The Outhouse

Privy‘, ‘Johns‘, ‘the Crapper‘, ‘the Can‘, or just plain old Outhouse is by any other name the classic, timeless ode to the original (in my opinion) composting toilet. In layman’s terms you dig a hole for the latrine and place a small building over it for protection and privacy to do your business. Over time of course the hole would fill up, and to put it simply -you cover it over with dirt and move on to a new spot. In a nutshell that is how it’s done. In a year or two of letting it cook underground it would provide a really nice spot to plant some fruit trees, or in the very least some prize winning roses. Waste not want not. (potty humor…couldn’t resist)

Of course you know there are a few rules involved to do so safely. We don’t want any nasties making their way into the drinking water or contaminating the ground water in any way so there are some precautions.

Being that I live on the West Coast I would prefer to have brought you the goods on the B.C. building codes, however, as I’ve had a dilly of a time tracking it down (it’s ongoing and if you know the exact link paaalease send it along to me) I will give you an idea of what’s expected to build a proper privy a la the Ontario government. According to the Ontario Building Code (OBC), structures under 108 square feet do not require a building permit, however, it’s a good idea to check with your municipality for local bylaws, especially if your municipality is in another province (grin). There are also specific regulations regarding how it’s built and where you put it.

Requirements for Outhouse Pit Placement:

• 15 meters from a drilled well that has a watertight casing at least 6 meters deep.

• 30 meters from a dug well or a spring used for drinking water.

• 15 meters from a lake, river, pond, stream, or reservoir.

• 3 meters from any property line.

• 90 cm above the high groundwater table in your area.

• The sides of the pit must be reinforced to prevent collapse.

• The pit must be surrounded on all sides and on its bottom by not less than 60 cm of soil or leaching bed fill. (This means that at least 60 cm of soil must separate the bottom of the hole from bedrock, or some such impermeable barrier.)

• The soil around the superstructure of the pit (i.e. the base on which the outhouse sits) must be raised or mounded to a height of at least 15 cm above surrounding ground level to encourage runoff away from the pit.

Outhouse Construction Regulations:

Straw Bale Outhouse, a method of Composting Waste Management for Black WaterCompleted Outhouse, a method of Composting Waste Management for Black Water

• There must be at least one ventilation duct, screened at the top.

• There must be an impervious material on the inside vertical face of the enclosed bench – plastic or galvanized metal (we chose the latter for the Cottage Life outhouse).

• There must be a self-closing door (simply add spring hinges) to minimize the entry of critters.

• There must be one or more screened openings for ventilation. This doesn’t have to be a window, though we chose to add two windows to our structure to provide cross-ventilation.

• The privy must be easily sanitized – painting the hole black, both camouflages the view below a little better, and makes cleaning it a much easier task. I think we can all agree that anything that makes the task a little easier goes straight to the ‘A’ list.

Now I have never built one myself, but I have fond memories of using the outhouse at my parent’s cottage where I and a comic book would disappear for 20 minutes at a time. I look forward to having one around again at Middle Earth for exclusive use in the warm months when I’m tromping around outside in the garden and don’t want to take my muddy boots off to use ‘the loo’ indoors. It will be especially appreciated when guests visit and there’s somebody who just can’t wait another minute to get into the bathroom! Long live the outdoor commode!

Image credits: Lentini, bugeaters, elisfanclub, fishermansdaughterdavef3138, 123 look at me, J. Kraemer, Tomasz Kuran, lovecz, Reno Tahoe Territory

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