Take it outside
Showering outdoors adds new dimension to routine ritual

When friends visit Barbara Harmony and need to take showers, she gives them an interesting choice: They can do it inside in a tight but quaint corner shower - or in an outside shower with the skies and stars above.

"It feels more like you're camping or part of nature," said Harmony, a 60-year-old massage therapist.

Outdoor showers aren't anything new. But for many of those who have them, once they try them, they can't imagine life without them anymore. Outdoor showers are convenient and also provide a different experience.

After Harmony relocated to her Fresno, Calif., home in 2001, she quickly felt something was missing.

"At my other house, I wanted a place to shower before and after the spa and pool," she said. "When I moved here to a smaller house, I didn't miss the spa or pool, but I did miss the outdoor shower."

So she went about building one just outside her bedroom with a striking mosaic backsplash of a flamingo. With an outdoor shower, "it's just so easy," she said. "You don't have the steam. You don't have to wipe the door off. Also, because I'm into gardening, it's easier to shower before I go in."

Enid Smith, who bought Harmony's former Fresno home, thought the outdoor shower would be perfect for her grandchildren.

As for using the shower herself, "I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much."

It took a few months before she finally decided to step into the shower and give it a try.

"After jogging one day in the neighborhood, I was so sweaty, and it was so hot outside, I went ahead and did it to be refreshed," she said. "I thought it was wonderful. It's much more refreshing than an indoor shower."

Her four grandchildren also have become regular users when they're over.

"They love it," she said. "They say it's so convenient. They can come straight from the pool ... take a shower and then get ready for bed. No mess to clean."

Smith and Harmony say being in the outdoor shower makes them feel closer to nature. Ethan Fierro, author of "The Outdoor Shower," agrees.

"We all have to shower," said Fierro, who lives in Maui. "With the ability to shower outside, you're under the stars, the sky, have the breeze blowing across your skin and can, during the heat of the day, rinse off. ... No matter how far away we get, we can get set back on course by taking 15 minutes and chilling out in a beautiful environment."

If you're considering an outdoor shower for your own yard, location, plumbing, drainage and privacy need to be addressed.

Once you have a spot in mind, plumbing and drainage come into play. If the outdoor shower is near the house, using your home's plumbing would be ideal. Harmony did that with her outdoor shower, making use of the plumbing from her indoor shower.

Denise Holt-Wasson had her shower placed along one side of her Fresno house, next to her sauna.

It uses an outdoor water faucet as its water source, but because of that, she doesn't have hot water.

Proper drainage also is important. (Check local building codes that may apply.) For those in an urban area, Fierro recommends capturing the shower wastewater and plumbing it back to the septic system.

"Otherwise, you can run it through a flower bed, but maybe not a vegetable bed that you're going to be eating from. It would be safe to put around ornamental shrubs," he said.

Another option is to dig a dry well, filled with gravel. That way, the water doesn't stay on the surface, it percolates down.

If you want friends and family to use the outdoor shower, then privacy is another consideration.

"Take into account sight lines," Fierro said. "There's going to be that shy person who's not comfortable taking their clothes off. When building a shower, build it for the shyest person in mind."

Smith has bamboo, gardenia bushes, a camellia and an ivy-covered brick wall around her outdoor shower that help keep her hidden.

Harmony also strategically planted trees and bushes around her yard to make her shower more difficult to see. "I made sure I had plenty of privacy," she said.

You also can build structures or enclosures out of materials such as wood, glass, brick, stone and concrete. Other things you'll need to complete your outdoor shower include fixtures, which come in all shapes, sizes and styles, and possibly lights for inside the shower and along the walkway.

Once you have an outdoor shower, you may be tempted to make it your primary shower source. Harmony does.

"The only time I don't like to shower outdoors is when it's cold and windy," she said. Otherwise, "I use it every day."