Introduction: The World's Nicest Outhouse

Picture of The World's Nicest Outhouse

This is my parent's outhouse at their cabin in Minnesota.
Everyone who's tried it says "That's the nicest outhouse I've ever used!"

It's got a lot of good features.

The previous outhouse wasn't bad, it was a classic of the two-holer variety.
The way those work is you cover one hole and use the other til that pit fills up, then you switch.
By the time you need to shovel the nightsoil out of the first hole, it's a year old or so and has turned to dirt and can go on your garden. Or you dig another pair of holes and move the outhouse over them and cover the first pair. If your soil is porous and you worry about tainting your well, you put barrels in the holes.
Once someone left the door open and a porcupine went in and gnawed the seats to get the salt. That made the thrones kind of rough, but it went with the northwoods-ness of the place.

Vandals knocked that outhouse over many times and eventually they stole it.
Remember vandalism? It used to be an important part of growing up in the U.S.

So we needed a new outhouse. My parents bought an old fishhouse, which is a shed people put on the ice of a frozen lake to fish through a hole in the floor.

And they turned it into the nicest outhouse in the world

Step 1: The Interior

Picture of The Interior

It's paneled with plywood and insulated with fiberglass batting.

They used to light the outhouse with hurricane lamps or a kerosene lantern.
That was enough to warm it up quite a bit.
Then they got electricity. Now there's a lightbulb and an electric baseboard heater.
Purists were aghast!

They didn't bother putting in running water, and as you'll see it doesn't need it.

Instead of a pit under the outhouse or a pair of barrels, they put in a fiberglass holding tank they got from a damaged freight dealer. The sink and toiled drain straight down into the tank. Every few years they call for the "honey wagon" to come pump it out.

That's probably environmentally worse than the old "compost-in-place" system, but here in Minnesota we've got world famous eco-friendly sewage treatment plants that do okay.

Step 2: The Sink

Picture of The Sink

The sun-tea jug with the little spigot is the water supply for hand-washing.

It's a perfect way to dose out just as much water as you need to wash your hands. No waste.
Before those sun-tea jugs showed up in the thrift stores they used coffee percolators with the guts removed. Just a covered tall aluminum pot with a little spigot at the bottom.

It's the same system they used in the kitchen in the cabin. Plenty of water, but no waste, so carrying water is no big deal. Every few days you'll carry another couple of gallons out there.

It's a great way to conserve water. I hope they'll put this system in new houses in Tucson.

Step 3: The Throne

Picture of The Throne

The throne is a toilet from a junked RV.
It's got two foot pedals. One of them opens a sliding valve to "flush" the toilet.
The other pedal doesn't do anything now. I think it used to be a water valve to let the flush water in.

There are a bunch of water jugs on the shelf next to the toilet.
That's the flush water.

There's also some framed reading material.

Step 4: My Own Personal Style

Picture of My Own Personal Style

No one ever taught me how to use this equipment, I just came up with my own personal style.
There probably isn't a way to do it wrong.

First I pour a cup or two of water into the toilet.
That makes it seem more like the toilets I'm used to.

Step 5: The Deposit

Picture of The Deposit

Yes folks, that's an actual pile of human crap in there, with the actual toilet paper I used to wipe my butt.
I swore I would do it exactly as usual and photograph whatever was there.
Lucky for you normal people the paper landed dung side down and covered Mount Dunghill tastefully.

Step 6: Where Did It Go?

Picture of Where Did It Go?

Then I step on the pedal that opens the valve.
At the same time I pour in another cup or so of water to speed it to the next world.
Because it drops straight down into the tank through a large pipe it doesn't take much.

And that's that.

The bowl is made of some miracle plastic that nothing seems to stick to.
It's shaped in a really technical looking curve that's sort of like those bowls you roll coins into at a science museum. The ones where you see your money going into a black hole.

Step 7: The Valve Half Open

Picture of The Valve Half Open

Here's what the valve looks like half open.

In case you need to whittle one of these things from scratch.

Step 8: Porcupine Proofing

Picture of Porcupine Proofing

Then back to the sink for some handwashing, and finally, latching the door behind us with this pivoting board to keep the porkies out.

Cuz we don't want them gnawing on this plastic throne.

They haven't figured out how to open t his latch yet. But they're not very smart, as you may have guessed from the fact they like to eat toilets.


