All you need to know before installing an outdoor shower or bath

What Is an Outdoor Shower?

No tricks here — it’s a shower outside your house. The plumbing consists of a showerhead, water pipes and valves. The water source can be a garden hose or your home’s main water supply. An outdoor shower can be enclosed or not, and may feature a floor, shelves, bench and other amenities.

Can you have outdoor showers without plumbing?

 Above: Outdoor showers with garden hoses require
Above: Outdoor showers with garden hoses require no plumbing; a stand-alone Manufactum Outdoor Shower (€125) has a portable tripod base and a hand level to control water flow.

Video

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.

Fixed Plumbing Pipes

Investing in fixed plumbing pipes is worth it if you anticipate a consistent use of the outdoor shower, and not just use it for cleaning up after a hot day in the sun. 

Wall Mounted Outdoor Shower Plumbing

The best location of a wall-mounted outdoor shower will be the outer wall of any of your house’s bathrooms. In particular, access the hot water supply from the outside, extend new tubing, and attach them to the shower.

Outdoor Shower Kits Plumbing

You can locate the kit away from the house. In that case, extend the hot and cold water supply to the outdoor shower via PEX tubing or plumbing buried underground. However, they’re susceptible to freezing and cracking in cold climates and must be drained before the winter.

2. Consider the materials

For any outdoor bathroom ideas, you need to ensure that the materials you use will stand up to the elements and the test of time.

‘In addition to how your outdoor shower looks, you also need to consider how practical it is,’ says Bailey of Angi. ‘The material choices are key for determining their longevity and durability. With outdoor showers, we recommend durable stainless steel or brass to withstand weathering and corrosion. If possible, opt for marine-grade stainless steel.’ Polly also suggests going for stainless steel as it is robust and ‘will resist rust and wear and tear from various weather conditions.’

Bailey continues: ‘For the base of your shower, what material you use is really up to personal preference. Concrete or stone tiles offer excellent longevity. Wood slats are also a popular option since they can be treated and weatherproofed in the same way as an outdoor patio or deck.’

Polly says, ‘We also recommend going for mosaic tiles for your outdoor shower floor, as they’re non-porous, anti-slip, and will also look great in a garden setting.’

Bailey continues: ‘Whatever you choose, ensure it allows natural drainage.’ You can find more info on drainage below. 

If you’re installing your shower on a raised deck or other platform, try to make sure there is enough space underneath to allow air to flow, as Bailey suggests. ‘This will help reduce mildew and mold.’

Make sure you choose materials that will withstand the regular exposure to water

(Image credit: ViewStock/Getty Images)

4. Add a Showerhead

You’re almost done! Now, it’s time to add a showerhead. There are so many possibilities depending on your taste. For something simple, look for a simple design with an extended arm so you’re not brushing up against the side of your home.

Round disc shapes are popular with outdoor showers, but square ones are an attractive alternative. Just remember to check to make sure the showerhead you choose is rated to be installed outdoors!

Photo by vichie81 on Shutterstock

Photo by vichie81 on Shutterstock

What You Should Know Before Installing an Outdoor Shower

Whether the goal is to wash off the day or to commune with nature, there is an outdoor shower for you. The simplest is a foot sprayer hooked to an existing cold-water spigot. The most complicated and expensive is an outdoor shower with cold and hot water, a custom enclosure for privacy, and a built-in changing room for convenience.

What’s universal about any alfresco shower is that it beckons you outside. And yes, for some, it’s also about the exhilaration of being in the backyard in the buff. Here’s what you need to know to create the outdoor shower that best suits your naked—or not-so-naked—ambition.

Choosing a location

Nat Rea

Determining the best location for an outdoor shower depends on how you’ll use it. Some families put them near the front door. Others opt for a shower by the pool for a post-swim rinse, or close to the back door for the resident athlete just back from a sweaty jog. The best outdoor showers also take advantage of the natural beauty of the surroundings.

Plumbing can also dictate site. A shower on a deck near the kitchen or bathroom or on a ground-floor patio off the laundry room means you can tap into existing hot- and cold-water lines. One placed in a remote cluster of trees, though appealing, requires digging a trench and running pipe to the destination.

