never mind that these pictures were taken in the snow.  We live in a mountain town.  Imagine instead that we’re on a beach or in a jungle somewhere.

If the onboard holding tanks are empty, it also allows us to take hot showers from an outside source, even if the source provides cold water.  This is made possible by the heat exchanger that I made for our hot water system.  This is what you do if you want to take a shower from an outside water source:

The Westfalia version of the Vanagon came with three “ports” in the side; one was for plugging into an electricity line, one was for filling the water tank, and one was for hooking up a water supply for the sink.  I repurposed two of these to allow on-demand showers.  The middle one still hooks up to an electrical outlet when available, but now the one on the left is for connecting the hose for the shower, and the one on the right is now a pull-valve for the on-demand shower.

First, you hook up the hose from the outside water source.  You can use a regular garden hose supply, or alternatively just hook up a hose and drop the other end in a stream or bucket.  I haven’t fully tested the stream idea, but I wonder if our pump will be powerful enough to pull water all the way through the hose and up to the shower.  I’ll fully test it and report back in a later post.

Next, you pull the valve on the outside of the van.  This changes the shower source from the water tanks to the hose bib.

Without doing anything else, you could take a cold shower at this point.  However, Nacho is way better than that, so there’s one more step to get to a hot shower.  There’s a switch built into the back of the rear cabinet.  Switching this energizes two different solenoid valves.  By energizing both of them, the water heading to the shower gets diverted through the heat exchanger before it gets to the shower.

Once the outside valve has been pulled and the heat exchanger switch has been thrown, all you have to do is start the van and let it idle.  After a couple of minutes, the coolant flowing through the heat exchanger gets hot, and the heat is transferred to the shower water.  Now, as long as Nacho has gas in the tank, we can linger under the hot shower just like at home!

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