Chapter Six Toilet facilities

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Once the visitors have parked their car, it is frequently a call to the toilets that is next on the list of priorities. If it has been a long journey to the site the urge to respond to the call will probably be acute for any children present. The presence of a clean and well-ventilated toilet block in such circumstances is very welcome. Whether to provide toilet facilities, the capacity and the type of sewage disposal required as well as the design of the building are all important decisions to be made. On the one hand, the comfort and hygiene of visitors is important; on the other hand, the cost of construction and maintenance of toilet blocks can be high compared with other costs associated with running the site.

Should a toilet be provided?

The decision on whether to provide a toilet depends on several factors, as follows.

- Location and character of the area. Remote locations of wild character suggest that the impact of human activities should be kept to a minimum. Toilet buildings, however well designed, may spoil the atmosphere of remoteness attached to such places. However, if there are large numbers of visitors the risk to health and the problem of pollution caused by too many people resorting to 'going behind the bushes' may be worse evils. Urban, rural or other locations containing more buildings do not present such a dilemma.

- Numbers of visitors, especially at weekends. In places where there are fewer visitors it may be difficult to justify the capital outlay of a building, especially if there are no apparent problems on the site or its surroundings. In areas of limited size the smell and sight of previous visitors' use of the bushes may be excessive, especially in hot weather, requiring either some small-scale facility or a regime of burying, covering or removal. On larger sites with more visitors the need for facilities becomes self-evident.

- Duration of the visit. If the majority of users come for only a short time, such as an hour's stroll with the dog in a country park near a town, then facilities should be unnecessary. If visitors spend most of a day at the site they will need toilet facilities, especially if refreshments are consumed.

- Distance travelled to the site. A short journey to the area reduces the need to use a toilet, while a long one usually makes use unavoidable. This is especially true if there are no obvious alternative facilities elsewhere on the route.

- Presence of water-based recreation at the area. The risks to health from polluted water are of ever-present concern. If the water is to be used for bathing, swimming, boating or similar activities then toilets are essential for hygiene purposes, and probably for changing too, although separate buildings are often appropriate (see Chapter 10).

- Presence of food outlets at the site. Some sites have food vendors who come during high-use periods. This will attract more people, and could emphasize the need for toilets, although not necessarily more than if people brought their own refreshments.

- Winter use of a site. If a site has regular use throughout the year, this may tip the balance towards providing toilets for the comfort of visitors in very cold conditions.

Scale of provision

Having made the decision to provide toilets, the extent to which they are provided is in part determined by the factors described above. A remote location where small to medium numbers of visitors spend some time might justify a single, unisex all-purpose facility, whereas a large site with many visitors staying for long periods would need multiple facilities divided into male, female and disabled. The actual scale of provision may in part depend on:

- the local and national public health or similar regulations;

- the social acceptance of, for example, unisex facilities;

- the correct balance between male and female provision;

- the need for disabled use;

- use by coach parties including school groups.

National and local public health, employment and other regulations may help to set the minimum provision. As these regulations vary in different countries, provinces or states it is not worth dwelling on them here, but they must be investigated. If employees work on the site, for example as rangers, there may be other regulations that also apply. The social acceptance of using unisex facilities may vary. In many instances it is assumed that male and female facilities should be separate, yet frequently unisex ones are used. Aircraft, the home, small offices or restaurants generally have only unisex toilets. If a feeling of safety and privacy is ensured and numbers of users are low then this approach can be perfectly acceptable. It saves duplicating facilities and the significant extra costs of buildings.

The balance between provision for men and women is difficult to estimate correctly, as their requirements differ. Generally men spend less time using toilets than women do. If a urinal is provided for men

Recreation Facilities

Diagrams showing the maximum/minimum dimensions relevant to toilet facilities for people with disabilities: (a) A basic single cubicle for wheelchair access. (b) A cubicle with more manoeuvrability for wheelchairs. (c) A cubicle for ambulant disabled or elderly people. (d) Height dimensions for wheelchair users.

