The old fashioned outhouse was a necessity. Some people today call them quaint and I am told that they are collector’s items, but it is hard to believe that anyone liked using them. As facilities moved indoors with the advent of indoor plumbing, outhouses became obsolete. Today we see porta-potties or johnny on the spots and deal with chemical smells when we need to use them at outdoor events. It’s just not very common to see an outhouse today. For my family, living off grid without electricity or running water, it was important for us to consider having an outhouse. In our homes, we use composting toilets, but these are not always practical for our guests to use when they visit for an afternoon or come camping for a week.
When I started thinking about an outhouse design, I knew that we did not want to repeat a stereotypical outhouse. We wanted to do our best to solve the typical problems of outhouses that cause us to avoid them at all costs. We wanted our outhouse to be comfortable for our guests, as well as be aesthetically pleasing. First I’ll address the problems of a typical old fashioned outhouse and how I solved them. Then I’ll explain my “tiny house” design and why we chose it for an outhouse.
Problems of a Typical Old Fashioned Outhouse:
- The waste contents of an outhouse need to be dug out or the outside structure needs to be moved. Digging out an outhouse hole is a dirty, stinky job and one that we want to avoid. The other alternative for old fashioned outhouses was to move them and dig a new hole. Either way, there was significant work involved. So our first step in planning our outhouse was to build a REALLY big hole. I would describe it as more of a great big pit. It is approximately 6 feet by 6 feet and 10 feet deep. I wanted a hole that would last us several years. Because it will primarily be used for guests, I’m confident that our hole won’t fill up quickly.
- An outhouse is too small which makes it difficult for people to move around inside. To address this problem, I built a large floor over our oversized pit. The floor is a good size at 8 feet x 10 feet. Some tiny homes are around 80 square feet! This 80 square feet allowed us to build two sides, mens’ and women’s, as well as include a small 2-foot porch for waiting out of the rain. We know that many of our guests will bring children. We wanted our outhouse to be family friendly. For the floor, I used 2×8 pressure-treated lumber, 16 inch on centers, covered with a waterproof fiberboard called AdvanTech.
- An outhouse has a very stinky odor. This is the primary reason why schoolboys of a bygone era locked each other in outhouses as a prankster trick. The smell could be unbearable for a long period of time! To solve this problem, I gathered rock from around our property and mortared them in on all four sides to make the space between the floor and the ground as airtight as possible. The pit is vented outside through a three inch plastic pipe coming out of the mortared rocks and stretching above the eaves of the roof. I also made the outhouse itself airtight. The toilet lid fits fairly tight over the top of the toilet seat, so the odor should be minimal. However, there are two important things that the user must do to make it work: 1) the toilet lid must remain down after use so the air (i.e. odor) will be forced out the vent pipe, and 2) the door must remain closed at all times to keep the flies out.
- An outhouse is unbearably hot in the summer heat. The sun can generate a lot of heat in a small building with no windows or ventilation. My solution was to wrap the building with a house wrap and put R13 insulation inside the walls. I put R16 in the ceiling, along with plenty of attic ventilation so air will move freely. I also installed two windows on the back wall, one on each side. Because they face the woods, privacy is not a concern. They can be kept open to help outside air get inside the building.
We believe that these things solved our comfort goal. Our other goal was to make our outhouse aesthetically pleasing. I did not purchase plans or even sketch my own. I simply envisioned what I wanted and built my vision. We love the tiny house movement. Our homes are small, but not classified as tiny. So we loved the idea of having our own tiny house structure on our property, even if it is only an outhouse!
My “Tiny House” Design:
- High pitched roof: Many tiny homes have a very high pitched roof to accommodate a sleeping loft. I built our outhouse roof with trusses that are 24 inch on centers. We salvaged metal roofing panels from an old chicken house on our property, sealed the nail holes with silicone, and painted the panels with forest green Rust-Oleum paint. It was a challenge working with a such a steep pitch, but the finished product looks just like a real house.
- Porch: The small 2 foot porch and railing is the other element that makes our outhouse look like a tiny house. Without this, it would just be a box. It gives the structure real country charm, as well as a place to get out of the elements while waiting for a turn to use the facilities.
- Interior: The interior walls are 24 inch on centers. I covered them with ¼ inch bead board, and installed picture molding where we will hang framed pictures. The ceiling and wall down to the picture molding is ½ inch plywood. The look is very modern country. There were several options for a toilet hole, such as a box with a toilet seat mounted on top of the hole. However, I wanted to do something different, so I selected a fiberglass pedestal toilet cone from Far North Fiberglass. The smooth surface will be very easy to clean and the unit takes up much less room than a box.
- Exterior: The house is a simple 2×4 construction. The exterior walls are 16 inches on centers. I used an exterior paneling on the outside called “barnside” which simulates woodgrain planks. We created steps using flat rocks that we found on our property and leveled them with gravel.
- Paint: We like bright colors on our homestead. Our chicken coop is daffodil yellow and our guinea coop is grass green. So we decided to paint the exterior of our outhouse sky blue. The interior is a lighter shade of the same color of blue. Beyond our love for bright colors, there were a few things we considered when choosing the color. 1) We wanted our outhouse to be visible on a dark night. It is pretty dark out here when the moon isn’t full. We didn’t want our guests to struggle finding the outhouse with only the aid of a flashlight. Our blue building really sticks out! 2) We wanted the inside to blend well with the outside, but chose a lighter shade so that the color does not absorb all the light. We didn’t want the inside to feel like a cave. The mens’ and women’s sides will be decorated in gender appropriate ways. The women will have pictures of flowers and the men will have John Wayne pictures! The light blue will match both interiors. 3) We chose the floor color by matching paint chips to the dirt and mud from our property. Muddy shoes are common around here and the floor will get dirty regularly. The color will help hide the dirt.
Our “tiny house” outhouse has both functionality and beauty. I think we have accomplished both of our goals when building it. We hope that our guests will be very comfortable when using it. The inside looks just as good as the outside and no I did not put a crescent-moon on the door. Our outhouse may not be a collector’s item, but it is very comfortable!
Watch our video below in homestead episode 10 of the new outhouse and take a tour!
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Used an outhouse as a child, parents dumped lime at times down the waste hole to eat contents & helps with odor.
Have you thought about installing a solar light on the porch and inside as well?
I love your color choices–reminds me of those new lawn/patio chairs that are so popular now.
I love the design, covered porch is great idea too along with his and her sides. I would put mine over 100 gallon rubbermaid tubs and use sawdust and bark chips to absorb liquids and use red wigglers to compost down.
How well does the vent work? If you needed to give it some extra oomph You might try painting the vent stack black for a solar chimney effect.
The vent did not work well. I end putting a 4 inch wind turban on top of the stack to exhaust the air. It works much better now.
Re:canning…how do you maintain even pressure over a wood fire? I like the idea, but wonder about pressure fluctuation.
Please post info on maintaining consistent pressure while canning over wood heat. I like the idea, but wonder how you do it. Thanks.