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Outdoor Showers

The pleasures of getting naked outside
By Jana Voelke Studelska
Published: July 1, 2008
OUTDOO102
The Storms’ finished product is functional, private, big enough for two, and still affords a lake view.
Photo by David Ballard
The outdoor shower that Thom and Cindy Storm built was born as much from necessity as for pleasure. Their vacation place is rustic in the truest sense of the word; it was built in stages as money allowed and shut down in the winter. In fact, until they built their outdoor shower, they didn’t even have hot water.
    But after just one summer with it, they realized having an outdoor shower means more than hot water and clean bodies. The Storms have a whole new appreciation for their lake place – and knowing what it is to relax. And they’re spreading the word.

A Cleansing Epiphany
“It’s totally changed our cabin life!” Cindy says, “It smells so good; when the hot water hits the cedar walls, the oils in the wood release. It’s just a unique experience taking a shower outside. It’s not like any indoor shower could be. It’s a ritual. You look forward to your turn.”
    The idea for the shower came from next-door neighbors, Ted and Dawn Buck. They’d built an outdoor shower in 2005, and they invited the Storms to use it when needed. One day, Cindy headed over, towel in hand. One shower, and she was sold.
    She began talking to Thom, who had his own shower epiphany later that same summer. Alone at the cabin for a long week of remodeling, Thom headed over for an outdoor shower at the Bucks’ in the late
evenings when the chilly lake water didn’t hold much appeal.
    “I could see stars, and hear the loons,” he says. “It was fabulous!”
OUTDOOR91
The Bucks’ outdoor shower, which provided the inspiration for The Storms to build theirs.
Photo by David Ballard
Hammering Out the Details
Thom’s a self-professed weekend carpenter, so building an outdoor shower took some thinking. It involved plenty of sketches, pondering what building materials to use and asking Ted next door for friendly advice. Thom stuck with the basics – cedar planks and green-treated posts. Nothing fancy.
    Thom was thinking of a standalone shower structure. “But Ted suggested building it right off the cabin,” Thom says. “It made it easier for the plumbing, which I was able to run right through the cabin wall.”
    Building a shower required buying a hot water heater. But they did already have a very simple plumbing system and a little-used septic system. All these years – since the early 1980s when the two of them built the cabin – they’d been bathing in lake water, or with a gravity-driven bucket system that used water from the hot tub when it was fired up.
    “When we built the cabin it was just the two of us, before we had kids,” Thom explains. “We were struggling to make ends meet, and the whole cabin thing was really a stretch for us financially. When the kids came along, we were used to the simple weekends and we just stuck with our system.”
    Thom purchased a high-efficiency water heater, wrapped it in 3 inches of insulation and tucked it under the cabin. Voilà! Hot water! No more using the hot tub water for showering.
    The shower’s drainage was just as simple. Thom built a graywater septic system that feeds the flower beds and the pine tree that shades the deck. The sandy soil absorbs everything in mere seconds, even when the ground seems saturated with rain. He protected the ground with a semi-permeable landscape tarp to prevent erosion.
    “The shower solved another problem for us,” Thom says, referring to the constant need to water the flower gardens. “I feel really good about the water use and the clean run-off.”
OUTDOOR23
A sign hanging above the shower announces “shower for two.”
Photo by David Ballard
Creating the Right Ambiance for Clean
The shower’s location affords bathers afternoon sun, shelter from the wind and close proximity to the wood-fired hot tub and deck. They were careful to make sure it offered the privacy everyone needed, while still allowing a lake view – and conversation with whoever is grilling dinner! Along with aesthetics, placing the shower outside is also practical. Sand, pine needles and lake weeds caught in swimming suits stay outside. The proximity to the cabin also means you can shower and run in with your towel on and dress indoors.
    The Storm’s shower is built for two – room for kids, room for one’s spouse. It’s spacious, intimate and functional. Hooks line one wall, where swimmers can hang their wet suits. A bottle of eco-friendly shampoo sits waiting on a shelf.
    There’s a line of crystals along the top that throw out rainbows when the sun is at the right angle, and a whirligig spins when it’s breezy. There’s also a single solar light that throws off just enough light for night bathing, but not enough to obscure the night sky.
    Although Thom jests that people stay in the shower way too long, he admits there is nothing quite like it. The experience goes beyond just getting washed up. Cindy adds, “I look forward to it all week long; it connects us to the whole cabin experience.”

Jana Voelke Studelska is now dreaming of a sweet outdoor shower by her gardens, where she can wind down after a long day of digging.
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5 stars
JAYNE LARSON from MINNESOTA said:
Some friends of ours have an outdoor shower similar to the ones in this article. It is awesome to stand in the shower and look up into the trees and the sky....a great experience!!
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