In my last post prior to going dark, I was discussing the woes of living on a septic system and my fears about having 19 house guests utilize my septic over a 7-10 day period. After all, the average person uses 50 gallons per day so that would be nearly 1000 gallons per day! Showers use the most water, by far, so I came up with the brilliant idea of installing an outdoor shower. Originally, we discussed putting up a temporary structure. They sell solar shower bags and shower enclosure tents like this at most camping supply stores.
Ultimately, we decided we wanted something a little more permanent that we could utilize poolside year round. You can see some of my favorite inspiration showers on my outdoor living Pinterest page found here.
Even though it is 100+ degrees in Austin during the summer, we wanted the shower to be heated. That way we could use it even in the winter. At first, I looked strictly at pool solar showers. The majority of them are composed of a black PVC column with shower head and hose hook up. They hold between 5.5-9.5 gallons of water depending on the size, which is enough for 2-4 quick showers, respectively. Most of them had a hot/cold adjustment, which is necessary in Austin where the water would heat up very quickly in full summer sun. Models with good reviews ranged from just under $200 and quickly jumped up to $300+ the more aesthetically pleasing they were.
The problem for us with this type of shower was two-fold. First, the number of people utilizing it. With nearly 20 people, the stand would run out of heated water quickly and we would have to wait until it heated back up again for the next people to shower. Secondly, due to being solar powered, it would put a real limit on showers after dark as the water would likely cool down rather quickly.
Plumbing a shower from inside of the house was not a task or expense we wanted to undertake. Besides, it would still mean nearly 20 people on our hot water heater, which we found to run out of hot water quickly with our previous record 6 visitors. Luckily, I stumbled upon several acceptable portable hot water heaters. They are designed for camping and run off a 20 gallon propane tank just like your gas grill.
The two top brands are Camp Chef and Eccotemp. You can follow the links to read Amazon reviews of both 5 liter models. I tended to lean towards the less expensive Camp Chef , which had a fold up stand should you want to set it up on the ground, a slightly more aesthetically pleasing box and shower head and a 1.5 gallon per minute rating. I think I ultimately ended up going with the 1.4 gpm Eccotemp because it had a vent shield and a bracket for hanging up the hand held shower. Both had solid 4.5 star reviews on Amazon and cost just over $100 (plus the cost of a propane tank and propane gas).
The reviews were very helpful in installation. It is pictured installed on a house and this is what we intended. However, after firing up the unit and more closely reading the instructions, a 2″ clearance is needed at the back of the unit. This was easily fixed by attached two 2×4 boards to the house and affixing the unit to the boards. That way the unit does not pose a fire hazard as it heats up. The unit is rated for 20-80 PSIs, and our water pressure runs slightly higher. We discovered that this rendered the hand held shower useless as the hose popped off on its very first use, was difficult to put back on and would likely just pop off again. My FIL and BIL have a lot of plumbing experience and decided to hook up PVC pipe to a shower head and install a red cut off valve to start/stop the flow of water. In my opinion, this is much easier to operate. Be warned, the shower can get VERY hot, especially with your hose heating up in the sun. We have it set at minimum gas flow rate and also do not fully open up the gas valve or hose. You especially need to be careful when folks are taking showers back to back as the leftover water in the tank will be heated back up- and thus hotter- before new water entering the tank can cool it down. It is best to let it run a minute and test it out before jumping in. Having said that, we were very pleased with its performance. We had no issues with the pilot blowing out, and all 19 of us were able to shower every day without running out of water even with consecutive showers. The unit will shut off after 20 min of use as a safety. We have not seen that feature yet as no one took a shower that long. Also, it uses very little propane. Our tank is still nearly full!
The next two issues were drainage and enclosure. Obviously, 19 people taking serious showers is different than rinsing off after getting out of the pool. We were just about to have a landscape project completed in the back yard and did not want to risk washing out all that hard work. We ended up having our mason, Juan from CM Masonry, come out and expand our patio walkway to accomodate the enclosure and install a drain. Next, the landscaper made a gravel landscape bed where the drainage pipe exits. We have had no problems with drainage, although I was picking out hair (ewww) from the gravel for several days after the reunion. As for an enclosure, we discussed building a permanent wooden structure. However, we were unsure how the shower would work out. If it was a total fail, it made no sense to put in the effort and expense of building a permanent structure that would also somewhat be blocking that entrance to the pool. After showing several examples on Pinterest, I convinced my husband and FIL to build me a curved shower rod for a simple shower curtain. I saw several indoor/outdoor U-shaped curtain rods online such as this one:
Most were at least $100. My FIL felt pretty confident that he could make it out of galvanized metal pipe and flange fittings if only he had brought with him a device called a hickey to bend the pipe. Not easily discouraged, he found all his supplies between Lowes and Home Depot and then used a hickey off the shelf to bend the pipe while in the store. I kid you not!!! He used wire to provide extra support should any little kids I know go tugging on the curtain panels.
Sunbrella outdoor panels are suggested for use as outdoor shower curtains. They are quite expensive and based on the size of our shower rod, we needed at least 2-3 panels. My temporary solution was to find the sturdiest polyester shower curtain I could for $20 at Target. I purchased two as well as two liners. I sprayed the curtain with waterproofer, weighed it down with fishing sinkers and hoped for the best. The shower is under the overhang, which protects it somewhat from the rain. I am sure the curtains will not stand up to the elements over time, but I can always buy new ones or invest in true outdoor fabric in the future.
The finishing touch was a shelf my FIL built to hold shampoo, soap, etc.
We are very pleased with the shower. We had no septic issues during the reunion, and I credit the shower and good conservation on the part of our guests. We use the shower nearly every time we swim in the pool, and I think it is the best thing ever to be able to shower comfortably in the great outdoors. Love it!