Outhouses and Flush Toilets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 17th, 2013

Technology 101

An Exceptional Builder of Outhouses will have the Door Swing Into the Outhouse

Before there was modern plumbing going to the bathroom often involved putting on a pair of boots and a coat.  And a short walk outside.  To a little outbuilding called an outhouse.  Which was a small shack over a hole in the ground.  With a bench with a hole in it to sit on.  Crude by today’s standards but it was living large a couple of centuries ago.  For it sure beat squatting on your haunches on a rainy day somewhere out in Mother Nature.

We’ve became very skilled in building outhouses.  Today you will see elaborate things in state parks sitting on a cement pit.  When it fills up they bring in a truck to pump it out.  So these could be rather permanent structures.  But we didn’t pump out our first outhouses.  When the hole underneath filled up we dug a new hole.  Moved the outhouse over on top of the new hole.  Cover the old hole.  Which required the outhouse to be more lightweight and portable.  Because we would move it every time the hole underneath filled up.

Now there was a certain science to building a good outhouse.  Certain considerations to take into account.  Such as where we dug the hole.  As they tended to stink having them as far away as possible from the home kept the air more enjoyable to breathe.  But it also meant longer treks during snowstorms when nature was calling.  So you didn’t want it too far.  But you didn’t want it too close.  And you especially didn’t want it anywhere near your well.  Unless you enjoyed bouts of dysentery and cholera.  And if you were making a trek through a foot or two of snow you appreciated what an exceptional builder of outhouses did for you.  He made the door open inward.  So you didn’t have to dig away a snowdrift to open the door to get inside.  Also, because they were rather lightweight, a heavy wind could blow them over.  If it fell forward onto its door you could find yourself trapped.  If the door opened inward, though, you would be able to open the door.  Get your feet onto terra firma.  And stand up and lift the outhouse upright.  Something you couldn’t do if the door opened outward.

The Flush Toilet has few Moving Parts and Operates with only Two Sources of Energy to Make it Work

Building a good outhouse required skill and experience.  Done right these wonderful things of low-tech provided years of reliable service.  Today we use another marvel of low-tech.  Allowing us to avoid a trek outdoors in a driving snowstorm when nature calls.  This marvel of engineering has brought that part of our life into the comfort and safety of our house.  A special room with a flush toilet.  Secured, heated and safe to walk to barefoot, the flush toilet has revolutionized taking care of nature’s business.  That special room inside our homes where we do more than take a bath.

What is truly amazing that people don’t even think about is that you can sit on the toilet while drawing a glass of drinking water.  We may not do this.  But we can.  (We don’t recommend this.  For flushing the toilet with the lid up could splash fecal material onto/into a drinking glass on your bathroom sink.  So if you like to drink while sitting on the toilet be sure to flush when sitting down or with the lid down).  Because of a fresh water system coming from one source.  And a sanitary sewer system going to a different destination.  Yet they come together in our bathroom.  With little chance of cross contamination.  So you could literally fill a glass of water and drink it while sitting on the toilet.  Perhaps even more incredible is that the flush toilet is the only thing in our home that is connected to both our fresh water system and our sanitary sewer system.  And still there is little risk of cross contamination.  Even an outhouse built 100 feet from the house could still contaminate your drinking water if the contents of the pit leeched into the ground water.  And came up your well.

The amazing flush toilet has few moving parts.  And operates with only two sources of energy to make it work.  The water pressure of city water.  And the human operation of the flush lever or button.  The city water fastens to the bottom of the water tank.  A water float opens and closes a water fill valve.  When the tank is full the float is at its highest, closing this valve.  When the water level in the tank drops it opens this valve and city water pressure forces water into the tank.  In case the valve sticks open there is an overflow tube to drain the excess water into the toilet bowl so it doesn’t flood the bathroom.  The tank sits on the toilet bowl.  Water enters the bowl from the tank through a 2-3″ drain hole.  A flapper valve covers this drain hole.  The weight of the water in the tank seals this watertight.  A chain runs from this flapper valve to the flush lever.  Most of the water enters the bowl via a small hole opposite a larger hole.  Where the water leaves the bowl and enters the sanitary sewer system.  The siphon.  While some of it flows out through the holes just under the rim.  The siphon curves up and then turns 180 degrees down.  The water in the bowl is at the same level as the bottom of the 180-degree turn in the siphon.  Creating a vapor lock so sewer gas can’t vent into the bathroom.

A Successful Toilet Flush requires Water to Fill the Siphon Completely and Form an Airtight Seal

Have you ever siphoned anything with a hose?  If you haven’t you can do a little experiment.  The next time you do your laundry plug the drain in the sink before the final rinse.  Get a short length of garden hose.  Place your thump over one end of the hose and fill the other end with water (you may need some help).  Once the hose is full of water place your other thumb over the other end.  Then place one end under the water level in the laundry tub.  And the other end near the floor drain (there should be one near your laundry tub).  The end of the hose at the drain will be lower than the end in the tub.  Now remove your thumbs from the ends of the hose.  You will see water run out of the hose onto the floor near the drain.  And as water leaves the hose it will pull more water into the hose from the laundry tub.  This is a siphon.  And it will keep siphoning water from the laundry tub until the water level falls below the open end of the hose in the tub.  Either when the tub is almost empty.  Or if you lift the hose out of the water.  Letting air into the hose.  Breaking the siphon.

This is how a flush toilet operates.  When you flush the toilet the chain lifts the flapper valve which will float upright as a couple of gallons of water pours into the bowl.  This rush of water will fill and seal the siphon.  As this water drains out of the siphon it will pull the water from the bowl.  As the tank drains into the bowl the siphon pulls it out, flushing it clean.  The water supply valve is open during this adding more water to this flushing action.  When the tank empties the flapper valve falls back over the drain hole.  And the tank refills with water.  When the volume of water flowing into the bowl reduces air enters the siphon.  Which, of course, breaks the siphon.  Ending the flushing cycle.  The water in the bowl settles at the height of the bottom of the 180-degree turn in the siphon.

The key for a successful flush is a large volume of water.  For unless the water fills the siphon completely and forms an airtight seal there will be no siphon.  And the toilet bowl won’t empty.  You can see this by pouring water into the bowl slowly.  When you do the water level doesn’t change.  And the toilet doesn’t flush.  The water just spills over the 180-degree turn in the siphon and into the sanitary drain pipe.  Only when there is a large volume of water flowing into the bowl will enough water flow into the siphon to form that airtight seal.  Allowing us to do our business without getting dressed and trudging outside through 2-foot snowdrifts in the middle of January.  Without worrying the building won’t blow over while we’re sitting inside doing our business.  Like they sometimes once did.  Despite how state of the art they were at one time.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,