Diagrams showing the maximum/minimum dimensions relevant to toilet facilities for people with disabilities: (a) A basic single cubicle for wheelchair access. (b) A cubicle with more manoeuvrability for wheelchairs. (c) A cubicle for ambulant disabled or elderly people. (d) Height dimensions for wheelchair users.

then the numbers of WC pans supplied can be half of those needed for the women's side in small facilities and a third of those in larger ones. However, sometimes other factors may alter these calculations. For example, some sites are more commonly used by men because of the activities available, such as snowmobiling.

People with disabilities need their own facilities in most instances, laid out with extra space for wheel-chair access, special rails, taps (faucets) and other features. The question of whether or not to keep disabled facilities unisex depends on how they are incorporated into the site. In a large building with a foyer at the entrance to male and female areas, a door leading to segregated disabled toilets is possible, but in a smaller block a single unisex toilet is probably preferable. Another reason for favouring unisex is that a person with a disability may have to be accompanied by a person of the opposite sex. A unisex toilet prevents any embarrassment for companions if segregated toilets contrast with their gender. Of course in many circumstances there is nothing to prevent able-bodied people from using the special toilet thus allowing a single, all-purpose facility on the smallest sites.

Outdoor Cubicle Sheds
A view of a unisex disabled toilet cubicle with a wide door and movable handrail. The slight step into the building should be eradicated, as this will cause difficulties for wheelchair access.

If the site is used by coach parties, including school groups, an increase in toilet provision is likely to be needed because of the large number of people who wish to use the toilet at the same time. If the school use is generally from co-educational schools, roughly equal numbers of boys and girls can be expected. Coach parties of elderly people might include more women than men, as women tend to live longer. The period of use by children or older people also tends to be longer than average.

15-35 cars

35-50 cars 50-100 cars including coach drop-off: 100+ cars

*M assumes one urinal and one pan when segregated toilets are provided, no urinals in unisex toilets.

^Increase ratio to 1 M=3F, increasing total numbers at 1 M per 20 spaces greater than 120.

On the basis of the factors described above provision can be provided on the basis of the following, where M=male, F=female and D=disabled. (All assume an average length of stay and distance travelled to the site.)

The type of toilet described is based on the method of disposing of the sewage, and related requirements for the structure and other aspects of construction such as ventilation, washing facilities and so on. There are five possible options for sewage disposal, as follows.

In these the toilet seat is set above a box or hole into which all sewage accumulates. If the moisture content can be kept reasonably low, for example by the addition of soil, ashes or bark, then the material breaks down into a relatively odour-free compost, which can be emptied from sewage receptacles at the back of the toilet building and safely disposed of in a suitable location.

There are various proprietary makes that have developed this type for relatively low-use sites. Plastic containers prevent contamination of groundwater. Special bark is put into the toilet after use by the user, which reduces the odour and helps the process of composting. No water is required, and the unit can be constructed above ground. This is important in areas where groundwater is sensitive to pollution, where the ground is rocky, or where it becomes frozen in winter, so making holes difficult to dig.

These toilets are common in Scandinavia and are increasingly available in North America, where proprietary systems have been

Types of provision

Composting toilets

Toilet Facilities For Outdoor Recreation

Composting toilets: (a) A unit available as a proprietary set and used in cabins and small toilets in Scandinavia. (b) Arrangement of the unit on level ground. Access for waste removal is via a flap at the rear of the building. (c) A unit with greater capacity dug into a side slope. (d) A unit with larger capacity inside the building with a step up to the seat.

Toilet Facilities For Outdoor Recreation

This toilet uses one of the proprietary composting systems such as the 'Phoenix' or 'ClivusMultrum'. The composting unit is built beneath the publicly accessible part of the building. The toilet is built on a side slope to avoid the need for stairs or ramps. This one is at a rest stop along Highway 1 on Vancouver Island, Canada.

recently perfected. In Britain their use has been limited except by groups such as the Scouts, for whom pit latrines are traditional. Interest in this low-cost sustainable technique is increasing.

Vault (pit or big drop toilets)

These are similar to the dry composting toilets except that they have a larger capacity and tend to stay much wetter. Their main drawbacks are the odours that are common in hot weather and, for some people, a fear of falling into them. Adequate ventilation is difficult in many versions unless assisted by fans. These types are widely used on recreation sites in North America. They have to be pumped out at intervals so that access by special truck is needed. These types can also be provided with chemicals that help to break down the excreta and mask the smells. Various proprietary versions claim to have solved the odour problem with better ventilation systems. Some can be ventilated by fans powered by solar energy or heavy-duty rechargeable batteries.

Both the types described above are suitable in locations where there is no water or power supply available. The composting type is acceptable for low usage, but only the vault will cope with a high use. The next categories depend on either a water or a power supply in order to operate.

Flush toilets with septic tank or cesspool

This type requires a consistent water supply to flush the system. This might be obtained from piped water services or by abstraction from a nearby stream, spring or lake. In many places, the water can be collected and stored in a tank or cistern to cover drought periods. The reliability of local water supplies needs careful assessment before deciding whether or not to use it.

Where piped water is available there is no such problem. Flush toilets and a water supply to basins all help hygiene and enable the toilets to be cleaned more regularly and easily. Sewage is then disposed of in a septic tank, which is either connected to a soakaway field or which yields an effluent clean enough to be discharged into a stream (as long as the relevant pollution control standards can be met). A soakaway allows the effluent to soak into the subsoil if it has good porosity (sands and gravel rather than clay) and the groundwater table is at a reasonable depth. Periodic de-sludging of the septic tank is required, but otherwise it operates to produce clean and non-polluting materials by bacterial breakdown.

Cesspools are merely means of storage in large tanks without treatment, so pumping out and transport for treatment are necessary.

Toilet Facilities For Outdoor Recreation
The vault, pit or 'big drop ' toilet unit commonly used in North America. It has to be pumped out. The build-up of liquid in the vault can cause powerful smells, which the ventilation system cannot always remove.

They can smell foul, and may pollute surrounding areas if tank maintenance is not carried out properly. They are not recommended.

Chemical toilets

These use a special sterilizing chemical, which flushes through the lavatory pan and kills the odours of the sewage. Such toilets work without water, but generally need some power if the chemical is to be recirculated to act as a flushing agent. The systems work well, and are used most on temporary sites where self-contained trailer units are provided, but can also be used on permanent sites. The chemical renders the sewage sterile, so it can be stored for long periods if need be. It must be pumped out periodically and disposed of in a suitable location; exceptionally it can be discharged into a soakaway if permission or licence to do so can be obtained.

In terms of sustainable development there is a question over the appropriateness of using and disposing of large quantities of sterilizing chemicals anywhere in the environment. For this reason this type may not be widely favoured.

Flush toilets with access to piped water, drainage and electricity

In urban and many rural situations, especially in the more heavily populated rural areas of Europe and parts of North America, full services are often available within a reasonable distance of the toilet site. Usually they will run along the public highway, and can be connected to the site with a relatively short run of pipes of cables. These allow for the highest standard of facility, with fully flushing units, hot and cold running water for hand washing, lighting, heat to reduce the risk of frost damage if the toilets are open all year, electric hand dryers and so on.

As long as a gravity connection with the foul sewer main can be obtained, then low maintenance can be virtually guaranteed, which will offset the increased cost of construction and the expense of connection. If the site does not permit a gravity connection, for example when the main is higher than the toilet, a pump is needed. This will not be a problem, but it will require some maintenance.

Flush toilets with mains services are almost standard in most areas of Britain, and are the most expensive of the types described. Visitors expect such a standard everywhere, and there could be some concern over non-flushing types if these are used. However, if any unit is well equipped, clean and well maintained there should be few causes for complaint.

Toilet block design

There is a very wide range of building types in use for toilet blocks around the world. It might be expected that some standard layouts and forms might have evolved based on best practice, but expensive mistakes continue to be made. Fundamental to the design is how to combine the internal layout of different combinations and sizes of toilet provision within a building form that fits into the landscape without intrusion. This has to be balanced with a toilet block that is welcoming, and not hidden away in a dark corner or camouflaged out of sight.

Many of the building forms in use are visually badly proportioned, look domestic or resemble weather-houses or cuckoo clocks. They have small floor plans that need to accommodate an upright adult, and this emphasizes the vertical proportion, which stands out in open landscapes. Where two buildings occur together the result is exacerbated. The scale of such buildings also tends to be too small for the size of standard materials such as shakes (shingles), board-on-board cladding, or pitched roofs.

This toilet block is set away from the car park in the shade of trees. This is not the right way to blend in with the landscape. It is too hidden, and its dark setting might cause anxiety amongst some women users. 'Shadow of the Sentinels' trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA.

This toilet block is set away from the car park in the shade of trees. This is not the right way to blend in with the landscape. It is too hidden, and its dark setting might cause anxiety amongst some women users. 'Shadow of the Sentinels' trail, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA.

Each site should be considered separately, and the type of building form should be developed to fit its essential character. Forests, for example, have many vertical forms and lines. The scale of spaces is determined by the degree of enclosure of the trees, while subdued, earthy colours and coarse textures are unique to the forest. These characteristics can be expressed in a timber building with forms reminiscent of the tree-trunks and branches that form the canopy. Coarse textures of overlapping vertical board, shakes (shingles) and protruding beam ends further enhance the sense of a forest 'style'.

A more open site may require a stronger horizontal emphasis, with wide overhangs to a low-pitched, monopitched or hipped roof, in order to make the building hug the ground more. Local stone, a turf roof, a location tucked into a hollow or against a bank would add to the effect of a building 'growing out of the landscape'.

A neat solution to the problem of small buildings is to combine two single units into one. Here two vault toilets have been arranged back to back. The overhanging roof helps to improve the overall proportions. Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

A neat solution to the problem of small buildings is to combine two single units into one. Here two vault toilets have been arranged back to back. The overhanging roof helps to improve the overall proportions. Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

A rural setting may suggest forms based on vernacular buildings, perhaps connected with local farmsteads or small industrial buildings. These links could be reinforced with fences, walls or other structures to tie them into the landscape. Traditional colours of doors or window frames might also be appropriate. Another alternative is to develop a completely neutral, abstract form, which borrows nothing from other forms yet because of its neutrality fits in and takes second place to the rest of the landscape. This could include the toilet being a 'nonbuilding', such as a palisade with two or three small rooms set into it. This can be a cheap and flexible option, using standard, prefabricated units set into a screening structure.

Initially the form of the building has to be developed from the functional requirement of the facilities. These depend on the resolution of several different issues, as follows.

Toilet Facilities For Outdoor Recreation

A toilet building designed for a forest landscape. Coarse textures of cladding and roof, exposed beam ends and the use of large dimension timbers work rather well.

A toilet building designed for a forest landscape. Coarse textures of cladding and roof, exposed beam ends and the use of large dimension timbers work rather well.

Is there to be a lobby area?

It is normal for simple types such as the single unit with no handwashing facilities to open directly into the surroundings. In larger facilities with separate toilets and hand washing for male and female, there is usually a lobby-cum-circulation area inside the building, from which each toilet is accessed. One reason for including a lobby is to provide shelter when queues are likely to occur. Separate lobbies for separate male and female toilets are more acceptable than shared lobby areas next to unisex units. Other solutions include setting the doors to the respective units at opposite ends of the building so that they are out of sight of each other. A deep roof overhang for a lobby can give sufficient shelter without the lobby's being part of the internal layout.

How is the space to be lit?

Low-level windows are not usually practical, nor do they ensure privacy. High-level windows (above eye level) or skylights are usually preferable. Light spaces always have a better atmosphere than dark ones. High-level windows can be set in the gable ends of pitched roofs or along the higher wall of a monopitch structure. Skylights work with any roof style. The interior can be open up to the rafters or can have a slatted ceiling, allowing natural light to reach the space below.

Stucco Dormer Window

This design borrows from more domestic forms and materials: a tile roof, stucco, a dormer window/vent and steep roof pitch. It would be suitable where other vernacular buildings are already present.

Light and ventilation are important factors in design: (a) Light from windows set high in gable ends works quite well but can leave corners rather dark. (b) Skylights are very effective and maintain privacy. (c) Side windows leave much shadow and need to be of clouded glass, which reduces their effectiveness. (d) Ventilation needs to be at both ground and roof levels to allow proper air circulation. (e) High-level ventilation clears only the upper area, not the floor.

