How to build an outhouse

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.

Click here to download the plan.

Building tips

  • 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.

Project toolbox

  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Pry bar
  • Rake
  • Tape measure
  • Circular or hand saw
  • Hammer
  • Rechargeable drill with appropriate driver bits
  • Jig saw
  • Utility knife or shingle knife
  • Level
  • Square
  • Sliding T-bevel

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