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Outdoor Bath

One of my many dreams was to one day be able to lie back in the bath & eat grapes!

In summer luscious sultana grapes overhang the bath under the trellis

In a mild climate an outdoor bath is not only environmentally sound - (it makes putting the used water on the garden so much easier) - but it is a wonderfully healing experience. The water stays surprisingly warm even in winter. Privacy can be assured by the lavish use of suitable plants. This is what I see when relaxing in my tub on a summer evening

Children find it fun to tub in the garden, & you don't have to clean up the mess in the bathroom!

An ancient bath, restored & painted leaf-green is ornamental as well as useful.

Hot water for the outdoor tub

Return to 'Washing a woollen underquilt'

In 2000, I reluctantly let go of my outdoor bathroom, because the bath was reclaimed! Apparently the person who had given it to me didn't actually own it, and their landlord wanted it back!
In late 2007, I acquired another much lighter bath, which I can move around without help. The garden has changed significantly, and the bath is now in the sun for much of the day during winter. In summer, though the view has changed, it is still delightfully leafy & shady, and I can still lie back eating grapes!

Ways of getting Hot Water into your outdoor tub

My own tub was originally filled with a hose run from the gas-fired HWS supplied with my Housing Trust cottage. As I live in an area where outdoor fires are prohibited, and the bath is in the shade in summer, I at first thought there wasn't much choice. However, since this also meant using mains water, I always felt it to be an extravagance. Now I have a smaller bath, & have devised ways to heat rainwater in the sun. In winter, when the leaves have dropped, the sun is often sufficient to warm the water through a clear plastic cover, as long as I have my bath as soon as the water is hot enough. I also raised the bath at one end, so that it takes less water to bathe comfortably.

The ideal outdoor bathroom has some kind of solar water heating system. This calls for the creative use of discarded items (otherwise known as rubbish!)
The darker the bath, the more efficient the heating. If your tub is in the sun for at least part of the day, you can achieve a comfortable temperature simply by lining the bath with a sheet of black plastic, then placing a sheet of glass or plastic over the top. An old glass shower screen, door, or large window works quite well, and is very stable. The clear plastic used to cover large objects such as mattresses can work even better than glass, especially if the top of the bath is curved, because you get a good seal. It's also a lot lighter, but although it is more difficult to stabilise, I now use this method all year round. Tape the plastic into a bag large enough to drape over the edges of the bath. Experiment with the best way to hold the plastic in place. This may mean using enough okky straps to go around the outside, or using some system of smooth weights inside the large bag to hold it down. These could be "sausages" filled with sand - wetting them makes them heavier - or plastic bottles filled with water.
Burying the bath in the ground might be a good strategy in certain situations, although this either means setting up a permanent drain, or baling the water out with buckets. Use your imagination and ingenuity!

When I was studying at the Permaculture Village at Crystal Waters, I saw a number of simple wood-fired baths.
The main drawback to this method is that the bottom of the bath gets so hot, you have to wait for the bath to cool down enough for you to sit in it without burning your behind! Wedging some suitable wood in the bottom, or placing a thick towelling or rubber bathmat in the bath before you get in, can work.
There are also safety concerns where there are children, partly from the unguarded fire, and partly from the extreme heat of the bottom of the bath for some time after the fire goes out.
And I was told you cannot use a cast iron bath, or it will crack - you must use one made of pressed metal.
You must have room to set up the bath with a suitable firebreak around it, and for the smoke to escape without causing a nuisance.
Though I see no reason why you couldn't use a large portable gas ring, such as Italians use to make tomato sauce in areas where the use of outdoor fires is prohibited.
Having found the right spot, it's simply a case of building a low grate or fire pit where the centre of the bath will be placed, and raising the bath on firm supports placed either side of the grate. Don't forget the bottom of the bath is curved, not flat. It's a good idea to have the set-up placed so that the prevailing winds blow across the bath, so you get a good draught, and a quick clean fire. And the supports must be adequate - piles of loose bricks are not safe! Alternatively, you can excavate your firepit, not forgetting to provide draught channels, and sit your bath on the ground, preventing it from rocking with earth or flat stones. In either case you will need to provide adequate drainage. Set up the bath, and fill with cold water, then climb in and test it for stability, before you even think about lighting your first fire. Then it's better to build a small fire, and add to it as necessary, than to risk scalding yourself, or worse still, a child

There are several other ways you could use wood to heat water for an outdoor bath - one is to find an old-fashioned chip bath heater, and learn to use that.
The chip bath heater works like a geyser, either a water jacket or water pipes surrounding the fire box. They need to be plumbed in, and you MUST keep the water flowing until the fire is out, or it can blow up! But they work well, and are very economical.
Another is to get hold of a copper, and set it up close to the bath. This has the advantage that you can use rainwater for your bath if you have it available. If the copper has a tap, you will have little trouble getting the hot water into the bath. If not, be sure to use heavy duty plastic, or metal buckets, to transfer the water. Lighweight plastic buckets will not hold hot water safely, and you, or others, may be badly scalded.

The best outdoor bathroom I ever saw was in a community in Western Australia. The "room" had been cut in the centre of a grove of bamboo, and the hot water system was a 44-gallon drum supported on a stand in the sun. In cold weather a carefully confined fire under a second 44-gallon drum on the ground acted as a "donkey" I can't remember exactly how the plumbing worked, but anyone with metal-working skills and a knowledge of simple hydrology should be able to work it out.

Whatever method you use, don't let the water get too hot - scalds are terrible, and hot water is NOT good for the garden! .

A strategy that people living in really cold climates might consider is to have their bath and /or shower in a conservatory attached to the house. There is an excellent rough design for such a room in section 6.4 of the book Permaculture Two - the most anarchic & creative of the Permaculture texts, and consequently now out of print. It's an invaluable book! Why not look for it in an online secondhand bookshop.

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