Building the perfect outdoor shower on the North Fork

Kristin Sabat of Mattituck says, "We used cedar boards and 4x4s to frame it. There's a brick floor that's pitched to a drain in the middle that goes to a drywell. My husband and I use it every day from spring 'till fall unless it's pouring rain.

Kristin Sabat of Mattituck says, “We used cedar boards and 4x4s to frame it. There’s a brick floor that’s pitched to a drain in the middle that goes to a drywell. My husband and I use it every day from spring ’till fall unless it’s
pouring rain.

What’s not to love? You’ve just come back sandy from the beach or dirty from tilling the soil or sweaty from hiking the local trails (actually, no excuse needed) and you’re grubby, so you jump in the shower — make that your outdoor shower. 

You’re outdoors, with a view of the sky, the sun is shining (or the moon is gleaming) and warm water is running over you. What better way to clean off and just enjoy the moment? No muss, no fuss. 

Last summer Times/Review Newsgroup’s three papers asked readers to submit photos of their outdoor showers — and the response was tremendous. North Forkers clearly love their outdoor showers. The structures run the gamut: from a small, old-fashioned water drum, heated by the sun and hung on the side of the house, to professionally built showers with compartments, built-ins and high-end accessories. But a common theme runs throughout: We all love standing outside in the elements and have water pour over us. And most of us use them from the first sign of spring warmth until the bitter end of fall. 

Pat and Nackie Cupples of Mastic Beach say, "In retrospect, the outdoor shower should have been the first project we worked on after buying the house in May 2012.

Pat and Nackie Cupples of Mastic Beach say, “In retrospect, the outdoor shower should have been the first project we worked on after buying the house in May 2012.

Not just for a beach house

Outdoor showers have become increasingly popular in recent years, not only at the beach but for homes in all locations. And why not? They’re convenient and don’t require a lot of space. An outdoor shower can be as simple as throwing a hose over a tree branch and turning on the spigot.

Aside from of the sheer bliss of showering outside, homeowners love them for practical reasons, such as preventing dirt from being trekked through house and helping keep the bathroom clean. Parents love them because it’s an easy way to keep the kids clean and occupied. Little kids think outdoor showers are cool and just love running in and out of them, preferably naked. Pet owners love them because bathing Fido outdoors is easier in an enclosed area with no splash residue.

Ezra Fife of Fife Custom Carpentry in Riverhead has built a number of outdoor showers in the area and agrees that there is nothing like showering outdoors. He says, “If you haven’t yet taken an outdoor shower, you are missing out on a true North Fork experience. I remember the first time I used my grandfather’s shower in Jamesport. It was made of white stockade fence and stones from the beach; stones we found ourselves. It was a memorable experience, to say the least. Growing up on the North Fork and now working as a carpenter here, I have seen my share of easily attainable craft work. An outdoor shower can be a beautiful and easily added luxury for any home, regardless of style, shape or fashion.” 

Diane DeVito of Rocky Point wanted to show people that you "don't have to spend a lot for a quaint shower, just a little imagination and some buiding skills and tools."

Diane DeVito of Rocky Point wanted to show people that you “don’t have to spend a lot for a quaint shower, just a little imagination and some buiding skills and tools.”

What to think about before you install

So now you’re hooked on the benefits of having an outdoor shower. What should you consider? Among the key factors are cost, location, drainage, plumbing, aesthetics, accessories and landscaping.

Is there an ideal spot for an outdoor shower? Most likely, you’ll will want it to be next to the house, sheltered and private (or not!). But then there is the lure of meandering through pathways away from the house and building one right in the garden. In either case, remember to take your neighbors’ sight lines into account. If you can see them, they can see you!

Designer Earl Bedrick of Cottage Gardening in Mattituck says any pool, dock or beach can benefit from having an outdoor shower and loves the idea of showering right in the garden. “A shower on a hot summer’s evening should be as refreshing as possible on all levels and is best suited to a garden environment,” he says. The shower can be visually unique, he adds, if it’s separated from the house by a garden pathway and perhaps surrounded by a pergola with the inviting scent of wisteria growing across the top.

Elaine and Mark McDuffee's outdoor shower in Jamesport is made of Azec.

