The World's Nicest Outhouse




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

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.



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    50 Discussions


    2 years ago

    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?


    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!!!


    6 years ago

    You know you could if lost the waste


    6 years ago on Introduction

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


    8 years ago on Step 5

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


    8 years ago on Step 2

    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?

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


    11 years ago on Step 6

    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...

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

    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!


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

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


    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.

    1 reply

    9 years ago on Step 5

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


    11 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    9 years ago on Step 8

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


    10 years ago on Step 8

    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?

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 8

    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: