Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The joys of an outdoor shower

We haven't had hot water in the house since September 2, when our hot water heater died.

After a failed attempt to repair it, we ordered a replacement. Naturally it's been delayed, and currently the estimated ship date is September 26.

For good measure, Don also ordered a tankless portable propane water heater, figuring it might be a good backup in the future..

We're making do without much problem. I usually wash laundry in cold water anyway, and for doing dishes it's simply a matter of heating a kettle of water and adding it to the dishpan along with enough cold water to make it bearable.

However showers were a different matter. We've been using solar shower bags which work fine ... mostly. The weather has been cooling down, so our strategy has been to fill the bags with cold water from the tap, then add a couple kettles of hot water, then hurriedly get ourselves clean.

The trouble is, both Older Daughter and I have long hair, which we discovered is difficult to wash using the low-pressure solar shower bags. Don doesn't have long hair, but he also missed the luxury of a "real" shower.

So he made one.

You see, the portable tankless water heater happened to arrive early.

At first Don was hoping he could rig it to work in our regular indoor shower, but that was turning into a ridiculously complicated procedure. It was easier for my woodworking husband to make an outdoor shower instead.

It just so happens we have a small cul-de-sac on our deck which Don built last fall, when he completely re-did the deck work around the house (this photo was taken last November).

Normally we keep a small barbecue grill on this cul-de-sac, but for the time being Don pressed it into service as an outdoor shower, powered by the portable tankless water heater.

He started by building a square base, screwed into the deck railings for support.


He brought over the rest of the lumber pieces he needed to construct a frame.

Essentially he constructed a wooden rectangular cube.

Everything was securely screwed to the deck rails for extra support.

Here's what the final frame looks like.

He put extra 2x4s outside the shower unit to support the tankless heater.

This heater is hooked up to a garden hose and a propane tank.

At this point he tested the unit. It took a bit of fussy fiddling to understand how the unit worked, adjust the dials correctly, and otherwise not produce either freezing or scalding water.

But once he ironed out the quirks and understood how the unit operated, ooh la ha – hot water!

Next step: Wall in the shower with waterproof tarps.

Don cut these to the appropriate sizes, including a bit of extra around the edges to fold over when stapling, for strength.

The next thing he did was make thin slats, which he screwed in as horizontal girts around the box edges. These slats serve two purposes: one, it prevents us from falling off the unfenced side of the shower stall if we loose our balance from soap in our eyes or whatever; and two, it's something extra the tarps can be stapled to, to keep things from billowing in the wind.

Then he stapled up the sides.

(This is the side that especially needed the horizontal slats for safety reasons, since it doesn't have a rail on this side.)

With camo tarps, no one can see us, right?

He put crossing flaps in the front, for privacy.

It was at this point Don realized the tarp was too close for comfort to the heating unit.

So he snipped away a square of tarp, just to be safe.

And then the shower was complete!

The last thing he did was pile three plastic crates in a corner, where we can put shampoo and soap.

The shower box is surprisingly roomy. At first we put a chair outside the unit to pile our clothes and towel, but after one or two uses we realized we could just drape clothing and towels over the top, and they wouldn't get wet (and which makes it much more convenient to dry off and get dressed/undressed).

We had a thunderstorm pass through a day or two after constructing the shower. Just to be safe, we covered the heating unit with a plastic bag and used bungee cords to hold the bag in place.

I tell ya, it makes all the (psychological) difference in the world to wash off at the end of the day. What a blessing this shower stall has been.

To answer the obvious question, right now we're having nice weather with high temps in the 70s. However that's slated to change later in the week, with a couple days where we can expect rain and much cooler temperatures (highs in the 50s) before warming up again. We'll revert to the shower bags during the inclement weather.

So there you go: the joys of an outdoor shower. It'll do fine until we get our hot water heater in.

And after that? Well, Don made the stall so it can be unfastened from the deck and moved as a unit to the barn, where we can store it until it's needed again.

An outdoor shower. Who'da thunk?


  1. We have had the instant on propane hot water heater since 2013 and love it. A few things to note, it will need to be cleaned quarterly with a gallon of white vinegar circulated through it for an hour. We do this every 3 months and it keeps us in hot water. We have a high mineral count though you might not have as high of a one as we do. We also let the hot water run for about 1-2 minutes before we get into the shower to let the cold in the pipes get out before we get in. Using a hose this also might not be a problem for you. The really nice thing is you NEVER run out of hot water, hubby takes a shower and I can take one right after him or vice versa. There is always hot water, but you are not heating it up and letting it cool. We did have ours put in professionally and I am sure Don could figure out a way to do it also with valves to switch to whatever water heater you are using.
    So glad you are enjoying your new home and pray you have many happy memories there as you did from your other home!

