The Outdoor Shower

I have always loved showering outdoors. It might be one of my favorite things about beach vacations. With the very mild/hot climate in Texas, an outdoor shower was one of my first priorities when I bought a house. Plus, it has the added benefit of providing irrigation to my fruit trees.DSCN1461[1]

The materials for the project were minimal:

  1. Old fencing material that I found left out for bulky item trash collection.
  2. Boiled linseed oil
  3. 2” deck screws
  4. Garden hose
  5. Shower apparatus

The placement of the shower was perhaps the most important decision. For the irrigation benefit, it was important to place the shower at the point of highest elevation in my backyard. I also wanted it to be located in a place that could not be used for other purposes, such as fruit or vegetable cultivation. Proximity to a water connection was also a factor.

My yard is extremely flat with a change in elevation of maybe a few inches. There are 2 large oak trees, so locating the shower under one of these trees would be a location that can’t be used for another purpose, and provide some added privacy. Using a bunjip, I was able to determine that the location under one of the trees is a few inches higher than the other tree; therefore, this was established as my shower location.

The oak tree is on the other side of a 6′ wooden fence and it hangs over into my yard. There is also an 8′ wooden fence along the entire back side of the property. These fences were key to providing privacy.  By using the 6′ fence as one wall of my shower, and facing it toward the 8′ fence I only needed to build 2 shower walls. The user would need to walk to the back of the property and enter the shower from the direction of the 8′ fence (see image above, which shows the position of the shower in relation to the two fences).

I started with sorting the old fence boards to figure out what could be used. I had 2 4”x4”s and several 1”x6”s. I maximized the usable length at 5′ based on the non-rotted portion of the fencing. By running it horizontally and screwing to the 4”x4”s, I could minimize material usage. A minimum of 3.5′ width was needed, which resulted in a fair amount of scrap material. I figured a few feet at the bottom could be left exposed.

After selecting 10 boards for each side, I cut them down to 5′ lengths for the long side and 43” for the short side. Then everything was painted with boiled linseed oil for weather protection.

For the assembly: I started with screwing the 1”x6” boards to the 4”x4”s in the garage. Everything could be laid flat in the garage. With some assistance and a level, we were able to get both sides screwed together. And then we carried it to the back yard. It was heavy and bulky.

We dug 2 holes to make footings for the 4”x4”s these were about 1′ deep.  We got everything in place before pouring the concrete into the footings. This was actually quite simple and just involves adding a little water and a bag of concrete in a bucket (or directly in the hole), and mixing a bit with a large paint stirrer. The 2 4”x4”s were installed in this manner, and the other side of the short end was screwed to the DSCN1465[1]existing 6′ fence. A level was key to getting all of this done correctly. The photograph to the right shows the short end of the fence secured to a 2”x4”, which is then secured to the existing 6′ fence.

With the woodworking portion of the work complete, the plumbing had to be addressed. I went to Lowes to try to get the parts with assistance from the plumbing department, but they laughed in my face when I told them what I was trying to accomplish.  With a bruised ego, I tried to looked for something already assembled. I ended up finding the showerhead and control apparatus on Amazon (Homewerks shower utility faucet) for about $35. You simply connect a hose to the hot/cold water lines. This is exactly what I was looking for, and it even came with a soapdish!  Hooking up the water was a cinch.


Next was drainage and grading. Since I was hoping to irrigate my fruit trees, I needed to direct the water to a specific area of the yard. To achieve this, I sloped the base of the shower toward one corner (the upper right in the above photo). Then I laid down sand to make an evenly sloped surface, with 6 mil black plastic sheeting on top of that to act as the shower pan.  The area is bordered by concrete edging that I salvaged from another part of the yard. I also had some 12”x12” pavers, which I evenly spaced and then surrounded with pea gravel. All of this except the sand and plastic was salvaged from other parts of the yard. Below is an image of the final shower floor.


