Let Nature in With an Outdoor Shower
You'd expect to find an outdoor shower at a suite at a lush Caribbean resort, but in your own home? Why not? That's what more and more homeowners seem to be saying, as the master bath becomes yet another room in the house where people are letting in a little bit of the great outdoors.
To be clear, we're not referring to those freestanding outdoor showers for rinsing off after you get out of the pool. We're talking the alfresco shower as a permanent outdoor extension of your indoor bathroom.
"We spend so much time in cyber reality, in front of the TV or the computer, on the phone, in our cars, divorced from the natural world, that people really respond to something like an outdoor shower," says Ethan Fierro, a Hawaii-based designer and builder and author of The Outdoor Shower. "It allows you those 10 to 15 minutes to connect with nature." "There's definitely the back-to-nature aspect of baring it all outdoors," seconds Elizabeth Demetriades, a Lakeville, Conn., architect who has worked on a pair of projects with outdoor showers.
"The outdoor shower is definitely part of the trend of people bringing the outdoors in, with people now building outdoor bathrooms and even outdoor kitchens," says David Buchanan, a principal with Horst Buchanan Architects in Jamaica Plain, Mass. For a client in Litchfield, Conn., Elizabeth designed a walk-in shower that opens up to the sky and has access to both of the house's main bathrooms as well as an outdoor entertainment area.
That project is also an example of how outdoor showers aren't just limited to warm-weather states like California and Arizona. "Clients who ask for outdoor showers aren't usually deterred by a chill in the air," Elizabeth says. "The showers are typically used until the onset of freezing weather mandates draining the pipes for winterization — and clients frequently push the envelope in this regard."
"At a house we did in South Dartmouth, Mass.," notes David, "part of the appeal was that you could take a hot outdoor shower in chilly weather then crawl immediately into a warm bed."
But there are certain considerations you need to keep in mind when contemplating your own outdoor shower, whether you'll be installing one during a remodel or starting from scratch.
The average outdoor shower doesn't require special fixtures and doesn't have to cost a penny more than an indoor shower, but, depending on the design and local building codes, there may be drainage issues to consider. "When hot water — and by inference soap and shampoo — will be used, connection to a properly engineered septic or dry-well system is a must," says Elizabeth.
"You have to be respectful of the environment," adds Ethan. "And the gray water has to be collected somehow."
You'd think privacy would be priority one, but it's not as big a concern as you might think.
"Many clients aren't all that concerned with privacy," says Elizabeth, "particularly in more rural areas where neighbors aren't an issue."
Says David: "I've only built outdoor showers in second homes, where it's generally more relaxed and there are fewer people around. But it's one thing if you're in the middle of the woods, and another if you're in a suburban setting."
For more modest clients as well as those who may have nosy neighbors, Ethan suggests incorporating a screen of some sort, preferably something in keeping with the natural feel, like bamboo or pergola vines. "You also want to take sightlines into account," he says. "Make sure there are no buildings overlooking it."
"Any material that can stand up to a rainstorm can stand up to an outdoor shower," says David. "You want something durable, that you typically find outdoors, like stone or wood. Tile isn't a practical option."
Ethan likes the idea of using found materials: "Take something that ended its life as one purpose and give it a new life," he says. "It's not only more cost-effective, but also creates another level of enjoyment. Plus, recycling is what nature is all about."
As with any shower, you'll want to include a place to keep your shampoo, soap and a dry towel. But be sure they're covered to protect them from the elements. "A bench and a hook to hang your robe on are nice additions, too," David says. Of course, the ultimate accessory is simply the view.
David Buchanan, Architect
Elizabeth Demetriades, Architect