Solar Heated Pressurized Shower

Make your own shower and stay clean on the road

If you were to do one “extra” thing for your van, put on roof racks and make a solar heated shower (okay, that’s two things). The shower detailed below will hold 5 gallons and weighs about 20 lbs.

What you need (almost everything you need is found in the plumbing department at Home Depot):

  • Hacksaw
  • Drill – 3/4″ and 11/32″ bit
  • PVC primer and glue
  • Silicone
  • Contact cement
  • Sandpaper
  • A 4’x4″ piece of PVC pipe
  • Two 4″ PVC end caps
  • One 4″ T PVC fitting with threaded top opening.
  • One 4″ 45 degree elbow fitting.
  • One hose spicket with nylon nuts- (you need to borrow a second washer from another spicket.)
  • Rubber hose washers
  • Short Hose
  • Hose Nozzel
  • One bike tube (Schrader Valve) or a Gasket Car tire valve stem
  • Black Paint
  • Vaseline
  • Jump box w/ compressor

Steps

  • Construction – The first step is to decide if your Schrader Valve used for pressurizing will be in the end cap or in the thredded cap of the T fitting. If placing the Schrader Valve through the threaded cap  of the T fitting, a gasket car tire valve stem will work better.  If constructing an end cap that has a spicket and Valve in it, drill two holes on the face of the end cap using the 3/4″ and 11/32″ drill bit. The spicket must have a rubber hose washer and threaded nylon nuts on both the inside and outside of the end cap. Before tightening the washers and nuts smear generous amounts of silicone around the opening to create an air tight seal. Next, cut out the Schrader Valve from the bike tube leaving a square inch of rubber around the valve. Smear contact cement on the rubber around the valve and slide the valve through the 11/32″ hole. With the valve poking though, surround the base of the valve stem with silicone. While that is drying cut the 4′ section of PVC into two pieces. The next step is to prep for assembly. You will want to make sure you are in a well ventilated area, outside if possible. PVC primer and glue is extremely potent and will leave you feeling real loopy. You should coat any surface that will be glued with a thin layer of primer. This means inside the end caps and T fitting. Be aware that PVC glue dries quickly. Once the primer is dry read the gluing instruction and start gluing piece by piece. Make sure that the threaded T fitting opening is facing up and the spicket on the end cap is facing down. Our shower does not use a 45 degree elbow, but this piece will keep the spicket opening submerged until all the water in the shower is used. Once everything is dried, scuff up the entire shower with sandpaper. Cover the spicket, valve stem and T fitting opening with paper and tape. Grab your black paint and give it a good covering. Using a rubberized paint will give you the most durable finish. Get creative, make improvements and send me pictures.
  • Installation – To secure it to the roof rack I used zip ties rated for a weight of 175 lbs/tie. There may be much better methods, but it has held up so far.
  • Home To Use – Fill the shower nearly all the way. Use vaseline to coat the threads of the T fitting. The vaseline keeps air from escaping. Hand tighten the the T fitting cap. Connect your air compressor to the valve stem and pressurize the system to about 30 psi. During the course of your shower, you may have to re-pressuize depending on how dirty you are.
  • If you don’t feel like getting high on glue vapors or lack the space to make your own shower, GoWesty sells a rugged aluminum version.

 

 

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11 comments

  • canyon haverfield March 30, 2016  

    nice picture support here.. really good share on your part … plus i totally admire your simple yet snappy design

    • Emily king April 21, 2016  

      Thanks for reading it and letting us know that you dig the tutorial-type post! Peace!

    • Mitch R. April 26, 2016  

      Completely agree. Thank you.

  • Andrew April 11, 2016  

    Thank you for posting this online. I have a couple of questions. 1: is the water potable. My primary purpose is a shower but can I use it as back up drinking water?

    2: I have a extended size van and am thinking of making mine larger. Maybe 10-15 gallons. Do you think that is too much water for the sun to heat up?

    3: can a bike pump suffice for adding pressure? And to release pressure can you push in the valve or will that spray water all over?

    4: do you have any issues with pressure when driving over a pass. I live in Seattle and sometimes gain 4000-5000 ft of elevation gain?

    Thank you
    Andrew

    • Emily king April 21, 2016  

      Thanks for reading and for the questions! Technically we could put potable water in the shower but to be honest I wouldn’t feel very good about drinking it from the plastic that has been baking in the sun. I suppose in an emergency situation it’s a great water backup.

      10-15 gallons is a lot. I’ll have to check with Corey on what he thinks, but to be honest it very much depends upon the climate you are in and for how long you are willing to wait while it heats up. If you are in the hot desert sun, it will heat up much faster than a cooler climate or on a cloudy day.

      No issues with pressure that we’ve experienced! Again, I’ll check with Corey, but we have spent a lot of time in high elevation. I’ll just clarify with him because I’m unsure if we’ve had it full at low elevation and then climbed with it still full. Great questions. 🙂

  • Nikki Charlton July 7, 2016  

    Thanks for this post I wanted to buy a Road shower but living in Wales in the Uk customs and carriage make it all ridiculously expensive. So I’m off to get the parts today so I can build my own, very grateful for all the information you have provided.
    Stay safe

    • Shaun February 6, 2017  

      How did you get on with making this? I’m in the uk too and looking at doing the same.

  • David Beierl July 25, 2016  

    Adding compressed air changes everything. 4″ schedule 40 PVC pipe can handle a working pressure of 27 psi at 140F carrying water (but no pressure at higher temps), but is not rated for compressed air service at any temperature or pressure. The only plastic piping approved for compressed air is ABS. The reason is that PVC shatters when it breaks, and if there is air pressure behind it the pieces fly and can cause serious injury.

    https://www.osha.gov/dts/hib/hib_data/hib19880520.html

  • Chris August 6, 2016  

    Awesome write up. I’m doing some research and looking to build one of these showers myself. One question I haven’t found an answer to is whether I should use schedule 40 or schedule 80 pipe. The added thickness of schedule 80 seems appealing for durabillity under heat and pressure, but I’m wondering which rating is better for heating the water up faster ? Will the thicker sch 80 PVC heat up the water faster because there is more plastic material to hold heat and transfer into the water, or will the thinner sch 40 PVC heat up the water faster because the heat from the sun will be more easily transferred from the PVC to the water ? For some reason I can sort the physics of it out in my head and decide if thicker or thinner pipe will heat the water faster. Also, what kind of pressure can schedule 40 PVC hold at a given temperature ? Thank you again for taking the time for this tutorial.

  • Scot October 19, 2016  

    Hey awesome write up ! Ive been planning on building one when I saw a fellow jeeper with one he had built and used his onboard air to pressurize it which I’m planning on doing… Black ABS would be more durable and heat up nicely.. after a good rinse with some Dawn soap I wouldn’t hesitate to drink the water as well as long as you change it out after every trip and let the tube dry… That Schrader valve idea would work but looks like a lot of work and headache to seal properly. Anyone with a portable air compressor, even a cheap $20 ball inflator from Target would work…. And water being about 8lbs / gal means a 5gal unit would weigh no more than 45lbs, water, pipe, fittings and all…. I’m going with a double tube setup connected with a hose for more capacity. My roof rack can hold 500lbs so it would easily carry 80lbs or so.

  • Elias March 28, 2017  

    Do you have to compress air or will gravity do the trick ?