I then dug a trench toward the fruit trees and placed a PVC pipe in the first part of the trench to direct the water appropriately. I added coarse aggregate in the portion of the trench that did not have PVC to help prevent it from filling in.

All in all it was a bit of work but when I’m enjoying the outdoor breeze and a cool shower on hot summer days, I couldn’t be happier!




Under Sink Tip-Out Trays

In an attempt to help keep my kitchen sink area a bit tidier, I recently purchased some tip-out-trays to make use of the fake drawer fronts under the sink (see below). They can be used to store sponges, brushes, drain stoppers, or other small items.

Without doing much research, I found the Rev-A-Shelf brand trays for sale on Amazon at the link below (Rev-A-Shelf – 6572-14-11-52- 14” Polymer Tip Out Trays).

Instructions were provided with the trays for removing the fake drawer fronts and installing the trays. There isn’t a whole lot to the drawer front removal; mine were just stapled in place. Once removed, you’ll need to trace the opening onto the drawer front from the inside so you can determine where the hinges should be screwed in. I used a clamp to hold them in place while I did this.  Once you have the holes marked, you may want to predrill holes to make the screwing easier. As you can see in the image below and to the left, one screw is not in far enough. This is because there is limited space to get a screwdriver in the necessary position with the sink in the way.  If I had predrilled the hole the screw may have gone in a little easier.  Nevertheless, there is some redundancy so it should be fine. The installation is simply a matter of screwing in a couple of screws, then you’re done!

See below for the completed tray installation.  You can also still see my pencil markings where I traced the opening on the drawer front. The plastic tray is removable for regular cleaning. Pull-out is super easy and the hinges feel really well designed.  Now I just need to paint the inside of the drawer front white so I’m not looking at the unfinished wood.

Wine Bottle Glasses

Not too long ago a friend and I tried one of the better restaurants in Houston, TX (Pass and Provisions), and I was joyfully surprised to be served water in up-cycled glasses made from old wine bottles. I have never found a good use for old wine bottles and generally feel very wasteful recycling them. Being that wine and upcycling are right up my alley, I started researching how to create these glasses myself.

First, I purchased the Diamond Tech Crafts G2 Bottle Cutter (~$17 on Amazon). From what I read, this seemed to be the most reliable product for creating clean breaks in the glass.  There are a few YouTube videos that help tremendously. The jist of it is: you etch one line in the glass using the apparatus to get a very straight line. Then you alternate between hot and cold water baths until the bottle breaks along the etched line. I used a bucket filled with ice water and a tall pot on a light simmer on the stove.

It was pretty simple to follow the instructions on the bottle cutter to get a nice etched line. Then I would hold the bottle by the neck and alternate it between the simmering pot and the ice bucket at 30-second intervals. However, I had a very low success rate when putting the bottle in hot and cold water. The bottle tended to break at other points. Often, it was the very base that would fall right off before I got the bottle to break along the etched line.  Since my etched line was somewhat high on the bottle (for tall glasses), I also tried laying the bottle and spinning it in a wide pan of boiling water.

The bottle cutter positioned on the top of the bottle and an up close image of the etched line:

In the end, what I found to be the best technique is: submerge the bottle to at least an inch above the etched line in the boiling water pot for a solid 30-40 seconds. Then lift the bottle out and submerge it in the ice bucket with minimal time exposed to the air.  Leave the bottle in the ice bucket 30-40 seconds, after which you should see a crack all the way around where the etched line is.  If you don’t see the crack or if it is only partially around, you may need one more dunk in the hot water. However, at this point there is a low chance of success.  If you see the crack all the way around the perimeter of the bottle, slowly lift it out of the ice bucket and let the weight of the bottle cause the separation. You can provide a little assistance and pull the two segments of the bottle apart, and it will naturally break nicely along that line.

I found that if I did any more hot/cold treatments, my bottle would tend to break at some point of highest vulnerability. I also found that if I ran the hot/cold water over the crack like some recommend (rather than submerging it), I didn’t get enough temperature change to cause a crack.