DakotaR8 (author)2016-07-09

I know this is old, and i saw someone suggested rain catchment system...

What if you connected a pipe with on/off latch to the bowl, that way you can easily flush the bowl using rain catchment rather than jugs of water?

cherylmmorris (author)2014-12-01

Nice! We made ours from a 5x5 x 10' tall deer blind (new cabin too close so deer knew when we are there!), lovely windows great for fresh breezes and great views, & my brother installed a self-lighting propane heater for winter!!!

Bobey (author)2013-05-05

You know you could if lost the waste

TN777 (author)2013-03-18

Awesome outhouse......though the original sounded okay.

ilpug (author)2012-01-15

That is an awesome outhouse...

BrianJewett (author)2011-06-06

Who knows? What's in the photo may have started as a Baby Ruth! ;-p

glorybe (author)2011-01-22

When vandals do a proper outhouse tilting it is with a person inside and the outhouse should be tipped to land in such a way that it lands on the door leaving the person inside no choice but to crawl through the glory hole to escape. Never use an outhouse on Halloween night!
Now being the lovable guy that I am I suggest that one acquire a bear trap and set it right behind the outhouse covered discretely with leaves. Be sure to walk out to the outhouse on Halloween night and make a bit of fuss doing it. If you are kind call an ambulance when you hear the scream of agony. It is Trick or Treat, right?

TragicSnowfall (author)2010-08-28

Wouldn't a bench with a hole in it be a whole lot easier than hauling water?

killerjackalope (author)2008-01-16

Now there's two black holes involved... and hopefully not too many pennies I always though an outhouse seemed more sensible, sanitary and just proper compared to defacating in your home in the room beside the bedroom...

Muzhik (author)killerjackalope2010-02-03

That reminds me of a story my dad used to tell, about when they were first getting a city sewage system installed.  Everyone in the town was supposed to get an inside flush toilet, and everyone was excited.  Everyone except "Mrs. MacGregor", a stubborn old Irishwoman who was NOT going to have one of THOSE inside HER house.  The town insisted; she refused.  They finally came up with a compromise, and she had the only home in town with a flush outhouse!

killerjackalope (author)Muzhik2010-02-03

We had a house with a flush outhouse... It wasn't winter friendly though...

bob_the_builder21804 (author)2009-05-18

LOL, you coulda dropped in a Baby Ruth Bar instead, and I would have been perfectly happy. This is a great outhouse... very inspiring, seriously.

But that would be a waste of a baby ruth.

icecoldcelt (author)2009-11-09

Have you ever seen the paper land poo side up? I haven't.

juniorlee (author)2007-08-30

yes! what is that fantastic plastic stuff? all toilets should be made of it. what if you started a compost pile out back? time to put that humanure handbook to work...but would that encourage the porcupines? here's to making the world a more poop-friendly place!

underwhelmed (author)juniorlee2009-08-31

The plastic is most likely a plastic used in the aerospace field know as Kydex. We repair many aircraft crapper surrounds made of this stuff. It is pretty resistant to most anything you can throw at it, including the horrible blue water they use on airplanes. ( Blue water is blue, but it is mostly chemicals to break down poo and cover up the smell, not much real water ) About the only way to repair them when they get cracked from an XXXL rear end, or a couple joining the mile high club, is to drill a hole at the end of the crack to keep it from spreading any further, grind the cracked area with a 36 grit grind wheel, and do a wet lay up repair with fiberglass and a 3 part resin that can melt the plastic so the fiberglass sticks to it. The resin is called PS-18 and is also used to fuse acrylic together, it is basically a liquid acrylic resin. It reeks like a nail salon when you use it, and it isn't really good for your brain cells, but it bonds all sorts of plastics together. I have even seen it work on those cheep 2 man fishing boats that nothing wants to bond to. About the only thing it won't bond is shhet Teflon, or that recycled milk jug plastic Rubbermaid uses to make industrial trash cans out of.

TimAnderson (author)juniorlee2007-09-04

Humanure is of course the ultimate earthfriendly toilet system. Thanks for loaning me the book!
What my folks have is more of a minimum-water-consumption alternative to conventional toilets. And a reference design for outhouses people love. People really love this outhouse.

nkjall398 (author)2009-07-25

Why not take it a step further and catch rain water to drain the toilet?

scrybbler (author)2009-03-08

Pooing is funny. I was researching about composting toilets and this seems like a much more economical solution. What does a visit from the honey wagon cost you?

