How can a PVC pipe help you survive?

By: Laurie L. Dove
Men using technology to create digitally generated image.
Members of the Blue Man Group use PVC pipe as a percussion instrument during a performance. That's just one use of this versatile material. We've got many others.
© Chris Ryan/Corbis

You've taken steps to prepare for Armageddon, a zombie apocalypse or the next meteor that turns L.A. into a giant sinkhole. There's gold bullion in your fireproof safe, a gas mask under your bed, and you've mapped an escape route that will take you far from urban dangers to a rural oasis where you plan to live sustainably until further notice.

If so, PVC pipes should figure into your survival plan. These rigid, inexpensive polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes represent a trifecta of durability. They are waterproof, flexible and fire-resistant -- and you can buy a supply at your neighborhood hardware store.


Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first discovered by a German scientist in 1835, but it took decades to figure out practical applications beyond the laboratory for this strong, durable material. In the 1930s, PVC pipe was being manufactured and installed for water distribution in Germany. However, it wasn't until World War II that the use of PVC pipes became more prevalent. After the war ended, PVC pipes became a popular construction material in North America after the U.S. National Sewer Foundation certified the product as safe for transporting water and private citizens flocked to PVC pipe for its versatile nature and inexpensive cost [sources: JM Eagle, Rahman].

In 2007, the latest date for which statistics are available, consumers in the U.S. and Canada purchased 6.4 million metric tons (14.2 billion pounds) of PVC. And, although PVC is used in everything from window frames and golf balls to credit cards and high heels, nearly 50 percent of all PVC purchases were PVC pipes [source: Whitfield and Associates].

Most of these pipes are used in water and sewer systems, but they could also become essential survival tools. Virtually indestructible, PVC pipes can be repurposed as underground storage containers, weapons and even containers to grow food.


PVC Pipe Can Boost Survival Odds

It's the middle of the night and your entire home begins to shake. Depending on where you live, this could signal a hurricane, earthquake, mudslide or tornado. Whatever the cause, as you inspect the aftermath one thing becomes clear: You need to escape the damage, and do so without the advantages of electricity, water service or passable roads.

Thankfully, you have a "bug-out" bag on hand and grab it on your way out the door (or the opening where the door used to be). This mobile bag, usually in backpack form, contains three or four days' worth of basic survival gear, like nonperishable food, water, matches and first-aid kit. Although you could buy a commercial version, many survivalists opt to make a customized bug-out bag -- right down to the frame.


You can make your own custom frame using inexpensive PVC pipe. Of course, you'll need some basic tools to get this done, including a saw, PVC connector pieces, PVC primer, PVC glue (also called "cement"), safety goggles and gloves.

Using 1/2-inch (12.7-millimeter) diameter PVC pipe, cut two vertical side supports that measure the length of your shoulders to your waist, as well as three horizontal supports roughly the width of your torso. Join them with PVC connectors to create a backpack frame. Add a shelf to the bottom of the frame by connecting a U-shaped series of PVC pipes and connectors horizontally. Add a waist belt and shoulder straps -- voila! -- a frame perfect for holding your bug-out supplies.

If you're really serious about a custom fit, use a heat gun to heat and bend the pipe so the cooled pipe will contour to your body. Then cinch on a sleeping bag, first-aid kit and emergency rations bag, and you'll be all set [source: Cantebury].

As a backup to your bug-out bag, consider underground storage for additional survival items. PVC pipes, when properly sealed, act as a waterproof cache that can be buried in your backyard or at a remote location. To store survival gear or helpful Armageddon-related items, such as gold coins or medicines, select a PVC pipe with a diameter large enough for the items to easily fit into. Then, place the items in sealed plastic bags, put them inside the pipe and seal the pipe by gluing end caps to each opening. You can purchase specially made PVC glue, similar to that used for plumbing, to seal the end caps and make the PVC pipe-turned-storage-container waterproof. Once sealed, the pipe can withstand underground burial and is likely to last for several years [source: McClarin].


