Have you considered an outhouse/privy as part of your preparedness plan?
If you could no longer flush your toilet because you were having plumbing problems, or your commercial water supply was cut off and you didn’t want to use your water stores for flushing, do you have a good backup plan,practical even for long term?
Going in a bucket with a toilet seat attached to it in your bathroom is one option, but then you have to keep dumping it somewhere. This doesn’t seem like a good long term plan to me.
Now, if you happen to have a good independent water source and a way to get it pumped where you need it when you want it then you may not need to worry about this. But then again, if you happen to have an overcrowded house for a while, or maybe after a long term disaster or economic collapse your septic system has filled up and you do not have time at the moment to empty, it then an outhouse could really come in handy.
An outhouse is a simple, low cost, practical, long term, back up plan. Not the modern plastic port-a-johns that have to be hauled away and emptied when they are full, but the old-fashioned kind that have been used for hundreds of years (and still are used by lots of people all over this country) before we had modern septic systems and city sewage.
If you have some basic carpentry skills and can dig a good sized hole then you can build an outhouse.
We lived for five years with an outhouse and no indoor toilet. The outhouse was approximately 35 feet from our door and was not at all a nuisance. In the hot summer time you would get a whiff of it from time to time but it certainly didn’t permeate the yard or anything. During those five years a baby in our family was born at home and we potty- trained two toddlers so sometimes we kept a potty chair in the house so it would be more convenient and we dumped the bucket in the outhouse. I know some families who have outhouses attached to their houses by roofed walkways.
First off you need to choose a good location in relation to your shallow well, spring, pond or creek if you happen to have one or more close by, you sure don’t want sewage seeping underground and contaminating them and you don’t want your outhouse to get flooded and contaminate a good water source in that way either. Where? 100 ft. from surface water, 4 ft. above the water table, and 150 ft. from a drinking water source is enough enough distance away, according to this web site. But there may be specific regulations in your area concerning this, so be sure to do some checking!
In sandy soil the sewage will drain away faster and heavy clay soil won’t drain as well, you don’t want it to be like a pond and hold water a long time. Do not put it in a place where rain water will drain into the hole.
The next step is digging the hole.
For big double outhouses a back-hoe or track-hoe will help get the hole dug quickly but for one outhouse you only need a hole a few feet across so a back-hoe bucket would be too big. If you end up digging the hole with hand tools a shovel and post-hole-digger will do the job and a pick and grubbing hoe will help loosen up the soil if the ground is hard but when the hole gets a couple feet deep it gets hard to swing them. You can use a bucket to help haul dirt up out of the hole and you can pile some of the dirt up around the hole and pack it down if you want to and it will help direct rain water away, but then you might need to build a step up into the outhouse over that dirt so you don’t track mud in on a rainy day.
You can pile the extra dirt behind the outhouse, then it will be ready when it’s time to cover the hole.
I recommend the hole be at least 3 ft. deep and I would rather have one deeper than that . If the hole is too shallow then the outhouse will have to be moved too often, but a hole 5 or 6 ft. deep will last many years, even if it is used regularly. You might need to reinforce the sides of your hole to keep it from collapsing, we never had to do this but different soil types might be more prone to collapsing. If you dig your hole square you can put plywood against the walls and use 2” x 4”s cut to length braced tightly from side to side and front to back and nailed in place.
Now it is time to build the outhouse structure.
You can build it any size you want but 4′ wide and 6′ deep and 7′ tall will be sufficient in size. Use treated lumber.
It is best to build the outhouse on skids of some kind so that when the hole is full you can pull the outhouse to a new location. 4” x 4” posts will work fine for this.
The dirt from the hole should not be sealed up around the bottom of the outhouse, if there are a few inches between the bottom of the outhouse and the dirt then the decomposing sewage will be able to ventilate easily and won’t just be ventilating up through your toilet opening. The 4”x 4” skids will help accomplish this
We used 2”x 4”s for floor joists and the walls and bench were also framed with 2”x 4”s. Build the bench against the back wall approx. 1 1/2 ft. high and 2 ft. deep and as wide as the outhouse. Use plywood or OSB for the floor and the front and top of the bench. After you have put plywood or OSB on the floor and front of the bench, before you have covered the top of the bench, you need to put a shield of some kind on the inside front of the bench to shield that piece of wood from urine. A piece of tin or metal roofing will work good for this. It doesn’t have to be as wide as the whole bench, 2 ft. will be wide enough, put it right in front of where the toilet seat is going to be. Make sure the shield is long enough that it hangs down below the floor at least 1 inch. Now you can cover the top of the bench.
