Outdoor Showers 101
Outdoor shower fixtures range from hose hookups to backyard spas.
Outdoor showers accent pool areas or backyards, providing a convenient place to clean off and a yard feature that is artistic and functional. “A shower outdoors is one of those things that seems odd at first, but when people see them at someone else’s place, they end up wanting them for their own backyard. We also get a lot of people who come home from a rental where they had one, and it’s the first thing they want at home when they get back,” says Ross Sicote of Walpole Woodworkers, a firm specializing in custom yard and garden features.
Outdoor Shower Types
There are essentially two kinds of outdoor shower fixtures—standalones and wall mounts. Standalones attach to flexible hosing and are mobile. Wall-mounts are stationary. Deciding whether your shower will be a portable or permanent installation is the first step in deciding what type of shower will work for you.
The very simplest of showers can be hooked up directly to a garden hose. Shower seekers can craft their own fittings, using tubing and a showerhead, or purchase a shower package from any number of retail outlets. As with all outdoor showers, the showerhead should be durable stainless steel or brass to stand up to weathering.
Single-hose showers are for the bravest outdoor types, as they typically only use cold water. These showers are usually portable and may come attached to a small platform for drainage. Portable showers are the most inexpensive option, with prices ranging anywhere from $50 to around $300, but some sell for as much as $2,000.
Pedestal or tower showers are hooked up to an outdoor plumbing line, but can be placed anywhere in the yard. They are less mobile than a single-hose shower, but offer both hot and cold water. If the shower features a single, mixed-temperature control, an anti-scald valve must be installed. Many come pre-assembled with an anti-scalding device already included. Pedestal or tower showers are sold in kits, and can be assembled and hooked up in about an hour. Prices can range from $500 to $2,000.
Wall-mounted units attach to an outdoor plumbing supply and are typically attached to the house itself. Plumbing for these showers is less exposed and less expensive. They offer great possibilities for outdoor shower enclosures and platforms. Prices are similar to pedestal units.
Homeowners may also opt to build a shower that is fully tiled, with built-in drains, and enclosed plumbing. Plumbing costs for such a shower run around $500, but the labor to pour or cast the concrete, tile the shower, and finish the installation makes it a genuine yard feature.
Design and Installation Details
“An outdoor shower can really be worked into the overall plan for the exterior of a home,” says Jeanine Keith Furrer, a landscape architect from Massachusetts. Some of Furrer’s designs include niches built into the exterior of the house for soap and shampoo, and stone dowels used as towel racks. Furrer notes the importance of a designer in keeping such a project on track: “Everything goes into an outdoor shower — the plumbers, the masons, and the fence installers are all involved.” For improvement novices, hiring a designer to make certain everything gets done on time, within budget, and according to their needs and desires is a sound investment.
“Installation is key,” says Michael Andriolo of Roma Tile in Watertown, MA. “If the pitch or the drainage isn’t properly done, and water can ease its way in, that’s where problems occur.” Andriolo says Roma has worked on numerous outdoor showers, and customers ask for everything from a simple concrete base to a tiled wall and base. The most common problems for an improperly installed outdoor shower are cracked or buckled tiles and poor drainage. For this reason, Andriolo recommends a professional installer for any tile or concrete job.
Most people will want some privacy, typically a small fenced-in area. Building a shower enclosure is a fairly straightforward job, using many of the same techniques and building supplies as a deck or a fence. For those not as confident in their building skills, many companies sell ready-made shower enclosures. Walpole Woodworkers sells kits that range in price from $650 to $1,500 and vary from a basic, unstained 1-inch-by-4-inch board enclosure to a customized enclosure with white stain and caps. Enclosures often contain benches, towel racks, and soap dishes. Some even feature a separate changing area. “They feature all the comforts of your shower indoors, plus a nice breeze,” Sicotte says.
Upkeep and Drainage
If your shower is portable, you need only keep the lines protected from damage or cold weather. A permanent shower in cold-winter climates needs frost-proof fixtures, which are more expensive but will endure cold months. If there is no frost-proofing, the pipes must be blown out at the end of the season.
Most outdoor showers simply drain into the ground or through a bed of stone. This is less taxing on a septic system than an indoor shower, but may be in violation of local codes. In many municipalities, outdoor showers are subject to building codes. Some even require a drainage system to protect groundwater and water quality. Before you install an outdoor shower, check with local building officials to ensure your shower meets the regulations for your town or city.