Archive for the ‘Fixtures’ Category:

Good Clean Fun: How to Build an Outdoor Shower

Outdoor showers may seem like a luxury - something that only those with beach houses would need or be lucky enough to have. But an avid gardener, runner or someone that enjoys the freedom of bathing in nature, you may consider an outdoor shower for your own home.

Lucky for you, outdoor showers are an accessible feature for just about anyone. It all depends on how simple or complex you want your shower to be. A simple outdoor shower with cold water costs approximately $1,000 or less. An outdoor shower with an enclosure and hot and cold water will run about $4,000-$8,000.

Here are four things to consider before taking the plunge on your own little piece of outdoor bathing heaven.

Location

This is one of the most important considerations. It’s best to choose a spot that you use often. In most cases, anywhere near the back entrance to your home is a good choice - maybe adjacent to the back door or on the back deck. If you have a pool, situate the shower nearby for easy rinses before and after swimming.

Another major consideration is plumbing access. Unless you’re installing the type of shower that attaches to a garden hose, you’ll need to install it close to existing plumbing.

Last but not least, go for a sunny spot. This will help keep mold and mildew at bay and provide natural warmth while you rinse.

Privacy

Privacy is a fairly important consideration, unless you think only swimsuit-clad people will use the outdoor shower. You want the shower to feel private and far from prying eyes, but you also want to keep the natural feeling.

Photo from Zillow listing.

An easy and adjustable choice is a freestanding folding screen. These screens work particularly well on decks and patios, where it might be impractical to build any type of wall.

Another option is building corrugated metal wing walls to create a shower “corner” of sorts, where swimmers can rinse off after a dip. You can make this more private by adding a third wall to the design. Of course, there’s always the more elaborate option, which would be to surround the shower with wooden walls.

Plumbing

The simplest and most inexpensive plumbing option, and one that many people choose, is a shower connected to a garden hose, which is then hooked up to an outside faucet. This cold-water fixture is perfect for an outdoor shower that’s used only in the heat of summer and mostly for cleaning off dirt and sand.

Next up is the hot-and-cold hose option. First, you’ll need a plumber to install an outdoor hot-water faucet next to the cold one. From there, it basically works in a similar fashion to the cold-water hose shower.

The most elaborate - and most expensive - is the plumbed-in outdoor shower. This is worth investing in if you anticipate consistent outdoor showers and not just cleaning up after a hot day in the sun. The only downside to this option: If you live in an area with freezing winters, you have to make sure you can fully drain and insulate the plumbing so it doesn't burst.

Drainage

The simplest and most common drainage system is letting the used water drain into your yard. If you don't have very porous ground in your yard, or if the outdoor shower is close to your home, consider attaching the plumbing to your home’s drainage pipes or installing a French drain (essentially a gravel-lined channel connected to a pipe that directs water to a drainage area).

The easiest thing to do, of course, is to go with the first option and recycle the water into your garden.

Accessories

Incorporate affordable accessories that add to the fun and pleasure of showering outdoors. A large rainfall showerhead enhances that outdoor feeling, and plants or flowers in the shower area or peeping through the enclosure add a whimsical touch.

Add some soft solar-powered lights for showering at dusk, install hooks for hanging towels and wet bathing suits, and maybe even add a chair to sit in. Most importantly, design your shower to take advantage of nature’s views, whether that’s the sky overhead or the splendor of your backyard garden.

Photo from Zillow listing.

With just a little planning and effort, you can install your own outdoor shower and stay cool during the sunnier months.

Related:

Originally published June 26, 2017.

Your Top 5 Fireplace Questions, Answered

Fireplaces are one of the most sought-after home features, but using one can be intimidating, and you've probably got questions.

Here's a quick guide to get you and your fire started this fall.

How do I use a wood-burning fireplace?

If a cave man can start a fire, so can you.

1. Get your chimney inspected
Safety is your first priority! Have your fireplace and chimney inspected by a licensed professional. This is something you should do every year, before the first fire of the season.

2. Prepare the fireplace
Clean out any old ashes with a broom (make sure they're cool, of course). Check that the damper is open and working properly.

3. Gather and prep your wood
Use seasoned hardwood that has been split and dried for at least six months - preferably for a year. Seasoned hardwood logs should be dark and cracked at the ends, and they should make a hollow sound when knocked together.

To construct a long-lasting fire, place a rolled-up ball of newspaper beneath the grates. Then lay pieces of narrow, finely split wood in a crisscross pattern on the grates.

Finish the stack by securely resting one to three dry logs over the kindling.

4. Prime the flue
This step heats the cold air inside the flue so you don't get a backup of smoke. Before you light the fire, light a tightly rolled-up sheet of newspaper, and hold it toward the open damper. Keep it there for a minute or two until you see the smoke going up the flue.

5. Light it up!
Now you're ready to light your fire and enjoy.

If the fire starts to go out, gently fan the flames with folded newspaper or use a poker to get the air flowing again. Add logs to the fire with tongs to provide more fuel.

When the fire has gone out for the night, close the metal or glass doors before you go to bed.

Are fireplaces efficient?

It depends. Wood-burning fireplaces, for all their old-fashioned charm, are a wildly wasteful way to heat a house. Since heat rises upward, most of it escapes through the chimney, even when the fire has gone out for the night.

Fireplaces located against an outside wall lose even more heat, since much of it is lost to the cold outdoor air.

Solution? Only use your wood-burning fireplace for special occasions. If you don't plan on using your fireplace often, purchase an inflatable plug to add insulation.

Gas fireplaces are more efficient, and the newest models are realistic enough to make you forget that you don't own any firewood. Switching to a gas insert is expensive, though, especially if you have to make changes to your chimney.

If aesthetics are all that matter, use your fireplace to display lit candles.

Are fireplaces safe?

Fire is the very definition of unsafe, but that doesn't mean you can't safely enjoy your fireplace. You just have to maintain it and practice common sense:

  • Keep flammable materials and objects away from the fireplace, and store firewood well away from the house.
  • To keep embers from flying out and igniting your unread stack of magazines, use a mesh or metal screen when the fire is lit.
  • Before lighting the first fire of the season, inspect your extinguishers, test your smoke detectors and review your family's evacuation routes.
  • Continue to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly.
  • The glass doors, mesh screen and tools can be dangerously hot. If you have children, use a free-standing barrier to prevent burns.

Wood-burning fireplaces produce smoke that can irritate or even damage your lungs, even with a properly functioning chimney. To keep smoke from filling your house, ensure that the damper is open, your home is ventilated, and the chimney has been inspected and cleared of obstructions.

Carbon monoxide is produced by both gas and wood-burning fireplaces, and it's especially dangerous because it's invisible, silent and odorless. Use carbon monoxide detectors and inspect them regularly.

Why does my gas fireplace smell?

What you smell is an additive that's been included in the propane to help you detect gas leaks.

Vent-free gas fireplaces typically come with an oxygen depletion sensor that will shut off the flame if too much carbon monoxide is detected, and vented fireplaces pull fumes away from the house.

These safety measures aren't foolproof, however, so ensure that you have carbon monoxide detectors installed, and inspect them monthly by pressing the "Test" button.

How often should I clean my chimney?

A buildup of soot and creosote is more than unsightly: It can reduce airflow, cause smoke to back up and even create a fire risk.

To avoid a chimney fire, have your fireplace and chimney inspected annually by a licensed professional. They will likely recommend a cleaning when the layer of residue is about 1/8 of an inch thick.

To clean inside the fireplace, put on a dust mask, sweep out the ashes, and scrub the surfaces with a brush and dishwashing liquid.

Related: