The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Outhouse technology

outhouse technology detail 2011What's the easiest way to dig an outhouse hole?

Carlos Mullins, West Texas.

Thanks for the question Carlos.

I use a combination of post hole diggers and a spud bar, but once you get past a few feet the going gets tough due to the distance you need to bring the dirt up and out of the hole.

One possible easy solution would be to hire someone with a tractor that has one of those power augers on the back. You would still need to get the dirt out of the hole, but it would be considerably more easier with it all broken up.  I would say by the time you went to all the trouble of tracking someone like that down you could have dug two or three holes and saved around 50 bucks.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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A small hole and a stick of dynamite? :-)
Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Jan 18 17:07:18 2011

I liked the new dawn composting toilet design. It separates solids from liquids which should aid in composting and it prevents ground water contamination from feces.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Jan 18 17:22:04 2011

You could have resisted if you'd tried harder!! :-) Mark was just talking about dynamite this morning....

That's a nice design, but we like the low-tech option. We probably will try to start diverting the urine, though. As you'll see in this week's lunchtime series, I'm letting serious fertility get away!

Comment by anna Tue Jan 18 20:23:44 2011

The composting toilets shown at appropedia seen pretty low-tech to me.

The article about eco toilets at Pedregal (very inventive fly traps on those as well) mentions that you can use ash to eleiminate odors from the toilet and to help kill parasites in the compost. Maybe another use for your wood ash?

If I wanted to use feces as compost I'd want to make damn sure that it was free of pathogens. It seems from the (admittedly limited) reading I've done on the subject that you need an anaerobic relatively dry environment with a slightly base PH and you need to reach a temperature of at least 40°C for an unclear amount of time. And you don't want the feces in contact with your water table until the composting process is done. In this case it is the hole in the ground that seems like a too low-tech solution to me.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Jan 19 17:14:28 2011

It doesn't get any lower tech than a hole in the ground, mixing in your compostables as you go. That's our method. We put our holes around the borders of the fruit tree roots, so that we won't have to bring any feces (and their pathogens) to the surface in order to use them as fertilizer, but we're still feeding the soil and plants that will eventually feed us. No chance of pathogens coming in contact with our food or with our skin.

In terms of polluting the groundwater, I think we're pretty safe. We always locate our outhouse holes at least 200 feet downhill from our well, and much further than that from our creeks. When water percolates through soil, it is naturally cleaned, and most health services only require 100 feet of horizontal space between septic fields/outhouses and water sources, so we're going above and beyond what most people consider to be safe.

Comment by anna Wed Jan 19 17:34:30 2011
I can't believe you haven't put the Humanure ideas into practise here. The book is a free download. Roland seems a bit "fecophobic", as the Humanure author likes to say ;¬)
Comment by Mark M Mon Aug 8 03:36:48 2011

We actually use our humanure, but in the easiest way possible. We simply move our outhouse hole through our orchard so that the trees can send their roots into the composting humanure and get fed.

We need to do a little better about keeping high carbon materials on hand to toss in the hole frequently so the humanure will decompose aerobically once we fill in the hole. But the trees certainly seem happy with the current system....

Comment by anna Mon Aug 8 08:17:42 2011

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