Consider privacy

When designing your outdoor shower, consider how much you are willing to expose, and account for the feelings of guests or neighbors. “I encourage people to build with the most modest person in mind,” says Ethan Fierro, author of The Outdoor Shower. The most straightforward approach is a freestanding folding screen, which works especially well on a multi-use deck where permanent walls can eat up too much space.

For an outdoor shower on a rooftop of a client’s home in Washington, D. C., architect Kai Tong designed a roll-up bamboo screen that’s high enough for a shield but low enough not to block dramatic views of the capital. The most organic approach might draw on the landscape, whether a new privet hedge or an existing curtain of trees. Keep in mind that if trees are deciduous, you may have to wait until late spring for sufficient cover.

A custom wood shower enclosure offers privacy plus flexibility to add built-ins and other amenities. To prevent mold and mildew, be sure the space is well ventilated so it completely dries out after every use. Walls should be secured to corner posts and elevated about a foot off the ground to promote air circulation. And if you decide to add a solid roof, attach it only to the posts, leaving open space above the walls. A sunny location will also help dry the enclosure.

Site Selection

When selecting a site for your outdoor shower, consider its primary function. If you want people to rinse off before going in the pool, install the shower near the pool. For privacy’s sake, install it out of sight from neighbors and passers-by. If that’s not possible, you’ll need outdoor curtains or walls.

Another tip: Select a site that receives direct sunlight. That will help keep you warm on brisk days and will dry the area to prevent mold formation.

Tips for Building an Outdoor Shower

  • Leave the cedar boards unsealed for a silvery, natural-wood look or stain and seal them for a more finished look that adds to the durability of the wood.
  • Composite wood deck boards are ideal for outdoor shower floors because they are smooth, splinter-free, and never rot.
  • As with other outdoor faucets, an outdoor shower is subject to freezing, which can cause the pipes to burst and flood your home. Adding a shut-off valve indoors will allow you to turn off the water to the shower during freezing winter months.

Choose the Right Materials

When it comes to fittings, “Marine-grade stainless steel rules when it comes to outdoor fixtures,” says Clark, adding that good air circulation and sunlight will help prevent mold (so access to sunlight should also inform location). California designer Vanessa Alexander of Alexander Design echoes this point and suggests using fittings that are "powder coated, stainless, or chrome on the outside. We tend to use blackened or bronzed finishes most of the time, though copper can look great in the right environment with greenery."

PHOTO: SAM FROST; DESIGN: Alexander DB

And now for your feet, try wood slats. Unlike stone, wood slats don’t get moldy and slippery “because they let water flow through,” says landscape architect Edmund D. Hollander of Hollander Design. You’ll just need to dig about two feet below the deck and lay some sandy soil for drainage.

The good news is that, "since by their very nature, outdoor showers are casual, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Nature is the real show here and you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to make it feel special," Weiss explains. That being said, you will want to keep a few style-related things in mind while building your outdoor shower.

2. Lay Piping, Cover, and Prepare Floor

If you’re building your shower away from the hose connection site, lay flexible sprinkler piping down to connect your water to the shower site. To do this, attach the sprinkler hose to your hose connection and lay the piping 6 inches underground, ensuring you install it the entire distance from the connection to where you intend to install the shower. To be on the safe side, leave an extra 2-3 feet at the end. While keeping the piping taut, backfill to cover the underground piping.

Drainage is also something to consider. If you’re installing a hose-fed shower, you don’t necessarily need an entire drainage system. However, if you plan to shower directly next to your home or even underneath your elevated home (if you live on the coast), then think about adding drainage rocks or possibly even a French drain to help protect your home’s foundation and siding from any excess water.

Photo by Dmitry Trubitsyn on Shutterstock

Photo by Dmitry Trubitsyn on Shutterstock

Sign up for the Newsletter

Get the latest This Old House news, trusted tips, tricks, and DIY Smarts projects from our experts–straight to your inbox.

Tags

Leave a Comment