Artificial lighting may be necessary in some seasons, but it should not be relied upon as the main form of lighting.

Will there be hand washing?

If so, extra space will be needed in the toilet unit to accommodate a handbasin. When there is more than one toilet per side in each unit a lobby space can be used for hand washing. Only one or two handbasins should be needed, even in larger blocks. Together with towel dispensers or electric dryers and mirrors, a space is therefore needed to accommodate two or three people at a time.

Will the toilet block be open all year round?

There are implications for maintenance, heating and frost protection if a toilet with a flushing system is to be kept open during the winter months. Problems of frozen plumbing can be solved by arranging all the pipework or cisterns within a compartment that is insulated and possibly heated (at a low level to maintain temperatures just above freezing). Only the pans and handles for flushing are situated in the unheated, ventilated area. The pans can be protected from frost damage by the use of stainless steel or heavy-duty porcelain. This arrangement also has the advantage that all the vulnerable fittings are locked away, and the service room can be used to store refills and cleaning equipment and to house meters for water and electricity.

Is there a risk of vandalism at the site?

In urban fringe areas, or places where antisocial groups might be expected to congregate, some degree of vandalism might be expected. This will affect the use of materials. Wood might be deemed a fire risk; lobby areas or shelters might encourage loitering and graffiti; porcelain fittings are easily smashed. It is tempting to choose materials to withstand a bomb attack, but this can create an uncomfortable and unwelcoming design; it is better to accept some risk of damage that can be repaired

Toilet Facilities For Outdoor Recreation
This layout places all the cisterns in a separate space with secure access, which can be frost-proofed or heated, allowing year-round use of the toilet building.

easily. Nevertheless, it is prudent to consider a range of design techniques to reduce the opportunity for vandalism, such as robust fittings, high windows, stainless steel, good-sized timber sections, and finishes that make graffiti removal easy, such as smooth wood which can be sanded or re-stained or melamine-coated panels.

There is no reason why a fairly standard internal layout should not be adopted once the best arrangement has been found to suit a particular organization. There are several advantages to this, including the ability to bulk purchase fittings and replacement fixtures, and to specify standard maintenance contracts. Visitors to the site will know that a high standard has been provided and will be well maintained.

The incorporation of a few extras into toilet block layout will also help. Baby-changing shelves can be provided in the disabled toilet so that either parent can use it. (The disabled unit usually has more space and less use, and so a fold-down shelf is easy to fit.) A large sink suitable for washing pots (subject to health regulations), boots and clothes might be

Toilet facilities 107 provided at larger sites.

Building construction

As previously suggested in terms of building form and function, there are also certain materials and finishes that are more appropriate to the outdoors so as to reinforce the contrast with urban places. Therefore, while the layout should be to a high standard, materials should wherever possible be ones that are the least urban or domestic.

A variety of construction methods can be used, but the choice depends on the location.


This can be traditional log-cabin construction using round logs of substantial but not over-large dimensions. This works for bigger structures but not smaller ones, as the horizontal emphasis given by the logs conflicts with square or more vertically proportioned buildings. A good overhang to the roof with protruding beams and rafters, shake (shingle), turf or split-log roof looks good. However, this technique is generally not suited to Britain, as it is not traditional, but in central and northern Europe and North America, in forests of big trees it is a good method. This type of construction is naturally well insulated. Interior partitions of boards, open roof spaces with roof lights or high-level windows in the gables work effectively. Materials can be used on site unless special construction techniques are used.

Sawn timber can be used in all manner of ways. In Scandinavia, construction methods traditional to the landscape have been adapted for use in recreation buildings. Timber frames clad in overlapping vertical boarding and roofed with specially milled boards for waterproofing work very well in a drier continental climate. In wetter conditions such as Britain or the Pacific Northwest of the USA, where timber warps, this method is not suitable unless waterproof material can be used beneath the roofing timber. Shakes (shingles) can be used for roofing, as can other materials such as profile steel, which can be obtained with integral insulation. The coarser textures of wide roughly sawn boards and board-on-board or overlapping clapboarding blend with those found in wilder settings. Vertical boarding looks good in forests with plenty of vertical

Outdoor Recreational Facilities
A toilet building made of logs at Akasamylly in Finnish Lapland. The result is a little 'rustic' because the logs are small. However, the main problem is the sole use of window holes cut into the doors to give light. This is inadequate, and may cause privacy problems.

shapes. Horizontal boarding can look better in open landscapes with more horizontal lines.

