Preparedness blog

When the Plumbing is Gone in an Emergency

By Ready Expert
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Earthquakes have the ability to knock out electricity, water, and other utilities. So, what would you do if you had to use the bathroom after the earthquake had knocked out your plumbing?

The United States has one of the most expansive and efficient plumbing networks in the world. Since the idea of indoor plumbing started in the mid-1800s, Americans have laid down millions of miles of plumbing, allowing people to conduct their business, flush it and forget it!

Indoor plumbing was actually accelerated because of the discovery of viruses and microorganisms. Previously, people hadn’t worried about where they dropped their waste and many times it got back into the water supply causing extreme sickness.

What you’ll need
You can make your own potty disposal kit with a few simple things:

1. Portable Potty Chemicals
2. Portable Potty Lid
3. 6-gallon Bucket
4. Portable Potty Bags
5. Toilet Paper
6. Hand Sanitizer
7. Latex gloves
8. Ventilation Mask
You can easily store all these items inside your bucket until you need to use it.

When setting up your potty, make sure that you lay the bag over the rim of the bucket and then place the lid on top. This will allow you to go without having to hold the bag up.

Disposing of the waste
If a disaster knocks out your plumbing for an extended amount of time, you may need to worry about where to dispose of your waste. If you think that your garbage won’t be emptied for a few days or weeks, you may want to consider burying the waste. However, that decision is up to you! The best way to bury the waste is to create a cathole.

Location. You’ll want to choose a place that is at least 200 feet away from water and places where people might be on a regular basis. Try to find a place with rich, organic soil. A forested area usually works well too. Try to choose a place that has maximum sunlight. South-facing slopes and ridge tops will have more exposure to sun and heat than other areas.

You’ll also want to choose a place that is slightly elevated so that runoff during a storm won’t just wash it into the local water supply.

Digging. Use a small garden trowel to dig a hole that is 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter.

Bury. You’ll want to bury your waste in the hole. Make sure that the waste is covered with the original dirt and disguised with native materials.

Building an OuthouseLatrine: Extended waste

Although catholes are recommended for most situations, you may want to create a latrine if you have young children or will need a method for more than a few days.

Location. When choosing a site for a latrine, you’ll want to use the same criteria as a cathole. Since there will be more waste in this location, you’ll want to make sure that you choose your location wisely.

Digging. Start by digging a pit that is at least 4 feet deep and 3 ½ feet wide

Bury. You can use the same criteria for burying your waste in a latrine. However, since the larger amount of waste will decompose more slowly, it’s recommended that you throw a handful of dirt in each time you use the latrine to help the process.

Housing. If you feel like you need to build some shelter around the latrine, you can add some walls and a roof to the latrine.

Other things to consider
Toilet paper. If you have to use paper, try and use plain, unbleached, non-perfumed types.

Camping and Peeing. We found this helpful video for you that demonstrates how to create a cathole. He also addresses the issue of peeing and how that factors into waste disposal. This is a great lesson for campers to learn.

12 years ago
Karen Cook
12 years ago at 12:36 AM
Nitrile gloves in several sizes are better than latex. The person who has poo-dooty and a latex sensitivity would thank you...
Don Jusko
12 years ago at 2:13 AM
Here on Maui we keep a bucket of lye on hand to sprinkle on. I think that let's you use the pit a lot longer.
Karen S.
10 years ago at 5:05 AM
Dear Don on Maui, Here in GA, we use agricultural lime, you know the white stuff they put lines on natural grass football and baseball fields. Cuts down the smell of feces and helps amend the soil. Lye is extremely caustic if you get on skin or can blind you or animals that might stumble into it. Be careful and be safe if you use lye.
10 years ago at 5:31 AM
I have the makings of a peat moss toilet. A 5 gallon bucket, the toilet seat that fits onto it, some biodegradable bags and a bale of peat. When assembled, do your business and add enough peat to cover things. Though the bags will fail, they are meant to line and ease the slide of the contents out--not something to grab onto after full! The advantage of peat over lime or lye is that peat moss makes the whole thing not smell. It can be used inside easily without issue. When disposing of the contents of the bucket, there will be some urine smell--but that is better than stinky all the entire process! I use more peat to cover the full bag. The bags disappear almost entirely after two years in the northeast.
Northwoods Cheryl
10 years ago at 4:56 PM
I am SOOOO thankful I have a good old fashioned outhouse here. Of course, i live on a farm.. the county made me put a tank under it. I saw a new gas station fuel tank on a trailer in town. It was cracked on top in transport so I bought it for $200 and had a neighbor dig a hole with a backhoe and lower it in. We then poured a footing around it and set the outhouse on top. Good for 30,000 gallons. I put an old metal gate across the top of the tank so no kids could fall in through the seats. Works pretty darn good! We put the toilet paper in a coffee can with a lid to keep mice out.