Everyone enjoys a hot shower, even at the campsite or off the beaten path, but the price of hot water systems can run into the thousands, limiting its use to RVs, campers, and high end overlanding rigs. These systems generally use propane tanks or solar powers for off the grid power, batteries to store that power, large water tanks, and water heaters. Weight alone is a limiting factor, and can significantly lower fuel economy on lighter vehicles. But a little PVC plastic pipe has changed all that with a lightweight DIY hot water system that’s quickly catching on!
The DIY PVC plastic hot water system utilizes a handy physics trick and can be built with just a few tools and a trip to the hardware store, or your local plastics supplier. It all starts with a black cell core PVC pipe—four inches in diameter is a popular size. If black PVC plastic is not available, painting the pipe black is a good idea as it will create the most heat. A six-foot-long PVC pipe with a four-inch diameter offers about four gallons of water. PVC end caps can be used on either side to contain the system, and adjustable straps or metal brackets can be used to attach the tank to the top of roof racks and crossbars.
DIY PVC plastic hot water system
A standard shut off valve available at any hardware store should be installed at the lowest point on the system to allow all the water in the tank to drain. A Schrader valve or other pneumatic tire valve can be inserted anywhere convenient into the system. This valve is used to pressurize the tank. Without pressurization, the system will still work, but the water pressure will be low. Twenty PSI is recommended for a good shower flow. Any higher may put the system at risk of rupture, although depending on build quality, some offroad adventurers have claimed to go as high as sixty PSI. A radiator valve drain plug, available at most hardware and automotive parts stores allows for the release of pressure from the tank for additional gravity assistance or if a pump is not available. Due to the low PSI requirements, a hand pump for a bicycle may be used to pressurize the system. A “Y” pipe connected to one end of the tank can provide an easy way to fill the system with water.
As the sun heats the tank, temperatures usually end up around ninety to ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for a shower. In seventy degrees temperature, it takes around two to three hours for the PVC shell to reach this temperature. Colder weather may prevent the tank from reaching ninety degrees, but it will be much warmer than the ambient air. Basic tools, a little patience, and $60, and you’ll find yourself with a durable, long-lasting, hot water system that works well without breaking the bank!