For folks who are not project-oriented, you might be wondering what steps led up to the building of the outdoor shower. How’d I go from, “hey – an outdoor shower would be nifty” to “whoa – I have a great looking outdoor shower in my backyard”?
You’ve seen the beginning of the outdoor shower/shade house project. Now let’s take a look both backwards and forwards in time to find out how it came into being.
In the beginning, there were thoughts of greywater, a shade house and chickens designed by a brand new Permaculture Design student; her certificate newly minted.
What was a dream in December of 2007 quickly became a reality when I had the opportunity to host Brad Lancaster, water harvesting guru, at my home in May of 2008 to do a workshop on installing an outdoor shower for the Valley Permaculture Alliance. I came to be chosen for this project because I had done a lot of volunteer work for the VPA, building out their social media site and getting over 100 classes up and running.
Brad took a look at my original plan and helped me refine it, giving me more insight into what the greywater budget would be for my shower and what types of plants I might consider growing with the water. The final plan included a shower with three drains, each feeding an infiltration pit. Two pits held grapevines and the third originally held an artichoke. Later it became self-evident that the artichoke basin was getting more water and could support a Chinese elm tree that will ultimately shade the shower, henyard and raised patio area, providing relief during our long, hot summers.
Once the plan was revised to everyone’s satisfaction, we invited participants to the actual build out. About 25-30 people showed up that day to help out and I think it was an eye-opening experience for all of us to see the possibilities of using greywater in our arid landscapes – I know it was for me. Brad also talked about the importance of using the right soap for greywater landscape use and I took his advice and use Oasis Dishwashing soap for hands and body and Aubrey Organics brand shampoos for hair.
It’s interesting to note that several of the participants in that class were so inspired that they went on to work with water harvesting in some way – either by selling materials, as designers, or in the case of Ryan Wood, by becoming the Program Coordinator for the Phoenix branch of Watershed Management Group; a very effective non-profit dedicated to water harvesting in drylands. Watershed Management Group has taken the concept of the barn raising model to design and build water harvesting projects to a whole new level with their Green Living Co-op program. This program allows you to earn hours towards hosting a water harvesting installation at your house by working to help others with their projects.
If you live in Phoenix or Tucson, I highly recommend signing up for this free program and attending local workshops – the education you receive by actually participating in the build is amazing.
So you can see, plans change over time. My more extensive shade structure was limited to just the shade house on the back (east-facing) side of the house. Monitoring the greywater flow to the various infiltration basins indicated that I could swap out a lower water use, seasonal shrub (artichoke) for a large shade tree that will save me some money on my air conditioning bills. It’s a learning process and there are always little tweaks to the system that will let you obtain a greater yield.