• Building an outhouse is not nearly as complex or intimidating as it may seem. All it takes is digging a deep enough hole and placing a simple wood shack over it. Then you add a fully-enclosed bench inside with a toilet-sized hole for seating and voila’, you have an outhouse.
    A good-sized hole for an outhouse is about 3′-5′ deep and an average outhouse is about 4′ x 4′ around and 7′ tall. The bench, or shelf, should be about 2′ wide and 2′ high, and of course, completely boxed in. The hole can be about 10″-12″ in diameter. Place your outhouse about 50′-150′ away from the house. A tip to help keep down outhouse smells is to place it in a naturally shaded area.
    For comfort and a more modern look, you can even place a store-bought toilet seat of your choosing over the hole. This serves the dual purpose of adding modern comfort and outhouse bathroom décor and, provided the toilet seat you choose has a lid, helping tamp down outhouse odors. This is just one of many embellishments you can add to ecological outhouses to make them more visually appealing and non smelly. To add some visual appeal to your outhouse designs you can hang shingles, tongue-and-groove, board-and-batting or other simple siding, or you can paint the outside of the outhouse solid white, deep red or even in a colorful nature-inspired design. You can install a window (which can double for ventilation, but I’m skipping ahead) and cover it with a curtain. Instead of, or in addition to, a solid wood paneled door you can install a screen door and enjoy a bug-free view of your yard (provided you’ve placed it right for privacy).

    Many people use a 55 gallon drum with both ends cut off and multiple holes in the sides. The holes were made with a large screwdriver driven in with a hammer. The drum is placed in the hole to keep it from collapsing in on itself and then backfilled around it. This may not be necessary where you are depending on soils. If you are going to be using it in the winter, a styrofoam seat highly recommend. A plastic seat at 30 degrees can lead to chronic constipation. You can use a 2 inch thick piece of blueboard insulation with a hole cut out of it. This is just laid over the plywood seat. It can be sanded down to smooth it off. If it gets too used or dirty you can just sand it down again. In the summer we keep a can of lime in the outhouse and some of that is sprinkled down the hole occasionally to keep the odor down. One last tip, don’t put your toliet paper in the hole or it will fill up faster unless you like digging holes. we keep a small garbage can in the outhouse for the toliet paper then just throw it out with the trash or burn it later.

    (Instructions below submitted by Razoredge for Instructables)
    The foundation
    A good foundation is the key to a good outhouse. Dig a hole about 4′ deep, 3.5×3.5ft square. Make it a good hole with even sides because you’ll have to line it.
    One point about soil: If you have hard clay soil, make sure that the drainage around the outhouse is good to avoid too much water getting in, because it won’t want to leave (this could cause splashback).
    You’ve got your hole. Drop a wooden box with tarpaper wrapped around it in the hole to keep moisture out. Level and even out the ground around the hole and place a foundation made of treated 4x4s around it. The foundation will for this one was 4’x3.5′ (this allowed a 4×8 sheet of plywood to be cut at 3.5ft, one piece for the floor and the other for the roof with an overhang. 4’wide on the floor and 4′ deep for the roof).
    The Frame
    This pretty well shows the frame of the outhouse (never mind the braces still on). It should be stable, but not too heavy since you may have to move it someday. I left the studs off the side walls.
    Note the hole cut in the floor for the “business”. I recommend coating the inside of the seat section with plastic to keep “it” from getting all over the wood after a curry night.
    I sheeted it with 1/4 plywood and used 1/2ply for the floor, roof, and seat. I put my seat at 1’5″ high, as you can see in the photo.
    Roof, Finishing, and Notes on Use
    I shingled my roof in the standard manner. Note the vent pipe made of 4″ PVC. An oversized cap is on top to keep water out. Holes were drilled in the end of the pipe to allow extra ventilation. Screen was wrapped around the pipe to keep the bugs out.
    I would suggest that you paint the inside with a mold resistant paint like Kils. Additional windows can help with ventilation; just remember to put screen over them to minimize the number of bugs hanging out in there.
    Also, one thing to consider if you think you may have a water flooding problem, place a cinder block upright in the pit. That way if it does flood, no splash back. Enjoy.

