A DIY expert’s secrets to mastering an outhouse build

Published: March 12, 2021

photo of Brian and Wayne in the Cottage Workshop at the Cottage Life show, DIY

Spring, at last! Well, er, almost, but that means it’s time to gear up for another year at the cottage and plan your DIY projects for the season. A good place to start is the Virtual Cottage Life & Outdoor Living Show, happening March 26–28.

Each year, DIY experts Wayne Lennox and Brian Halbot build one of Home Hardware’s projects over the course of the weekend in the Cottage Workshop. And that’s no different with this year’s show where Wayne and Brian will be building a cottage classic—an outhouse!

Since this isn’t Wayne’s first rodeo building this outhouse, in fact, it’s not even his fourth or fifth, we spoke with him about the project and got him to spill his building secrets.

In terms of difficulty level, Wayne describes this outhouse as a pretty easy project. “The roof keeps it simple. You cut the rafters, you put them on the frame, you add hurricane ties, and Bob’s your uncle.” The reason the roof is manageable is because it’s a traditional sloped shed roof  “which is a ton easier than a design that might have a gable roof,” says Wayne.” Not only does that simplify the build, it’s cheaper since you don’t need the materials for a more complicated style.

And there are other ways to make big projects easier without sacrificing stability or aesthetics. “For the siding, we used plywood sheathing and then pine battens over the studs on 12-inch centres to mimic the look of board and batten,” says Wayne. “Traditional board and batten is labour intensive and more expensive. I’m not a big fan.”

Another way Wayne and Brian were able to save money with the plywood sheathing was by cutting the door for the outhouse directly out of the piece that they used for the front. After it was cut, all it needed was a quick trim before being hung up.

While Wayne describes the outhouse as a straight-forward build, even a seasoned DIYer might need to recruit some help. “Putting in the vent stack could be a challenge,” says Wayne. “You need to locate the hole on the inside of the plywood roof, cut around the shingles, and then cut the hole which requires a bit more detail work. That part is pretty much a two-person job.” Another tip from Wayne for conquering that tricky vent stack: cut the pipe at the same angle as the roof so it’ll be flush. If you leave it square, it won’t touch the roof on all sides.

And though the plans are detailed, there’s room to work within them.  For example, “where the seat is located is a matter of personal preference,” says Wayne. (We’re looking at you, two-seaters.) But the one thing that you don’t want to forget is adding an impermeable membrane on the inside of the hole. Why, you ask? Over time, people will pee against the wood, and we all know that moisture and wood are a no-go, so you have to protect it from the inside. Wayne and Brian used aluminum flat stock, but plastic would work too.

Once your outhouse is done, have fun with it. “Brian added a custom toilet paper holder, a magazine rack, and a cabinet for storing toilet paper. You might add a light, we even built a step-up for kids,” says Wayne. “It’s nice to add little touches like that.”

To see the whole build and for more of Wayne and Brian’s great advice, including live Q&As twice daily, register for the show for free access all weekend long.

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