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Working in the hot and dusty high desert can really make you long for a shower by the end of the day (or even in the middle). If you don’t have a running water or plumbing set up getting that shower can be a challenge.
In many of the preparedness and off-grid books I’ve read (fiction and non-fiction) 55 gallon drums or 5 gallon buckets are used to set up showers. These are often painted black (especially the drums) to use solar to heat the water and then placed at an elevated height to allow gravity to provide water pressure. A hole is added to the bottom with a hose and nozzle to provide the water. These are supposed to work quite well and we had a bucket with a 3 gallon bucket with a hole already in it that we thought about using. Joe tried to adapt the hand held shower thing from our camp trailer but he couldn’t get everything to fit together properly. And my research indicated that while this makes a decent shower set up, it isn’t the best idea for conserving water.
I found that many people recommend a clean weed sprayer as a shower system. Here’s what they look like on Amazon (that’s an affiliate link) but you can likely find them for less locally. Joe wasn’t sure this was actually going to work but I put up some good evidence and he agreed to give it a try. I have to admit I was also a little skeptical.
When we went up to the property over the 4th of July weekend, Joe and my brother-in-law built a shower stall for me. I searched Pinterest for pictures of outdoor showers and showed him a few examples. He designed and constructed the door while we were at home. I had shared a picture of a shower with a moon on it and asked him if he could do that but he said no. Imagine my surprise when the door he brought in had a rough cut out of a moon!
The end result is a little rough since it was made from lumber we already had. The only things purchased to put the shower together were hinges, locks and the hooks/organizer along with the sprayer. We added a floor of cement bricks that we had at home and one bag of pea gravel. We will be adding additional pea gravel and also doing a porch area outside with pea gravel and cement bricks plus a bench so we’ll have a place to put on our shoes. Joe will also be painting both the inside and outside before winter and adding a roof. The size of the shower makes it roomy enough to also use as a dressing area and our toilet bucket (a three gallon bucket with a snap on toilet lid) sits in the corner. On the shelf we keep toilet paper plus a bottle of water and soap (for hand washing).
We tested the sprayer when we first set it up. The sprayer will hold two gallons of water. That two gallon fill allowed us eight showers and we still had water left! Christopher absolutely loved the shower and spent quite a bit of time playing in there. It was a welcome cool off for him on those hot days.
I was surprised how well the sprayer worked. After pumping it up the pressure remains for quite some time and provided a decent stream for cleaning. I did have some trouble washing my hair. The stream is powerful enough but the sprayer wand is a little long and was awkward. I was able to complete the task but it wasn’t easy. Our cabin builder told Joe he thought that it could be adapted so the wand could hand and a nozzle could be added that could turn on and off resulting in hands-free operation. I’m not sure Joe understood the instructions though so I’m not counting on that adaption anytime soon.
We plan on using the outdoor shower this summer and into fall when up at the property. Our winters are much too cold for showering outside. Once the cabin shell is complete we’ll set up a temporary bathroom inside (likely something similar to the outdoor shower) until the interior work is done. Truthfully, we don’t anticipate having the permanent bathroom set up for quite some time so I imagine the outdoor shower will see quite a bit of use next summer also. Check out the view from the outdoor shower! I love it.
To heat the water for the shower and for washing dishes we have a solar water heater. This thing is amazing!
It’s a box cut to the size of a window we picked up for a couple of bucks at Habitat for Humanity. Joe added shelves for the jugs to sit on and legs to the back so it can lean toward the sun. He then painted everything black. We thought we’d line the inside with foil or tin to increase the heat collection but it gets plenty warm (this may be necessary for winter, we’ll have to see). Joe planned on putting the door (window) on hinges so it would swing open but after breaking the first window/door he decided to put in a sliding system. The door slides up from the bottom to access the water containers. Turns out this is a great choice with the winds we get also. I have to admit, I’m not super excited about using plastic bottles to heat the water but it’s what we need to do for now. I’d love to find some metal containers of some sort that would fit inside the water heater. I considered glass but since we may also use this during the winter that might not work with the possibility of freezing overnight. At least with the plastic it could freeze and then thaw without worrying about breaking. We got the idea for this solar water heater from an eBook I picked up last year: Simple Solar Homesteading Off the Grid.
With the efficiency of the shower and the warm weather I have enough bottles in the heater for showers and doing dishes but I’ll need to collect more containers for colder weather. We don’t drink much soda or juice so it takes awhile to get the bottles. 😉