If you’re worn out at this point, we are just getting started!  Yes, it is a labor of love. When you have your glasses, they are very sharp at this point.  You’ll need to sand them down real good before you put your lips on the edge of the glass.  Emery paper is best, but sandpaper works also and an electric sander makes it easier. I did this manually at first and it took a really long time.  If you can use an automatic sander to get the bulk of the rim sanded (120 grit works well), then you’ll just touch up any deeper crevices and a 45 degree angle on the inside and outside of the rim manually. I wore a mask, goggles, and gloves to prevent small shards of glass from getting in my skin, lungs, or eyes.  It is definitely an outside project.

Because of the time required and the low cost of manufactured glasses, this is not the kind of thing you do to save money or generate income. It was rewarding for me to find a use for wine bottles that would otherwise be minimally recycled. What I mean by that is, in many cities there is no way to recycle glass at a positive net energy balance. Many “recyclers” just crush up the glass for landfill cover material or mix it with aggregate for road paving. One can barely call this recycling.

The glasses can be charming and I found it best to try to coordinate sets of matching colors.

A set of completed glasses. Notice there are two different sizes and several different colors.

At the suggestion of my friend, I used the top portion of the wine bottles to make a windchime. It is never windy enough for this to actually function as a windchime, but it is kind of decorative on my patio so I keep it around.
This was very easy to assemble using the upper portions of the wine bottles (no sanding necessary) and nylon/propylene rope. I simply knotted the rope and ran it through the necks of the bottles. I think it would be more secure if you also burn it a little so the knot won’t come undone.

