Building an Outhouse

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About: I'm a retired teacher who enjoys building and creating.

Before you build an outhouse, you need to check with your local government. There are a lot of rules regarding any kind of waste system. This outhouse included a washing station.

Step 1: Digging the Hole

There are a lot of regulations about how close you can put an outhouse to water and to your lot line so check with authorities before choosing your site. Put a stake into the ground and then make a square with three other stakes so that they create a square that is three feet by three feet. Using the stakes as a guideline, dig a hole three feet deep. Keep the sides as straight down as you can. Try to make the hole as much of a cube as you can. If the outhouse is going to get constant use, dig the hole deeper.

Using 4 x 4 posts, make a rectangle that is eight feet long and four feet wide. Lay this so that the long sides are just beyond the sides of the hole and one short side is just beyond the side of the hole. Level this rectangle by shoveling away or adding dirt where needed. You need to keep all the sides of this rectangle above ground level or water run into your hole when it rains and fill it up.

Step 2: Floor

With this size of base, your outhouse will be four feet by four feet with a landing exactly the same size in front of it. Cut a piece of pressure treated 2 x 4 41 inches long and put a cross piece exactly two feet from the back of the rectangle. There should be a gap of exactly 21 1/2 inches from the inside of the back 4 x 4 base to the side of this cross piece. Then run 2 x 4 joists from this cross piece to the front of the rectangle. They should be 16 inch centers. Cut deck boards four feet long and screw them to these joists with deck screws to make the floor of the landing. The landing should end four feet from the front of the base. Remember to paint end cut on the ends of any board you cut.

Cut a piece of 3/4 inch pressure treated plywood 24 inches by 28 inches. Lay it so that it makes the floor of the outhouse itself, starting at the cross piece and going to the decking. Make sure it does not extend past the edge of the cross piece as this will create a ledge that could trap undesirable material. Cut strips of the 3/4 inch plywood and screw them to the top of 4 x 4 base anywhere that is not already covered by the plywood or the deck boards. This is so that when you build the walls, the base of the wall will be all the same height.

Back fill dirt along the 4 x 8 rectangle so that there are no gaps where critters could get underneath your floor when the outhouse is done.

Step 3: Walls and Seat

Build the walls in the usual fashion using top and bottom plates and making the total height eight feet. Don't put blocking between the two studs on the back wall. The vent pipe will run up between these two studs. Along the side walls, put a stud exactly 24 3/4 inches from the back. This is so you can nail the upright piece of the seat to it.

To make the seat, cut a piece of 3/4 inch plywood or other stock 18 x 48 inches. This will be the upright part of the seat. Nail it onto the stud. You will have to notch out the bottom plate. Make sure that the inside of this upright piece sits exactly even with the inside of the 2 x 4 underneath it. As I said before, you don't want to create a ledge to catch undesirable material. Cut a piece of sheet metal 22 x 41 inches and nail it to the inside of this upright plywood. This is so when guys are sitting and happen to pee also, the pee doesn't hit this upright piece of wood and soak in.

For the top of the seat, put a support that is one inch thick along the back wall at 18 inches high to support the top of the seat. It shouldn't be thicker than one inch because you will have to drill holes in the top board for the toilet seat and you need the space. Put supports on the side walls at 18 inches high also. Use plywood or other stock for the top of the seat.

Now you can start the sheeting or boards for the outside of the outhouse. You will need something that is resistant to the weather or you will have to paint it regularly or coat it with something. For the corners, run a piece of 1 x 3 board from the bottom to the top to cover up the unfinished edge.

Cut out a rectangle of about 14 inches by 10 inches on both side walls. Place a piece of nylon screen over the rectangle and then use molding to hold the screen in place. This is for ventilation.

Step 4: Roof

In this build, I made the overhang on one side of the outhouse longer. This is because I would be putting a wash station on that side of the outhouse and wanted protection from the rain while washing up.

Make the trusses in the usual fashion with the truss at the front and back of the outhouse lower so you can make a ladder for the front and back overhang. As this is an outhouse, I didn't bother with soffit and facia or eaves trough.

Block the spaces between the trusses at the top of the wall with pieces of wood and caulking so that it is relatively closed off to insects.

I had some leftover metal roofing so I used that but shingles work well for the roof. With metal roofing, you don't have to put sheeting on the roof and it is less prone to mildew than shingles.

Step 5: Door

Make a two section door. This allows you a beautiful view from the throne. (see picture) Make the bottom portion first. If you like, you can put door jams to cover up the rough 2 x 4 studs on the inside of the door but I didn't. Likewise, you could put door stop on the door jam to stop the door from swinging in but I just added an overlapping piece to the outside of the door to stop it.

Cut plywood or tongue and groove about three feet high by the width of the door opening (typically around 26 inches) minus about a half inch for clearance. Add bracing on the inside along the top and bottom and diagonally across the door. Attach the hinges.