TimAnderson (author)scrybbler2009-03-08

I don't know that, it will vary a lot depending on where you are.

Pumpouts for boats here on SF bay are free so people won't pollute as much.
But we decided to use a "sawdust toilet" on Solara instead. That means we carry sawdust and buckets for our "sawdust toilet" but we haven't had anyone need to go #2 yet.

Here's the "Humanure" composting toilet system, which doesn't cost anything:

scrybbler (author)2009-03-08

It's beautiful...!

blodefood (author)2009-02-11

Very nice décor.

Green this project by using a composting toilet.


dianehinnenkamp (author)2009-01-16

Has anyone used this in the winter time? would it freeze up?

oddie1212 (author)2008-10-03

Maybe a suggestion for your "flush water." put a piece of gutter on the lower corner of your outhouse and have a tube that flows into the outhouse that gets stored in a barrel on the ceiling or something like that. Then you can have rain water on hand to flush your toilet instead of toting jugs around :-D

HamatoKameko (author)2008-06-22

Wow, that really is a very nice outhouse. I've always been of the opinion that outhouses don't have to be just a shed with a bench with a whole in it. It's a proper bathroom! You mention porcupines... what about opossums? Vicious little buggers...

Jouda Mann (author)2008-02-16

Mount Dunghill.. I'll be laughing about that one for a few days...

Boden (author)2008-02-01

that is REALLY cool. if i'm ever in town, i might be tempted to stop by and use it.

Cabe (author)2008-01-24

This is certainly the style with UK "portaloos" you put a small dose of water in with one and then open the porthole to let your cannonball out on its merry way. My understanding of "toiletiquett" is that you refill the initial flush for the next person. Obviously this assumes you have a working seal on that valve.

haptotrope (author)2008-01-16

As I learned in 3rd world toilets, a fresh "sheet of water helps keep the poo from sticking... and making "bucket flushing" easier.

wtfnot (author)2007-11-28

lol toilet humour at its best a great post made me smile! oh and iv chosen to live in a caravan this last six months and im hoping to build my 1st log cabin off the grid on my own land so i know all about the water issues.

phyzome (author)2007-08-23

What about adding a raised rain catchment barrel to provide flushwater? If you're going to have a flushable toilet in an outhouse, do it in style! Perhaps, as Visitor mentioned, there is some way of having a water-flush toilet that is compatible with a composting outhouse.

medusaorange (author)phyzome2007-11-17

What about adding a raised rain catchment barrel to provide flushwater? If you're going to have a flushable toilet in an outhouse, do it in style! That is brilliant.

acer73 (author)2007-10-21

Very interesting Funny though how this was published on my birthday and you mentioned Tucson my home town.

bruc33ef (author)2007-10-06

'nother system:

Seem's a bit easier, even less wasteful, and produces lots of good compost.

Wade Tarzia (author)2007-08-19

I think our decaying republic would be a much nicer place if we could learn to talk about shit more publically. Really -- I'm not being sarcastic. A measure of a society's oppressiveness and self-delusion can be measured by the nature of our shit narratives. If you cannot take a dump, and then return to the office and say, "I just took a dump, and it was of an unusual texture and moistness," and if your colleagues cannot gather round and discuss this intelligently, then there is something wrong. My girlfriend just returned from 6 weeks in Ghana, a very open place. She was trying to explain to someone in a large crowded public space she needed to find a bathroom or its cultural equivalent. After the woman finally understood, she shouted out to the multitudes, "Can someone help this woman urinate? Hello! Will someone guide her to a tree to urinate? She has to urinate!" She reports they like the word 'urinate' and post it often on signs. They also draw specific cartoons to aid relief: an anterior view of a woman squatting, legs played, and a stream of pee coming from under the skirt with a checkmark that means "OK to urinate here." Another: a woman bending over and squatting in profile, with an X near her butt meaning, "Do NOT defecate here." Laugh if you will, but eminently rational. Sorry, Tim, did not mean to take over your instructable, but the information needed to come out really bad (ha!).

snapster (author)Wade Tarzia2007-09-11

I don't know... I think there's something to be said for being squeamish about shit. Ghana no doubt has a much higher prevalence of, say, hepatitis A, which can be spread fecally. Also I don't buy into the notion that it would be "much nicer" if everyone were much more open about talking about their dumps. I used to live in North Korea, and everyone there talked about their dumps, and how it was almost as impressive as the intellect of the Dear Leader and such, and it wasn't so nice there. I wish that they would have more better public restrooms, though.

