Once upon a time, outdoor showers used to be reserved for those with large, sprawling backyard pools. Not anymore! Outdoor showers are starting to become a common item for anyone with a backyard, imagination, and extended summer weather. From last year we know for a fact E Texas has taken care of the Summer element so all you have to provide is the backyard and imagination, and possibly a little sweat.
Plan! As with any project, a little bit of planning goes a long way. Make some sort of diagram of what you want - size, location, and types of materials you plan on using. I’ve seen these diagrams made on everything from a cocktail napkin, to a tracing made in the sand with a stick. I prefer a computer diagram, or at least something on a piece of paper - but use what you have and spend some time writing down ideas as they comes to you. Start simple and then add to your plan. Just make sure you have a plan before you start. Below are a few considerations to account for in your plan:
Materials: Your shower can be as simple or complex as you desire. It can be built out of anything ranging from recycled lumber or other materials in your backyard all the way to slate tile and concrete with outdoor lighting. The water system will require a shower valve, and tubing. We recommend PEX tubing for water lines but you can use any type of pressure rated plumbing tubing. Depending on how you want your drain system, you may need some PVC drain pipe. All materials you need for the water and drain system are readily available at any hardware store. Your style, imagination, and budget are your limitations when choosing construction materials.
Water source: This is the first of only two elements that are a requirement in your shower. Without a water source, you have unintentionally built a very nice broom closet without a roof. Typically you want to locate your shower close to ‘somewhere or something’ that’s conducive for getting hot and cold water, like next to your house. However, if this isn’t in the cards for you, a cold water line can be buried and a solar powered water heater installed. For a remotely located shower, the cold water line needs to be buried a minimum of 18 inches deep to protect it from frost (luckily you don’t live in Canada where it’s 6 feet). It’s not recommended you bury the hot water line as too much heat is lost through dissipation in the soil. This is why you need to heat the water at the source with either a solar unit, or other source of hot water heating.
Drain system: This is the second of the two required shower elements and can be "optional" although not recommended. I’ve seen one outdoor shower that had brick installed for the floor and the water ran off into the yard. It appeared that perhaps the person taking the shower probably ended up with more dirt on them after the shower than they did before. Mud squeezed up from from below the brick and turned the shower floor into something that resembled a large mud wrestling pit. However, the owner loved it so... Install a drain system. It’s not that hard to do. If you live in a very sandy place, it’s pretty simple. Dig a hole that is about 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet and fill with river rock, or anything clean and porous. If you don’t have a sandy soil base, plan on installing a short drain line and a 10 foot piece of graveless pipe. This assembly is also buried about 18 inches below the surface of your yard. Items to NOT use in your drain system are organic items such as mulch or anything else that will break down over time. If you use organic items, in theory, you’ve created a compost pile - not a shower.
Safety and Codes: Would an article like this be complete without a disclaimer? Even though you have a vision and some ambition, a few more steps need to be followed that are probably the most important. If you plan on excavating anywhere deeper than 15 inches, by law you must call DIGTESS at 811 to locate any utilities that may interfere with your project. This is a free service and not only will this save you from possibly being electrocuted, or even worse - cutting your internet connection. This step will also save you from a hefty fine should any of the above occur. Also, you will need to consult your local laws in accordance with your septic or sewer regulations. This is required should you decide to tie your new shower drain into an existing system already on the premises. This is a "Do it yourself" type project that would score a 7 on difficulty on a scale of 1 - 10. You may want to consult with a licensed plumber or a contractor prior to construction. If you don’t feel competent with a pipe wrench and PVC glue, this might be advisable.
An outdoor shower is exactly what you make it, literally. It can add some personality and style to any backyard and will certainly add a degree of functionality. Let it shower down on you!
Ryan Hanson owns 4B Products, www.4bproducts.com.