The Cedar Rain Bench

Ever since I moved into my new house I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of various different rainwater storage options (see also previous post).  There is the DIY 55-gallon drum setup that can include multiple drums connected together. Or the 500-1,500 gallon metal cistern option that would cost a minimum of $1,500 and be installed without any DIY required.  I have a very small yard that includes a narrow side yard on which I wanted to put the rainwater storage, so size/dimensions were also factors in my decision.  I ended up purchasing liners, a diverter to connect to the gutter downspout, and plans to build two cisterns/benches – one for a 300 gallon bench and the other for a 65 gallon bench. The products are called “300 gallon cedar rain bench DIY – 3 liners only kit” plus the “DIY diverter/combo kit” at The total cost was $258.78.  In total, I had four (4) 140-gallon liners, although the bench designs do not accommodate the full capacity of the liners. There were no reviews posted of this at the time but there were a few youtube videos about this product.  I took my chances!
With the two packages I purchased, I hoped to achieve ~500 gallons of storage in 1 long cedar rain bench and 1 small bench, assuming I would slightly modify the designs to take more advantage of the size of the liners. After reading through the plans for the long (300 gallon) bench, I quickly realized these are not easily modified. There is such little instruction provided I would basically have to start from scratch.  I wasn’t up for that so I decided to follow the plans as written.  Luckily my good friend Brian came over to help me out!  See for images of the 300 gallon bench.
I took the materials list to my local box stores to purchase the cedar.  Of course, they did not have all the items I needed, but I was able to get the 2x4s, 1x2s, screws, and hinges.  Then I drove 45 miles to a lumber store that actually sells cedar tongue and groove (t&g).  This was extraordinarily expensive and only came in 10′ lengths (not 8′ as the plans specify).  I live in a major city but this was the only place that sells this type of material.  My total spending on lumber alone was just over $400.  WOW.  Not such a cost-effective option after all.
Brian and I cut down the pieces and then painted them with boiled linseed oil.  This helps to protect the cedar from the effects of weather and is very safe for the environment.  It is time consuming but worthwhile to extend the life of your wood.
I’m not a master carpenter by any stretch of the imagination, but I do some woodworking and have a nice inventory of tools available.  I was excited that this project had already been designed and all I needed to do was follow the set of plans.  I figured I’d be done before lunch!  I followed the instructions closely.  The first thing I noticed was how sparse the instructions for the bench are. Very important details were not mentioned at all, and others were vague.  For example, the bench is made from cedar tongue and groove and the instructions do not specify if you need to cut off the tongue from the top/bottom pieces (except for one particular piece).  This seems to be quite important as the tongue is absolutely essential on some pieces and must be removed on others. Also, working with rough-cut cedar, the dimensions are going to vary a bit.  My cedar was about 1/8-1/4 inch thicker than what the instructions describe, so nothing fit together during the assembly stage.  I had to take many pieces apart and cut them down and reassemble.
Here are a few photos of the construction/assembly process:
And here is the finished bench.  It is really too tall to sit on as a bench, but I’m thinking of adding some stepping stones in front of it to add height and make sitting more comfortable.
Next step: hooking up the plumbing components.
The DIY diverter/combo kit was supposed to come with all the plumbing fittings needed for the small bench, which I thought I could source locally for the 300 gallon bench.  However, I found this to be far from accurate.  Firstly, the plumbing fittings needed are highly specialized and not widely available.  I had to order almost everything I needed online.  I’m not a plumber so I had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what parts were needed and what they are called. Secondly, the parts provided were far from sufficient for a single bench.  Specifically, the diverter comes with a hose connection, so you need to buy a hose to connect that to the bench. Also, the fittings to connect the hose to the bench were not provided, and I had to buy 3 adapters/fittings to connect a standard garden hose to the 1” ID tubing, which cost $28 total.  The 1” ID tubing is also not common and the two tiny pieces provided with the kit are completely inadequate to do anything with them. A 10′ roll of 1” ID tubing cost me $18, and 2 packs were needed for the 300 gallon bench.  In sum, all of the plumbing parts I needed to buy for the 300 gallon bench ran ~$90.
I still haven’t finished adding the overflow tubing but here is a picture with the liners in place:
The first test of this bench happened to be during Houston’s near 500-year flood event on Memorial Day 2015.  It started raining after dark and I went out to check on things. There was a large flow of water exceeding the capacity of the diverter and overflowing onto the ground.  Duh… a standard garden hose is not exactly capable of handling all of the flow from a gutter. This is another thing I hadn’t considered – that I would not be able to capture all of the flow during a heavy rain event.  I intend to connect another hose to the second location on the diverter, but this is another expense and will still not accommodate all the water during heavy rain events.
The next morning this is what I found:
The pressure of the 300 gallons burst apart the t&g wall of the bench. Back to the drawing board.  The 2” screws they have you use are simply not long enough.  Perhaps this was exacerbated by the fact that my rough cut 2x4s were slightly bigger than those per the design, so a smaller amount of the screw extended into the t&g.  I had to drain all the water I worked so hard to capture in order to repair the bench.  I cut down the t&g to allow for some expansion/contraction between boards and then screwed everything together from the front with 2 1/4” screws.  It was also necessary to adjust the liners.  Although the instructions tell you to do this, there isn’t a lot you can do when the liners are empty and since they filled up overnight, I wasn’t able to adjust them when they were partially filled.
All in all, I have now spent over $850 on the liners, diverter, and supplies for 300 gallons of water storage.  This is quite a bit more than what I had budgeted and also a lot more than the $1-$2/gallon that rainwater storage should cost.  I still need to buy the materials and build a second bench to accommodate the last liner.
This project was a lot of work and not so simple as assembling Ikea furniture.  Hopefully SecondRain provides more detailed instructions and recommendations for sourcing the fittings in the future.
8/8/15 Update:
I have now completed the second bench. The design plan for this one was far more simple and also easy to modify (I made it larger) than the 300 gallon bench. The design provided by SecondRain was for 65 gallons of water storage. Since the liner accommodates up to 140 gallons, I went ahead and built the bench a bit bigger.
In contrast to the 300 gallon bench, there are no hinges on this bench but the lid can be lifted on/off.  It is a very simple design using treated plywood and 2×2 framing.  Since I had leftover t&g from the 300 gallon bench, I simply screwed it over the plywood on the exposed sides to make it look nicer.  As you can see the t&g is oriented in different directions on the two sides shown below; this was simply the best way for me to utilize the leftover material.
I attached a second garden hose to the downspout diverter to capture flow into this bench. The overflow from this one can then be directed into the garden or into the 300 gallon bench.
My total cost for both benches is just over $1,000.  Based on my limited use of them so far, I have found some difficulty using all the water because when it gets down to a depth of about 1 foot, it won’t flow out of the hose.  I understand some people might pump the water out. Also, because the screen on the diverter is not great, a lot of dirt has accumulated in the liners and there is some algae growth since the benches do not block 100% of the light.  Overall, I would not recommend this system for rainwater storage.

