4 DIY Outhouse Basics

When nature calls at your backwoods getaway, let our experts help you get down to business!

1. BREAK GOOD GROUND: Before you grab a shovel and dig a hole, find out what your local, county or state health or environmental officials require for an out- house. In less-populated states or remote townships, there may be no rules. In other areas, there may be specific regulations that, if not followed, may result in fines for polluting the countryside. Some states or counties may require a watertight concrete holding tank, which could multiply the cost of the project, especially if it would be difficult to transport the tank.

2. RECON RIGHT: Look around your property before you fire up the backhoe. First, look for high ground to ensure your pit will be as far above the water table as possible. Check if your soil is well drained; sandy soil is optimal. A heavy clay soil won’t be as efficient at allowing the liquids to seep into the ground. Don’t locate the outhouse too close or too far from the house. Too close, and it might threaten your well water or bring unwanted odors. Too far, and it will be inconvenient to use, especially on cold winter nights. Put it where prevailing winds blow away from your shelter. And lastly, locate it where a septic service pump truck will be able to reach it with a hose. These trucks usually carry a few hundred feet of hose.

3. BOMB-PROOF IT: If you want your family to enjoy the outhouse experience for generations to come, build the above-ground structure with two-by- fours, 16 inches on center. Use materials you would choose for your house or garage, like 30-year shingles and weather- resistant siding. Use treated lumber and materials impervious to splashing waste below the seat level. Construct a pit liner out of rot-resistant materials like treated timbers or concrete—or use a watertight concrete or plastic holding tank—so it can be filled and pumped over and over. Think about proper ventilation from the pit or tank and how to seal any wood parts properly to prevent odors or contamination. Typically outhouses require a vent stack—it could be as simple as a 4-inch PVC plastic pipe—running from below the seat board to the roof.

4. CLASS IT UP: Let’s face facts. Some of your family members and visitors won’t be as gung-ho as you are about using an outhouse. For that reason, and because you’ll use it every day, make it an inviting place to be. Add windows to let the light in, and provide a view of your beautiful countryside. (You’ll want curtains or other screening from the view of others for privacy.) Size it for comfort with a lot of elbow room for users big and small. Think ergonomic. You want to be able to turn around and provide access to those with limited mobility or disabilities. Think of ways to make it easy to keep clean, like avoiding crevices where dirt or splashed waste could reach. Include ample storage for paper products, hand sanitizer and reading materials. And how about going crazy and adding power? A solar panel on the roof can power a light or even a small heater to take the chill of.