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Skipping to the (really cheap) loo.

We were well on our way building our homestead when one of our volunteer workers was assigned the project of building an outhouse. He had some experience with the outhouses used in public camping areas, and it shows.

Our outhouse is a two-holer, with the seats stepped to accommodate different size patrons. There is a floor-to-ceiling chamber behind the seats to allow gases to vent above head height. This is why you should always leave the lid down when finished. Otherwise the inside gets to be even smellier than usual.


I will admit outhouses are an acquired taste. When I was just a child my grandparents had an outhouse in the yard as well as inside facilities. I tried the outhouse, but the fact I could look down into a partially filled bucket put me off. The bucket was taken down to the garden and the contents were buried in adjacent flowerbeds.

Then as the years passed, I used the outhouse facilities in national parks. These were generally well-aired and the effluent disappeared out of sight into seemingly bottomless holes into tanks, but the wildness of the outhouse--from drafts to pedestal design--was always a poor substitute for even the worst service station toilet.


Then we moved into our homestead and the outhouse became our facility. It has been used through the growth of our four children over 30 years, three holes, and one major move. When the outhouse was built, it stood with its door facing our house's major ground floor windows. This seemed fine when our yard was largely brush, so all you saw was a path to a door, but the first winter disclosed a little too much about the building's use and who was entering or exiting.



As soon as the hole filled up, the outhouse was rotated sideways to the house, and almost 10 years later the whole building was rolled around our house to its present site, behind our house on the way to the barn, facing the feed shed. Our outhouse has two windows, so the glass was removed, and the toilet seats were removed before the move. The door was screwed shut. While it wasn't the most fun in the world, the project was certainly a test of how much your friends will do to help out.


Some people may wonder about having windows in an outhouse. They were put in because my wife is slightly claustrophobic, and with curtains, privacy can be established if the occupant feels the need. The funny part is a family quickly learns how to share an outhouse without any privacy conflicts.

Our outhouse door has two simple hook and eye latches, one on the outside and one on the inside. You can see from quite a distance if the hook is latched or hanging. The inside latch assures a feeling of privacy, and strangely, the windows allow you to see if anyone rounds the house. This hasn't ever happened, but it is reassuring to know you will not be surprised.

With just the two of us, sometimes we even leave the door open while in the outhouse. It is a bonding and greeting time to share some time with the company of two cats and a dog (who never seem to mind your activities but simply bask in your attention to them). If you happen to lose track of your partner, the sight of an open outhouse door stops you from approaching.

There have been several times during flu or pneumonia season that an outhouse, two flights of stairs, and a 75[degrees]F change in temperature has seemed overwhelming. You do what you have to do, and in comparison to the countless evenings marveling at Northern Lights and the stars, and watching birds and squirrels during gentle summer days, the outhouse still wins hands down over the small "bathrooms" found in modern homes.

From what we have read about outhouses, it is only necessary to use an outhouse to pass waste, not to pee (how is that for a combination of delicacy and popular vernacular?). I would go further and suggest placing all paper in a bag instead of down the hole. While the paper might seem a potential cover for the downward view, in my experience most of the outhouse's hole becomes filled with paper. You can dig fewer holes if you keep the paper separate and burn it instead.



We have tried adding wood ashes to the heap occasionally to control flies and smell. I can't say it has ever been a success. It can get you through a visit from family not used to an outhouse, but that is about all. When flies--quite specific waste flies that are smaller and redder than common houseflies--become legion, we use a fly spray. We remove the toilet paper rolls and cover the toilet seats with newspaper before spraying. After an hour or so we wipe down the toilet seats just in case some spray has drifted onto them. Sometimes we have to repeat this days apart, but usually fly infestation only sets in for certain warm weather periods in the summer.


A worse problem was mice. We noticed they were using the facilities too. We tried a barn-sized container of electric blue mouse poison blocks. I did notice the blocks disappearing every day and then the mouse waste turned blue while the poison kept disappearing at the same rate! I stopped using the poison and we got a farm cat. End of problem. We have two toilet paper holders mounted under the windows next to each seat. Then we keep two more rolls behind the seats in an ice cream pail. If a roll is used from the pail, the person places a roll on the bureau next to our home's door and the next person out takes it to the outhouse.

Our outhouse is dug into clay so solid the waste is almost in a tank. We have eight-months of winter and two-months of poor sledding weather, so our time for microbes to process waste is just a few months of warm days and evenings. This is probably why we have had to dig more holes.

We have had to replace the tarp that waterproofs the roof at least three times. The present tarp is a size too large, so it covers a bit of the window openings. This isn't all bad, as the single pane glass is inset in the window cutouts so driving rain and snow can collect and rot the window ledges. Some overhang from the tarp can only help.


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Title Annotation:Frugal building; outhouses
Author:McGregor, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2012
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