Want to make your outdoors a little more functional, a little more summer-oriented? Have you considered an outdoor shower?
These are excellent if you own an in-ground pool and want people rinsing off before they bring the stench of chlorine in the house, or if you have a private, covered backyard where you want a personal space to enjoy the outdoors.
Whatever your reasoning, a DIY outdoor shower is not only possible, but easier than it seems. It’s such a glorious concept that we often think, “There’s no way I could do that,” when in fact you can.
We’re going to go over a few different little tidbits of information here and guide you through the whole point and purpose of an outdoor shower.
- 1 How Hard is it to Make Your Own DIY Outdoor Shower?
- 2 Build the Enclosure
- 3 Can I Skip the Enclosure Part?
- 4 Getting Water to Your Shower
- 5 Options for Heating Water
- 6 It’s a Rewarding, But a Somewhat Complicated Piece of Outdoor Work
How Hard is it to Make Your Own DIY Outdoor Shower?
It depends on what you want to do with it. If you’re making one with plumbing that runs to the main house, a new tankless hot water heater, or containers to store sun-heated water to shower with, you’re going to run into obstacles.
The most simple form of a shower is a big tub with a slow feed down to a shower head, with no pressure other than gravity pulling the water down.
But, that’s not really aesthetic, you know what I mean?
I wouldn’t want that barebones basic contraption in my backyard, especially if I have it so that people can rinse off after using my pool. Most of us would go with an enclosure, which you can definitely DIY with a bit of time, and a bit of know-how.
Build the Enclosure
You don’t want your neighbors seeing all your business, which is why an enclosure is an absolute must for most outdoor showers.
If you’re a gent, you can get away with a half-wall enclosure without much issue. This cuts down on materials costs, which can save you a ton of money.
To build the enclosure, we want to use inexpensive but durable materials. One of the go-to outdoor materials is bamboo, so let’s take a look at why.
Bamboo is durable, affordable, and it’s absolutely everywhere.
It grows faster than wood, it’s cheaper, and it has some solid aesthetics to boot. As an inexpensive option for an outdoor shower enclosure, bamboo offers a good amount of water resistance, and holds up well against the elements.
You have to think that bamboo mostly grows in humid climates as it is, so being subjected to water from the shower and the heat of the outdoors at the same time isn’t going to degrade it. Bamboo still needs to be sealed to ensure it remains vibrant, but not as much as normal wood.
Cotton canvas is designed to be waterproof by design. It’s actually rare that you get even basic level canvas and it’s not waterproof to some extent.
There are color grading systems for different tarps in the US, which define their thickness. Get familiar with this, and get a waterproof canvas cover that you’ll feel comfortable with.
Why do you need this?
Well, you could line a wooden shower with it if you don’t want to go through the hassle of sealing off the wood, or you could use the canvas to cover your shower when it’s not in use. Otherwise, your fixtures are going to rust to kingdom come, and we don’t want that.
You need traction. When your feet are on the bare pavement, you get a bit of footing that helps you stay steady and not slip. We’ve all slipped by the concrete that’s near the pool, but when done properly, it’s a very high traction surface that you won’t be slipping in.
Keep that in mind and the fact that you won’t be running or moving all too much, and you’ll likely be standing within a max of five square feet. Concrete works exceptionally well.
But laying down concrete?
That’s another story. You can get concrete tiles since you’re not making a literal foundation here, and as long as they’re fastened to the ground with steel rods or something of the sort, your enclosure shouldn’t fall down or have any problems.
I would recommend either going with concrete tiles and leveling the ground yourself (doesn’t take too much know-how), or paying someone to professionally lay down a patch of concrete in your backyard specifically for this outdoor shower. It’s not too big of a task.
If you don’t want to use bamboo, that’s okay. You can use wood, but you have to be smart about how you use it.
Wood needs to be sealed, especially when it’s being used in an environment like this.
Normally, we seal wood to protect it from damage that can be caused by rainfall and storms, but your shower is going to constantly pelt the sides of this wood enclosure (or at least the wood frame for the enclosure), and we don’t want it to rot.
Use a thick wood sealer on the outside and inside of your enclosure and/or frame.
This acts like a rain jacket for the wood, and only needs to be applied every two to three years on average. Failing to do this will result in moist, slick-feeling wood (from bacterial growth) that isn’t exactly a comforting place where you’d want to shower.
One last thing: remember that you’re making an enclosure out of wood, not a fence. There doesn’t need to be slats in between all the wooden panels that give you a
Can I Skip the Enclosure Part?
If you want to, you can absolutely skip the enclosure. However, I want to warn you of something that you absolutely have to keep in mind if you’re not going to use an enclosure in your outdoor shower.
Do not shower in the nude, not once. Even if it’s 5:00 AM, the sun hasn’t risen, don’t do it. Unless you have acres upon acres of land and you don’t share a fence with anyone that’s relatively closeby to your outdoor shower, make sure you’re showering while wearing something.
Outdoor showers are basically just for hosing down after a dip in the pull, while keeping your bathing suit on. Bathing in them while completely naked does count as indecent exposure.
So what I’m saying is: don’t skip the enclosure if you want to actually bathe and get ready for your day. It could be relaxing, sure, but it’s not worth getting into trouble over (in your own backyard).
Getting Water to Your Shower
You have a few options here, which gives you a bit of versatility, but the most common one that everyone goes for is running a water line outside to be able to use your shower at will. Let’s take a look at each method.
- Bucket/Spout System: This attaches to the top of your outdoor shower, and simply allows a few gallons of water to flow down freely through a spout that mimics an indoor shower head. You put the water in, remove the cover for the spout, and take your shower.
