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Building an Outdoor Shower, continued

For an outdoor shower, I wouldn't build anything smaller than 4 feet square. Underfoot, a free-draining wood platform, typically 1x4 mahogany or quarter-sawn fir deck boards, provides a clean, elevated base.

I build the platform frame with a 2x8 pressure-treated perimeter, mitered at the corners. A 3/4-inch-square rabbet in the upper edge of the rim joists creates an integral border for the decking, which is installed on recessed, 2x6 intermediate joists (Figure 3). I use stainless-steel screws to fasten the decking -- nails tend to back out, or pop, under repeated wetting and drying cycles.


Figure 3.A raised wood platform prevents muddy feet. A rabbetted and mitered rim joist and recessed framing make a built-in border around the decking edge. Stainless-steel decking screws eliminate potentially painful nail pops.

To support the frame, I bury a double stack of dry-laid concrete block under each corner. I set the blocks with a torpedo level and true the piers to each other. It takes a little scraping, filling, and compacting to get all the piers aligned, but it's still a quick process. I make sure to pitch the surrounding grade to drain away from the adjacent house foundation.

Overhead Frame

Building the enclosure directly against a wall of the house, preferably right outside a kitchen or bathroom for plumbing economy, provides good, rack-proof panel support. But it's the front of the enclosure, where the door goes, that can be tricky to brace properly. I tie everything together overhead with an open-framed, pergola roof (Figure 4). The pergola is both decorative and structural, as it braces the door gap and provides side-to-side stability between panels. It can also support an overhead, "rain" spray head and a well-watered creeping vine, like clematis or wisteria, all enhancements to the outdoor shower experience. I screw a simple cedar lattice to the outside end panel to give the vine a leg up.



Figure 4.Overhead framing braces panels and maintains a fixed door opening (top). A decorative pergola can support semiconcealed piping and a rainshower head (bottom).

The vertical 2x4 panel "stiles" run long, about 7 feet overall, above and below the panel sections. Panel corners could be butted together, but I miter them for better appearance. A 2x4 frame overhead, mitered at the corners and assembled on the flat, ties the tops together. I use self-drilling Fastap screws (Faspac, 800/847-4714, to tie most components together. This overhead frame supports the pergola members, made from treated 2-bys installed on edge at regular intervals and screwed from below. Ogee-profiled ends are cut with a saber saw, requiring little extra effort and adding style.


It's important to provide dedicated shutoffs, or stops, as well as a means to drain the lines between stop and shower, for winter shutdown. I run the supply lines out through the rim joist from the basement, and install stop-and-waste valves inside to drain standing water out of the lines.


Figure 5.In this shower, the original exposed plumbing, with separate hot and cold stops, was inexpensive, but it was also prone to damage and presented a scald hazard.

Outdoor shower plumbing is commonly installed on the surface of the wall, with exposed tubing and individual hot and cold valves. It's a fast, economical method, and split pipes are easier to repair after an accidental freeze-up. But it isn't fancy, or particularly safe. Even if you leave everything exposed, use a pressure-balancing anti-scald valve instead of single stops. For better appearance, I like to build the valve into the wall whenever possible. The Symmons valve I install (Symmons Industries, 800/796-6667, has a secondary takeoff at the bottom of the valve, so I had to provide a way to make it easily accessible for draining. My solution was to connect a hand-held shower hose with a diverter valve in the wand (Figure 6). It's a nice-looking amenity, even if it's used only to drain the valve.


Figure 6.The author replaced the original plumbing with frost-protected lines from the basement and a flush-mounted Symmons pressure-balancing valve. The valve body must be drained to protect it during the winter season, a task made simpler by tying in a hand-held spray.