Elaine and Mark McDuffee’s outdoor shower in Jamesport is made of Azec.

What size should it be?

The size and shape of your outdoor shower will obviously depend on the space available. Try to keep it as open to nature as is possible — without forgoing your desire for privacy. If necessary, Mr. Fife suggests using a louvered roof to camouflage the view.

He recommends a 4-by-8-foot shower, if you have the room, which will enable you to create a changing room and a shower area as well as a spot for a bench. To create the feeling of being in a rain forest, Mr. Fife also suggests planting something with large foliage right outside the shower.

The frosted windows in Frank Covino's outdoor shower in Peconic are made from frames salvaged from a century-old colonial house and add both character and privacy.

The frosted windows in Frank Covino’s outdoor shower in Peconic are made from frames salvaged from a century-old colonial house and add both character and privacy.

Plumbing is an important consideration

Most people will want both hot and cold water. If you place the shower next to the outer wall of a bathroom or kitchen, you can simply run the hot and cold water pipes outside. Working with your existing water heater and plumbing is the least complicated approach to installation.

Mr. Fife says plumbing can be done in a variety of ways and emphasizes that since we live in a four-season climate, you must have the ability to drain pipes and shut down for the winter when the temperature drops.

Mr. Fife and Mr. Bedrick agree that before making construction plans, you should check with your plumber to determine which water source is best suited to your shower.

Ike Sinesi of Cutchogue says, "The shower is on the rear of the house on a slate patio. We wanted it to blend in with the house as much as possible.

Ike Sinesi of Cutchogue says, “The shower is on the rear of the house on a slate patio. We wanted it to blend in with the house as much as possible.

Materials run the gamut

An array of weather-resistant materials can be used to construct your outdoor shower enclosure. Consider wood, metal, vinyl or PVC, cement block or even inexpensive shower curtains. Your choices you choose will determine both cost and construction time.

Mr. Fife suggests using treated lumber for the posts, deck framing and any wood that will have contact with the ground. He recommends No. 2 1-by-6-inch knotty cedar, tongue and groove panelling and cross framing — which, left exposed, leaves room for shelves and nooks and crannies to hold shampoos, soaps, etc.

Wood and stone both work for the flooring. Just make sure whatever you choose is comfortable on bare feet — you might lose track of time and be standing there a while.

Shower heads should be durable stainless steel or brass to stand up to weather.

You might also want to consider a ready-made kit. Many companies now offer both high-end and cost-effective enclosures.

The cedar outdoor shower at Scott Schulman's in Southold is conveniently located next to the pool house, near the pool and hot tub.

The cedar outdoor shower at Scott Schulman’s in Southold is conveniently located next to the pool house, near the pool and hot tub.

Don’t forget drainage

Any good contractor can easily determine the appropriate drainage for a shower, but, Mr. Bedrick cautions, “Homeowners who do the work themselves should be aware of the need to exhaust the water generated by the shower.”

Mr. Fife adds, “Drainage can be done by digging down six inches and filling back in with 3/4 of an inch of gravel. This only works if you are far enough from the house. Other drainage can be done with a French drain pipe to a dry well.”

Jon Tomlinson's inviting outdoor shower in Mattituck, complete with chair, plants, hooks and a shelf.

Jon Tomlinson’s inviting outdoor shower in Mattituck, complete with chair, plants, hooks and a shelf.

And now for the extras 

Of course, the fun part is choosing the amenities and indulgences you add to your shower  — but keep in mind that they also add to the cost. Use your imagination. You might want unique hooks for hanging towels and wet bathing suits; shelves for soaps and shampoos; a bench to relax on; an arbor growing over the top; a window to peek out of; lighting to illuminate an evening shower; and maybe an oversized rain-style shower head to get the full experience.

Mr. Bedrick says, “The completeness of the construction is always enhanced by decorative, artistic and/or antique items.” So hit the yard sales and flea markets and decorate your shower to fit your lifestyle and design aesthetic.

There are few things more fun, pleasurable and invigorating than showering outdoors under the sky. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, one thing is certain: You’re bound to love your outdoor shower and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

This story was originally published in the spring 2014 edition of northforker Home & Garden