Location

This is one of the most important considerations. It’s best to choose a spot that you use often. In most cases, anywhere near the back entrance to your home is a good choice — maybe adjacent to the back door or on the back deck. If you have a pool, situate the shower nearby for easy rinses before and after swimming.

Another major consideration is plumbing access. Unless you’re installing the type of shower that attaches to a garden hose, you’ll need to install it close to existing plumbing.

Last but not least, go for a sunny spot. This will help keep mold and mildew at bay and provide natural warmth while you rinse.

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How much space do you need for an outdoor shower?

The minimum space required for an outdoor shower is 3 feet square, but go larger if you can. A shower enclosure measuring 4 feet square offers a generous amount of elbow room. If an attached dressing area is in your plans, you’ll need a 7-foot-long and 4-foot-wide area for the entire enclosure.

Hiring a plumber

When it comes time to hiring a plumber you need to make sure they are right for your job. Some questions to ask them include:

  • Are you licensed?
  • Are you insured to work in my home?
  • Can you provide a written quote?
  • Do you have references I can follow up?

No matter the size of your plumbing job, always request a fully itemised quote including the cost of all materials used.

Do Outdoor Showers Need Drains?

Most city municipalities have strict codes about d

Most city municipalities have strict codes about drains and how and where to route them. Outdoor showers usually require normal plumbing and drain requirements as indoor plumbing to carry away wastewater.

Every locale is different, with varying requirements for drainage requirements, including in their building codes. Also, before installing the outdoor shower, it’s a good idea to check permit requirements, too. A permit guarantees an inspection, so it’s best to get everything correct beforehand.

As a suggestion to avoid future problems, do your due diligence and find out about the local building codes, then hire a professional plumber experienced with outdoor plumbing. You may need to install wastewater drainpipes per code. The drainpipes help protect the groundwater and the drinking water in the area.

Once your project meets the plumbing requirements, you’re free to design the area with custom tile and a built-in drain system that adds a very attractive and valuable addition to your home.

If you want to take the design up a notch or two, you could enclose the plumbing and add hot and cold running water with a tub or spa.

Solar Shower Bag

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How do outdoor showers drain?

Outdoor showers don’t generally need complex drainage systems, especially if the shower is installed a distance from the house, or if the pitch of the land directs water away from the structure. Here are some common drainage solutions. (Whatever your situation, we recommend consulting with a professional about drainage.)

 Above: A simple outdoor shower at a Swedish Summe
Above: A simple outdoor shower at a Swedish Summer House by Lasc Studio drains directly into the ground. Is that a wooden palette as a shower stand? Photograph by Laura Stamer.

Direct Garden Drainage: The most common, easiest, and eco-friendly way to drain is to let the gray water seep directly into your garden. Will this work for your shower site? If the ground is reasonably porous, then the answer is yes, as long as the shower isn’t used too often and isn’t close to your house’s foundation. You can test how quickly water will seep into the soil of a potential shower site by dumping a large bucket of water and timing how long it takes to disappear. If the water remains on the surface for five or more minutes, you may want to consider a dry well or French drain.

French Drain or Dry Well: If your shower is going to be on the facade of your house or nearby, you need to keep water away from the foundation. Know your existing perimeter drainage system to decide how best to integrate shower drainage. If you have perimeter French drain pipes, be sure your shower is positioned to take advantage of the existing drainage system. Alternatively, you can install a simple dry well (like a French drain without the pipe) by digging a deep pit and filling it with gravel to distribute water slowly into the surrounding soil.

Fixed Drain: Some more elaborate setups use fixed drains that feed into a house’s wastewater system.

 Above: Photograph courtesy of Ben Young Landscape
Above: Photograph courtesy of Ben Young Landscape Architect.

An open-air shower should be just that, says Idaho-based landscape architect Ben Young: “You’re out there in nature, so why not experience that feeling of being in nature?”

For more, see Private Idaho: A Rustic Outdoor Shower in Sun Valley.

