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Both practical and enjoyable, outdoor showers in SC were popular long before being hip

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People in the Lowcountry tend to love the outdoors, but from sand, salt water and pluff mud to sunscreen and sweat, tracking all that stuff indoors is something not to love.

But it’s nothing that an outdoor shower can’t take care of.

Following the trend of taking everything outdoors — from kitchens to fireplaces — outdoor showers are the stuff of a Pinterest feed these days.

In South Carolina, practicality in outdoor showers still reigns.

Avid local surfer Norman Godley can’t remember when he built an outdoor shower but can remember the circumstance.

“Raising three sons, my wife got tired of wetsuits coming the house and dripping all over the place. She said, ‘You need an outdoor shower,’ and I said, ‘Yes, dear,’” recalls Godley, who lives in Mount Pleasant.

Though he doesn’t have a hot water connection on the shower, Godley says he uses the shower more in the winter than the summer, but will jump in it to cool off during the summer, after getting hot repairing boards or doing yard work, to avoid going inside.

The range

Like most amenities for the home and garden, outdoor showers can go from bare-bones basic to something worthy of being featured in Architectural Digest.

Some outdoor showers on stands are available online for a few hundred dollars and can be hooked up with a hose, requiring no expertise.

Richard and Betsy Reves Sidebottom of Charleston chose to install a simple one in May 2015 after having three active children and a dog and have a variety of uses, from showering to rinsing off the kids, washing the dogs and even filling watering cans for the garden.

“We didn’t want to go to the expense of getting plumbing installed (for the shower),” says Betsy.

Others are designed and installed by professionals and can be elaborate.

Some of the key considerations are making sure a municipality or homeowners association allows them and finding an ideal location. That can include a site that gets some direct sunlight (to curb mold and mildew), but also privacy, and which drains well.

While regulations vary depending on jurisdictions, outdoor showers are not usually required to be in tied into sewer systems, in part to avoid flooding rains from entering the system and causing a burden. However, local building officials advise that homeowners consider drainage and even install French drains to ensure that ponding doesn’t occur.

One major consideration

While it’s sweltering hot in the Palmetto State right now, consider the extremes in winter when installing an outdoor shower.

In Columbia, colder fluctuations in winter temperatures present a bit more of a challenge to installing showers, according to Josh Daniels of Franklin Plumbing & Design.

“More and more people are getting outdoor showers simply because they like to shower outside,” says Daniels.

Daniels does most of his installations at hotel or apartment pool facilities but does put in about a half dozen per year in homes. He's also does a lot of work repairing outdoor showers.

“The biggest issue with outdoor showers up here is that they don’t think about winterization,” says Daniels, adding that he uses freeze resistant Uponor-brand PEX plumbing products for those installations and repairs, as well as valves to help drain lines.

Keeping it green

Most interviewed emphasized the importance of using biodegradable, eco-friendly soaps and shampoos.

Johnny Reaves says an outdoor shower was his only shower while he was living in a school bus on Johns Island and building an adjacent house. He used his outdoor shower, which used an Eccotemp L5 tankless water heater to heat water fed by a garden hose, until renting the “schoolie” for an Airbnb.

“I loved taking showers outside, surrounded by bamboo, but if you want to be in nature like that, you have to be mindful about what you’re using,” says Reaves, also noting the importance of where the gray water drains.

Shunning the indoors

Some locals enjoy their outdoor showers so much (especially the ones with hot water) that it’s their go-to showers for most of the year.

Carolyn Lee on James Island had two outdoor showers installed when she had an 800-square-foot house built three years ago. One is underneath the elevated house and other adjacent to her master bathroom.

“From late February to November, the indoor shower goes dead,” says the 73-year-old, who is an avid gardener, kayaker and boogie boarder. “With all my activities, I get filthy and sometimes will take three showers a day.”

But she likes showering outside for another reason.

“The closer I am at being at one with nature the happier I am,” says Lee. “Sometimes I think I could stand there (in the shower) forever if I didn’t have to pay a hot water bill.”

Early riser

Marty and Kim Counts Morganello, who also live on James Island, just installed an outdoor shower in March. It's conveniently located between a walkway to their dock and new backyard porch.

“I haven’t showered inside since then,” says Marty. “Pouring rain? Doesn’t matter. I plan to use it year-round.”

But the outdoor shower has other benefits.

Sometimes Marty has to be at work by 4 a.m. Taking his shower outside minimizes the noise he makes indoors so that he doesn’t disturb Kim and their toddler daughter.

Kim says another benefit of the outdoor shower is that it keeps sediment out of their pipes and septic system.

“In the summer, we have what we call ‘two bathing suit days’ where we might go to the beach twice a day or to the beach in the morning and a swim in the creek in the afternoon,” says Kim, noting the cumulative impact of all that sediment.

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Contact David Quick at 843-937-5516. Follow him on Twitter @DavidQuick.

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