Rainwater Storage

During my permaculture certification program and supplementary reading, I learned of many benefits of irrigation with rainwater. (1) Rainwater picks up nitrogen as it falls through the atmosphere, which is 78% nitrogen. The nitrogen is then available to plants as a necessary nutrient. (2) Tap water is treated with chlorine and other chemicals, which can be harmful to vegetables, especially seedlings. (3) People regularly report improved growth and production of vegetables irrigated with rainwater instead of tap water. On top of these considerations, my municipality charges an annual “drainage fee” based on impervious surface that contributes to the storm sewer system. Installing some type of rainwater diversion and storage seemed like a logical solution to help me avoid drainage fees and provide the best water for vegetables.

The question is: what type of rainwater storage to install?  Some of the options I considered are:

Option 1: a 500-1,000 gallon metal rain tank (,

Option 2: a rain barrel setup purchased from my municipal truckload sale (

Option 3: a series of 55 gallon plastic drums configured in series to the quantity of storage desired,

Option 4: a 500-1,000 gallon plastic tank (

Some of my specific considerations were:

(1) Value for the price. I was aiming to spend about $1-1.50/gallon of storage.

(2) Durability. The system should be mostly maintenance free and last 10 years.

(3) Shape. The location available for this tank is on my side yard, which is about 10′ wide and bordered by my house and a wooden fence. I needed a system that would not obstruct passage through this space and also not be an eyesore.

(4) Size. I used rain gauge data from a nearby rain gauge ( to calculate rainfall frequencies and graphed cumulative demand and frequency distribution. Based on my goals of irrigating specific areas (the vegetable garden) and running out of rain no more than once per year (during the driest period), I determined the minimum size I would need is 500 gallons. Less detailed tools are available at some agriculture extension offices (e.g.,

Based on these factors, I identified the following limitations to each option:

Option 1: the metal rain tank system bumps the upper end of my value criteria and a minimum 1,000 gallon size would be needed to bring the cost per gallon <$2.00.  It is the most durable option. On the other hand, a future homeowner may not want rainwater storage. Perhaps the most limiting issue: the shapes available do not meet my needs. A 6’ diameter would obstruct too much space on my side yard. In addition, the shipping cost could be extensive and the ability to transport the thing into my side yard through a small gate and around the house is questionable. Option 1 is a no-go.

Option 2: The truckload sale only offers 50 gallon plastic tanks for $69. Although the price per gallon is reasonable, this does not meet my storage needs. If I was to purchase 10 of these and line them up on the side yard, I expect that would be an eyesore.  Option 2 is a no-go.

Option 3: This seemed like a good option if I could find these plastic containers at a good price. On some online classified pages I’ve seen them sold used (food-grade) for $25 each. This certainly meets the value criteria, but would require a number of other purchases (e.g., diverter system, PVC connections between tanks, frame for storing them if they will be stacked). Although these could be stacked for more consolidated storage than Option 2, the need for about 10 of them still detracts from the aesthetic appearance of my side yard. In addition, I’m not a plumbing expert and the plumbing necessary to configure this option was intimidating. Option 3 remains in the running.

Option 4: The slimline water storage tanks were cheaper than the metal tanks and fit my space restrictions much better. Although not as durable, this has a 5-year warranty and probably would have lasted as long as I expect to live in my house. However, as with Option 3, the installation issue was intimidating. In hindsight, I wish I picked this option.