- Hardline: Including a copper or plastic pipe that runs from your water main directly to your outdoor shower. This is costly, and while it’s time-consuming up front, it’s a wonderfully convenient option.
- The Kitchen Sink: You can run a tube that attaches to your kitchen sink faucet all the way to your shower if you really want to. It takes a minute for the water to completely travel down the line, but it’s convenient since you can put the tubing away whenever you want, and just turn off the handle to stop the flow of water.
You can get creative with it and have your water come straight from a solar water heater as well, use a rainwater collector, or whatever you’d like.
To make plumbing lines cost-effective and as simple as possible, consider running your outdoor shower directly off of the side of your home instead of being a standalone piece in the middle of your backyard.
Increasing the Pressure
If you’re using a simple bucket and spout to take a gentle gravity shower, you’re going to notice that the pressure drops as you use it. The first half of your shower will be a little more intense than the back half.
But if you’re actually running plumbing to your outdoor shower then you’re going to want to get the pressure right. A nice relaxing shower or a consistent rinse-off from the pool water begs for good water pressure.
This is where a pressure booster pump comes into play. These attach to your piping to help increase the psi, but they do come at a cost. Sometimes they can run you just shy of small four figure price tags.
If you don’t want to dish out the cash on those, and I don’t blame you, then you can inspect your pressure-adjustment screw. This is located on your water main, and usually includes a 50 psi rating.
Your new line could be pulling your psi down, especially if you added the new line for your outdoor shower and didn’t toy with the pressure adjustment screw. Increasing the pressure here will increase the pressure in your lines, so try this before investing in a booster.
Is it Okay to use Garden Hose Water?
Yes and no. You could hook up your garden hose to the top of your shower and just sort of lean your hose over the edge, and have that water go through a fine sift or something to simulate that cascading water effect. It’s possible.
But the reason that garden hose water is bad, and why the whole “Drink from the hose” generation encountered some health issues, is because bacteria and pathogens thrive inside of garden hoses.
Think about it: dark, wet space that isn’t under constant use – that’s not a very good combination.
Bacteria breeds inside of these tubes, since the rubber doesn’t necessarily support bacterial growth, it just sits in still water. Then that water comes down on you, and will be absorbed into your skin through your pores.
I don’t think anyone wants that. I would avoid using a garden hose at all costs; it’s not plumbing, it’s not going to maintain enough pressure to prevent all these bacterial growths from happening.
If I Have a Well Can I Use Well Water to Shower?
It’s okay to use well water to shower, but there’s still something that just doesn’t sit right with me. Well water can potentially be riddled with bacteria, which is why a softening system has to be put in place to prevent this bacterial growth.
What you end up with is an extremely hard water buildup, and for many people, the water ends up irritating their skin in one way or another. This can cause some issues with eczema and plaque psoriasis, but the majority of people don’t really have an issue.
Personally, if my well is filled with bacteria, I don’t want that water on my skin. That’s not clean. You can’t convince me that every single bit of bacteria is just going to wash off of me and those none will cling to body hair or into my pores.
So is it okay to use well water? Of course. Is it something that you should do regularly?
Not really. If this is used sparingly outdoors, like twice a week or so, you can use well water without incurring any skin irritation. Otherwise I would seek out a different source of water for your outdoor shower.
Options for Heating Water
We could run direct hot lines from your home at the water heater, and run it up the tubing that goes in the back of your outdoor shower. The thing is, all of that water needs to be heated, which you have to pay for.
Instead of that, we can use indirect methods that don’t constantly cost you money. I imagine that you’re not going to be using this twice a day every day, so heating all that water would just be costly for no apparent reason. Let’s look at a few alternatives.
If you want to tackle the task, you can actually use solar panels to heat up a water tank effectively, and use that as your shower water. The good thing here is that it’s not going to get all too much hotter than the temperature outside, so the risk of getting burned is quite low.
These can be used in flat-plate collectors, passive solar water heating systems, or active solar water heating systems – each one offers a different spin on what you’re able to do. Some systems will be more complex than others and may require a professional to install.
Why would you go with a solar water heating system for your outdoor shower?
Because it’s going to pay for itself in no time. Solar panels last for 25-35 years (and are usually still rated to work well after that time frame has ended), so you’re essentially investing in something that’s set for a longer term than your home mortgage. It’s an investment.
Tankless heaters are on track to completely take over tank water heaters, because they’re ridiculously more efficient. In every single way, a tankless water heater is better.
There’s a reduced risk of fire, lower energy costs (by a considerable amount), and it takes up less space. While prices may vary, it’s nice to not have a giant tank of hot water that you or your child/pet can accidentally burn their hands on.
Tankless water heaters are always going to be your best option. Instead of water sitting in a big metal tank, it runs through a metal tube inside of the unit.
The unit itself rapidly heats the water while it’s in the pipe. Basically, a cold line goes in, and a hot line comes out.
Normally, you can get about 2.5 gallons up to about 4.0 gallons of water every single minute out of one of these units, and they don’t really run out. They can overheat, but you’d have to constantly stress it, minute after minute, for days on end.
Tankless heaters are the best way to go for outdoor units. They come in discreet casings that can be easily concealed behind shower walls or utility boxes, so the aesthetics of an outdoor garden are still fantastic.
It’s a Rewarding, But a Somewhat Complicated Piece of Outdoor Work
Everyone is going to have a different experience when trying to install an outdoor shower. Some plumbing issues might crop up, you might not be as concealed as you thought you were, but either way, the logistics issues can be ironed out.
You can make this happen. This intimate and functional piece of your outdoor paradise is just one day’s worth of work away. You’re not going to let that stop you, right?