Design & DIY

Breaking down outhouse waste with products

Is there a product that makes the waste in the outhouse break down faster? Ours has no odour, but it is filling up, and we don’t want to move it.
—Paula Purvis, Ella Lake, Ont.

Sometimes the truth is messy: Outhouses fill up, and “the idea is that you move them,” says Mike Gooch, chief building official for Huntsville. There are products out there that may help, but our experts said, why tinker with nature?

“As long as you have lots of oxygen and bacteria—which in an outhouse, you do—it’s best not to add anything,” advises Ted Thompson, a building inspector for the Township of the Archipelago. “We have a ton of outhouses in our township. I don’t know of anyone who adds anything to theirs.” Doug Schultz, septic inspector for the Township of McNab Braeside, agrees. If you can’t relocate the outhouse, he suggests having it pumped out.

A lot of the bulk that builds up in outhouses comes from toilet paper. If you must add something, choose a product containing bacteria that can break down cellulose, such as EcoEthic’s BioSurge. Say no to anything with lye, formaldehyde, quaternary ammonium, colour, fragrance, or a hazard symbol.

Ultimately, how fast the biffy fills up depends on how often it’s used and the size of the hole, says Sandy Bos, member of the Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association, on-site sewage-system inspector for the Township of Muskoka Lakes, and the happy owner of an outhouse that hasn’t moved in 20 years. A product may “extend the outhouse’s life a little bit,” but it won’t prevent the inevitable.

As Thompson says, “There’s nothing magical out there.” So if a product claims otherwise, that might just be a load of…well, you know.