After weighing these options over a period of 6 months or more, and calculating the additional cost savings I would achieve from a reduced water bill on an annual basis (~$50/year), I came across a fifth option. sells kits to construct rain benches. For about $300 I could purchase the liners, diverter, and the plumbing components to get me started for 560 gallons worth of rainwater storage. This was by far the cheapest, most aesthetically pleasing option. And with the plumbing components to get me started, I didn’t need to be intimidated about how to hook it up! I would just need to purchase wood to construct the benches.

Coffee Table Dilemma

For the past five years I’ve used a coffee table that I purchased from Craigslist. Originally I was really excited to upholster it in burlap from an inspiration that I believe came from Rachel Ashwell.  It worked well for a while but because I have a cat, I had to reupholster it every 6 months to a year.  Worse, in the final days of my last laptop, I had to put it on ice packs to keep it from overheating, which then developed a leak of blue stuff on my white ottoman.  Needless to say, I had enough of that coffee table and was ready for something that required less maintenance.  I did a final re-upholstery of that table (see below).

The technique is incredibly easy. After cutting a piece of material large enough to fully cover the upholstered portion of the bench, I use a small staple gun to secure the material to the underside of the bench, stretching it tightly as I work my way around the bench. You always want to start with securing the midpoint of each side first and then work your way around the rest of the sides.

145  144

My next coffee table inspiration came from Dan, from HGTV’s online show DanMade. He made a very simple reclaimed wood coffee table that has a really dramatic impact.  See the image here.  I couldn’t find wood of the correct thickness, but I had purchased the remnants of a table (with no legs) from a furniture warehouse sale and figured I would use that wood.  The effort required about 7 cuts with a table saw, some wood glue, clamps, screws, and casters. My finished table is below. I wish I had used larger casters, but they can be expensive and didn’t want to end up spending a lot of money on this project.  Being on wheels; however, is probably the best thing for a coffee table, I don’t know how I used to manage!

Coffee Table
Dan-Made-Inspired Coffee Table

Wine Bar – My First Big Project

For the past several years I have not had a functioning wine and liquor storage area. I resort to putting liquor up on a really high shelf in my kitchen and wine bottles in a wine rack that is pretty but takes up a lot of space.  Despite much shopping, I haven’t been able to find a cabinet that works well for my storage needs.  I finally found a really beautiful wine bar at Four Hands furniture warehouse, but it was over $1,000.  I believe it was from India but, unfortunately, I didn’t take a photograph of it.  With that inspiration, I decided to build my own wine bar, using only found/reclaimed wood.

Below are my measurements and a rough sketch of my planned bar.  I based the design on a rectangular piece of slate that I wanted to use as the bar top.
Wine Bar Dimensions

Wine Bar Dimensions

Wine Bar Sketch
Sketch of the Wine Bar
I also created a spreadsheet with my planned dimensions that was cross-linked so that any changes in a particular dimension would correspondingly update any other dimension that would be impacted.  I tried to use Google Sketchup for the design but at the time I had Windows Vista which was not compatible and I was unable to save any of my designs.  However, that program is pretty simple to learn and I would recommend using it if you can.
The most effort for this project was in putting together/laminating all the planks to make the sides and back of the bar.  A side image of the laminated boards is below.  After I meticulously cut each piece to exactly the same length, during the laminating process (i.e., using wood glue between the boards to attach them to each other), the pieces inevitably shifted and did not remain exactly flat on the edges.  I ended up sawing off the ends after the lamination process to make them all even in the end.  I recommend not being so meticulous at first and planning to even the edges at the end.

Close Up Image of Individual Boards Used for the Sides of the Wine Bar
A picture of the final wine bar and inside the cabinet is below.  I used drawer pulls from old drawers I found in a junk pile and the carved panels in the front cabinet were disassembled from the wine rack I had before.  Only took about 10 weekends!
Under-Bar Storage
Wine Bar
Completed Wine Bar