Outdoor Shower – New England Tradition?

A friend recently recounted the following memory to me: “At our summer house down on Cape Cod, my father built a shower on the back side of the garage, using old pieces of fencing for the walls. The shower head was never plumbed correctly, and I was apparently the only one who knew how to turn it on in the spring and then turn it off again, and blow out the pipes in the fall. I did that for 40 years.”

(click on any of these pictures to see more)

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For as long as I can remember we’ve had an outdoor shower at our home in Newbury. In fact, when I was young we didn’t have a shower indoors. We did have a bathtub inside that got plenty of use during the cold seasons. Our house dates back to the 18th century, so it has undergone many updates over the years. One update was a bathroom remodel, sometime in the 1970s, which included the addition of an indoor shower. I believe this may follow along with the general history of indoor plumbing. Perhaps a bathroom was carved out and created in an existing space, and a bathtub with running water was included at the same time.  At first the shower was just an addition to the tub, which some people still choose to do as a throwback to older times. Possibly the idea of a separate, indoor, shower came later on, particularly in new construction, where it could be included in the planning.

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I’m no historian, but it all makes sense to me. I can easily picture people decades, and even centuries, back rinsing off outside during the warm months, using whatever form of flowing water was available. I’m calling it a New England tradition, especially in beach areas, like Cape Cod. Of course they can be found all over the country, but I’ve lived in several states and have not seen them with as much regularity outside of New England.

I don’t know when our outdoor shower was first installed, but I just assume that it came with the addition of running water. What I do know is that even with the addition of the indoor shower,  the outdoor shower still got the majority of the use in the warmer months.

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Well, our outdoor shower got a makeover recently, and I love the way it turned out. I suppose you could call it a collaboration of ideas that came together into a design, and was then implemented.  Some outdoor shower traditionalists would say an outdoor shower should be minimalist, maybe even a hose with a shower head attached, perhaps built using whatever materials were at hand with not much of a design (or privacy); the idea for these people being to let as much of the outdoors in as possible. Others have taken the concept to the extreme opposite, with all the luxury one can afford.

Ours falls somewhere in the middle of these philosophies. It’s a sturdy structure with four walls, no door, with a maze-like entry that ensures that no one will be exposed. In keeping with the idea of simplicity, we used left-over, galvanized roofing material to make up the wall panels. It is framed and trimmed out with cedar, and treated with a high-quality, exterior coating.  It is quite a bit more elaborate than its predecessor. Again, ours is a compromise of several people’s ideas. The walls are a bit too high for my tastes. I’d prefer to be able to see out over the top, but while showering it’s still quite obvious that you are outdoors. It is accessorized with a matching shaving mirror, shelf and seat, plus some hooks for towels and clothes.

If you’re considering one at your home, I recommend taking a look at Houzz for some ideas. You’ll find many pictures, from New England and beyond, to inspire you. Make sure you check with your local regulations for permitting and drainage requirements.

I can’t wait until the weather warms enough for us to turn on the water.   I’m sure we’ll be out there again by early May.  After a long, cold, winter cooped up inside, it’s a liberating feeling to be able to shower outside in the fresh air.