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  • Candice Mackay

Our tiny, functional Skoolie bathroom

The one thing that people have the most questions about when it comes to bus or van life, is your bathroom situation. Once they get over the initial shock that you are, willingly, going to live in less than 100 square feet on wheels. When it comes to the design of a bathroom, it's really all about function. What works for some people, may not work at all for others.

We're very happy with how our bathroom turned out, but it was one heck of a process to get it built. You might say that we learned a little bit about Murphy's law along the way!

The water tanks

Planning out your water consumption is a vital step in figuring out what you need to live off-grid. Depending on how many days you want to be able to be without water, how often you want to shower/do dishes and how much drinking water you need for your family. For us, this meant planning for two adults and a dog. We have 30 gallons of fresh water and a matching 30-gallon gray water tank under the bus. This lets us go for about 5 days without needing to refill the water tank and that includes having a shower every day. Our showers are quick, we try to keep the water running for under 90 seconds.

If you want to have other amenities in your van or bus, like washing machines or a bathtub, then you will need a much larger water tank - probably 100 gallons or more.

The shower part

When we were going through the design process for our bathroom there were a few things that we called out as "non-negotiable":

  • the shower had to be inside

  • the shower needed to have hot water

I've seen a lot of van lifers do the outdoor solar shower thing, and while those are probably fine - I just was not into it. I wanted to be able to have a shower inside my home and not in my bathing suit.

This led us to figure out how much space we would dedicate to the shower space. We knew the shower would be behind the driver's seat for a few reasons, primarily because the gray water tank fits nicely under the bus on that side. It simplified the plumbing to put the shower above the gray water tank.

We went to a couple of RV websites and stores to see what the standard sizes were for RV showers. We were thinking of buying a shower base and building the rest of the shower out ourselves. We found a few sizes, the smallest was around 27" x 27" (there may be smaller ones out there that we didn't find). This width didn't give us very much room for the kitchen counter that would be beside it and would have our sink, stove, and fridge. Also, the height of the base would have taken up some much-needed headroom. So we decided that we would build our shower totally custom and that we could make 24" x 27" work.

The toilet part

The next hurdle was to figure out the toilet situation. We looked into a couple of options that I'll go through here:

  1. Full plumbing toilet: building this out would also require a black water tank. For anyone who's not sure what that means (like me before we did bus life), a black water tank is for going #2. Gray water tanks are for shower/sink runoff and also #1. Blackwater tanks, as you can guess, are super gross. They also cannot be emptied just anywhere, you need to go to a special waste depot (which most RV parks do have) and you have to have special hookups. It also adds a layer of complexity to the plumbing because you need a whole other tank. This was an easy option to discard.

  2. Composting toilet: These are the most popular option for bus and van life homes. You'll often see the little Nature's Head toilets coming out on cute little sliding drawers or sitting inside a full wet bath set up. You'll also hear many people swear that these things don't stink and that they are easy to clean/empty. I invite you to watch a video of the process on YouTube to see if you agree (I don't, it looks horrible to me). They are also pretty expensive, the Nature's Head is about $1,000. We also have composting toilets (not Nature's Head specifically) at our family cottages, and I can assure you - they have a smell. We have friends who do have the Nature's Head toilet and they love it, we just didn't want to go this route.

  3. Pee funnel + bucket: We first saw the pee funnel idea on a van tour video we watched. We thought it was hilarious but we also thought that it might work for us. We could route the funnel into the gray water which makes emptying everything super simple and hands-off. The thing people forget about road travel is that you have LOTS of bathroom options. The RV parks have facilities, as do most of the places that you are going (e.g., bars, restaurants, tourist day trip places, gas stations). This led us to our bucket set up, which is only for #2 and we only use it when there is literally no other option. We have a 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot and you can get snap-on toilet seat lids for them. Toss a garbage bag in there and you've got yourself simple toilet. Yes tying off a garbage bag of #2 is gross, but (to me) not as gross as scooping out a mixture of that and whatever moss concoction happens in the composting toilets. The funnel is a very simple set up, it's a length of flexible clear tubing and a large funnel on top. We used epoxy to hold these two things together and it hangs on a hook in the corner of the bathroom. It's very easy to use and was cheap to put together.

