Outdoor Showers Made Easy: Permits, Drains & Hot Water

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I interviewed Jasmina Čerina, the Business Development Manager at KORTA Design, a company that manufactures the Marbella luxury outdoor showers. I wanted to find out answers to the burning questions many people have about outdoor showers, like whether you need a permit, how you get hot water to the shower and what kind of drain you’ll need to install.

Navigating the Permitting Process for Your Outdoor Shower

Asian woman, she uses a shower and wash hair outside.

Whether you’ll need a permit to install an outdoor shower depends on your country of residence. In many countries, they are not required. However, if you’re installing an outdoor shower in the US and it involves making structural changes to your home or moving plumbing or electrical wiring, you’ll most likely need a permit.

That said, in the US, local building regulations differ between states, so to be safe, always check with your local zoning office before you begin. 

Jasmina Cerina of KORTA has this to say: 

“Usually, outdoor showers do not require a permit. In most countries in the world, they are a must-have feature alongside a pool for hygienic reasons, mainly. For example, in the United Arab Emirates, a house owner cannot get a permit to purchase a house or a property with a pool if the buyer/owner does not have a space for an outdoor shower.”

No matter where you live, if you are making any changes to your plumbing systems, you’ll want to consult The International Building Codes (IBC) and make sure that your structure complies with the code.

US Regulations

In the United States, you will need a permit if any of the following apply:

ProjectPermit required
Structural changes to existing walls – adding or removing load-bearing walls and doorsYes
Structural changes to the roofYes
Adding or moving plumbingYes
Adding or moving power outlets and new electrical wiringYes
Modifications to the wastewater plumbing or sewage systemYes
The use of a dumpster on a public street during remodelingYes

If you are a member of an HOA, check with them before you begin planning your outdoor shower, as some HOAs might not allow this project or might have stringent rules and regulations.

Types of Permits & Costs

You might need more than one permit to install an outdoor shower. Make sure you apply for the correct permits before you begin. These permits will likely range in price from $30-$800. The following table describes what type of permit(s) you will need for your project:

Permit TypeDescriptionPrice
Structural changesInstallation on an existing wall

Upgrading an existing roof – adding additional roofing covering an outdoor shower
$75 – $600.00
Additional fixturesRelocating existing fixtures$75 – $800.00
PlumbingInstallation, moving of fixtures and conduits$30 – $500.00
ElectricalInstallation, moving of fixtures and conduits$50-$350
Adding a new fencePrivacy and boundary considerations$50 – $300.00
Installing a new deckNot required if you are replacing an existing deck$150 – $350.00

 (Sources: Homeguide, Family Handyman)

A Word About Environmental Regulations

In some US states, using an outdoor shower for actual bathing purposes violates Title 5 of the Environmental code. Title 5 discusses gray water, particularly the water you use in your shower and the disposal of it into the sewage system.  

Also, in line with sustainability measures, some countries have issued stringent regulations with regard to water efficiency. “For instance, in the USA, specifically in California, outdoor showers can use a maximum of 1.8 gallons per minute,” Cerina explains. “At KORTA, we are proud to be able to comply with these regulations without compromising on the performance of our showers and the experience of the users.”

What If You Don’t Get the Correct Permits?

Failure to obtain the correct permits for your outdoor shower could result in severe consequences:

  • The authorities could insist you tear down the completed work, apply for the permits, and start again. A very costly option.
  • The authorities could force you to obtain a permit and charge more (double or triple) for the permitting fees.
  • Selling your home could be a problem if it comes to light that you installed an outdoor shower without the proper permits. This could lower the value of your home, and you might have to apply for outstanding permits to bring the installation or renovation up to code.
  • Some insurance companies won’t pay for damages to a home if the correct permits are not produced after a damages claim.

Hot Tips for Getting Hot Water to Your Shower

woman shower is outdoor shower

Your outdoor shower can have hot water, but it will take some planning. Whereas a cold water shower can simply be a pipe with a faucet attached to existing plumbing, hot water requires a water heater and possibly new plumbing.

