How to Build a Comfortable Outhouse

outhouse

Yesterday I talked about sanitation; today I want to continue this subject by talking about outhouses.  When I was young I lived in two different homes that had outhouses and I am somewhat familiar with them.

An outhouse does not have to be the stinky mess that most people imagine and what you often see in poorly maintained parks.

Building an outhouse is not complex.  All it takes is digging a 3-5 foot deep hole and placing a simple wood shack over it. Now you add a fully enclosed bench inside with a hole for seating.

The average outhouse is about 4′ x 4′ square and 7′ tall.  The bench, or seat, should be about 2′ wide and 2′ high, and completely closed in. The hole should be about 10″-12″ in diameter.

Place your outhouse about 50′-150′ away from the house and further from your water source.  It is best if the outhouse is down hill from your water source.  Outhouses should be located away from areas that may get soggy or flooded in heavy rains.

Some tips to improve your outhouse.

outhouse

An outhouse hole dug in good dirt.

  • A simple outhouse should be light enough so it can be moved when the hole gets full.  Use the dirt from the new hole to cover the old hole.  Because of soil conditions in some areas you may need to box in the top of the new hole or insert a 55 gallon barrel with bottom cut out to keep the soil from crumpling in and filling the hole.
  • Make sure the house completely covers the hole so that animals can’t fall in.
  • In high wind area, you may have to cable the outhouse down to secure it.
  • A sliding barn type door is best, for access if you have deep snow.
  • Porcupines will eat any wood that gets pee on it, they will also eat plywood for the glue.
  • Bright high gloss white paint is easiest to clean, and brightens the house.
  • Hooks for a light and your coat are convenient.
  • Used coffee cans or #10 cans work great for holding toilet paper.
  • Two-inch blue polystyrene makes a warm seat in winter.
  • Placing an outhouse in a shaded area helps keep the odor down in summer.
  • To make a magazine page useful always crush and roll it in your hands.  That softens the paper.  Even slick, colored pages can be made fairly efficient this way.
  • Newspapers should be aged until the ink is thoroughly dry.
  • If a cupful of wood ash is thrown in after every use, it will help to control the odors.
  • Any exterior locking device should be able to be opened from the inside.  I still remember what happened to me as a young child after my father caught me, when I locked a couple of elderly ladies in the outhouse.  They had been in there for some time and were not happy and neither was my backside.

Using an outhouse does not have to be the horrible experience that many people expect.  You can make them quite comfortable.

Howard

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19 Responses to How to Build a Comfortable Outhouse

  1. A says:

    To add 20th century comfort (20th not a typo), a real toilet seat may be installed over the seat hole. People not used to outhouses feel more “at home” with that addition. Ditto if the toilet paper is installed in a wall toilet paper holder, just like indoor toilets. If electrified, a yellow lightbulb keeps bugs away, and an electric outlet allows for electric cleaning tools to be easily used. Thomas Crapper improved the design by adding a ventilation stack in outhouse plans that really de-stinks an outhouse. The rule is that when not in use, the seat must be closed and the door open to reduce smell. An in-swinging door is best so the door can be kicked shut for privacy when in use if necessary. The door should face a pleasant view, and away from the house. Two-holers are like having two bathrooms. A broom that lives in the outhouse can encourage a swept floor. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are always welcome additions. A~a proud owner of a two holed Crapper design outhouse

  2. You said “… Because of soil conditions in some areas you may need to box in the top of the new hole or insert a 55 gallon barrel with bottom cut out to keep the soil from crumpling in and filling the hole….”
    55 gallon barrels are hard to come by nowadays. I used a metal garbage can (bottom cut out) with bottom end down. I “planted it” several years ago. It hasn’t rusted out yet.

    Hangtown Frank

  3. Dan Hardy says:

    why build when a small solar powered garden shed could be easily modified roomy and maybe set up a heated seat. 🙂

  4. Ben from Texas says:

    Here might be a good idea if your able to find one.Look for a company that rents out portable toliets like you’ve seen in many outdoor events for the public to use.Ask them if they have any that they might sell..Just buy one for a hundred or so and bring home.Dig a hole,then simply cut a hole in the holding tank..You’ll have a outhouse with a roof,seat and door.Simple to use and install.

  5. You might want to put it in an inconspicuous place and not put on the half moon or anything that will reveal it’s true purpose. Most counties frown on such practices these days. A guy around here was building them for tool sheds- and they are cute- but if people got the idea you were using them for the real thing you might be hassled about it in lots of places. Yet we are sorrounded by dozens of cows who generate considerably more waste and urine than we humans and they aren’t required to use a septic system?

  6. I don’t know if it is the type of wood or not, but beware of cracks in the seat. They really pinch in places you cannot examine for the amount of damage. Even the nicest outhouse is still an outhouse. My greatest fear is that there will be a wasp in the hole and I will sit and the wasp will sting. Yes, I did see a wasp or something that looked like a wasp inside the hole. Don’t laugh. I was four but will never forget. Anyway, split and pinching wood is horrid.