The waiting part

Once we had gone through this thought exercise and we'd decided what we were going to build, we started thinking through how to bring it all together and actually build it. The timing here was funny for us though. Winter was in full swing and it was too cold to consider tiling or waterproofing so we had to pause the bathroom until we hit the road. Our skoolie adventure started on December 30th, from Toronto where it was hovering around -15℃. We left with an empty, plywood frame of where the bathroom would be eventually.

Our plan was to get down south where it was warm enough to run the plumbing and then to build it out. We wanted to do a poured concrete floor that we would angle down into the drain with faux-marble walls that we would create with epoxy and paint. Max had other plans for us though.

The build part

When we got to Georgia we started to shop for epoxy and we found that it was a little pricier than what we were expecting. We also didn't really have the setup or space we would need to really do this right. Working with epoxy is very messy work. We just never seemed to be in a place that it would be appropriate to lay out the walls and pour epoxy with all the drips and the possibility of leaves and bugs getting in the pour coat while it was curing... So we abandoned the epoxy idea. We thought about painting it and sealing it somehow but I couldn't get the idea of my cute marble shower out of my head. So we went to look for tiles that might work.

For the tiles, we looked at vinyl because they would be flexible enough to handle all the bumps and rattling while we are driving. They also weigh a whole lot less than ceramic or marble mounted with tile mortar. We got lucky and found some faux-marble tiles at home depot that were peel and stick and could be used with grout to really get the authentic tile look we were after. We also found some darker ones that we thought would look great on the floor, these ones looked better without grout lines. We were thinking we would seal the floor in with epoxy or something like that.

When we got to installing the tiles on the walls, they fell off within the first hour (face meet palm). Then we went and got some spray adhesive that was meant for tiling, this looked like it was going to work for about a day. The next morning we woke up to tiles that had fallen off and a spray can that was too gummed up to spray. Now we needed to find a new solution. Contact cement to the rescue! We chose to use contact cement because it is very strong and flexible. Thankfully, this actually worked and the tiles are holding strong.

Note: We did test pieces and worked in small sections for all of these options and I would recommend you do the same. Even though we still had our challenges, we minimized the pain a little this way.

Once we had the tiles up and on the floor we needed to seal the floor. We ended up taking a chance on a clear, paint on waterproofing product intended for roof repair for this but it's worked very well so far. We found a clear goo substance that was designed for patching a roof. We thought, if it can patch a roof it can seal a shower floor. So we gave it a shot and it worked well. We applied a couple of layers of this stuff to the floor just to be sure. My favourite part of it is that the floor isn't slippery at all.

The finishing touches

Next was the fun part, we installed our soap dispenser, little shelves to hold our toiletries, the shower hardware, hooks for wet bathing suits/clothes and, of course, the funnel set up. Now we finally had a cute, functional little bathroom!

The products we used

We've talked about a variety of products that we used for this and wanted to provide some links for you so you can benefit from our bathroom build.

  • Wall Tiles: We got ours at Home Depot but you can also get similar ones on Amazon.

  • Floor Tiles: We got ours at Home Depot but they don't seem to be available on the website, you can get similar ones on Amazon too.

  • Floor Sealant Goop: This was an odd product but it's worked out very well for us. We applied 3 or 4 thin coats of this and let each coat dry completely.

  • Water tanks: These are 30-gallon plastic tanks.

  • Hot Water Heater and pump: These come in a package on Amazon which is super helpful. The water heater is great. You can set the heat to whatever you like, control the flow of water and it heats up in less than 5 seconds.

  • Crimp tool: You'll need this for crimping your PEX rings on your plumbing fittings. They are very easy to use and much better and more reliable than copper or barbed fittings.

  • Soap Dispenser: Great space saver as shampoo and conditioner bottles tend to be large and awkward.

  • Toilet Seat: This sits on top of a 5-gallon bucket, it is surprisingly comfortable to use (this is coming from a camping hater haha!).

  • Propane extension hose: Use this to extend the line of propane from your tank to the hot water heater. For us, this runs behind our kitchen counter.

We also have some hooks and little metal shelves but those are pretty standard things you can get at any Home Depot, Wal-Mart, etc. We hope this was helpful and entertaining to read!

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