Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

The Ol’ Outhouse

You can still find an ol’ outhouse here and there on Idaho farms and ranchs. Today we have the convenience of indoor plumbing. It is no longer necessary to slip on some shoes and run out back to the outhouse like grandma and grandpa used to do.

But are outhouses still legal? Can you build an outhouse next to the barn?

The short answer is “no.” The way an outhouse used to be built was to dig a deep hole in the ground and then to build a platform over the hole. An outhouse was then constructed around the platform providing some privacy and protection from the elements.

Unfortunately, outhouses smell and do little to protect groundwater from contamination. Never mind the flies!

Idaho law generally requires that newly constructed homes have indoor plumbing. A home built within a city will usually connect to a sewage system. In the country a permit is required from the State of Idaho before a septic system can be installed.

A septic system will generally consist of a concrete tank which then empties liquids into a drainfield. Septic systems must be installed at least 100 feet from a well or spring and 50 feet from a stream or river.

If you build a home on your farm or ranch you should first obtain from the District Health Department a permit for the installation of a septic system. You or your contractor must install a system that meets the requirements and specifications of the State. The location of your septic system may dictate where you can build a home, or whether you can build a home on your property.

In summary, while you may see an ol’ outhouse here and there, it is no longer legal to contruct an outhouse like grandma and grandpa used to do.

– Lance J. Schuster is a lawyer at Beard St. Clair Gaffney. He and his wife raise kids and cattle on their small farm near Idaho Falls. He can be reached at 523-5171 or

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