Warm up Your Outhouse for Winter

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Matches, candles, a coffee can and a wooden board are all useful tools for your winter outhouse.
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The prospect of using an outhouse in below-freezing temperatures is enough to frighten the most intrepid homesteader.
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A Styrofoam seat will protect YOUR seat from the cold.

Here, from a resident of British Columbia’s far northwest
corner, is a Complete Survival Manual for the Pilgrim
Facing His or Her First Winter With a Privy. And for all
you folks with indoor plumbing: Rejoice, rejoice!

Regardless of what anyone says, there is one
advantage to having an outhouse in the colder regions of
our land: Namely, you don’t have to worry about frozen
plumbing. The prospect of actually having to use an outdoor
potty at thirty below, however, is horrifying to most
folks. (It’s enough, in fact, to throw the average
tender-foot’s body functions completely out of whack!) A
recent arrival from warmer climes even confided to my lady
that she dreaded the possibility of having to present a
strategically located frostbite for treatment at the local
outpost hospital.

And yet, a trip to the arctic or subarctic biffy doesn’t
have to be an exercise in stark terror: You
can overcome most of the inconveniences, if you
know how.

Seat Temperature

The temperature of the outdoor commode’s
load-bearing surface is our most immediate concern.
Imagine–if you dare–the sensory and emotional
impact of sitting on a seat forty degrees colder than the
average ice cube . . . a frost-caked surface cold enough to
freeze water instantly with an audible crackle. One way to
ease this “impact” is simply to hang the john’s seat behind the
kitchen stove when the lid is not in use, and then take it
with you when you go to use “the facilities”. The idea
works, too . . . though fastidious sorts aren’t usually too
pleased with the idea. And, if you have small kiddies who
are still developing dexterity and accuracy, the concept
further lacks appeal.

Then again, you may want to try a technique I first spotted
at a ranch near McKinley Park in Alaska. The rancher there
had obtained a horseshoe-shaped seat (such as commonly
found in public restrooms) and pulled an old woolen sock
over each half of the lid. It was marvelous.

The absolute ultimate, though (believe it or not), is the Styrofoam seat. (OK. So it’s plastic. Can you think of a
better use for plastics?) Such a lid is a snap to make: All
you have to do is [1] find a two-foot-square hunk of
2″-thick insulating Styrofoam (or any piece big enough to
extend well beyond the edges of the privy’s opening), [2]
outline the hole in the latrine on it, and [3] cut the
center out of the block with a keyhole saw. (The seat’s
usable “as is”, but does tend to break easily unless
reinforced. Hence, you might like to cement the foam to a
scrap piece of plywood that’s been cut to size.) Tack a
couple of blocks to the outhouse bench’s top to keep the
new seat from sliding around, and presto! You’ve got an
insulated perch you can slide into place whenever the frost
fiends are sufficiently vicious.

This–I guarantee–is the warmest and most
comfortable seat you can imagine (even if you forget and
leave it out in the snow on a night when the temperature
plunges to fifty below). It feels heated, as
though there’s an electric element inside! With a foam lid
like this, you no longer need fear discomfort or
moon-shaped frostbites.

(You might even want to build the next loo facing north, so
you can leave the door open and admire the aurora borealis
in comfort, as you peer out from between your Styrofoam
foundation and down parka.)

Frost Buildup

A lesser–but still significant–problem
associated with an outhouse up here in the far north is the
frost that sometimes builds up inside the structure. It can
make the interior of the building utterly beautiful when it
coats walls and ceiling with thick layers of giant,
iridescent crystals and transforms each cobweb into a long,
swaying strand of gems.

Your appreciation of the aesthetics of the situation
generally vanishes quickly, however, when you realize that
the source of all this sparkling beauty is the . . . vapor
. . . . from . . . . . the . . . . . . pit. Then too, the
crystals are so fragile that the mere closing of the door
can jar loose a tinkling snowstorm that–if nothing
else–is sure to cover you liberally. (Even if you use
the utmost stealth and reach your destination without
causing the slightest structural vibration, you may still
be confounded as the vapor of your own breath adds the
final milli-microgram needed to touch off an avalanche from
the heavily laden cobweb hanging directly above the back of
your neck! It raises hell with meditation.)

You won’t be able to lick the frost problem entirely. About
the best you can do is [1] leave a tight, flat cover on the
opening in your Chic Sale’s bench when it’s not in use to
prevent vapors from rising into the building, and [2] prop
the privy’s door open during warm spells so that the
crystals can vaporize and be wafted away. (If the cold snap
is prolonged enough to fill your outhouse with frost
anyway, just bang the structure on the outside with your
fist before you enter. This’ll knock loose any storms which
hang in wait. Then you can ignore the source of the
crystals as you settle down inside and pretend you’re in a
geode. It’s pretty, anyway.)


A cold-weather phenomenon that’s unheard–of except in
the north is the Outhouse Stalagmite, a sharp and slender
spire that grows with amazing speed from the darkness of
the pit and quickly threatens to violate the upper sanctum.
This problem you fight with violence.

Inside an outhouse at a station on the Canol Road in the
Northwest Territories there’s an immense, caveman-type club
resting in a corner under a sign that reads

In this land of ice and snow
The refuse pile just grows and grows
But lo, behold this mighty club
With which to smite it in the bud!

Chances are, you’ll find an old two-by-four leaning against
most far north outhouses during the winter. Now you know
why. The stalagmites become brittle when frozen and are
easily fractured. In short, they’re no real threat. (Just
don’t forget and use that same two-by in the construction
of your sauna next spring!)

Candles, Matches and Moisture

Many northerners make an effort to keep their biffies
bright and cheery with colorful paint, pictures, and a
candle for light. If you decide to install such a light in
your outhouse, though, make it short enough to cover with
an inverted jar when it’s not in use (to prevent the candle
from becoming heavily frosted and difficult to light).
Matches, too, must be kept in a sealed container, and that
extra roll of tissue should be tightly shut inside a coffee
can so that it doesn’t get soggy.


Don’t forget to latch your outhouse door on windy nights so
the building doesn’t drift full of snow. This’ll also help
to keep out porcupines, who seem to have a passion for the
salts found on biffy benches. While porky visits are more
commonly a summer occurrence, I did once notice–just
in time, I might add–one of the spiny critters inside
the shallow pit of an old privy out in the bush. (The
incident had all kinds of frightening potential!)

It’s Not So Bad…

That about covers the major annoyances associated with the
sub-zero outhouse. Other winter privy problems fade into
the background, once you have these solved.

In any case, the minor inconveniences posed by frozen
facilities are nothing (in my mind) compared to the hazards
“faced” by those who use the outhouse in some southern
states . . . states where easily offended black widow
spiders frequently hang just under the seat. I’ll take
porcupines, any day.