Cut plywood or tongue and groove the rest of the height of the door for the top portion. Typically, doors are 80 inches high. Make the top portion the same way as the bottom portion but add a piece at the bottom that overlaps the bottom portion.

Step 6: Vent Pipe and Toilet Seat

The vent pipe should be three to four inches wide. Trace the outside of the vent pipe on the wood seat part right at the back. Cut the circular hole. Drill a hole all the way through the vent pipe about two inches from the bottom. Put a six inch spike through the hole so that it sticks out on either side of the pipe. Slide the vent pipe into the wooden hole. The spike will stop it from sliding all the way down into the pit.

If you were to run the pipe directly through the roof, you would have to cut away the top plate so cut the pipe below the top plate and then use two elbows to detour the pipe around the plate. The pipe should end up around two feet beyond the peak of the roof.

Toilet seats typically have two plastic bolts at the back. Line up the toilet seat so that it is in the middle of the outhouse and the two bolts will bypass the support you made for the back underneath the wooden seat. Mark where the bolts are going to go. Drill the holes and set the seat in place. With the lid up and the seat down, trace the inside of the seat. Remove the toilet seat and cut a hole 1/2 inch bigger than the traced oval. Put the toilet seat back and put the nuts onto the plastic bolts and tighten them snug.

Step 7: Wash Station (optional)

Make a platform about 33 inches high and attach it to the side of the outhouse. Find an old sink and trace the outline of the sink on the top of the platform. Cut a circle 1/2 inch inside the traced line and fit your sink it. Attach piping to the drain and run it underground to a drainage area or use a French trench. A French trench is a trench filled with rocks so that the water drains away and the ground is still even.

Make another platform right beside the first one but 10 inches higher. Buy a rectangular pail, a faucet with a threaded pipe, two thin nuts that fit on the pipe and some silicon. Cut a hole in the front wall of the pail near the bottom. You can't put it right at the bottom because you need some clearance for the inside nut. Put the first nut on the pipe thread as far as it will go. Put silicon on the inside and outside of the hole and push the pipe so that the nut is snug against the pail. Put the second nut on from the inside and tighten it until the faucet is firm.

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    23 Discussions

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    gm280

    3 months ago

    Actually I grew up with an outhouse in our yard. Yes I am dating myself here. We did use it occasionally, but we did have indoor plumbing for sure. We later removed it and that also was a mess...really! But while this sounds like a nice project, in the hot summer the stink is nearly unbearable. JMHO

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    SylvanBgm280

    Reply 3 months ago

    Properly venting the pit makes a huge difference. The vent pipe needs to open flush below the seat - no space between bottom of seat and pipe opening or that space "vents" when you open the seat. The vent needs to go well above the roof and preferably black pipe for better solar chimney effect (even better if it runs up outside the wall on the sunny side). The more tightly the seat and cover seal the hole when not in use, the better. Probably need to add an air inlet from outside into the pit below the vent opening using a simple hole in the outside wall or a short pipe, 1/4 to 1/2 the size of the vent. Screen both pipes to keep out flies.

    When properly vented, significant airflow will exit the vent pipe on sunny days, enough to flutter tissue placed on top, greatly reducing the smell and keeping it out of the structure.

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    uncle reamusgm280

    Reply 2 months ago

    I grew up in a holler in KY. We got indoor plumbing around 78. Us menfolk did not use it as much as the womenfolk, we were on a farm so we would just pee on the tree. I do however remember before bed we would all go out and pee off the porch. Then the women would go. They always had to have a chaperon that was usually my grandpa or uncle, but sometimes when i was little sometimes i would go out with them. The women would use the porch same as men. But i have memories of my mom, aunts, and grandma with their big white buts hovering off the edge of the porch.

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    Lone Ninjauncle reamus

    Reply 2 months ago

    I can appreciate growing up "roughing it" as being normal. I had a bit of that myself. This question is out of left field but, you mentioned that the womenfolk needed a chaperon. Was this do to looky-loo neighbors or local wild-life with really big feet?

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    uncle reamusLone Ninja

    Reply 2 months ago

    Well our closest neighbor was, well a long ways away. so it wasnt the neighbors. And as far as those big feeted critters, well i call horse pucky on them, but that is a different conversation. I think they just did not want to go out alone. We did have mountain lion, wild cats, and bears in those woods. But i think it was mostly the skunks they was feared of. Oh and snakes.

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    WesH31gm280

    Reply 3 months ago

    This is at our cottage that is only water access so there's no electricity or plumbing. The summers aren't so hot here so the smell, while it is not nice, is not horrible.

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    omnistructable

    2 months ago

    When I was little I remember we had an outhouse on the farm. It was about 20 to 30 meters away from the backdoor. It was also the only luxury of that kind in the yard. We called it a Long-Drop. At night it took me few minutes to get there in the dark but only few second to get back in the house. haha

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    WesH31omnistructable

    Reply 2 months ago

    Yeah, they call them the "good old day" but they weren't so much.

