LightPanels on a Budget

Well, that was the theory. I always know what my PVC creation will cost and it is always more than I pretend it to be. Personal Quirk.

Ellie Eaglehawk, Astronomer-Egglayer, Construction Assistant

Our yard sits about 18 in. higher than the sidewalk, behind a textured cinder block wall. That’s a negative in this case as it allows us to see farther, so we see headlights farther off. If the yard were at street level behind the wall, 24 in. to 30 in. high panels would have sufficed if attached to the wall. As it is, 60 in. panels are required to completely shield PeiPei’s eyes from headlights.

I built a 5 ft. x 5 ft. test panel and with a lightweight tarp or two layers of black 6mil plastic the headlights disappear. The actual panels are 5 ft. x 10 ft. (nominal), each with three 36 in. inverted tee feet, interchangeable with 12 in in. ~ 18 in. x 1 1/4 in. tubes to fit in 1 1/2 in. to 1 5/8 in. pipes that may be driven into the ground.

For now, we wish to maintain portability of the panels, rather than fixed positions. In either case, we need to be able to put them away quickly – we get lovely winds, strong winds. I still like the idea of 1 in. or 1 1/2 in. welded steel frames – not that much heavier than 1 1/4 in. PVC (for me). We shall see – PeiPei is the better welder between us, and may be biasing her decision on perceived workload – only I do stinky PVC assembly, so perhaps that is why. PVC is also cheaper and quicker; good for us at this point whilst testing and tuning =)

So, for each inverted tee foot:

  • 2 ea. 18 in. x 1 1/4 in. PVC pipe – horizontal ‘foot’ member
  • 1 ea. 6 in. x 1 1/4 in. PVC pipe – vertical ‘leg’ member
  • 1 ea. 1 1/4 in. PVC Tee, slip x slip x slip
  • 2 ea. 1 1/4 in. PVC Caps, slip – if you wish to sand fill the feet. Not required otherwise except for aesthetics.

For each 5′ h x 10′ w Panel, center divided:

  • 3 ea. 57 in.x 1 1/4 in. PVC pipe – vertical members
  • 4 ea. 56 in. x 1 1/4 in. PVC pipe – horizontal members
  • 2 ea. 1 1/4 in. 90 deg. Elbow, slip x slip – upper outer corners
  • 4 ea. 1 1/4 in. PVC Tee, slip x slip x slip – lower outer corners & upper and lower center divider tees

These Panels are large and awkward – find a proper sized workspace. Go slow. Measure twice, blah blah blah. Only prime and glue one joint at a time – the primer softens the plastic so the glue can work properly – wait too long, batch too far out and it’s like not using primer at all and that is a sin – a grievous, horrid sin! You get cold joints, shame, waste. Who wants that?

C’est Complete
  • Well, I met this panel ‘down New Orleans 
  • Lord, she built jus’ like a dream!                                                                     
  • Even her primer stains could be seen                                                             
  • and she was Uh-hug-ly!
  • Now, hell, I don’ mind – panels of her kind                                                     
  • I even pay sometimes for a panel that’s uh-hug-ly!                                     
  • Ooo – she built like a steamroller (?)                                                               
  • Just the kind to block them headlights anytime                                           
  • Hey – the moment might arrive!                                                                       
  • On a public street wi’ dem troublin’ headlights bein’ blocked                   
  • and she’s mine all mine and she’s Uh-Hug-Ly!!!                                       
  • so i better yell Help! 


 Paint your contrivance if it’ll be out in the sun frequently – sunlight degrades PVC, makes it brittle. Cheap white spray paint is a minimum. Better quality spray paint is… better! Decent exterior house paints provide the most protection – it’s formulated for sun exposure, it goes on thicker.

These panels can be left unpainted – they’re for night use.

PVC Cutter

I use a Makita 12″ Compound Mitre Saw for all PVC cuts anymore, unless the pipe’s in the ground – it’s quick, the cuts are nicely square for best seating in the sockets. It’s overkill – any chop saw would work as well – but it’s what I have.

PVC connector socket depths and overall dimensions may vary between Mfrs, so ALWAYS measure them to be sure of what you are currently working with if actual finished dimensions are critical in some way. I am normally very actual, finished dimension conscious because things usually have to fit into something. These LightScreen Panels are standalones, so 5′ and 10′ dimensions are nominal, adjusted for tarps or plastic sheet on hand, required overlaps, etc.

hints – these are from much PVC framing experience – they are rules to follow. Allow about 1′ foot of unsupported span per 1/4 of pipe diameter to avoid sag – maybe 9″ for assemblies to be exposed to direct summer sun (thermal sag).

PVC Pipe Glue Joints: https://www.youtube.com/embed/QITVd4N7064

Excellent source for standard & oddball PVC connectors https://flexpvc.com/

Helpful Stuff: https://flexpvc.com/TechArticles/

Pipe in socket, firm pressure, 1/4 turn, then: Whenever possible, I use a clamp to seat the pipe in the connector fully. Failing that, a dead blow mallet. Tap-tap-wait-tap-tap. Or just firm, steady pressure until you don’t feel any push-back. You should feel some pushback. Some runs, maybe the socket’s a little loose – in that case, phat glue, nie? (A little extra).

Your joints have to be flush / plumb / at 90s – however you choose to phrase it – or your panel will be skewed and subject to ridicule. Work on a FLAT surface. Use plastic sheet, plastic bag, etc. to protect that surface (newspaper lets primer weep thru easily).

One pipe, one connector – no problem, you’re not aligning to anything. This is helpful – when you plan your assembly, do as many 1 on 1 sets as you can FIRST. Then begin connecting 1 on 1 sets together – you’ll have less trouble because you’ll have connectors at more ends, and part of getting things flat / square / flush / etc is accounting for the height or thickness of the connectors. 

Don’t be afraid to temporarily seat a connector or connectors on empty pipe ends to get that thickness all around an assembly. Use slower setting glue – it’ll save headaches because you have more time to properly seat connectors and true-up the assembly. Don’t be afraid to use weights and mdf sheets to flatten things – you don’t have time to futz around when the glue’s on, so practice what you have to do beforehand – get things laid out, in reach so you can move with quick assurance and confidence when the time comes!

Lastly, dry fit any strange contrivances before hand to make sure what you glue up won’t be useless.

Messy glue smears – acetone or scrape gently.

Messy looking primer stains – you can try acetone, rubbing alcohol – or just paint it. Better to have the stains than use clear primer and have a hard time telling if pieces are properly primed.

MFR printing – rubbing alcohol or acetone (rubbing alcohol is less expensive, works wonderfully).

1 thought on “LightPanels on a Budget

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.