Three Things to Keep in Mind When Designing an Outdoor Shower

Outdoor shower feature showcased at Truewind, a TRI Pointe Homes Southern California community in Huntington Beach, CA.

Outdoor shower feature showcased at Truewind, a TRI Pointe Homes Southern California community in Huntington Beach, CA.

Adding an outdoor shower into your new construction or custom built home plans is an ideal way to help elevate both the style and functionality of your property. Whether you’re washing off after a dip in the pool, rinsing off sand from a beach visit, cleaning off after a few hours in a muddy garden or cleaning up your kids and pets, an outdoor shower system is quickly becoming a popular addition with new home owners. With outdoor shower systems ranging from a simple garden hose attached to an elevated support stand to fully functional, self-contained showers that can rival their indoor counter-parts, current shower options and features have never been greater or more affordable. The following guide is designed to help home owners better understand the key factors to consider when planning a permanent outdoor shower system. 

1. Location and water supply

You will need to consider your outdoor shower’s proximity to the property’s main water supply lines.  A large number of outdoor showers are installed against the back or side exterior walls of the main home to allow easy access to the homes hot and cold water lines. 

When utilizing an exterior wall of the main home, consider if the location will have exposure to direct sunlight for a large portion of the day. Direct sunlight is a great way to help keep an outdoor shower area free of mold and rot as excess moisture is evaporated at a far greater pace compared to more shaded locations. You should also take preventative steps to better insulate the side paneling of the exterior wall of your home as it was not designed to block the continuous water exposure a new shower system will create. Many builders recommend installing a water proof liner under the exterior side paneling of your home to better protect and insulate it.

If you wish to build your outdoor shower away from the exterior walls of your home, and still have access to both hot and cold water lines, be sure to budget in the extra expense of having your home’s main water lines extended out into your yard and into the target area. This will involve underground trenches being dug into the yard and water pipes extended similar to what occurs with an in-ground sprinkler system. In some cases, home owners have installed smaller “point of use” tankless water heater systems for the purpose of providing hot water to their outdoor shower. Tankless systems are designed to provide instant hot water and may be installed in addition to your home’s primary hot water heater tank. 

Privacy is an important factor to consider when selecting an outdoor shower location.  While you may always construct a shower housing to obstruct viewing, be sure to take advantage of any existing features your yard may already offer such as natural rock walls that may be extended or additional exterior structures you plan on adding like pool houses or gardening sheds that may also block your neighbors line of sight into your shower location. 

2. Drainage

Once you’ve established the location of your outdoor shower, the next challenge to consider is how to ensure proper drainage occurs. There are several ways to accomplish proper draining of an outdoor shower and it is important to design your drainage system so water is always channeled away from the foundation area of your home.  

The most obvious drainage option is to allow the water to run back into your soil and be absorbed back into your yard. Depending on the porous nature of your new home’s soil, this may not be possible. A quick way to test your soil for drainage purposes is to run a hose for a few minutes in the outdoor area you are considering to simulate shower flow. You should be able to quickly ascertain how feasible soil drainage will be by viewing how long it takes the hose water to absorb back into your soil.  

The use of small natural rocks and pebbles piled up as a shower floor base is a very popular option as it allows the draining water to filter through at a slower, more manageable pace for better soil absorption underneath. A bed of natural pebbles can also provide a great cosmetic look in keeping with the outdoor theme.  

The use of a shower pan is another cost effective option to consider.  A shower pan will collect all drain water and channel it through an attached pipe system to the drainage location of your choice.

Should your outdoor shower require a more extensive drainage setup, the use of a French Drain system is a popular choice. This will entail digging out trenches around the shower base area and designing the small trenches to direct the water to a portion of your property or sewage system that is able to properly accommodate it.  The French Drain trenches will be filled with natural rock and gravel and include perforated piping underneath the rocks to better direct the drain water as intended.  

If all else fails, you may need to have your outdoor shower drain directed into your home’s main sewage system. Proper drainage is one of the most key factors to plan properly and should be mapped out in advance with your contractor and plumber during the initial design phase.

3. Shower Housings

Depending on your privacy needs, building an exterior wall or partition around your outdoor shower may not be necessary especially if you are able to utilize your home’s natural angles to avoid obvious line of sight issues with your neighbors. For those that choose to have privacy walls constructed, natural wood is a popular choice. It is important to select lumber, like pre-treated cedar, teak, mahogany cement and metal that has been pre-treated for outdoor use and is insect replant. Some outdoor shower owners have constructed walls of thick smoked glass that provides privacy while allowing natural sunlight to shine through. It all comes down to the owner’s preference but always keep in mind the material you choose for your shower privacy walls should be designed to withstand a harsher outdoor environment. 

4. Eco-Friendly Outdoor Shower

For those seeking a more “green” approach, consider utilizing a rain collection system to capture the natural water source Mother Nature provides and collect it in barrels or cisterns designed for this purpose. Large dark colored flexible holding bags may be purchased that are designed to hold water and utilize the suns natural rays to help warm the water during the day time. Once you’ve collected the rain water needed for your outdoor shower, utilize gravity to feed it into your shower system on demand.   

More elaborate solar panel systems exist and may be installed on the roof of your home that will heat the stored rain water, providing you with the option of a warm outdoor shower. Assuming you utilize bio-degradable soaps and shampoos when showering, you may want to design your shower drain system to flow into the garden and lawn areas of your property to improve water conservation. The addition of smaller, solar powered lights around the shower area is a great way to keep it illuminated for evening use without the need for electrical power.

Other important factors to consider

Check all local and state codes pertaining to outdoor shower construction before you finalize your plans and obtain all required permits.

If you live in a state that has freezes you will need the ability to shut off the water supply to your shower and blow out the pipes to prevent damage during a freeze. Be sure to have your builder/plumber design this functionality into your final design.

B. Ford spent more than a decade in the specialty appliance retail industry, and now devotes his time to freelance print and video content creation. 

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