    • S Jackson says:

      Sanding the wood is very important. My family used an outhouse until I was seven. No problems with insects, splinters, cracks in the wood, or anything else. Maintenance is necessary.

  7. Sara says:

    Old telephone books and Yellow Pages make excellent emergency toilet paper. Also, they take up relatively little space compared to ordinary toilet paper.

  8. Star says:

    I have an outhouse in the Yukon Territory in Canada. I’m a few hundred miles north of Juneau,AK, and I have no water here. The outhouse is a year-round deal for me, even when it’s 40 Below.

    Up here instead a conventional toilet seat, we put a sheet of 1″ or better styrofoam insulation over the board seat,and cut out a hole that matches the one in the bench. This has the advantage of staying soft and not feeling like 40 Below when you sit on it.

  9. Dewey says:

    This is what you’d call going back to basic, although the most primitive would be to just hide behind a huge rock when you answer nature’s call.

  10. Ansel says:

    Have wasp spray available, a stick to remove spiders from around the seat and in the hole and…. lookout for an occasional snake!

  11. Dan Miller says:

    Good info.Thank you.I have mine almost together. I am finishing the hole tomorrow.

  12. Rose & John Hadden says:

    Hi my names Rose Hadden and my husband @ I had the last daughter grow & leave the nest. We have looked at buying land for 25 years here in Northern Az. Well the empty nest hit me hard so after driving to NC pulling her special belongings like Billy the big purple bear in a u haul trailer with here & her Koda dog flying
    thur each state, she skipped across Tx like a rock skimming the water. Any way we took 21 days to drive back to Az. looked at lots of land. this was in March 2015. On Nov 27th we signed on the line and are now proud owners of 24 of the most beautiful piece of Gods Land 17 miles north on Williams Az. We the mellow winter we expected has turned into frozen waste land. Which that will change. first there is water, problem there its under a slab og bedrock that after perking we think it pretty much covers the property. But we’ll get to it at one point, our problems is designing a septic systems. Now I have designed one of the most awesome room with a view. We,re as happy as a jackalope but wondering which we should go for long term. I like the having to make a new potty plot new view ect but I want to keep our dirt & trees water ect healthy. We have acres & acres of pinion & Juniper, dirt that smells so clean ready to grow my needs. Which is the best for our homes lands, ? can you help me. Thank you Rose Hadden. Oh gotta share. we even have a piece of history. In the 1840,s the Beal Party with many more crossed our now land going to find gold & life in California. The wagon train trail is still deep & follow able. & the Bly Station. in the late 1800,s. He tried to build a place where travelers could stop, rest ect. found that houses didn,t do well here so he traveled to the east sadi or something, brought back a dozen camels. After a bit they realized wangling camels wasn,t easy & found camel wranglers were hard to find in Az. & well in end no town built & no tamed camels so he released the camels & walked away from his dream. theres still pieces that show he was there and up to about 20 years ago you could still have a chance to run into one of the offspring of the camels of the 1800,s. cool story right. Thanks for listening. now outhouse or septic lol ?

  13. Rose & John Hadden says:

    Oh I,ve learned citrus works well in out pots on Oder & keeping growth

  14. Rose & John Hadden says:

    We are out there & have a pretty large cat a mountain Lion. We,re the first to live here & think she or hes just checking us out. But I find its a good idea to keep pepper spray in the outhoust also.

  15. Grampa says:

    Most people in cities and I speak of the Omnipotent council members who seem to be expert on everything and will regulate your life with the minuscule power they wield. Having had the pleasur of spending my summers growing up on my cousins farm I used the two seat outhouse. I was introduced with a much different standard of human interaction. On more than one ocasion I was joined by another while sitting upon this throne. suprisingly my female cousin had no qualms joining me. it provides quiet moments to talk one on one about many things. On the sanitary side we moved the “facility” often and always made the depth four foot or over. If any need cushioning for their tender toush get the swimming noodles and split them so you can slip it over the wood.
    Ventilation is another factor for smell rises and for people who are not used to it can be daunting. Wasps are the next problem for many will start to swat big mistake for if they do land they seldom sting a swat puts them in a defense mode. Easier to leave an old broom and take them down once a day. They nest everywhere so we had the seat on a hinge so we can knock off the nest from underneath. If you dislike the stink keep a spray bottle of white vinegar handy it blocks it and it goes away quickly. Well at seventy five I am sure I have forgotten something. I know we didnt have much growing up but were just as happy.
    Grampa

  16. Hal Tomont says:

    Planning on building an outhouse in N. Ontario using a blue plastic barrel. Should I put holes in the side as well as cutting out the top and the bottom? Need some advice as I have never done this before and would like to get it right so as to not “*iss” off the neighbours.

    • Noah says:

      There really isn’t enough information here for me to give a response that would be helpful. Is the barrel going to be buried? Some people have successfully built a privy with the barrel sitting on top of the ground. One thing to try, though, is to cut a hole in the top large enough to create a “toilet seat”. There’s no need to cut anything larger than that. Is your goal to create a humanure composting system or just to eventually fill the barrel, bury it, and then set up an outhouse somewhere else?

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