Friday, September 26, 2008

Ummm...outhouses....

Kris over at Ante Family Agrarians shared a picture of the outhouse hole in progress and that got me thinking...

We have a large family.

We could very well be without electricity at some point...even with DH being an electrician. Outages are just natural these days, and I suspect they will begin to be rather commonplace as our grid gets taxed more and more every season with not only usage, but Mother Nature's wrath as well.

We are on a community well system here, which means I have water regardless of electricity, just not hot water. But that's pretty if-y with the systems we have anymore as well.

Ummm...did I mention we are a large family?

Practical planning has to involve things like outhouses, or at least their purpose in a rural life. Personally, I'm not much of an outhouse kind of person. Some mental block in my psyche, I guess. Always have been rather anti-outhouse. I have problems using potties at large campgrounds and parks as well...no matter how much 'real bathroom' appeal they may have. I have an absolutely terrible time driving the 10 hours back north, let me tell you.

Plus, outhouses just have that sort of history to them. You know...the creaky boards, the leaky roof, the assorted wild life creeping about inside, etc. It's all in my head for the most part, but in case you didn't know, there is a really distinct connection between your head and...ummm...well...other aspects of your life, let's say.

But, I'm told by many off-griders that outhouses can be pretty neat in real life. They aren't your grandmother's outhouses anymore. They are almost 'high tech' -- well, as 'high tech' as an outhouse by nature can be. You can set up solar panels for lighting, even passive heating in cold winters. You have fancy toilet assemblies, freshening attributes here and there. Some even go as far as decorating their outhouse to make it more appealing.

What about just building one? What are the 'rules' for outhouses? Are there 'rules' for outhouses? Depth, width, construction materials or guidelines? I hear it's all about location...from not only the asthetic point of view but in consideration of water sources, soil make-up, etc. Distance should be comfortable for those rather urgent trips, but far enough to not cause undue stress to the inhabitants around the homestead. We did talk about having one here. Out past the clearing, toward the seasonal pond, where I want to build our schoolhouse. I thought a nice, long set up with multiple dividers so everyone could go at once if need be, would be nice to have. Of course, some discussion (read: argument) evolved over just whom would undertake the changing of the composting set up we had talked about (I thought that would work better as we have solid red clay down a good 3 foot here, blending straight into at least 2 known feet of that gray sludge clay...a hole just didn't seem feasible to me, hand-digging anyway).

I rather liked the suggestion of the one or ones who misbehaved or didn't complete their lessons in a timely manner got the job for that week. Sounded good to me. Mom is always prepared with her lessons :o)

I can truly, thought, see the practicality of having at least some sort of outhouse set up, or plan, on every rural homestead. You just never know when things might head south on your world, and outhouses are really a pretty vital part of daily living. Everyone has to go. Might as well make the most of that and try to prepare for it as nicely and comfortably as you can, right?

Here are some tips I found online. Most sites shared the same basic thoughts, so I just picked the site I happened to enjoy the most:
The Rouge Turtle...Gotta Go and Outhouses:

The outhouse needs to be a long distance away from any wells you have dug, or plan to dig in the future. At least 150' to be safe. More if your soil is very sandy. You do NOT want the liquids from the outhouse seeping into your well. E. Coli bacteria can kill. It can also make you very, very sick. The outhouse should also be downhill from the well, if possible.

The outhouse needs to be a convenient distance away from the shelter. You need to walk to and from it at all times of the night and day, good weather or foul. Speaking of foul, that is the smell from these things if you don't tend to them.

The outhouse should be downwind of the average prevailing winds so the smell doesn't get to you inside your shelter.

All outhouses need plenty of fresh air, a requirement which keeps them very cold in the wintertime. However, there is no reason that you cannot use the same toilet seats in an outhouse that you use on a toilet. Heat, however, is another problem altogether.The best flooring for one of these is concrete. Concrete can be washed out with a hose and scrubbed clean. I think that most of the bad smell in most outhouses I've been in came from the wooden floor boards that have soaked up urine for 20 years or more. The sit-down design is totally up to you, but if you can make it out of metal, so much the better. Metal can be scrubbed clean and painted. The average outhouse was 3 feet to 4 feet square, and around 7 feet tall. Almost all were build of scrap lumber with no electrical lights at all. A small skylight could be added to let some sunlight in during the day, but at night, it was DARK, COLD and SCARY. I'd prefer at least one light bulb...but that's me.

The outhouse has to sit on top of a large pit dug into the ground, usually by hand. The deeper it is, the longer time you can use the outhouse before it fills up. The sides of the pit have to be held in place so they don't collapse under you, or around you while you are digging. Using loose fitting boards, spaced with enough openings to let the liquids out, usually will suffice. Use scrap lumber, nails, or whatever, just be sure you are safe while digging the pit.

