Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Indoor Plumbing

My post on old coal furnaces yesterday got me thinking on another subject. I’ve lived in three houses that were originally built without indoor plumbing. There were a lot of such old homes in the town that I came from. The outhouse was the standard back in the day when houses were built before the 1920s. Both houses I lived in still had their outhouses intact. My mother’s house still has one attached to some out buildings. That was a deluxe one with three seats of differing sizes a divided glass window and plaster walls.

When it became a modern standard to have indoor plumbing one needed to find a place to put a bathroom. In the case of my mother’s house they decided to plumb a large storage closet that also housed the door to the attic. In the case of my other house and many houses like it; most homes had a front and a back porch. Instead of losing an entire interior room, most opted to enclose their back porches. This was a pretty simple solution since it is easier to plumb a new structure then to refit something already existing. It’s easier bringing a tub into a room with no walls than it is to bring one through a narrow door.

I’m very sure this was the case with my present home. I’ve done enough digging around the property to have a good idea where the outhouse was. The original bathroom was built onto the back end of the house which was the porch in the early 40s.

This is not so much of a post about romanticizing outhouses. Having used many of them in places I’ve stayed in primitive conditions I can tell you there is little to feel warm and fuzzy about in one. Outhouses weren’t all that near to houses. The wells were usually closer. I can’t imagine slogging a hundred through the snow to find cold wooden seats as a point of relief. I’m more interested in the architectural aspect of creating a necessity in a place that wasn’t designed for it. It was a challenge that somehow was always met out of necessity, yet blended into the house as though it was always there.


Blogger Donna said...

In our old house, the bathroom was placed in part of the porch. I've actually talked to the children of the people who added the bathroom.

4:52 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Ah, toilets! A subject currently near and dear to my heart (or wherever…) but of the in-house kind.
I have never enjoyed outhouse use due to my over-active imagination as to the possible creatures/inhabitants down below…

5:10 AM  
Blogger darev2005 said...

A friend of mine lived in an old house in Portland that had an outhouse at one time. They took the little vestibule that housed the basement stairs and expanded it into the bathroom and they put a trapdoor over the basement stairs. When i was there, he had a tenant living down in the basement and the trapdoor was constantly being left open. I don't know how many times i stepped out of the shower toweling my head and nearly fell into the basement.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

When I was a kid, we used to go visit my aunt - who had an outhouse and a well. I suppose I romanticised it, because I could always go back to my own house...
I wonder if it's been modernized by now....

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our first house was built long before plumbing. When they added running water they tacked on to the back of the house to make a bigger kitchen and a bathroom. It was pretty weird to have the kitchen and the bathroom essentially together and separated from the rest of the house by what was obviously once an exterior wall.

The bathroom was so small my mom referred to it as the airplane bathroom. The whole house was on 600 sq ft.


6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was with my practice husband we had a brand new manufactured home, one line of electricity and an outhouse. Used the outhouse for 18 months, while he used his girlfriend's bathroom. Ahhh, such memories of fighting the raccoon for the toilet seat while doing the peepee dance. Good times, good times on Lillannes Road in Olney!

8:50 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Donna, it made perfect sense since it already had a floor and a roof. If you think of how many older homes that had this done, you'd be amazed.

Beth the spiders alone drove me crazy.

Darev, having an indoor bathroom was much more important than planning one out properly. It's like how people have to have these giant TV sets and often the rooms don't accommodate a large screen, but they put them in anyway.

Amy, you were only a kid ten years ago, so perhaps not. (How's that for sucking up?)

Critter, I'm a fan of small houses, though I admit that the bathroom I put in my most recent addition is larger than many bedrooms I've seen.

Anon, that's bitter sweet. I think I know who this is and if so you scored pretty well with your next husband.

6:06 AM  

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