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The Porta-Potty; the Modern & Mobile Outhouse For Rent

Outdoor Bathrooms: Outhouses and Porta-Pottys

There are two kinds of outdoor bathrooms. Outhouses and portable toilets. Portable toilets, aka "porta-pottys" are both a modern and mobile version of the outhouses of our past. While innovation has made it possible to move on from pooping over a pit in the ground, ironically there are still times when an outdoor bathroom is not only needed, but practical.

In case you've never had the pleasure of using outdoor bathrooms let me recap the differences between a traditional outhouse and a porta-potty. Outhouses are stationary, usually made of wood or metal, and don't get emptied. Porta-pottys are movable, usually made of plastic parts, and get emptied routinely. Outhouses were usually created for one family to use. Porta-pottys generally serve a large crowd of people. Outhouses were usually dug by the private family or business that it was meant to serve. Porta-pottys are brought, cleaned and removed by the company that owns them. When outhouses are full, the shelter must be removed, pit covered, a new pit dug, and the shelter put back in place. The human waste stays in the ground. Human waste in porta-pottys goes to a waste treatment plant.

While there are some areas of the country where outhouses are still used, they are less and less common. Usually these areas have smaller populations, and not enough tax revenue to install and run public sewer systems. Many jurisdictions now also require septic systems instead of allowing the traditional and environmentally outdated outhouse. Rural locations the public visits such as state and national parks will often have an updated and larger version of outhouses that can be pumped out, but you are still pooping over a pit.

Obviously, most modern homes and businesses are built with sewage systems (and toilets) to serve the number of people that would normally be using the building. But when a large event will overwhelm the capacity of the available facilities, like special events in parks and fairgrounds, extra bathroom capacity is a necessity. Without them, big events would turn into a big mess real quick.

Nearby businesses don't want thousands of extra butts coming in just to use the bathroom, and many even reserve their bathrooms for patrons only. Event organizers would never be able to get permits to dig a bunch of outhouses in a public area for a one day or even a one week event. Even if they did, the new outhouses would just be an unused eyesore afterwards. But entrepreneurs across the country have capitalized on the inevitable call of nature and took the concept of the outhouse on the road and up for rent with the portable toilet.


Porta-Pottys and Accessories

Pretty pottys?

Pretty pottys?

Porta-pottys and hand washing stations.

Porta-pottys and hand washing stations.

Where Are Porta-Pottys Found?

  • Construction Sites (new construction and remodels)
  • Industrial Sites
  • Agricultural Sites
  • Large ranches
  • Fairgrounds
  • Outdoor Festivals
  • Concerts
  • Sporting Events (Marathons, outdated ballparks)
  • Weddings and Parties
  • Emergency Shelters
  • Anytime available facilities could be overwhelmed

Crowd Size and Function Will Determine Number of Porta-Pottys and Total Cost

As with everything else now, there are basic requirements for the number of portable toilets, what kind, and how often they should be serviced, depending on the environment. Construction sites need to consider how many workers they have and how many women work on the site and should provide at least one unit just for them. Event planners need to calculate how many handicap accessible units they may need. Certain events or functions may even need shower units. And do you or do you not choose to provide hand washing stations for the crowds you serve? Fortunately experienced salesmen at these companies can help advise you about what is needed and required by law.

If you ever have to use a porta-potty that is in bad shape, don't be too quick to blame the company who owns it. Sure, they could be doing a not-so-great job cleaning it, but it's the entity or group renting the pottys that determine how many pottys are at the event and how often the potty gets cleaned. According to Big Rentz at BigRentz.com, the nationwide average for a standard portable toilet rental is $167/month and a handicapped unit averages $258/month, each with weekly service. If someone in charge of the event didn't order the correct number of pottys or pony up for appropriate servicing of the units, the users' experience degrades quickly.

How Many Porta-Potties Make an Event Flow?

