If you are invited to the summer house in Finland, the chances are you’ll have to use an outhouse while you are there. This is because 47 % of Finnish summer houses located in sparsely populated areas still have a traditional outhouse. But, hey, don’t panic! The situation is really not that bad.
A short history of outhouses in Finland
The idea of an outhouse or a designated spot for relieving oneself is actually not a very old idea. People did their business by the side of a field or into a hole on the ground long into the 16th century. Actually, going to a designated space for this purpose was seen as more embarrassing than just quietly taking a walk to the fields.
An outhouse located by the side of or above the cowshed or stables became popular in the late 18th century. But in many rural areas of Finland, outhouses were rare even in the 1930s. A simple hole with a cover next to the compost heap or by the side of the field continued to do the trick in many places. The first water closet (WC) was built in Helsinki in 1883 at a time when most of Finland didn’t even use outhouses yet.
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Outhouses and summer houses in Finland
The cover image of this blog shows a very traditional outhouse, which could be smelly and unpleasant for a modern person to use, but the modern versions have evolved a long way from that. In fact, modern dry toilets are odorless and hygienic to use.
If you have bad luck, you might run into one of those old fashioned outhouses, but it’s equally likely you won’t.
In 25 % of summer houses in Finland, the old fashioned outhouses have been replaced by a composting dry toilet. About 25 % of summer houses, instead, have a modern WC.
Increasingly, though, owners of summer houses in Finland are looking into replacing the old outhouses with a modern dry toilet. Properly installed and serviced they are odorless, hygienic, and ecological.
There are different types of composting dry toilets, but the idea is the same with all: over time they turn the human waste into usable fertilizer and do not use valuable clean water to flush down waste and thus add to wastewater loads.
The newest summer houses may even have a modern dry toilet indoors so that one no longer needs to even walk to the edge of the property for a toilet.
Using a dry toilet
There’s really no trick to using a dry toilet. You do your business and instead of flushing your waste down with liters of clean, fresh water, you throw in 2-3 dl of bedding on top of your waste, close the lid, and wash your hands. Your hosts most likely have a bucket of store-bought bedding, made out of sour ground conifer bark and non-fertilized peat, in a bucket next to the dry toilet.
Dry toilets in the city?
Your encounter with a dry toilet at a Finnish summer house might not be your last.
Over the last decade or so there has been increased discussion about the ecological benefits of dry toilets. Some have predicted that over the next few decades dry toilets will become more common and some forms of dry toilet solutions will appear also in the cities. In fact, there is a specific association, the Global Dry Toilet Association of Finland, aiming to do just that.
The association has had several sanitation projects in Africa, but they also offer information and training about dry toilet solutions here in Finland.
So, if your host directs you to a little hut at the edge of the property, don’t panic! It’s probably just a dry toilet.
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- Adamiak, C.; Vepsäläinen, M.; Strandell, A.; Hiltunen, M. J.; Pitkänen, K.; Hall, C. M.; Rinne, J.; Hannonen, O.; Paloniemi, R. and Åkerlund, U. 2015: ”Vapaa-ajan asuminen Suomessa. Asukas- ja kuntakyselyn tuloksia vapaa-ajan asumisen nykytilasta ja kehittämistarpeista.” Suomen ympäristökeskuksen raportteja 22. Suomen ympäristökeskus. https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/155089/SYKEra_22_2015.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- Kuokkanen, T.; Kallio-Seppä, T.; Nurmi, R. and Ylimaunu, T. 2010: “Huussi tuli taloon – suomalaisen käymälän kehitys uuden ajan alkumetreillä.” In, Viitanen, E-M. Arkeologiapäivät 2009. Arkeologian haasteet ja muinainen yksilö, pp. 58-67. Suomen arkeologinen seura, Helsinki. http://www.sarks.fi/ap/ap2009/ap2009_08_kuokkanen_etc.pdf
- Lemmetyinen, E. 2011: Kuivakäymälä vanhaan rakennukseen. Käymälälaitteen valinta ja sijoittaminen Vakulovin taloon. Opinnäytetyö. Seinäjoen ammattikorkeakoulu, Kulttuurialan yksikkö, konservoinnin koulutusohjelma. https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/29396/Lemmetyinen_Emilia.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
This blog post was edited for content on July 14, 2020, and republished.
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