One of the most complicated things new and old users of caravans find difficult is how the water system works on a caravan. Since most people are not plumbers and most have an elementary understanding of it, you can understand why this gap exists.
Although it can be difficult to grasp, essentially, we can break it down so at least you know what the different parts of the system do. In this article, I will do that which will help your understanding.
Should anything on the water system go wrong, it will at least help you pin point where to focus your attention. Remember, most the things that we discuss here are for professional trades people and very competent DIY’ers. If you don’t have much experience, this is not a job for you…leave it to the professionals.
How does the hot water system work in a caravan?
In the past, the systems in caravans were very simple. Often, they were simple jugs and then we saw the introduction of pumps. These were hand pumps and later, foot pumps.
Although it is rare to see these manual pumps now, they are still utilised on boats. They were cheap, robust and effective. However, times change and so does technology. So, let’s move on to the systems we have now.
Essentially there are three aspects to your system. I will give you an overview of each one. They are the following;
- Water pumps
- Water tanks
- Water heaters
Pumping the water around the system is obviously essential, pumping the water around the system and pipes. The water is pumped through the pipes and into the water heating system, after which it is pumped out of the caravan.
Essentially, there are two types of water pumps;
- Pressure pumps
- Submersible pumps
The more expensive if the two options, these pressure pumps are self-priming. They give you a better experience in that they feel more familiar. The pressure pumps are better for showers as the water flows better.
Pressure pumps work through a number of diaphragms in the housing of the pump. These act to suck up water from the source, pushing it through the pump and through your taps.
They are more expensive than the alternatives and can be run dry for a short time without causing damage. The pumps themselves are fixable should they go wrong and spare parts, especially for the major brands are easily available.
Frost can damage these pumps so they need to be drained down over the winter. The other major disadvantage is that if it does go wrong, they can end up flooding the caravan.
Advantages of pressure pumps
- Immediate and fast flowing water
- Parts available to repair
- More difficult to overheat
Disadvantages of pressure pumps
- Expensive compared to other options
- Damage caused if it fails
These submersible pumps are placed in the water tank and their job is to make sure that water flows. They are run from a 12v motor and pump the water from the tank, in most cases an aqua roll, to the point of use. They have to be operated using a micro switch which is next to the tap or integrated.
This is the cheapest system to install and for most cases it is fine. They are not great for showers but for most cases, they are fine. A major advantage is that if you do have a leak, the damage can be limited unlike the pressure pumps.
One thing that you must never do is run it dry…make sure you always have water in your tank. Running it dry for more than a minute can permanently damage the submersible pump.
Advantages of submersible pumps
- Cheap to buy
- Easy to install
Disadvantages of submersible pumps
- Lack the efficiency of pressure pumps
- Limited lifespan
- Easily damaged
- Difficult to repair, often need replacing
Most water tanks in caravans are not permanently fixed in the vast majority of cases. Instead, other methods like an aquaroll are used which are mobile tubs that hold water. This means that you can fill your water tank at the destination instead of at your fixed point.
In caravans that have a fixed tank, you are more limited in where you can fill it with water as you need to be close enough to the water point to run a hose.
Often, these tanks can be found below the surface of the caravan, hidden away to limit the space they would normally take up. This method does bring its advantages. It is one less job to do when you arrive at the caravan site and the weight can help you to stabilise the caravan whilst it is being towed.
Regardless of which one you choose; standards of cleanliness must be very high. This also includes the hose that is used to move the water. The water tank and the hose must be food grade.
You must take time to clean your barrel or your tank. This is to prevent bacteria and germ build up which may be dangerous to your health. You must use specialist water sterilisers that will be effective in cleaning.
If the water coming from the tank has an unpleasant taste or smell, then the first thing you need to do is clean the tank and change the water.
When you are not using your caravan, make sure you empty the tank. This can be done by leaving it open on the way home with this method completely draining it. It is especially important that you don’t leave any water in it when in storage and during the winter months. Doing so can damage your tank to a point where you need to get it replaced.
Hot water is essential for everyday things when you are staying in a caravan. From washing the dishes to taking a shower, you need hot water.
Essentially there are two types of water heaters…ones that just heat water and those that heat water and provide heat.
Therme hot water systems
A therme heater essentially uses the heat that is produced from your heating system. The heat is transferred to the system through ducts. This is very efficient especially if you are running your heating. You are essentially recycling the hot air to heat water.
When the heating is not running, in most cases the water can be heated through a heating element.
Advantages of Therme water heaters
- Low cost
- Simple to fit
- Essentially recycling existing heat
- Separate heating element not requiring heat
- Fast heating
Disadvantages of Therme heaters
- Low capacity which limits what you can do
- Have to wait for water to heat
Water heaters that heat water and provide heat
The second types of water heater is one that actively heats water. You are more likely to be familiar with these as they are more consistent with what you see in a modern home.
This is exactly what you would see in a home, except it is on a smaller scale.
In caravans, they have the ability to run on a both electricity and gas, in some cases both. They hold enough water to service a small caravan so carries enough to have showers and do some washing. In some cases, it heats 15 litres of water.
Not only can it heat that amount of water, it does so relatively quickly when fuelled by gas. Some higher end models can do this even quicker by having an electric heating element within them.
Advantages of a water boiler
- Heat the water quickly
- Large capacity
- Variety of heating sources
Disadvantages of water boilers
- Once the water runs out, you have to wait at least 20 mins
The most expensive option available yet it is the most efficient one. The combination boiler will be familiar to most people these days as they can both heat your water and heat you caravan at the same time…as well as completing each task individually.
Combination boilers are run on gas which is great as you don’t need to be plugged into the mains to be self-sufficient. In most cases, they can run on electricity as well so the heating aspect can be switched to electric, useful if you are at a caravan site.
Advantages of combination boilers
- No tank required so save space
- Runs of gas and electricity
- Highly efficient
Disadvantages of combination boilers
Summary… how does the water system work in a caravan
How the water system works on a caravan can be complex for some people but simple to others. Essentially, you just need to understand that there are three aspects to the system. If you are looking to upgrade your system, your supplier will be able to talk through the best option for you.
It is always best to ask your supplier ‘how does the water system work in a caravan’ if you are still unsure. They will be able to guide you further.
I hope this article helps you understand the options that are available to you. If anything, it offers a good starting point to examine things further.
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