Get a toilet seat and lay it on the bench where you want the hole to be, mark around the inside of the ring, drawing it onto the plywood. Remove the seat and cut out this circle. You could do this before nailing the plywood down onto the bench frame if you think it would be easier that way. Now you can use a toilet seat and lid and bolt their hinges down onto the outhouse bench just like they were screwed to a toilet and you’ll have an easier to clean, more comfortable to use seat than just a hole in the plywood would be.
Another toilet option that will eliminate the need to build a bench is buying an outhouse toilet pedestal/toilet cone from www.farnorthfiberglass.com they cost around $150. There may be other places that sell these too.
We used plywood to cover the outside of our outhouse but metal or siding or any exterior paneling would work fine also. One thing you might want to consider is the insulating qualities of wood versus metal, a metal outhouse sitting in the sun on a 100* day would be very hot inside. Use any standard exterior door or you can build a custom one for your outhouse.
The roof needs to be slanted with the front higher than the back by a few inches, so water won’t stand on the roof and it won’t run off onto your head if you are standing at the door. If you make the roof big enough that it overhangs 6 to 8 inches on either side and at the back and about 1 foot or more in front it will help keep the water from trying to drain into the hole and also when you run to the outhouse on a rainy day and someone is already in there you can stand up against the front of the outhouse and be out of the rain.
You don’t need the tops of the side walls to be slanted along with the roof, just make them as tall as the rear wall and then you will have ventilation holes up there that will also let in a little bit of light during the daytime.
Now your outhouse is ready to be put into use, but you don’t have to leave it in this state, you can finish the inside if you want to. Linoleum is especially nice to have on the floor, it makes it a lot easier to clean.
If you give all the wood on the inside two coats of white paint it will be much brighter and nicer in there.
If the outside is covered in wood you could paint it too, to help protect it from the weather.
An ice-cream bucket or coffee can with a tight fitting lid to store the toilet paper in will help keep it from getting damp from humidity in the air or condensation that might drip from the ceiling.
A laminated sign on the door reminding everyone to wash their hands might be needed too.
You can also put a bottle of hand sanitizer in there.
You can even run an electric line to it and put in a light if you want to, to use as long as you have electricity.
You will need to regularly clean the outhouse to check for wasps nests and spiders.
Put a trash can in there too because anything that is not decomposable should not be put in the hole.
Powdered lime or sawdust or ashes sprinkled liberally into the hole every couple of days will help keep flies away and help keep down odors. If the outhouse is being used infrequently then this won’t be as necessary but if it is your main toilet then this helps a lot and a 5 gal. bucket full of one of these products sitting in the corner with a scoop in it is handy.
You might think that an outhouse draws swarms of flies but although there were always a few flies in our outhouse during warm weather we really never had a big problem with them. Whenever your outhouse gets filled to within 2 ft. from the ground level, you can pull your outhouse to a new location with a truck, tractor or horse. Or if it’s not too heavy a group of people could pull it.
You need to immediately fill the old hole with soil. (Otherwise someone or some animal might fall in it.) Mound the dirt up a little bit and pack it firmly, because after the sewage has decomposed the dirt will probably settle.
Don’t let little children use the outhouse by themselves even if they can use the indoor toilet on their own, as you don’t want them to fall in. You can put a protective grid in the outhouse under the toilet seat fixed to the inside of the bench. Something like a cattle panel, with holes small enough that a child couldn’t fall through but big enough that they won’t get clogged up. We put a latch on the outside of our door high enough that a little child had to have help opening it. A child-size potty seat that you can set on top of a regular toilet seat will help children feel safer if they don’t like the outhouse.
If you need more details on how to build, here are some web sites that should help:
If you are wondering if it is legal to have an outhouse, you will need to check your local regulations where you are because they vary from place to place. But even if it is presently illegal to use an outhouse in your locale you could build one and use it for a tool shed until it is needed.
In Deut. 23; 12&13 God told the Israelites to have a place without the camp to bury their sewage. If God thought this was a suitable method then I don’t know why it wouldn’t work today.
After a long term grid-down collapse or catastrophe an outhouse may be the most sanitary solution for some people. – D.P.C. in Arkansas