Jasmina Čerina, the Business Development Manager at KORTA, a company that manufactures the Marbella luxury outdoor showers, says, “All outdoor showers can have hot water. There are two ways. One is to supply two pipes from the house, one with cold and one with hot water. In this case, you just connect them to the pipes inside the shower.”

If there is no possibility to supply hot water from the house, then the homeowner can use solar power to heat the water. Cerina says, “When we are unable to pipe in hot water from the house, we install a water tank in the shower that will contain approximately 5 gallons of water. As the sun heats the shower, the water will warm up. However, we can only do that if we are using black granite or darker porcelain slabs to make the shower.”

There are a few different methods for ensuring piping hot water on tap to your outdoor shower when you need it:

1. Use the Plumbing from Your House

This is the easiest option, but your shower must be in the right location. If the shower is too far away from the house, additional plumbing might be required.

Make sure that your outdoor shower is located on the outside wall of the bathroom. This way, you can access the existing plumbing inside the house and add another faucet and extra tubing attached to a shower head for the outside shower.

If the outdoor shower is quite a distance from the house, tubing or underground plumbing can be installed to deliver hot and cold water to the outdoor shower from the house. Try fixing plumbing pipes for a more permanent solution or use stainless-steel washing machine hoses attached to outdoor faucets that can be detached during winter for a less-permanent solution. 

This might mean hiring a plumber to ensure the water fixtures are installed correctly, which could be costly.

2. Install a Water Heater

A tankless water heater is a fantastic option for outdoor showers. By installing a portable gas water heater, homeowners will instantly have hot water on tap.

Simply turn on the hot water faucet, and the water will begin to heat up automatically. This option ensures a constant flow of hot water without the costs involved in installing additional plumbing from the existing main lines in the house.

The portable water heater can be placed out of sight behind the shower wall or even behind a shrub! The only additional costs are for the propane gas tank and batteries to start the fire, which warms the water.

3. Use Solar Heating

A solar solution is fast becoming the best eco-friendly way to warm water throughout your house, so why not extend the benefits to your outdoor shower?

If you already have solar panels installed onto your roof to warm the water in your home, including an extension is easy and can be a simple DIY job.

If you don’t have solar panels or find this solution too costly, another DIY solar solution provides the warmth you need for your outdoor shower.

Buy a coil of black hose and install it on the south-facing roof of your house. Attach one end of the coil to your faucet and the other end to the outdoor shower faucet. You might need to install a permanent outdoor faucet for the exclusive use of your shower.

As the water runs through the hose, it will warm up, delivering warm water to your outdoor shower. This will only last a few minutes, though, as the pipe will cool down as the cold water continues running through it.

The more coils you have, the longer the warm water will last.

Installation Costs

Aquatica Gamma-514 Freestanding Outdoor Shower
The Gamma-514 Outdoor Shower by KORTA. Use Coupon Code Shana10 for 10% off any outdoor shower at Aquaticausa.

The costs will vary according to the area you live in, the location of the outdoor shower, and whether you are using existing plumbing or need a new installation.

These are the general costs for a working hot water solution.

DIY attachment to existing plumbingAdditional tubing and faucets$200.00 – $1,000.00
Gas heater for instant hot waterPortable heater

Plumbing pipes

Propane tank

Batteries for ignition
$1,000.00 – $4,000.00
Solar powerSolar panels and system components

Black hose and faucets
$100.00 – $8,000.00

 (Sources: Houzz, Outdoorshowerco)

If you do need to install a water heater or solar, find a reputable plumber in your area. Most plumbers will charge between $500.00 and $8,000.00 to install an outdoor shower.

These costs will be determined by the difficulty of the job and the length of time it takes to install the shower, plumbing, the water delivery system, and drainage system requirements. (Source)

Download this handy calculator for a quote on installing your outdoor shower.