PVC Pipe and Your Food Supply

North Solomon Islanders, PVC pipe
People around the world love their PVC pipe. Here, some North Solomon Islanders play an array of PVC pipes while rehearsing for independence day celebrations in Port Moresby, 2005.

Things are lookin' up. You've survived the first harried post-disaster days and munched the emergency rations stockpiled in your PVC bug-out bag. You are ready to begin life anew. And, while you're not sure how things will shake out now that the world's overrun by zombies, mutant chickens or looters, one thing's for certain: You're a survivor, so grab some PVC pipe and get started.

Naturally, you'll want to focus your efforts on securing a food source. Thank goodness your PVC pipe fishing kit was already stowed in your bug-out bag. The 1-inch (25.4-millimeter) diameter PVC pipe fishing pole is 12 inches (30.4 centimeters) long, permanently capped on one end with a removable cap on the other end. Inside the PVC tube are basic fishing supplies, such as hooks, lures and weights. The outside of the tube is wrapped in fishing line, which has been threaded through a small hole drilled in the top of the tube. Simply affix a hook and weights to the end of the line and lower it to the desired water depth. You'll be eating a fish dinner in no time [source: Gurney].


If you aren't near a well-stocked water source, you'll have make do with your PVC bow and arrow. You can use this bad boy to hunt small game, and in a pinch, to gain protection against marauders. Months ago, you used a multistep process to heat and bow a 5-foot (1.5-meter) piece of 1-inch (25.4-millimeter) diameter PVC pipe and affix a length of cord to both ends. Ever since, you've regularly tested your archery skills and are now ready to depend on them for survival. Tonight's dinner may just be rabbit, rather than fish [source: Zombie Survival].

If you're serious about setting up shop post-disaster, you can rely on PVC pipes to transport seeds and grow plants. To add vegetable and fruit seeds to your survival kit, simply place them in labeled plastic bags and into a PVC pipe with removable caps. Be sure to keep the seeds away from temperature extremes during storage and to replace them annually while you're awaiting the Apocalypse (this will help ensure germination).

When it's time to begin your garden anew, use PVC pipes and plastic sheeting to create a temporary greenhouse to protect tender plants. Or, dissect large-diameter PVC pipes, bore a few holes in them and use them as planting troughs (bonus: these troughs are moderately portable). Just think, in a few short weeks you could be dining on a balanced meal of game and locally sourced vegetables. Now that's survival.


Lots More Information

Author's Note: How can a PVC pipe help you survive?

As I was in my underground bunker writing this article, I realized my experiences as a doomsday prepper would finally come in handy. No more waiting for armies of the undead. All joking aside (I really don't work inside a bunker), researching this article offered an array of fascinating DIY projects -- all involving PVC pipe. At this point, I'm fairly confident that if push came to shove, I could fashion a greenhouse, temporary shelter, soccer goal or irrigation system out of PVC pipes. And you never know when that's going to come in handy.

Related Articles

  • Cantebury, Dave. "PVC Pack Frame." SHTF Preparedness. Feb. 18, 2013. (April 3, 2013)
  • Gurney, Jeff. "Survival Fishing Kit." The Retreat. Aug. 11, 2011. (April 3, 2013)
  • JM Eagle. "Frequently Asked Questions on PVC." (April 4, 2013)
  • McClarin, J. "Help FEMA Catch Lawbreakers Burying Survival Items." Daily Paul. April 28, 2008. (April 3, 2013)
  • Rahman, Shah. "PVC Pressure Pipe: Past, Present and Future." Center for Innovative Grouting Materials and Technology at the University of Houston. (April 4, 2013)
  • Whitfield and Associates. "The Economic Benefits of Polyvinyl Chloride in the United States and Canada." Dec. 2008. (April 3, 2013)
  • Zombie Survival. "How to Make a 35 pound PVC Survival Bow." Aug. 29, 2012. (April 3, 2013)