5 steps for building the best outdoor shower on the lake

Published: November 18, 2020 · Updated: November 23, 2020

Imagine, rinsing off under the sun (or the stars!) and with a view. Go all out or keep it minimal—a guide to customizing your outdoor oasis

wooden outdoor shower in front of a body of open water Photo by Sharyn Cairns

In trying times, there are two surefire ways of returning to your centre: taking a long, hot shower and heading out into nature. The beauty of an outdoor shower at the cottage is the combination of these two potent medicines, together forming a space to reinvigorate your spirit after, say, being confined for months because of a global pandemic. Or after a long day cutting the grass! Allow this primer to set you up with the fundamental understanding of how to build your own outdoor shower oasis

Ideal for cottagers who want to:

Spend more time outside; be in the buff en plein air; free up bathroom space; take advantage of privacy; bathe with birds chirping.

outdoor shower on a deck in front of green trees with a green tinge glass and wooden support posts
If you’re adding on to an existing septic system, it may need to be resized to accommodate an extra shower. Check with your municipality. Photo by Virginia Macdonald

1. Scout the right spot

In Ontario, a shower, whether indoor or outdoor, falls under the Building Code, says Sandy Bos, a building inspector with the Township of Muskoka Lakes, “and it requires a connection to either the septic system or leaching pit.” So where you build may come down to taking advantage of your existing infrastructure. However, Bos says that simple structures connected to a hose bib (the spigot attached to your cabin where you hook up a hose) are not technically a shower. In those cases, “I ask that the shower be 15 metres from the lake,” says Bos, “and it should have a clear stone pad of about 15 cm in depth so the drainage can infiltrate into the underlying soils rather than run out over the ground.” Once you’ve got the practical requirements covered, you can think about aesthetics. “What do you really want to look at while you’re showering?” asks Ethan Fierro, a builder and the author of The Outdoor Shower. Stand in your potential location—take note of what you can see and what can see you. Look for raised decks, upper windows, and pathways where prying eyes might catch you in the buff.

wooden outdoor shower with stone floor
Photo by Stocksy

2. Secure the structure

“What you’re standing on is really important,” says Paul Lewis, a builder who made his own outdoor shower for his Georgian Bay, Ont., cottage. “A wood platform with slats works well because the water can drain through” (and onto stone pads or a collecting pan directing it in to your septic system underneath). He recommends that you fasten the wood from below, to protect your feet and to keep water from rusting the screws, and space out your slats to allow for good air circulation. “You’d be surprised at how widely you can space the slats and still be comfortable,” he says. He recommends that DIYers leave ½-inch or even ¾-inch gaps between the bottom deck boards to allow the wood to dry after each shower. 

Standard indoor showers require three square feet of standing room, but for an outdoor shower, think about going larger—five square feet is ideal (expansiveness is part of the appeal, after all). As for your walls, this is where you can get creative. Keep it wide open to the elements or build slatted walls to give you privacy.

black wooden outdoor shower with flexible hardware connections and a blue and white graphic print towel
Use flexible hardware for connections rather than rigid metal or plastic to allow for some shifting over the winter. Photo by Stocksy

3. Get hot water outside

Everyone loves a hot shower, so you may want to build near the bathroom or kitchen wall to keep the plumbing straightforward and affordable. If you’re hooking up to your existing plumbing, you’ll need a permit from your municipality, and, if you don’t have the DIY skills, a licensed plumber to install an outdoor access panel for hot and cold water. However, your cabin’s plumbing isn’t the only way to get hot water. New, tankless propane water heaters—such as the 5L model from Camplux ($189)—can give you hot water anywhere on your property where you can pump water, be it from the lake, a well, a rain barrel, or a municipal system. 

You could also consider using solar power to heat your water. The RoadShower from Yakima is designed to sit on top of an SUV on camping trips, absorbing the sun’s heat for a hot shower on the go. Installed in a particularly sunny spot on your property, the RoadShower could function just as well in your outdoor shower. It gives you the option to pressurize the water by hand or by electric pump. The 120 lb model ($550) holds 37L of water.

outdoor shower with corrugated silver metal with two kids using it
Photo by Derek Shapton

4. Get to know your materials

“You want to build with materials that will withstand the elements,” says Fierro. He likes building showers from cedar, Douglas fir, and cypress. “Anything you’d use on a deck,” he says. “You can use a synthetic material, but it comes down to what you want to feel beneath your feet. Plus, a synthetic deck board can get slippery. You want something with a little bit of grip on it.” Lewis built his shower almost entirely out of cedar, with copper pipes and fixtures. “Copper looks beautiful, and it weathers nicely to a deep brown, then maybe some green if you’re lucky,” he says. Corrugated galvanized aluminum works well for shower walls because it won’t rust. For heads and fixtures, brass will be better than plastic, which won’t age nicely and tends to crack in the cold.

wooden outdoor shower with slats over top
Build in direct sunlight if you can. You’ll enjoy the warmth while you bathe, and it will help the walls and floor dry out more quickly after you’re done. Photo by Nikole Ramsay

5. Play with the particulars

“Outdoor showers are not serious things,” says Fierro. “Add fun features that make you smile,” such as a built-in bench, a hanging fruit basket for toiletries, a beaded curtain instead of a solid door, or a shelf to hold your drink. Since your shower walls don’t need to be structural, use a wall trellis or an old outhouse door. Be sure to add lots of cubby space and towel hooks for keeping your things dry while you get wet. Lewis suggests adding an extra faucet a foot or so up from the bottom platform, with a swivel head, for washing off dirty feet. Add a handheld shower head to make doggy baths easy. But it’s not all about practicality: “I like a rain shower head,” says Lewis, noting that they now come in low-flow models. “They sit directly above you, not on an angle. It makes it more special, not just a regular shower.”

wooden outdoor shower stall in a forest
Photo by Kamil Bialous

Pro tips

  • Looking for a simple set-up? You can find prefab outdoor shower stations online or at most hardware stores.
  • Adding some soft solar-powered lights is a good idea if you plan to be showering at dusk or at night. Sunset and a shower, anyone?

Ready to get going? You can purchase Cottage Life’s outdoor shower plans here.

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