Reader Project: DIY Outdoor Shower
Somehow, in spite of myself, I’ve become a curmudgeon 30 years too soon. My constant disapproval of anything “fun” has become a running joke among my almost-teenage children. Yogurt tubes? Messy. Drive-throughs? Lazy. Viral cat memes? Just no. According to them, if I’m not careful, in a couple of decades, I’ll be feeding my future grandchildren hardtack and forcing them to whittle sticks all day.
But six years ago, on a family vacation to Harbor Country in southwest Michigan, I discovered an indulgence even I couldn’t resist. After a long day at the beach, we’d drag our tired, water-logged bodies back to our rented Lake Michigan cottage and wash the sand from our hair in the cottage’s outdoor shower. It elevated a daily chore to a backyard art, and I spent the rest of our vacation dreaming up ways to build one back home.
Thanks to 100 feet of garden hose, some aromatic red cedar and a small on-demand water heater, I now lather my hair in the morning to a chorus of birdsong while steam shrouds me. It’s admittedly extravagant, both for me and for my landlocked neighborhood in central Indiana. But my outdoor shower also possesses practical benefits that make it more than just a backyard spa for frayed suburban dads. It’s also the perfect outdoor solution to muddy kids and smelly dogs. And when your spouse sees the house-saving grace of your DIY genius, they’ll never have loved you more.
Aromatic cedar walls and a half-open louvred door invite me to indulge in the luxury of a private outdoor shower. The spacious 5-foot x 7-foot stall creates a feeling of openness and provides plenty of room to unwind after a long day. Combined with the twin showerheads, it also accommodates multiple bodies, making it perfect for washing messy kids, bathing smelly dogs and concluding romantic evenings.
Dual showerheads add a splash of luxury to the rustic outdoor shower experience. I used flexible 1/2-inch copper tubing to create the organic look of the arches and attached the copper pipes to the stall frame with copper bell anchors. Gradually, the copper pipes are acquiring a wonderful patina that, like the advancing moss on the cedar frame, melds the shower with the landscape.
Never sweated copper pipes before? No problem. Here’s a quick how-to on sweating copper pipes from Family Handyman.
A skirt of fallen crabapple petals traces the outline of the rain-head showerhead waterfall while the cedar bench blends into the background like a rocky outcropping. A tankless propane water heater, mounted on an outside wall (see it on that first image, on the right side) and fed by a simple garden hose, allows me to enjoy the first flowers of spring and the last leaves of fall, all while scrubbing behind my ears. A steamy shower never feels so good as it does in the chilly morning air.
While not as eye-catching as patinated copper arches, a gravel dry well possesses the simple elegance of function. Used to collect shower runoff, or graywater, a dry well prevents water from pooling around the shower base by facilitating drainage. Crushed gravel (3/4 inch or larger) helps to direct the water deep into the soil, where it is filtered and purified by the soil’s natural layers of sand, dirt and rock. Check with your local building codes for specifics about handling graywater. I dug my dry well 3 feet deep and lined it with landscape fabric.
Rough-sawn cedar 4×4 posts form the 8-foot vertical supports for the outdoor shower stall frame. I anchored mine in concrete footings dug below the frost line and rounded off the footing tops to facilitate drainage and prevent rot. The horizontal wall braces consist of smooth cedar 2x4s cut to length and attached to the frame posts with galvanized fence brackets. To create a finished look, I framed the top and bottom wall braces with rough-sawn cedar 2x4s. The finished walls provide plenty of privacy from the watchful eyes of envious neighbors.