Creating a Shower in an Imperfect Setting
July 21, 2011 11:08 AM   Subscribe

How do I rig a shower in my bathroom when there is no drain? A pal installed a functional shower head, now I just need to get rid of the water somehow. There is a sink and toilet right next to the soon-to-be shower, and I was thinking a pump in a basin with a tube that empties into the sink is the way to go. But what kind of pump? Is there a smarter way to go about all of this?

In the past I just used a cheap-o hand held shower head that popped onto my sink faucet, while standing in a basin which I emptied out after bathing. It was successful, but I can't keep up the regular heavy basin-lifting. I am trying to figure out the simplest, cleanest system with the least possibility of stagnant mossy water lingering at the bottom of a basin which a pump is powerless to address. I have basically zero skills in this area, so elaborate plumbing ideas are not possible. Any ideas to help with this admittedly strange bathing process would be very appreciated!
posted by thegreatfleecircus to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm going to assume you live in an area without building codes, because this probably violates several of them.

The main thing you would need is a bathing pail or wash tub large enough to stand in, and because you have a shower head you'll also need an overhead rail system for a shower curtain. Most of the ones I know of are shaped for a tub, but you may be able to find one you can assemble in the rough shape and size of whatever pail/tub you have.

This is not going to be a place for long showers, as the tub will fill up rather quickly. Hope you're efficient.

Then the problem is the tub being full. What you'll want to empty it -- I presume into your sink -- is a bulb siphon where you put one end in the tub water and the other in the drain. You may need to prime it with some faucet water before the bulb will get things going, but to your amazement (if you haven't seen it done) this can raise the water up and over and into the sink by capillary action. There are limits to how well this works the higher the water has to go, though. Eventually the water in the tub will be low enough to pick it up and dump it.
posted by dhartung at 11:22 AM on July 21, 2011

Step 1: Um, pray to the Almighty that a building inspector or other local authority never sets foot in your bathroom until you fix things.

Step 2: find a plumber, and pay them lots of money, because this is a spectacularly bad idea.

Failing those, look into sump pumps. You'll need a catchment area that's slightly sloped (so don't use slippery buckets, look for something with grip), with the sump pump at the low end. If you dump a small quantity of bleach into any standing water after the pump switches off you'll minimize unpleasant growing things.

The sump pump will turn on whenever it senses water; be careful where you locate the sensor lest you burn out the pump accidentally (the manual should discuss this).

Also, you should probably get up to date on your life insurance.
posted by aramaic at 11:26 AM on July 21, 2011

Can you do something with a siphon to empty the tub into the sink?
posted by ldthomps at 11:27 AM on July 21, 2011

If you do this - and it sounds like a bad idea to me - an independent hardware store may be able to assemble a custom shower rail for you from pipe. We got one for our slightly-oddly-shaped bathtub. What about getting a large, shallow but liftable tub, filling it partway with water to bathe/spongebathe and just using the showerhead to rinse? As long as you make sure that when you rinse you don't use more water than you can lift, you can tip the water into the sink. (And probably upend the tub to dry.)
posted by Frowner at 11:39 AM on July 21, 2011

We live in a first world country in a developed house, but even so we bought a sump pump and drilled a hole for a hose through the floor under the bathroom vanity in order to quickly and easily set up a greywater system for bathwater reuse. The sump pump is a canister type, so it's a matter of when the bath is over, open the vanity, pull it out, drop it in the bathtub and let it run. It's got a float valve shutoff, so it stops when the tub is empty.

We don't do this for showers 'cause we hate standing in shower water.

Presumably you could find a portable canister style sump pump, shower into a catch basin of some sort, and be on your way. I'd be a little wary of showering with the sump pump in the same tub even if you were sure you had it on an electrical circuit with a good GFCI breaker and a known good ground, just because I'm paranoid about mixing electricity and water, but that should be okay. However I definitely wouldn't do that unless I knew I had a good ground and GFCI on the circuit, and as I said I didn't get to this age by doing too many stupid things.

To the snarkers about building codes: I'll run my own feed lines all day long, but I'll get a licensed plumber for drain lines because drains are hard, and doing them up to code can be expensive and difficult. If you're sneaking in an unpermitted extra residence then, yes, trying to figure out how to drain a shower can be a hell of a challenge. There are reasons for building codes, but most of them are actually about keeping the next occupant of the house safe, so if the questioner wants to figure out how to do this, more power to 'em.
posted by straw at 11:40 AM on July 21, 2011

Could you possibly use a small blow up kiddie pool as your tub and siphon water out afterwards then deflate the pool?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:43 AM on July 21, 2011

Can you take your shower a few feet off the ground? Put in a little table to stand on or something? Because it'll make siphoning a heck of a lot easier.

