Skinny-dipping aside, there’s nothing more invigorating than bathing in the backyard. Though outdoor showers may have a reputation of being an expensive (perhaps even excessive) luxury, they're great investments, with the potential to increase the value of your home. According to a 2018 report from realtor.com, homes with outdoor showers tend to list for nearly double the asking price of other homes, so adding one can make good fiscal sense. Interior designer Palmer Weiss had an outdoor shower installed in her Sonoma, California, home, and her family uses it year-round. “We don’t even have an indoor shower in our master bath,” she admits, “and in four years, I’ve never regretted that decision.” Convinced you need one yet? Keep reading for everything you need to know before you get started.
Ask Yourself When You'll Use It
First things first, landscape architect Douglas Clark says to "site the shower for convenience." He encourages you to ask yourself: "Are you washing muddy feet and giving your dog a bath? Are you cooling off after a walk on the beach? Or are you rinsing off after a quick plunge in the pool?" All of these questions will help you determine how what kind of outdoor shower you'll need to build to accommodate those needs.
Be Realistic About Plumbing
A simple plumbing install could run “about $1,500,” says Dan DiClerico of HomeAdviser. 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.
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.
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."
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 thing sin mind while building your outdoor shower.
Consider Privacy and Comfort
Once you've gotten 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.
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, wall hooks for your towels to dry off after.
Be Kind to the Environment
When building an outdoor shower, it's also essential to consider how you'll be impact your environment. As Clark explains, “large amounts of water runoff can have a negative impact over if the homeowners do not use natural and environmentally friendly soaps outdoors." He reminds us that "consulting a professional to install proper drainage" is essential.
If you’re out there with shampoo, body wash, and whatever else you use while bathing, you need it to go into your drainage septic system since you'll be using a fair amount of water (more than would with a quick rinse in your bathing suit, anyway). The best thing to do to protect surrounding flower beds and the general environment is to opt for biodegradable soaps and supplies.
Hack It With a Hose
Don’t want to call a contractor? Opt for a freestanding shower that hooks up to your garden hose. Admittedly, this will give you absolutely no control over the temperature. But c’mon, cold showers are good for the soul! And it's way more affordable and refreshing in the summertime.
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