    I believe this to be the best way for human waste disposal in long term emergencies. Outhouses are easy to build. The average outhouse should be about 4ft. square by 7ft. tall. They are just a wooden box with a roof, a shelf, a floor and a door. The wall with the door in it should be 7ft. tall, the opposite wall in the rear should be 6ft. tall. Of course the side walls will have an angle across the top. When you frame the floor, don’t sheet it until last. After you get the walls built just cap the roof with 6 inch eaves around the top, the roof should be about 5ft. square. Inside before you sheet the floor, across the entire length of the back wall , you need to construct a 2ft. wide shelf about 2ft. above the floor and box-in the front of the shelf. Cut an oblong hole in the center of the shelf about 10 x 12 inches and cover it with a regular toilet seat and lid. You can now finish the floor.
    The outhouse should be set over a hole that has been dug, usually about 3-5ft. down into the ground. You should construct the outhouse about 50ft. to 150ft. from your house for sanitary and odor reasons. If the hole ever fills up you will need to dig another and drag the outhouse over top of it. This will be unlikely, however.
    Caution: If you have a water well, make sure you place this a minimum of 50 feet away so you don’t contaminate your drinking water.
    In the old days people bought powdered lime or lye and sprinkled it down into the hole to help with the smell. You may want to add wood chips or sawdust each time you use it so that the material will compost.
    I believe it is always better to place the waste where it will stay instead of moving and handling it. Less accidents and less problems. You may never need to use your outhouse, but if you ever need it, it will be handy. If you ever need this in the winter (when the ground is frozen) you will be glad you set it up ahead of time.

    To make your modern outhouse non smelly, there are a number of steps you can take. Ventilation, for one, is paramount in reducing outhouse odors. A slated window placed high up on one wall is often sufficient to carry odors out of privy, especially if you have a classic sliver moon shape cut into the door to provide a light cross-breeze. An old-school way to reduce outhouse odors is to keep a bag of lime or lye inside with a cup for sprinkling a bit on top of your waste each time you use it. For a truly ecological outhouse, a more modern alternative to that is to use sawdust or wood chips as they serve the same purpose but also compost and facilitate composting of the waste. Many green public outhouses now exist throughout the nation to provide additional inspiration.

About The Author

Amanda Welborn

2 Responses and Counting...

  • Ivan Krakow 01.06.2013

    Help sort out a family discussion. Which is better, a 55 gallon drum that can be removed when it is full, and replaced with an empty one, or a hole 4″ dug into the ground and when it fill up, cover it up and dig a new hole and moved the outhouse to the new location?

  • We had to ask some old timers but they said both options are very reasonable. After 6-7 months the contents resemble garden fertilizer so cleaning the pit is not too much of a chore, but waste should still be burned or buried. If the outhouse was to be moved, waste is going to be buried anyway, saving the transportation. Animal waste is high in phosphorous and nitrogen, which makes it a good ingredient for fertilizer but while you can compost cow, pig, and other types of manure, it is not safe to do the same with human feces and urine. Outhouses can be placed on a hillside or bank which would raise the pit, using a door for clean out. Two story outhouses using a ramp to enter allows easy clean out from a trapdoor under the ramp. In the old days houses were left for longer periods of time, often cleaning only once a year or less and people bought powdered lime or lye and sprinkled it down into the hole to help with the smell. You may want to add wood chips or sawdust each time you use it so that the material will compost as it was used (using biodegradable toilet paper) . Adding lime to the waste can neutralize the flammability of the nitrogen in the waste. Lime also inhibits pathogens by raising the PH levels to a point where pathogens cannot survive, but too much lime interferes with decomposition, inhibiting “good” bacteria. They did say that older outhouses were vented which aided in decomposition, and they remembered a small pail of wood ash or chips to sprinkle during a visit. We wondered if adding modern commercial septic tank bacteria would help in the breakdown of waste. We will continue to ask around. Thanks for the question!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.