    1. I have considered one, but have very high dissolved solids in my water - in excess of 2000ppm. I figured one would crust up quickly. May I ask what your dissolved solids concentrations are? Thank you.

    2. no exactly sure since we haven't had it tested in over 12 years, but I do know that drip lines in the garden last a year before they start plugging up, that the dishwasher that is only used to rewash canning jars turns them white on the outside unless I put in citric acid with the wash and that monthly we take all the filters off of the sinks and shower head and soak them in white vinegar also to break up the deposits on them. To us it is a small price to pay to live where we live.

    3. Thank you for your quick response! It sounds like your problem may be worse than mine. My garden gets very crusty unless I get a lot of rain (which is rare). That well is 'garden marginal' on the water quality scale. My dishwasher (house and 2k ppm well) requires one of those blue rinse agents. As long as I use it, my dishwasher dishes spot very little, while what I hand wash needs to be wiped WHILE I am washing. Any drying in the rack and the spots need to be rubbed off - or need to be rewashed and then dried.

  2. We installed a tankless propane water heater in our home years ago. Our thought process was energy savings as well as the ability to use it during a power outage when we are on generator power. We love it. The only downside to the model we have is that if the power blinks off briefly it shuts off and we need to go to the basement to reset it. No biggie, it gives me the reminder to check my freezers to be sure there are no issues with them.

  3. Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Where there is a will,.....

  4. Outdoor showers are common here in the Hamptons. I use mine 8 months a year, especially great to wash off after the beach.

    1. Growing up we had an outdoor shower, connected directly to the hose in the warm months to rinse off after swimming, or playing in our creek, or simply to cool off as we did not have AC.


  5. Lucky neighbors!
    Hubba hubba!!!

  6. When I lost power, the first thing I did was to wash my hair and take a bath by candlelight if necessary! So, I suppose you can wash hair and shower before you have to resort to the shower bag. It is good you have a husband who is so handy and smart.

  7. If I noticed that from the road I would think - Oh look-! A blind on the porch! :-)

  8. Resourcefulness is such a beautiful thing to me. Bravo and very well done.


  9. not sure why you wouldn't just put in bathroom? I realise there are fumes. open a widow and turn on fan. We have similar unit that draws out of a 50 gallon drum at our hunting camp. Have used for years....

    1. To start with, we have no windows in either of the bathrooms.

      - Patrice

  10. I love this project!

    Regarding hair, I'm sure you must be aware of this and have good reasons why you don't, but I'd never have made it through various housing/renovation situations if I'd had to rely on a overhead shower system for my hair. I can wash it so easily bending my head under any kind of pump or faucet, or else bending over using a couple of pails of water, one to wet and wash, another to rinse it all out.

    For people with fine hair or experiencing thinning or breakage on top, this can be caused by the surprising pressure and "wear and tear" of the water coming out of the shower head upon the scalp and follicles, and can be managed or cured by this method of bending over to wash the hair and rinsing from beneath (the neck side of the hair).

    Of course there is also the theory that the improvement people find when washing their hair using the bend-over methods is due to the increased blood flow and circulation to the head and scalp during this process bending over.

  11. Hope Don designed it with room for two…

  12. That is FABULOUS! I will say, I don't mind HOT outdoor showers in 50F weather - but if it drops below 50F, I'm going back inside!

  13. Outdoor showers are GREAT! Had one at our last place. It was right outside the laundry room on the back deck, so it had hot and cold right off the washing machine faucets. Used it ALL year long. Nothing like taking a hot shower outdoors when the wind is howling and it's pouring down rain. It was even great when it snowed (yeah, I know, our whole family is a bit "odd").

    Installing a tankless one here in the Great WET PNW. Buuut, because of the snots running/ruining this particular County (really corrupt), we can't call it a outdoor shower or they foul their diapers and wet their beds. Have to call it a "rinsing station". Fortunately, we have a outside tap for the grill (yup, use it year round too), and can "tee" off of it to run the "rinsing station" off the house propane. Hope you and your family totally ENJOY the new "facility"!


  14. I just read about your shower project in Self-reliance magazine. I am curious what you did for drainage?

    1. The water literally just ran through the slats between the boards of the porch.

      - Patrice