A DIY road shower can be constructed from PVC pipe, is usually mounted on the roof of the vehicle and uses gravity and/or pressure to function.
A DIY road shower was going to be a very handy addition to our overland setup, not just for showering but also for washing off muddy hiking boots and carrying extra water for those longer off grid adventures. Below is a step by step guide on how we built ours and why we went with a different design to what you normally find.
Roof mounted vs portable shower
Both types of shower have their pros and cons. A portable shower is exactly that, a shower that you can take into the woods etc, find a tree and hang it. Other portable showers come as drums which you can also move to anywhere you like. A roof mounted shower however is attached to the vehicle, this may be seen as a disadvantage but it depends on your preference.
A vehicle mounted DIY road shower gets the sun all day [both solutions here are solar], it is also more robust and won’t puncture, it can be pressurized for a better water flow, has a longer hose and can be custom built to hold as much or as little water as you like.
Researching DIY road showers online
There are many videos online and quite a few blogs too which detail DIY road shower builds and while they all vary slightly the design remains pretty much the same. Some showers appear quite complex with several valves attached, pressure guages and all that stuff just coz you can right?!
The basic design consists of one PVC tube which is attached to the vehicle either via the roof rack or roof bars. Your own setup will depend on how you attach the pipe[s], then you have the choice of hose and the shower itself. The more popular option appears to be the coiled hose which is what we are using here.
Twin pipe system advantages
Mounting: A single 100mm pipe was going to be difficult to attach to two roof bars without coming up with some custom rubber block feet or unsightly strapping all over the place. A twin pipe system lays flat, it does not roll around. You also have the advantage of being able to anchor the pipes across four points not just two which makes the system more secure in all situations including offroad.
When it comes to mounting you also have the simplistic approach, there is no drilling involved [or at least there does not have to be], no shaping rubber blocks or bolting. This twin system is fully secure using heavy duty cable ties.
Harsh braking: A half full shower can have a few kilo’s of water sloshing around in there, under braking this water will move forwards fast putting pressure on front end of the PVC piping and the end cap. On a single tube, if this fails then the content of the shower including the cap will launch forward and…. you get the picture. Using a twin pipe system the water moves around the U bend and also has to have enough pressure to force two joins to fail not just one.
Solar: There is a big difference between 100mm pipe and 75mm pipe, it doesn’t sound like much but a 100mm is a lot bigger. Using a smaller pipe means that the water inside the shower heats up quicker in the sun – good when your camping/off grid with more than one person.
Water volume: A twin system will hold more water, even just taking into consideration the straight lengths: 100mm pipe [2m] – 15.7ltr / 75mm pipe [4m] – 17.6ltr then you have the volume in the curved pipes at each end.
Costs of a DIY roadshower
This is clearly going to vary depending on where you are etc but we built ours for a hair under €100 euros. The main thing to consider here is how a system like this compares to other options out there and will it be the best solution for you and your setup?
There are specific off grid showers available to buy but they are very expensive, then you have the budget options at the other end of the scale for the same price as a few beers. A custom build sits somewhere in the middle plus you have the satisfaction that you made it yourself.
- Saw chop saw ideal but any type of saw to cut the PVC pipe
- File a round file for tidying up pipe after sawing
- Sandpaper to prepare the PVC ready for priming/paint
- Cable ties for securing the shower to the roof bars/rack
- Spanner/socket set to tighten nuts on Shrader valve and tap
- Drill + 1/2″ bit for making the hole for the boiler valve
- Heat gun optional but makes PVC more pliable for a tighter fit wehn inserting valves
- Tape measure essential!! but you already knew that didn’t you? 🙂
- 3m PVC pipe [75mm was our choice]
- 4 x 90 degree bends
- 1 x 90 degree T-piece
- 1 x 45 degree T-piece
- 3 x end caps [screw on with ‘O’ ring]
- PVC cleaner
- PVC cement adhesive
- Boiler valve [tap] + 1/2″ nut
- 1 x Shrader valve
- 1 x tin of primer
- 1 x tin of paint [matt black]
- 10m spiral hose with shower head
- Mountain bike tyre [including inner tube]
Step 1: Draw yourself a plan, it’s easier to get mixed up with all the pipes and joints that you think. Using the PVC cleaner, clean the ends of the PVC pipe and joints wherever there is going to be a join.
Step 2: Using the PVC glue, cover the inside/outside of the PVC joins, be generous with the glue and work quickly as the adhesive dries fast. Make sure all your joins are straight with the exception of the 45 degree T piece with the boiler valve [tap] as this needs to be tilted down to allow for gravity to asist with the water flow.
Step 3: Drill one of the end caps to accommodate the Shrader valve, use a slightly smaller drill bit then file down to allow for a tight fit, use a heat gun to make the PVC more pliable. The valve will have rubber washers, once in place add more PVC glue to reinforce the seal. [you can also use silicone/other glue for this]
Step 4: Drill a second end cap for the 1/2″ boiler valve, unless you have rubber washers to fit make a couple out of the bicycle inner tube, you can also wrap plumbing tape around the threads. Secure the valve by tightening the nut then seal with glue or silicone to make the seal sound and watertight.
Step 5: Leave the whole thing to dry overnight then test the system. There aren’t that many place where you can wrong but leaks are most likely at the tap. all pipe joins should be sound as long as you weren’t shy with the adhesive. Fill the system with water to around half capacity then pressurise. Look for leaks, fix where appropriate.
Step 6: Sand down all the PVC pipework including and caps and all the hard to reach places. Mask off the tap and Shrader valve. [Sanding will allow a much better surface for primer to stick]
Step 7: Spray the entire system with a good primer, leave to dry then spray with black paint of your choice [matt is best], we used leftover Fulldip from our alloy wheel refurb the previous year. Your road shower should now be complete and ready to mount.
Mounting onto roof bars
Step 1: Cut an old bicycle tyre [or rubber strip] to the length you need to accommodate the road shower – 30cm should be enough. The rubber will cushion the plastic pipe. Tie the rubber strips to each roof bar using zip ties [or cable ties as we say in the UK!]
Step 2: Position the shower where you need it to be and place a rubber strip/piece of bike tyre over the top of the PVC pipe where you will be running a zip tie.
Step 3: Tighten up the zip ties on all four anchor points making sure there is no excess movement of the shower.
Step 4: Stand back and admire your work 🙂
A DIY road shower is a simple build, your PVC joins and end caps etc will depend on what is available to you from your hardware store or online source [PVC does vary quite a lot] as will your choice of tap etc. There are no rules, the build is how you want it to be and what we have is simply one option to consider.
The key is to take your time, make a diagram of the layout before you part with your money especially if you are cutting a long tube in half like we did – doing this throws the sequence out where you will need one PVC piece with two female ends [don’t make the same mistake we did!].
Expect leaks. Yeah, we had leaks from the tap join several times before got it right, it’s a matter of experimentation and perseverance. It also pays to go easy when pressurizing too, little by little until you reach the point where you have enough for your needs then you this point for the future.
The system works best when not filled right to the brim and remember if you’re in a hot climate the heat from the sun will pressurize the shower anyway.
Have you built a DIY road shower? If so, how did it go and what was your chosen design?