Most outhouse pits are between 5' to 8' deep, but there are no "rules" on depth. If you strike water, you can call it a well, and find another spot for the outhouse 150' or more away. Once you're satisfied that the hole is deep enough and won't collapse, cover it with plywood with the pre-determined holes cut out for the toilets. If possible, line the inside of these holes with metal or plastic to prevent the liquids from soaking into the plywood...which will be the bottom of the form for pouring concrete. The concrete slab only has to be about 3" thick, since the building will be very small indeed. Use 2 x 4's as a frame, and pour in the concrete. When the outhouse pit has reached the point where it is no longer a "nice place to be" (meaning full), you need to fill it up with dirt to the bottom of the concrete. Fill the holes with concrete to seal it off. The concrete cap will prevent others from digging around in the yard and accidentally finding a "poop well" while digging a garden.


The more wood you use in the outhouse, the more its going to smell. If you can find some of those corrugated panels that roofs are made of, either fiberglass or metal, use those for the side walls. The roof can be made of anything. It needs a door for privacy. No water need be used in an outhouse, since the effluent goes directly into the ground. Water for flushing (in a "normal" home) is only needed to flush the solids down the plumbing pipes. You have no pipes here, so you don't need water.

Insects can be a problem, so if you can cover the hole(s) when not in use, so much the better. Powdered lime and/or lye can be sprinkled down into the hole to keep down insects and the odor. Since the hole doesn't hold water, using the chemical additives that are used in mobile homes and travel trailers won't work.


If you have small children, be sure you accompany them to the outhouse and help them use the facilities. Since the bottom opening in the potty is considerably larger than a home toilet, the urge to reach in and "play" may be too great for a toddler...with tragic results. Keeping a outside door latch mounted up high will prevent small children from straying inside while you're not looking. Like a swimming pool, it can be considered an "attractive nuisance".

A word about toilet paper: Like ammunition, you can never have too much. I do not recommend you give everyone their own roll of paper, only replace the one in the outhouse when it runs out.

If your family is like mine, you need some sort of inside latch so accidental "embarrassing moments" are kept to a minimum. Screaming teenage girls hurt my ears. Make sure the latch can be used by the youngest person in the group who will be using the place without assistance. I've seen youngsters accidentally get locked into bathrooms when they don't know how to unlock the door.

Lighting in an outhouse at night is on a "bring your own" basis. Don't leave valuable lights laying around in the outhouse. First of all, they may fall into the hole never to be seen again. I'm sure not going after it. Second, someone will leave it on and it will be useless anyway. If I did mount one, the only light I would even consider is one of those "tap lights" advertised on TV. It seems to be about the easiest and cheapest to install. If you loose one of them, you haven't lost much. Everyone in your shelter should have their own personal flashlight at night anyway.

Now I could see something rather fany set up here...maybe a nice outdoor room set up. Could be an outdoor kitchen with a room out back for the outhouse...maybe an outdoor laundry platform area, with a bit of shade for those particularly sunny and hot days (like every day here in the South...) and off from it, an outhouse. Could se up a nice little closet to it for storing extras like that all-important TP stash. I know...I'm sort of losing the whole purpose here....

But the decorating ....I could see a write-on/wipe-off board hanging on the back of the door with some math facts of Bible memorization on it to keep the visitors from wasting time without something otherwise equally useful to do :o) Education happens everywhere...seize those moments, I say!

6 comments:

http://wwwbackintime.blogspot.com/ said...

Here in Maine in the area we live we can't have an outhouse. But let me tell ya I sure wish we had one at times..I've seen a few bushs in my time..lol.. Nice write up..
Brenda

Ante Family Agrarians said...

I have a post just about our outhouse. Look in my labels it might be under off-grid stuff. It shows pics of our outhouse, and the why we did certain things. We have come to like the outhouse better now. It's no big thing LOL!!
Peace, Kris

Ante Family Agrarians said...

http://www.anteagrarians.com/2008/08/looking-back-part-1-outhouse.html

I found the link about our outhouse. It's under the Looking Back label. I think you'll find it helpful. Also the Looking Back Blogs gives helps to tell why and how we made the transitions to living off-grid.
Peace, Kris

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your post. I used a outhouse growing up. I didn't care for it to much then. When we finally move to a homestead then we will have to build an outhouse. Kris Ante's is quite nice. I like the idea of the wipe board.....lol
Debylin

JoyfulJourney said...

I just found your blog and LOVE IT! Thanks for taking the time to encourage and uplift others. About outhouses, my mother bought a mountain prpoerty 4 years ago and it had on old railway bed on it. No tracks anyomre, just a long strecth a "clear" land. And on it they found an orignal outhouse for the railway! It was a three seater, no dividers! Can you imagine? They recently renovated it and cleaned and painted it. It is one of the neatest things I have seen!

Mrs Dewey Smith said...

Ive joked with our children that to be truly practical we would need at least a 3 seater...everyone has a younger to tend and help each day, and no one would really want to go to the outhouse alone, so a 3-seater just makes sense.

They don't find the amusement in it :o)

I certainly do ;o)

Deanna

Jer.6:16

Jeremiah 6:16
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.

Blog Archive