Outdoor Shower Drainage 101: Tips and Tricks

stainless steel outdoor shower head

Regarding proper drainage for your shower, Jasmina Čerina says this: 

“We always advise our customers to prepare a drain. It is better for nature. Most of us are using shampoo while taking a shower, so if there is no drain, water will flow into the soil and will harm the grass or plants.”

To ensure proper drainage for your area, you’ll probably want to check your local codes and regulations, any HOA regulations, and environmental considerations regarding outdoor shower drains for your area.

There are a few different methods to choose from that might suit your location:

1. Natural Garden Drainage

The most eco-friendly way of disposing of your gray water from your outdoor shower is to let it naturally drain into the garden and surrounding soil.

You can do this by simply allowing the water to flow over the shower base and into the ground or by running a pipe from the base to the best area in your garden. Raise your shower base above the ground and make sure there is a slope for the water to run into the pipe and then drain to your garden.

If you use the outdoor shower often, ensure that the installation is far away from your house so that the draining shower water doesn’t seep into the foundation and cause damage.

Always check that the soil is porous enough to absorb the water. If the ground isn’t porous enough, the water won’t seep into the ground and will instead form puddles above the ground.

2. Shower Pan

If you plan to direct the wastewater through a pipe, install a shower pan below the shower floor. The pan collects and directs the gray water to your irrigation or wastewater system.

With this method, you can direct your gray water to areas that can stand soaps and shampoos, protecting sensitive areas that could be destroyed by soapy water. Or you can opt to use products that are environmentally friendly. (I’ll provide specific recommendations for soaps and shampoos at the end of this post.)

The shower pan is usually made of plastic, rubber, or metal. Here’s an idea to hide the shower pan and add your own flair to the shower: Build the shower floor over the shower pan with stone paving blocks or Cedarwood. Water will drain through wood or stone into the pan for safe dispersal to where it can be safely absorbed.

3. French Drain System

Consider a French drain system if the ground around your outdoor shower site is not porous. A French drain is a deep gravel-filled trench that wastewater runs into. A perforated pipe carries the water away to a place far away from delicate gardens and foundations.

Make sure your French drain is concealed with dirt and soil, or incorporate it into your garden by creating a beautiful flower garden around it.

4. Dry Well System

A dry well is another way to catch wastewater, especially in areas that are not porous. A dry well is simply an underground catch basin designed to collect wastewater from the shower. 

Generally, a perforated, cylindrical-shaped container or basin is used to catch the wastewater from the shower pan pipe. The water then gradually dissipates into the surrounding ground.

If you don’t have a large container, simply dig a trench underneath your outdoor shower and cover it with a layer of gravel. To create a spa-like experience and an eye-catching feature, cover the gravel with beach pebbles, marble chips, or cedarwood.

5. Fixed Drain System

Local regulations might state that all wastewater should drain into the municipal sewage system or septic tank. This is especially relevant in areas close to bodies of water like lakes and rivers.

If your location requires you to use a fixed drain system, contact a reputable plumber to connect your outdoor shower to the sewage system.

Ecofriendly Soaps and Shampoos

Aubrey Organic Shampoo on Amazon
Check out the environmentally friendly shampoo brand, Aubrey Organics, on Amazon

If your outdoor shower drains to your lawn or garden, be sure to use environmentally soaps and shampoos.

Laura Allen is a founding member of Greywater Action and the author of The Water Wise Home: How to Conserve, Capture and Reuse Water in Your Home and Landscape. She specifically recommends the following brands for soaps and shampoos: Aubrey Organics (most types), Everyday Shea and Dr. Bronner’s.

For a complete list of ingredients to avoid in shampoos and conditioners, be sure to take a look at the Red List from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  

Tags: outdoor shower drains, outdoor shower permit costs, outdoor shower permits, outdoor shower regulations, outdoor showers, outdoor showers and hot water

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