Information taken from United Rentals. https://www.unitedrentals.com/project-uptime/equipment/how-many-porta-potties-do-you-need

Length of Event

Number of People

1 HR

2 Hrs

3 Hrs

4 Hrs.

5 Hrs.

6 Hrs.

7 Hrs.

8 Hrs.

50

1

1

1

1

2

2

2

2

100

2

2

2

2

3

3

3

3

250

2

2

3

3

3

4

4

6

500

3

4

5

5

5

6

6

7

1,000

5

7

8

8

9

9

10

10

5,000

19

32

38

42

44

46

46

48

10,000

38

60

75

84

88

92

96

96

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People Will Always Have to Answer The Call of Nature

Blue Collar Work, Big Money

While most people detest using a porta-potty, I really don't mind. In fact, full disclosure, my father was a porta-potty salesman for most of his career! Growing up with a dad who was a porta-potty salesman brought some pretty unique conversations to our dinner table, and we developed an interesting sense of humor as a family. You may have already been the victim of some of that humor in this article! My mother would have to remind us that there was to be no "potty talk" when having others over for dinner.

My dad travelled the entire greater San Francisco Bay Area looking for sales opportunities. He would walk onto construction sites, oil refineries and vineyards selling (renting) toilets. At first he worked for a small company that was bought out by a big name company and they promptly destroyed the company culture. He left them and took a job as a pump truck driver at a small family owned portable toilet company, with the promise he could sell toilets on the side.

Almost immediately my dad started bringing them orders. Within one year, he had sold so many portable toilets, he was relieved of driving the pump truck and given the first permanent salesmen job in that company. He negotiated a percentage deal for any toilets he sold and any new accounts he secured for the company. My dad then proceeded to sell the crap out of the portable toilet industry, forcing the company to grow numerous times over his 25+ years with them. Periodically, the boss would actually tell my dad to stop selling so they could keep up with the business they had and get through the next growth spurt that forced them to buy more trucks and equipment.

Dad took our little family from scraping by, to what was considered upper middle class at the time. And we were so proud of him. People would sometimes poke fun at my dad when they found out his line of work, but he would always laugh it off. He knew the business inside and out, and was making money hand over fist. He was confident and that commanded respect. Portable toilets are and always will be a human necessity, no matter what people think of them.


The Old Outhouse Lifestyle

Many older people still alive today remember using an outhouse as the only bathroom they had. My parents included. Outhouses were usually dug about 100-150 ft. away from the house in the backyard so the smell and the flies wouldn't bother them.. My mom talks about "holding it" and running to her grandmother's house a few blocks away to use the "indoor" bathroom instead, which she loved. At night she'd use a chamber pot and then have to empty it into the outhouse in the morning. Wiping was done with pages of the Sears catalog or small rags. Not only was there no toilet in my mom's childhood home, there was literally no bathroom! The only running water in their house was the kitchen faucet. Her mother would bring a large round tub into the kitchen for bathing, fill it from the sink and draw a makeshift curtain she had hung up for privacy.

As a side note, have you ever heard older people ask each other if the public bathroom nearby is a "one-holer", or a "two-holer"? A "one-holer" would mean a one stall bathroom, and a "two-holer" or more would indicate there are multiple stalls available. Yes, there were outhouses with more than one "stall" and even those with multiple "holes" in one shared structure. I'm not sure if the tradition of women accompanying each other to the bathroom created the multiple hole need, or if this was their way of solving the "only one bathroom" situation, but I'd be interested to know! It could also have been borne out of the necessity to stay safe outside at night by going out in pairs.

Even though porta-pottys are not the ideal for us spoiled modern folks, we'd be up sh!t creek without them. Just think of how many events you may have gone to where you couldn't find a bathroom, or where you had to wait in a long line just to use a porta-potty. There are also people with gastrointestinal issues that can't go anywhere there will not be a bathroom readily available. It's not fun to be desperate and searching for a toilet. It's even worse to have an accident. I'll take a porta-potty any day over that scenario! Having grown up with a porta-potty salesman father, when an event is well planned and there's plenty of holes for everyone's butts, I consider that to be a success.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Willow Mattox

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