PVC Shelters

5 min read

As summer faded into fall, and with the pandemic still here, I was sorting out how to both maintain healthy physical distance while hanging out outdoors with people. Because weather can get unpredictable, I wanted to sort out a way to keep people dry in case the weather turned, without embarking on a huge construction project.

Enter PVC! It's relatively inexpensive, and can be used to do many things, including building a portable rain shelter.

I can say from personal experience that it works reasonably well. If you have improvements, suggestions, or other thoughts, please hit me up on the bird site.

Required materials for a shelter that is 10 feet wide, 7+ feet high, and just over 5 feet deep (ie, a good shelter for 2-4 people who are in a pod) include:

  • PVC to build the frame;
  • a tarp to keep the rain out;
  • a means of attaching the PVC frame to the ground.

Optional materials include parachute cord, bungee cord and tent stakes.

With this overview in place, here are the precise materials I used for the structure.

PVC frame:

  • Walls: 6 pieces; 7 feet
  • Top crossbeams: 3 pieces, 64 1/2 inches
  • Top front and back brackets: 4 pieces, 5 feet
  • Arched roof: 10 pieces, 34 5/8 inches

These pieces can be cut from 11 10' pieces of PVC pipe. I used 1" diameter pipe, and all fittings in this writeup are also for 1" pipe. Make sure your fittings match the diameter of your pipe!

Connecting Pieces:

  • 4 3-way elbows for the corners
  • 2 T connectors for the center of the structure


  • 5 90 degree elbows for the roof connectors
  • 10 slide ts for the roof connectors

Roof connectors


Either an 8x10 or a 10x12 foot tarp. The 10 foot width is important because it fits cleanly over the top of the PVC frame.


For the foundation, I used ready mix concrete and rebar. I found that 4 foot rebar provides a little more stability than 2 foot, but both work really well. One consideration for the foundation pieces is that they should all be roughly the same height. Mine are all roughly six inches high, which means that the height of the structure will be 7 and a half feet (7 foot PVC, plus 6 inches foundation).

Optional Material:

Because I wanted a structure I could assemble and disassemble, I didn't glue the pieces together. However, I did want some extra stability, so I use lengths of parachute cord connected to bungee cord to keep everything connected and provide extra resilience against gusting wind. Additionally, if you want to leave the structure up for several days, using tent stakes and parachute cord to stake the structure down provides still more support.


To begin, lay out the foundation pieces. The six foundation pieces should form a rectangle roughly 10 feet by five and a half feet. Then, slide the 7 foot lengths of PVC over the rebar.

Once you have the foundation and 7 foot lengths in place, attach the upper connectors. If you have a step ladder, that will be helpful, but a stable chair is just as effective. The three 64 1/2 inch lengths connect along the side, while the four 5 foot lengths connect along the front and back of the shelter.

Before you connect put the five foot lengths in place, make sure that you have put the slide ts in place on the five foot lengths. They are necessary for the roof.

Slide Ts in place on the 5 foot length of PVC

Once you have all "ceiling" pieces connected, put the roof in place. Use the 90 degree angle connectors to make 5 arched brackets with the 34 5/8th lengths of PVC.

roof supports

FAQ: why the weird lengths for these things? Great question! As you might have noticed, PVC pipe sells in 10 foot lengths. Let's say you wanted to reduce the number of cuts you needed to make and build a 10x10 structure. To make a roof for a 10x10 structure, you would connect two 64 1/2 inch lengths of PVC using the 90 degree angle connector. So, in the interest of reusing these pieces in different structures over time, I made the arbitrary call to make the depth of the smaller structure 64 1/2 inches, which in turn means that the roof brackets need to be 34 5/8 inches. The geometry of my measurements can definitely be fine tuned, but these measurements are what worked for me as I was building these structures.

Slide the angled roof supports into place, making sure to spread them evenly across the 10 foot length. Based on experimentation, I have found that 5 supports across a 10 foot length provide good support and protection even during heavy rain, but if someone wants to have one support every two feet, using 6 supporting brackets is required.

Now, the skeleton of the structure is in place. As noted earlier, these shelters are designed to be assembled, disassembled, and reused, so none of these pieces are glued together. If you want to add some extra stability without using glue, it's pretty straightforward using parachute cord, with or without bungee cords.

Two 12-13 foot lengths of parachute cord can be used along the front and back, and two 6-7 foot lengths can be used along the sides. Using bungee cords can make it easier to secure the parachute cord.

While using parachute cord to reinforce the connections isn't essential, it does add some additional stability which can come in handy on windy days.

Now that the roof is in place and the skeleton has been reinforced with parachute cord, one step remains: attaching the tarp to protect against rain or snow. Using an 8 by 10 or a 10 by 12 foot tarp simplifies this process because the 10 foot side fits cleanly over the width of the structure. Use bungee cords or parachute cord to attach the tarp, and you are ready to go.

Assembled PVC shelter

If the structure is going to stay up for a few days or longer, I recommend tieing the corners down using parachute cord and some spare tent stakes (which you can get at a hardware store or an outdoor supply store).

All of the raw materials used to build this structure are available at many hardware stores, or via places like Home Depot.