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    LynneDe

    2 months ago

    The odor comes from moisture. If you can get the moisture to drain further and have just the solids in the pit, with some shavings or other agents to dry it, the odor will be minimal. Maybe a 'French drain' with leach field for the urine and the solids covered by the shavings? For composting toilets, they separate the solids and the liquid, virtually no odor. Just a thought...Blessings!

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    WesH31LynneDe

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks. Our pit is quite dry. The males don't use the outhouse for pee and the ground is on a slope. Shavings is a good idea but that would mean that the pit would fill up faster. I guess that's the trade off. I'm thinking that I'd like to try a solar powered fan that pulls the air out constantly. Have you had any experience with those?

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    LynneDeWesH31

    Reply 2 months ago

    No, I have no experience with a solar powered fan.

    As to the shavings, you wouldn't need a lot, just enough to pull the moisture from things quickly. Ever notice that when a dog goes, the odor is strong at first but as it dries, the odor recedes? Or when a farmer spreads things on a field, once dried no odor, but a rain comes and the stench? That happens for human manure too. It just needs to be dried out and then low/no odor. Blessings!

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    WesH31LynneDe

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks. I'll give it a try. We have a lot of shavings from cutting firewood.

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    Thunderone2

    Question 2 months ago on Introduction

    How often do you have to clean out the pit, what kind of method do you use? I grew up on a farm with a two holer that had to be shoveled out about every six months - used by three adults and four kids. It was a messy job compared to the animals manure!

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    WesH31Thunderone2

    Reply 2 months ago

    We only use this site intermittently so it doesn't fill up quickly. When it does get full, we just dig another pit, use the dirt from the new pit to cover the old pit and then move the outhouse over the new pit.

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    WesH31Thunderone2

    Reply 2 months ago

    This is for the sleep camp so it gets used very little. Our regular one hasn't been cleaned out yet and it's been going for 20 years. This is at the cottage which gets used every weekend in the summer, about three weeks steadily in the summer and occasional weekends throughout the fall, winter and spring.
    Typically, when the hole is full, you dig a new hole, using the dirt to cover over the old hole. Then you just move your outhouse on top of the new hole.

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    charlessenf-gm

    2 months ago

    A great idea. Never knew so many folks were building these. One thought I had related to disposing of the waste as we do with our kitchen scraps. I searched for Composting Toilets and there are lots of ideas 'out there' on building and managing such things.

    It would seem that would be a commendable objective given the effort requisite to building a structure that would serve either end.

    I found Rid-X offered as a way to hasten the decomposition process. It would seem such an additive (along with the sawdust) couldn't, as they say, hurt.

    I also had a thought as to the seat of the throne itself. On most commercially available toilet seats, there are pads on the bottom that elevate it above the ceramic bowl rim. Since, once flushed the bowl is not a source of odor, this 'gap' is inconsequential.

    In the instant case, however, a seat that somehow sealed the opening when shut, would leave only the vent pipe for the odors to escape - and that up and outside the convenience. Thee is round plastic foam insulation available at Lowes/Home Depot, etc. Just a thought.

    For my part, I scored a combination commode and sink from the Boone, NC jailhouse via an auction and have been toying with the idea of building an 'outhouse' to house it. It relies upon a water flush - so the plumbing will prove more complex.

    Watch for it!

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    WesH31charlessenf-gm

    Reply 2 months ago

    The problem with mixing human waste and organic waste is that you can't use it for composting afterwards as there are a lot of bacteria in human waste.
    I like the idea of the foam gasket. I wonder though if you wouldn't get a huge waft coming up when you did open the seat.
    I stay away from sawdust as an additive as it takes so long to break down and I want to keep the outhouse useful as long as possible. Adding more stuff would just fill up the pit faster.
    I think that Rid-x would help in certain situations but isn't needed in an outhouse as there are no substances going into the pit that would kill the natural bacteria and there are huge amounts of bacteria in human waste.
    I'm looking forward to see what you do with the sink and commode. Where we are there is no electricity and therefore running water is hard to pipe in so we have no option for a flush. If you put a flush in an outhouse, you're going to have problems with the pit filling up with water. You could make your pit like a septic tank and have a runoff to a field bed but that would require a lot of work.

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    pjdelys

    Tip 3 months ago

    Pro-tip for cold weather - cut a hole in 2" blue foam board for use as a seat in cold weather. It warms up instantly vs the prolonged cold of a regular seat. It's a must at -40F in Interior Alaska.

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    BeanieandCecilCpjdelys

    Reply 2 months ago

    Another possiblity is to make it a squat toilet like the ones I encountered in europe. Just squat over the porcelain hole and there's no cold seat to sit on. Not as comfortable if your knees are bad, but easier to clean than a bowl and squatting is actually a good position for taking care of business rather than sitting.