Outhouse is Full – Now What?

There comes a time in every traditional cabin owner’s life when a critical decision must be made. Do we move the outhouse or do we clean out the “PIT”?

This is especially true for the remote and water-access property owners who don’t have the luxury of calling up a pump barge or a sanitation truck to come and relieve them of their problem.

While many cabins and cottages have been upgraded to include indoor facilities – either with a septic system or a composting toilet, a large number of outhouse die-hards still loyally cling to their sanitary pit privy in the woods.

The downside of this passion for the outdoor potty is the maintenance. At some point we have to get down and dirty and clean it out, or dig a new pit and move the outhouse to a new location.

The decision is essentially determined by the condition of your privy, the layout of your property, and how strong your stomach is.

Digging Out The Sanitary Pit
In cases where the sitting area of the outhouse has been designed for easy removal and re-installation, anyone who has the nerve would generally be better off cleaning the pit privy out.

You are probably thinking: “No Way!” but it may be the best decision if the job is required every couple of seasons, or if your property has limited spots that are suitable for an outhouse installation.

How do you clean out the sanitary pit privy or outhouse?
The ideal time to empty the outhouse pit is in the spring on the first day you open the cabin. In fact, if the outhouse is the only toilet you have, this effectively becomes job number one – for obvious reasons.

The benefit of doing the dirty duty at this time of year is that mother nature has had six or seven months to complete her work. The contents of the pit privy generally resemble garden fertilizer at this point, which is a much easier product to deal with than the original ingredients.

The best tool for the job is a manual post-hole auger. Assuming your pit is at a reasonable depth, you can remove most of the contents by using the auger from above the hole.

Simply remove the bench that the seat is placed on, and without actually moving the entire outhouse structure, you should be able to get the job done in an hour or two.

An advantage of this option is that it is a one-man job. And depending on your family and friends, you may be the only volunteer.

If you and your guests have been following proper outhouse protocol, there shouldn’t be any non-biodegradable objects in the pit, and you won’t have to filter through the new fertilizer to remove the undesirable items.

Place the dirt into a wheelbarrow and then bury it somewhere in the bush at the back of the property. Ensure the disposal location is at least 30 metres (100 feet) from any water source, and ideally, a healthy distance from your neighbour’s property line. Again, it is likely to be more fertilizer than feces at this point but you should still cover it up well, especially if the family dog has a penchant for rolling around in similar substances.

Once the pit privy has been adequately cleaned out, re-install the sitting bench and you are good to go for the season.

Moving The Outhouse
There are a few situations where it may be better to move the outhouse to a new location:

In cases where the outhouse gets little use, the sanitary pit will slowly fill up over several years and it may be worthwhile to relocate it, especially if the original pit is deeper than the maximum reach of a post-hole auger.

Having a property that contains numerous outhouse-friendly locations also makes the move easier.

Finally, and probably more importantly, if you just can’t bring yourself to do the job of excavating the pit privy without getting violently ill in the process, the only option will be to dig a new hole and move the outhouse to a fresh spot.

Again, if the privy has been constructed in a way that makes it easy to tear down and re-assemble (ie, using screws rather than nails), then the job can be done by one person. Otherwise, it is going to be a much more involved project, and you will likely have to make some rustic privy provisions for a day or two.

In fact, if the outhouse has been in the same location for as far back as grandpa can remember, you may be better off building a new one that can be readily relocated.

In any case, it is important to follow your local regulations regarding the construction and location of an outdoor sanitary pit privy.

In Ontario, for example, you do not need to get a permit to build a Class 1 sewage system – which includes earth pit privies or outhouses. While you don’t need a permit, there are still rules that deal with how the structure must be built. Specific guidelines are also laid out concerning the location and depth of the pit.

The following information has been taken from the Ontario Building Code Section 8.3 Class 1 Sewage Systems:

Rules for the Outhouse or Superstructure
The outhouse must be constructed with durable weatherproof material and must have a solid floor supported by a sill constructed of treated timber, masonry, or other material of at least equal strength and durability.

The outhouse must be built so that it can be easily sanitized.

Unless equipped solely as a urinal, the outhouse must have one or more seats that each have a cover and are supported by a bench or riser which is lined with an impervious material on all interior vertical surfaces.

The outhouse must have a self-closing door.

The structure must also have one or more openings for the purpose of ventilation, all of which are to be screened.

The outhouse must have a ventilation duct that is screened at the top end and extends from the underside of the bench or riser to a point above the roof of the superstructure.

The outhouse shall not have any openings for the reception of human body waste other than the urinals and the seats with covers as described above.

Rules for the Pit
The bottom of the pit must to be at least 900mm (3 feet) above the high point of the ground water table. The sides of the pit have to be reinforced so they won’t cave in.

There must also be at least 600mm (2 inches) of soil or leaching bed fill surrounding the pit and at the bottom of the pit.

The soil or leaching bed fill has to be raised or mounded at least 150mm (6 inches) above ground level around the base of the outhouse structure. This would be done to prevent rain water from getting in.

Here are a few other considerations:

The setback requirements are often determined by the local community. In many cases the outhouse must be located at least 30 metres (100 feet) from any water source.

The dirt you excavate from the new pit can be used to fill in the old one.

It is worth the time and effort to do your homework on the local and regional rules before you relocate the privy. If your unfriendly neighbour sees you digging a new outhouse pit on a part of your property that he doesn’t approve of, he may decide to make your life difficult, and you could find yourself up the bush without a potty – especially if it isn’t built to code.

When relocating your outhouse it is also a good idea to think about whether or not you plan to install a septic system in the future. The last thing you want to do is locate the outhouse and sanitary pit on top of your ideal septic location.

Regardless of your decision, the outhouse still remains an important and ecologically friendly part of any traditional cabin property. Just remember, if you respect the pit privy it will respect you.

Here is a simple camping toilet that comes in handy when you plan to clean out or move the outhouse. It is also a nice option to have at the cabin for evening use or for cold and rainy days when you would prefer to avoid heading to the outhouse.

Solar lights for the cabin
These in-ground lights are a great option if you need to light up the path to the outhouse.

Written By: Andrew Walker

Go to the Outhouse Maintenance Tips page.
Go to the Composting Toilet Tips page.

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