It's April 4, 2014: Opening day at Fenway Park. I mention this day not to mark my sports allegiance, but rather to mark the day I target every year for opening my outdoor shower. In an area with salt water beaches in just about every direction, outdoor showers are as common out here as the indoor varieties. After a day at the beach, kids (both young and old) parade through the outdoor shower to rinse off sand and salt keeping both to a minimum indoors. But for many folks who live out here, showering outdoors is a cherished experience from Spring until the first hard freeze, and I have literally been counting the days up to today.
Interestingly, this day presents a quandary on many levels. The most immediate level is making the decision to go through the "turning on" process. Yesterday afternoon was sunny and warm with temps in the 50s. I checked the 10-day forecast and no below-freezing temps were predicted. So I decided to go for it. I grabbed my Teflon tape and wrench and jumped into action. Outdoor showers can be elaborate and luxurious—mine is neither. The privacy walls are sections of stockade fence, and the fixture itself is an inexpensive cast-iron rig with two shut-off valves and a gooseneck for the shower head (1). Most hardware stores sell them for under fifty bucks. I added threaded fittings to go from the fixture to two lengths of garden hose. The other ends of the hose connect to hot and cold fittings inside the bulkhead next to the shower (2). Turning on the shower is quick: thread in the drain plug on the fixture and close the valves, hook up the hoses and open both shut off valves all the way. Then at the shower, I bleed the air out of both sides and let the water run for a couple seconds to wash out the winter rust and debris. The final step is screwing on the shower head. Wap, done! Less than 5 minutes even with wrapping all the fittings with tape before making the connections. Not that I don't trust the weather people, but last night I checked the thermometer in the shower. It was a clear night and the temperature was around 35. I ruminated for about 10 seconds, and then latched the door to the shower and went to bed.
This morning turned out to be overcast, so temps had stayed above freezing as promised. The thermometer in the shower read around 40 (3), but more importantly the wind was calm—THE most important factor for enjoying a shower outside. I donned my slippers, bathrobe and towel and stepped outside and into the shower (4). It was wonderful! The only cold I felt was on my feet as I dried off standing on the concrete floor of the shower. I slipped the soap under the little flower pot that I use to keep it from melting in the rain (5), and the season was officially underway.
As mentioned though there are other big picture dilemmas that outdoor showers present. I've been told that it's wasteful to use hot water outdoors where you need more of it to keep warm while you shower. Yeah, and it's also wasteful to take a drive to the beach, just to see the water and breathe the air. And I do tend to shower more quickly outside than inside. But there is also the issue of waste water. Like most of the outdoor showers on the Cape, the water from mine just runs off the concrete floor and into the crushed stone "moat" around the base of the shower. The sandy soil out here means that the water drains away quickly, but it also means that my grey water is probably percolating to the water table pretty swiftly as well. Many local jurisdictions require that any new outdoor showers be connected to the home's septic system. But critics point out that having an open drain outdoors means that rain water can enter the septic system and potentially overload it. A roof over the shower would defeat the whole purpose. Plus if you're rinsing off after trips to the beach, all that sand cannot be good for your septic system.
And hence my predicament: Here I am with the guys from the solar company at my house doing a site survey for my photovoltaic system — ostensibly doing my best to reduce my impact on the environment—while I enjoy my outdoor shower that puts less than perfectly clean water into the soil. Tree hugger meets Hum-Vee. It will continue to eat at me, but for now, I'll just try not to feel guilty while I indulge myself showering outdoors.