Installing an Outdoor Shower Is Easier Than You Think. We’ve Got the Ultimate Guide
You want an outdoor shower, but have you thought of everything you need? Three design experts weigh in.
When it comes to the singular experiences one can have in the West, an outdoor shower easily ranks among the best. But putting one in requires some thought. Where should it be, location-wise? How should your shower be screened for privacy? What about drainage? And have you considered the view? There are so many questions, but we have answers from expert landscapers who put in outdoor showers on the regular.
“We get a lot of clients who ask for them,” says Charlie Ray, of The Green Room Collaborative in Phoenix. “Any environment where you can be outside a lot, like California, the desert, or a warm coastal environment, you just want to be able to live outside and an outdoor shower is part of that experience.”
The first thing one needs to think about is where exactly to put the shower, says Roderick Wyllie, of Surfacedesign, Inc. in San Francisco. The double-headed indoor/outdoor shower at “Casa de las Ardillas” in Palm Springs, where Surfacedesign did the landscaping, is on one wet wall. “That’s really efficient because you’re not doubling up with plumbing, and it looks great,” he says.
“Location is probably the most key question,” agrees Ray. “You don’t want an outdoor shower in a very public area of a garden. You want to be tucked away, discreet.”
Part of the location question is to decide how the shower will be used. Is it an extension of your indoor bathroom, as the Palm Springs shower is? Or is it going to be used to rinse off after swimming in a pool or relaxing in a spa?
“If it’s for a pool or hot tub,” says Molly Sedlacek of landscape design studio OR.CA, “you’re going to run barefoot to it, so what are the pathways of access? Are those good for bare feet? We always try to do a paver pathway or some sort of decking material. The actual path of travel is super important to plan out.”
The next thing to consider is the view. “For Casa de las Ardillas, we created a very special area of the garden for it,” Wyllie says. “It looks at a grapefruit tree, and there are some softer plants to see. We didn’t want you looking at anything sharp.” Surfacedesign, Inc. also did a project in Napa where there is a view of the vineyards. “It’s pretty spectacular,” says Wyllie.
For drainage, there are a couple of options. A plumber can tie your outdoor shower into your existing plumbing, or you can have a French drain constructed, which is a gravel pit under the shower that percolates water into the soil.
As for flooring, “My favorite is something that’s elevated because it allows the drainage to take place under your feet,” says Sedlacek. “We use an outdoor softwood like redwood or cedar slat decking. We’ve also done a boulder top and sloped it so the water runs off of it.” (The key here is to make sure the boulder isn’t concave so water doesn’t pool.)
A fun element is deciding what kind of screening you want for your outdoor shower experience.
Charlie Ray has used privacy walls. “You can go the route of masonry or plaster,” he says, “but a trellis system that vines can grow up works, too.” One of the nicest—and most economical—choices can be to use strategically placed plants, which all three designers recommend. “I think that’s the best, when it can be natural and you’re not using a lot of hardscape,” says Ray. “With hardscape, you can miss out on that wild, outdoor element of being in nature.”
“One plant that we really like to use is Grevillea, which is an Australian native that allows the sun to come through,” says Sedlacek. “What’s important is that the shower dries out, so it’s not a damp, funky area.” She also uses California Sagebrush—which some people call ‘cowboy cologne’—because when it’s wet it puts out a nice, herbal smell.
And what will your shower be made of? Stainless steel? Copper or brass? Whatever it is, just don’t let it be plastic. “Our showers are intended to last,” Sedlacek says. “Our goal with using copper is to have ours endure—and look like almost a jewelry element in the garden.”
Finally, the most important decision: Which do you use once you have both an indoor and an outdoor shower? Says Wyllie, “From personal experience, I have to say, the outdoor shower is always best.”