You can also get some little pump to start the water flowing, let it run 30 seconds, and then turn it off and the water should siphon the rest of the way.

If anyone has had good luck with some particular brand of hand siphon, let me know, because I haven't run into one that didn't suck (or DID suck, more literally speaking.)

If we're talking larger amounts of water, those hand/foot bilge pumps for small boats are awesome. Might be too much pump for your needs, though.

I too am a little surprised at people's dedication to building codes in this thread.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:01 PM on July 21, 2011

[Comment removed. thegreatfleecircus, you need to not get in a throwdown with folks answering your question. Take what's useful and make use of it, clarify something if you need to, but this needs to not be an argument between you and people not giving the sorts of answers you want.]
posted by cortex at 12:04 PM on July 21, 2011

This is clearly a job for a bilge pump used in boat hulls. They're small, pump a large volume of water, run quiet, and use 12V DC so you don't have to worry about killing yourself. They have a convenient hose connection, AND they're dirt cheap. This one from Attwood is $18 on Amazon, and is also sold at any retail store that sells boating supplies. I believe Home Depot may carry them as well.

To finish off this project, get a length of appropriately sized rubber hose, and a 12 volt power adapter for some long lost electronic gadget.
posted by Capa at 12:05 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even though they're intended for homebrewing, an autosiphon might do the trick for cheaply and effectively siphoning water to the sink. Generally however, you have to let gravity do the work for it is ideal that the makeshift tub is at a higher elevation than the sink drain. Otherwise I would recommend a sump pump that you can get from a variety of places including marine supply stores (just be sure to get one that can filter the incoming water a bit so dealing with hair and particulates is less of a chore). There are also hand operated sump pumps that are cheaper and can take a bit more of a beating (in marine stores these are called bilge pumps and can move a decent volume of water quickly with minimal effort).
posted by samsara at 12:08 PM on July 21, 2011

Just to add to samsara's comment, the bilge pumps I've used wouldn't care deeply about hair or things like that. They've been pretty forgiving.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:11 PM on July 21, 2011

They do get slimy, though, so maybe put some bleach in your water once in a while to kill off the ick.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:11 PM on July 21, 2011

True about the forgiving and slimy. The motorized bilge pumps are somewhat less forgiving, but doable with a screen filter underneath to keep out hair. Caps suggestion for using an old 12v DC adapter is a great suggestion.
posted by samsara at 12:13 PM on July 21, 2011

They make portable showers. I'd suggest one of those.
posted by zug at 12:45 PM on July 21, 2011

I don't think they're so cheap as all that. Craigslist might turn one up though.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:23 PM on July 21, 2011

One thing to think about if you are showering in a room that wasn't designed for it: ventilation and removing the humid air. You will also want to think about what your walls are made of, and protecting them from water/humidity damage.

The previous owner of our house installed a shower in what had been a linen closet. The walls were tiled but the ceiling was left as painted plaster, and there was no ventilation for the room. Within a year, the plaster was mildewing and beginning to crumble. We installed a ceiling vent fan (vents to outside the house) and tiled the ceiling, and it's been much better since.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:05 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in the USA. I had a house with a shower that drained under the house. No drain pipes just a hole in the floor. It worked a treat and watered the plants outside. The house probably violated every building code in the USA, but the shower drained just fine.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 4:10 PM on July 21, 2011

The drawback of the hole in the floor is that it's two-way, so things can come into your house that way.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:48 PM on July 21, 2011

The Physics of Siphoning: The hose outlet has to be lower than the water level in the tub. Otherwise the water won't flow. So the idea of siphoning water out of a tub on the floor and up into a sink won't work. For that you need a pump.
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:36 PM on July 21, 2011

LobsterMitten: "One thing to think about if you are showering in a room that wasn't designed for it: ventilation and removing the humid air. You will also want to think about what your walls are made of, and protecting them from water/humidity damage."

Good call on this one, LobsterMitten -- everyone thinks they're just fart fans and yep, they do handle that, but just as importantly they transport all that moist, warm air to the outdoors (or into the attic, depending upon the layout you're working with.)
posted by dancestoblue at 11:36 PM on July 21, 2011

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