For many folks, having an outdoor shower is the ultimate dream. They conjure images of luxury rainforest resorts and instagram-worthy getaways where one can commune with nature while washing the day away—presumably in private, save for the occasional tree sloth or two.
But building an outdoor shower at home might seem like an expensive and even frivolous undertaking. What if I told you that an outdoor shower could be an affordable, fun AND functional addition to your regenerative backyard blueprint?
Below I’ll explain how my family built an eco-friendly outdoor shower at our urban Atlanta home, the purpose it serves for the plants in our landscape, and provide tips for sourcing materials and keeping outdoor bathing safe for your family and mother earth.
- Utilize leftover materials from prior home improvement and landscaping projects, ask neighbors for spare supplies (digital forums like NextDoor, Facebook neighborhood groups and Facebook marketplace yield great results) and visit stores like the Lifecycle Building Center and Habitat for Humanity Restore here in Atlanta to help keep building costs low.
- Design your shower with a one-foot-deep permeable floor for drainage and direct flow towards an existing or planned plant community that can benefit from added moisture.
- Use biodegradable, eco-friendly soaps and shampoos to keep things safe for the soil and plants in your landscape. We love local products from folks like Herb’N Eden, Turnrow Bath Body & Home, Cheeky Maiden Soap Company and Mama Bath & Body. And, of course, we’ve always got a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s on hand.
Aside from siting the shower’s location and its approximate size, and a few napkin sketches of the vaulted light, we didn’t put a great deal of technical planning into our outdoor shower design.
What we did know, though, was that we wanted to create a functional way for our family to address some practical ‘house cleaning’ needs — working with the earth, raising a 4-year-old and having a dog gets dirty! — while adding a little whimsical luxury to our backyard space. We also knew that a mesic cove-like plant community we’d created at our home could benefit from additional moisture. So, we selected the site and designed drainage to facilitate waterflow that would keep these plants happy and hydrated.
As lovers of Western North Carolina, we brought a bit of the mountains to our home in Atlanta by planting native species like rhododendron, flame azalea, witch hazel and more on a shaded wooded slope adjacent to the raised beds we built for food and medicine. Since building the outdoor shower, we’ve also added more moisture-loving species like muscadine, wild hydrangea, and illicium for both habitat and beauty.
People often ask us if our outdoor shower is fed by rainwater. It is not. This is primarily due to the location of our shower in relation to our rainwater tank. And the cost that adding filtration for regular bathing would create. Additionally, because we love any excuse to be outside, we knew we would need a hot water line. This added a layer of complexity to the plumbing and also informed our decision to use municipal water because of the distance between our rainwater tank and hot water heater.
As a practitioner of permaculture and conscious living, recycling resources is baked into my very being. It’s important for me to create low-impact and highly efficient solutions with everything I do. It also means that I am fortunate enough to have occasional access to supplies and materials left over from our Shades of Green permaculture landscape design and install projects.
For the primary structural components of our outdoor shower design, my husband, Aaron, and I sourced spare wood from old fencing we removed and scraps of PEX piping, gravel, stone, old bricks and pavers from previous landscape projects. If you don’t have your own stash of supplies to upcycle, we’ve had success in the past asking neighbors directly or digitally through platforms like Nextdoor, Facebook neighborhood groups or Facebook marketplace. We’re also big fans of local Atlanta-area shops like Lifecyle Building Center and Habitat for Humanity ReStore. And when it comes time to decorate, it’s hard to beat estate sales and thrift shops for finding unique pieces that add personal style (estatesales.net changed my life!). I did splurge a little on the brass fixture, though…
The process of building our outdoor shower was actually quite simple. We do lots of plumbing for rainwater harvesting through our work at Shades of Green, so we were able to do that part ourselves. The most difficult part of the design to build was the vaulted light (now that was a doozy!).
We began by creating a level base of 57 gravel. We went 12″ deep to create a sufficient basin for water infiltration. Next, we set 4 corner posts of repurposed 4x4s from old fencing and arbors. We used ½ an 80# bag of quikrete at each post. Then, we wrapped 3 sides of the structure with bamboo matting for privacy. For additional privacy from neighbors and traffic, we planted a hedgerow of native purple anise (Illicium floridanum) on the outside.
After that, we placed a smorgasbord of brick, stone and pavers on the gravel pad with about ½” of river sand so they were easier to level. We filled the joints with Indiana pea gravel scavenged from other parts of our yard.
We built the vaulted ceiling last so we could suspend a light. We already had power at the site, so we affixed the exterior outlet to one of the corner posts. I hung a linen shower curtain and a few towel hooks, and it was ready to go!
The whole process took Aaron and me about 1 day, with some parenting and time to let the posts set peppered in.
Now that it’s complete, our whole family (including our pup, Peanut Butter!) agrees that building an outdoor shower was one of the best decisions we’ve made. Except for the coldest winter months, we use it nearly every day. Not only has it added a fun sense of intrigue to our outdoor space at home, but it’s been indispensable from a practicality point of view—washing away red Georgia clay is no laughing matter. It doubles as our dog-washing station, too. Whether pets or people, though, be sure to use biodegradable, earth-friendly soaps and shampoos to keep things safe for plants and planet. We love local products from folks like Herb’N Eden, Turnrow Bath Body & Home, Cheeky Maiden and Mama Bath & Body.
Equally as beneficial as its function for our family, our outdoor shower plays an important part in our regenerative landscape plan at large. Through intentional site selection and implementing smart, ecologically-intelligent design, it’s helped our special hillside ‘mountain plant’ community thrive. It’s fun, it’s functional and its low-impact footprint makes our eco-friendly outdoor shower an addition we feel good about.
To see more of our backyard and outdoor shower, click HERE to view a video from our friends at The Weather Channel/@Pattrn!