Timber can be left to weather to a dull silvery grey, which fits into most landscapes. Stains can also be used to give colour and to help preserve and fireproof the wood. Bright colours should be avoided in favour of the more subdued tones found in the landscape—rusty red, ochre, mossy green, greys, sandy browns and black—which relate to the rock, soil and natural vegetation of the locality.

Buildings often need to be made to hug the ground to reduce their visual impact, and so darker colours should be used on the roofs than on the walls. Emphasis can be given to the doors and certain parts of the framing, perhaps with a brighter colour used sparingly.

Other materials

Stone can be a good material where it is plentiful in the locality. The same basic forms and layouts can be constructed, with stone used in the supporting walls or as cladding around a timber frame or cinderblock (breeze block). Stone construction needs careful craftsmanship. Different stone types are built using different methods. Drystone walling techniques can be used, with hidden mortar to secure the stones. Natural or rough-quarried rock is usually better than cut and dressed stone except in specific circumstances, such as using a vernacular building form. Artificial or reconstructed stone can have an unfortunate suburban appearance and is usually unsuitable. Brick is an inappropriate material in most circumstances unless reflecting a local style or if rendered with wet or dry dash roughcast (a mixture of wet cement and stone chips spread on the wall surface or dry stone chips applied to damp cement on walls respectively). The same applies to cinderblock, which can be a cheap material for construction, and can be clad with roughcast or stone.

Roofs for stone buildings can be tile, slate or flags, occasionally profile steel or corrugated iron. Wooden roofs do not look appropriate with stonework.

In hot, dry climates other materials such as adobe have been used, for example by the US National Park Service in Arizona and New Mexico. This uses traditional materials and construction which fits very well. Flat roofs are acceptable in low-rainfall areas and are often traditional.

Transparent materials such as toughened glass or polycarbonate can be used for windows or rooflights, occasionally occupying quite a large proportion of the roof area. Coloured varieties such as smoky grey or brown look better than clear.


Details such as door fastenings, hinges and rainwater goods (gutters and downpipes) all need to be considered. Craftsman-type products with chunky, thick dimensions work well. Those produced by the Civilian Conservation Corps for the US National Park and Forest services in the 1930s have a 'folksy' character produced by local blacksmiths, although fussy details should be avoided. Consideration should be given to omitting rainwater goods unless wooden ones can be used on wooden buildings. Plastic gutters and drainpipes look out of place on sturdily constructed buildings in wild settings. Rainwater deflectors above doorways, if needed, can be adequate. Gravel around the building base can collect water without splashing the walls and staining them.

Interior materials and finishes

- Floor. Smooth concrete, quarry tiles or wooden boards are all suitable materials for flooring. Whatever the material, it should be easy to keep clean by hosing and sweeping. Tiles are the best because of their durability and appearance, although they are probably the most expensive. They should rise up the walls slightly as a skirting, and end flush with the paving or path material outside, with no step.

- Walls. Boarding should be left bare, stained or sealed but not painted, unless the building is of a traditional or vernacular form. Melamine-faced board in earthy colours can also work, especially behind urinals. Cinderblock walls, emulsion painted in matt pale earth colours, are a fireproof alternative.

- Ceilings or roof linings. These should be timber boarding or spaced wooden slats to let light in. Light-coloured stains or natural finishes look good.

- Doors. Traditional close-boarded, framed timber construction looks better and is stronger than panel doors or flat plywood finishes. Brighter colours such as reds or oranges frequently help to signal where the entrances are, and give variety and accent points to the design. Handles of wood, zinc-coated steel or chunky plastic look better than some aluminium ones. Self-closing mechanisms are usually essential.

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