Wade Tarzia (author)snapster2007-09-25

Sure, though I said talk about it, not handle it or eat it, to be sure ;-) .... unless you are on an alien planet lacking phosphorus in your diet and slowly getting stupid. Larry Niven wrote a whole book about that, sort of ;-)

That was one of the more interesting things I have read in days.

I must agree with you.

pixbytrix (author)2007-09-07

OMG This is the cadilac of outhouses! (and I've seen my share) I like the solar panel and tv ideas. This place is fancy enough to incorporate them. Unassuming on the outside . . .

AT (author)pixbytrix2007-09-13

I'm thinking it would be a good place for laptop and Wi-Fi! Nothing like doing your business while doing business.

pixbytrix (author)AT2007-09-13

I like it! Next you'll have to add some ointment to get rid of the ring around your bum if you're going to sit long enough to get all your business done.

Utahtabby (author)2007-08-31

I liked this, even though it was more of a 'general idea instructable' instead of a 'specific project' one. Now I know how to make a nice outdoor toliet for our mountain property, although I will probably add a roof-gutter-to-covered-rain-barrel setup to pipe water into the toilet where the extra valve is, (BTW, it IS for adding water to the toilet to flush in RVs.) Would it be a good idea to put in a P-trap under the RV toliet and a seperate vent pipe (stack?) behind the outhouse to vent the pit (to keep away odors)? If you had enough rain water or trucked-up water from town [you used to be able to buy water for 500-gallon pickup-truck-tanks (for farm spraying) for a few quarters.] then flushing would add enough water to fill the P trap. You would have to fill it back up when you first went out for the weekend or whatever, because it would evaporate dry. I just think a P trap would be nice when you have toddlers that like to throw things down open holes, or elderly grandparents that drop their cell phones into the toliet, which is bad enough with a home-style toilet but an open-hole toilet would be way ugly... at any rate, it's much nice than a typical outhouse, which I have a hard time using, after watching that old X-File episode....

mondaymonkey (author)2007-08-26

I say you should A) Run a cable from the house or get a satelite to give you TV reception. B)got some running water like people up above suggested by catchment methods

Visitor (author)2007-08-20

To me this looks like you are just showing off features in an existing outhouse. The shitter is nice, but what exactly are you instructing? At least show the construction of the pot+container. Please unpublish until you have something to instruct about. Oh, an outhouse that needs water to function is ridiculous! There are composting tanks available that do not need water and do not smell at all. A close relative has one and it is an absolutely pleasant experience. Te decaying shit produces heat that warms the seat nicely. The trick is in separating piss from the dung and you are working against it by adding extra water.

phyzome (author)Visitor2007-08-23

Hey, don't be a hater! :-P This isn't a traditional instructable, with circuit diagrams and excruciatingly detailed steps, but it does present a make-able project.

What's really important here is the discussion in the comments thread. (How else would I have found out that you're supposed to separate the solid and liquid components, as you mentioned?)

ironsmiter (author)2007-08-21

See if you can't find an old water cooler(or just the bottle, if you're handy). anything 5 gallons and over should work. Mount it on top of your side cabnite(where you have your gallon jugs now). Then run a hose to the water inlet on the stool. Now, both pedals should function as intended! No more pouring from jugs! And Just for a joke, sometime when it gets low, call the Culligan man (or whoever supplies bottled water in your area) and have him come out! 100-to-1 he'll truely get a shit out of it! Or at the very least, a VERY amusing story for some coworkers.

345138 (author)2007-08-20

i would use a normal toilet..

!Andrew_Modder! (author)2007-08-20

aww. no solor pannels on top of the pooper for free power!? and no TV wile poopin!!!!?? dang! Nice instructable lol.

Kiteman (author)2007-08-20

Time to change the saying...

"Does an Instructabler crap in the woods?"

Yes, but only if it's nice and comfy!

Another nice job of "social documentation", Tim.

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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