Learn how to build a simple outdoor toilet. This eco-friendly and affordable composting toilet is perfect for anyone needing somewhere to go.
We had never built anything larger than an Ikea bookcase when we bought a piece of vacant land. Our plan to eventually build a cottage seemed like an impossible task. We didn’t know anything about framing, siding, roofs, or foundations. The learning curve was huge.
So we started at the very beginning with a simple outdoor toilet.
Our Simple Outdoor Toilet
As soon as we bought our property, we knew that building a simple outdoor toilet was important. So we spent several rainy winter months reading lots of books about outhouses and composting toilets.
Our main goals were:
- To build something that wasn’t smelly so that everyone (even the fussiest bums) would be comfortable using it.
- An eco-friendly design to align with our ethics.
- Since it was only a temporary toilet to bridge the gap between our initial shabin and our eventual cabin, we didn’t want to build anything too complicated or expensive.
In the end, we decided to build a simple bucket-based composting toilet with a rain barrel for handwashing.
The Time Involved
Ultimately, it took us A LOT longer than expected to build our simple outdoor toilet. There were three major factors that caused delays:
- We didn’t own most of the necessary tools. We had to buy a generator to run the power tools. Then we had to buy the power tools. Lastly, we needed a dry place to store the tools on our empty piece of property. At least 3 weekends were spent running around town buying used tools and equipment.
- Neither of us knew what we were doing. It took us 2 months just to figure out the different outdoor toilet options. We wanted to make a non-toxic, eco-friendly building, so it took a few more weeks to figure out what we could use for construction instead of plywood and pressure-treated lumber.
- In the end, we had to rush our construction because of the pandemic. We managed to complete the outdoor toilet in just three days, but we only got a single coat of stain on the outside. It wasn’t ideal, but with the ferries closed to non-essential traffic, we weren’t able to get over to our property again for a few months.
All of that aside, it took us 3-day trips to build the outdoor toilet, so around 16 hours in total. Because we weren’t building an outhouse, we didn’t actually have to dig a hole, which would have added to the time involved.
The exact cost is a little hard to calculate because we were buying tools and extra supplies needed to simply build the outdoor toilet. My best guesstimate is that it cost us around $800. That includes our really cheap $5 bucket in lieu of a fancy composting toilet.
As I mentioned before, we are not builders or contractors. We really didn’t know what we were doing, so a good plan was a necessary starting point.
We decided to use Ana White’s simple outhouse plan because it was clear and easy to follow. She has lots of people commenting, talking about how the plans worked for them, and what changes they made. It gave us the confidence to make our own changes.
Here are the changes we made to turn this basic outhouse into an eco-friendly composting toilet:
Base & Floor
- We used cedar for the base instead of pressure-treated lumber. Then we prepped all the cedar boards with a solid stain to provide even more protection from rotting.
- Since we were using a bucket toilet, the cedar flooring was carried right across the whole deck. We also closed the gaps in the floor inside the shed to prevent critters from getting in.
Roof & Siding
- We used cedar fencing as our siding. Since we only needed 4′ lengths it was affordable and looked great. We oriented the fencing so that the rough side was outside and the smooth side was inside.
- The shed is the perfect size for a single piece of metal roofing. Initially, we used a recycled piece of outdoor plywood (though not pressure treated) as the subroof.
- After 2 years of using the outhouse, we decided to swap the metal roof for a clear plastic roof to let in more light.
- The space under the seat was not enclosed so that it could be cleaned and swept out. We also hinged the plywood seat so that the bucket could be easily removed and cleaned.
- The height of the seat was set to meet the top of the bucket so that there wasn’t any gap between the hole in the plywood seat and the top of the bucket. This kept everything nice and clean.
- The gutter and rain barrel were not just included to keep water away from the base, but also to provide a place to wash hands. This was especially important as our property was not serviced.
Wondering what it was like to use this bucket toilet? Here’s how we were managing our bucket toilet system several years later.