How to build an outhouse
Our most popular project, ever!
Privy, john, biffy, crapper, backhouse, whatever you call it, the outhouse remains a common architectural feature on the cottage landscape.
Technically considered a Class 1 sewage treatment system by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, outdoor facilities constitute the master ensuite for a surprising number of cottagers, or provide backup relief for countless others. My brother-in-law is among the latter; he has indoor plumbing but still maintains an outhouse up the hill from the cottage. It takes the pressure off the septic system, and is handy when you’re working outside – no need to take the old boots off, just head up to the backhouse.
According to the Ontario Building Code (OBC), structures under 108 square feet do not require a building permit. (An outhouse over 108 square feet would be quite the edifice – the one featured in the July/August 1999 issue of Cottage Life magazine measures under 20 square feet.) However, it’s a good idea to check with your municipality for local bylaws regarding outhouses. There are also specific OBC regulations regarding their placement and construction.
- Dig the hole first. (It’s been known to happen: An enthusiastic DIYer erects the structure, then can’t find a way to excavate the pit.)
- Pressure-treated or creosoted timbers are the best material for the base of the structure; untreated hemlock or tamarack (also known as eastern larch) are also good choices for their natural ability to resist decay.
- Use 6″ X 6″ timbers (minimum) to frame the hole. Half-lap corners are advisable.
- If you use pressure-treated wood, remember to treat all cut ends with an appropriate preservative.
- Avoid letting soil touch the floor frame.
- Pry bar
- Tape measure
- Circular or hand saw
- Rechargeable drill with appropriate driver bits
- Jig saw
- Utility knife or shingle knife
- Sliding T-bevel
The article was originally published in July/August 1999