Safety & Sanitation: Build a Backup Outhouse

OuthouseBuilding an outhouse may not appeal to everyone, but having one in the backyard does have an array of benefits. If used regularly, an outhouse lowers the water bill, removes bathroom odors from the house during warmer months, and reduces the odds of septic and sewer issues. An outhouse also serves as a backup option in the case of water shortages or if the system is completely shut down for repairs/updates.

Buy the materials and tools needed from to get started with your outhouse and proceed in the following way:

  • Decide on a location that is at least 200 feet from all water supplies, streams, and lakes.
  • Find a location downwind of where people eat, live, and socialize.
  • Select a shaded area to reduce the heat inside, but do not place directly under trees as you may hit the root system when digging the hole.

Dig the hole: 4×4 is usually considered a good size. Choose a circle or square pattern based on your personal preference.

Build the floor: Put planks over the hole, so you have a piece to connect the floor to. These planks should be no smaller than 2×4. Larger planks function better with this project. The planks should extend at least 2 feet on either side of the hole. Cover the planks with flat lumber such as plywood to create the floor and measure where the hole should be. Make the hole at least 2×2 feet and decide on a position under which you will build the seat. (Note: if this will be a squat outhouse, the hole may be 1 to 1 ½ feet across.) Cut out the hole and secure the floor to the planks with screws or nails. Build the seat by making a box out of wood that is larger than the hole in the floor. Secure the box to the floor, make a proper size seat, and then add a commercial seat top.

Build the sides: Use 2×4 lumber to create a frame. Next, cover the frame with plywood panels to make a fast, easy structure that is sturdy. On one of the 4 sides, draft a frame of a door and cut it out before attaching the plywood to the frame. You can then add the door at the end of the project, or use a temporary curtain.

Build the roof: Measure the length and width of the outhouse walls and cut plywood to the appropriate dimensions with a saw. Place the plywood on top of the structure and secure it with a drill. Cover the plywood with roll roofing.

Add a door: The door is optional for those who are comfortable using a curtain to indicate when the outhouse is in use. If you intend to have a door, use hinges and screws to secure it properly to the structure.

Once the outhouse is complete, be sure to add toilet paper and a flashlight.