Consider Privacy and Comfort

Once you’ve got the nitty-gritty stuff out of the way, it’s time to think about the fun part: Style. For added privacy, you could build a classic solid enclosure. Hollander suggests building walls that reach up to about five feet above the ground. Slatted wood screens and reed walls are other good options Alexander loves.

PHOTO: Charles Mayer; DESIGN: Hollander Landscape Design

Or, you could get creative and create a natural illusion of privacy with a wall of florals. Flowering shrubs like hydrangeas (or plants that don’t mind moisture) can act like a living shower wall (and tend to be cheaper).Clark recommends pruning branches so warm sunlight can pour in. And then consider things like benches a built-in shelves for storage and seating, plus wall hooks for your towels to dry off after.

Outdoor Shower Cost and Installation

The cost of purchasing and installing an outdoor shower can range from about $250 to several thousand dollars. Expect to pay between $100 and $500 for a wall-mounted outdoor shower, between $500 and $2,000 for a standalone and $50 to $300 for portable showers.

Installation cost also differs considerably and can range from $500 and $8,000. Naturally, outdoor showers that require more complicated plumbing and incorporate added features (like an enclosure and drainage) will be more expensive to install. Fortunately, experienced DIYers can do most, if not all of the installation.

Who can install an outdoor shower?

There’s a reason why it’s illegal to take care of your own plumbing: it’s incredibly unsafe. Tinkering with the pipes yourself can not only damage your property, it also puts your whole family and home at risk. That’s why only a licensed plumber can install all the piping and connect your outdoor shower. They’ll also be able to advise you on the proper placement of all the plumbing elements to ensure the best flow of water to your outdoor shower. They can also give you an idea of the cost implications of adding hot water.

Depending on how elaborate your setup and your shower designs is going to be, you may also need a bricklayer, handyman, tiler or builder to help you install a wall, enclosure and flooring.

Pros and Cons of an Outdoor Shower

Pros:

Cons:

  • Requires regular cleaning;
  • May not be usable year-round;
  • Some can be expensive to purchase and install;
  • Possible lack of privacy.

Do outdoor showers need a shower base?

Yes, for the comfort and stability of the person taking a shower. The base should be a water-resistant material that is stable to stand on and permeable for drainage. It can be an existing surface, such as decking or a stone patio. Or, if an outdoor shower is installed in a location with a slippery or uncomfortable surface such as gravel, you can set a small base on top of the surface.

 Above: A Pilotis outdoor shower made of northern
Above: A Pilotis outdoor shower made of northern pine logs has a tap to turn on for a foot wash and a faucet to connect a watering hose; for information and pricing, see Douches de Jardins.

Be Realistic About Plumbing

A simple plumbing install could run “about $1,500,” says Dan DiClerico of Home​Adviser. But it varies greatly depending on your needs and what your home is already equipped with. The rule of thumb seems to be that the closer the shower is to the house, the easier it will be to set up proper plumbing. Indeed, each designer and landscaper we spoke to highly recommends putting your shower on the side of the house since this offers easy access to existing hot and cold water lines.

PHOTO: Tessa Neustadt; DESIGN: Alexander DB

And don’t forget drainage. “Every shower needs a drain!” says Clark—or else you’ll have a flood­ing problem.” Each region has slightly different regulations regarding plumbing for outdoor showers, so Clark says you’ll want to “con­sult local codes to determine whether you need to dig a proper one or if you can just divert runoff into the garden.”

Another pro tip? “We have a plastic cap directly over the drain that keeps the larger debris out but that requires occasional attention,” adds Weiss. This is a good idea for indoor showers, too.

Accessories

Incorporate affordable accessories that add to the fun and pleasure of showering outdoors. A large rainfall showerhead enhances that outdoor feeling, and plants or flowers in the shower area or peeping through the enclosure add a whimsical touch.

Add some soft solar-powered lights for showering at dusk, install hooks for hanging towels and wet bathing suits, and maybe even add a chair to sit in. Most importantly, design your shower to take advantage of nature’s views, whether that’s the sky overhead or the splendor of your backyard garden.

With just a little planning and effort, you can install your own outdoor shower and stay cool during the sunnier months.

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Originally published June 26, 2017.

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