The Reason Some Old Homes Randomly Have A Toilet In The Basement

source: TODAY/Ted Zellers

Growing up, I lived in a 100-year-old home. It had the typical dark, damp, and very unfinished basement, complete with a random, singular toilet in one corner of the basement floor. I never paid this toilet much attention as we of course did not use it, but when I became an adult and started renovating and restoring my own houses, I thought back to that random toilet and why some old homes have them in the basement, without an attached bathroom.

source: TODAY

As it turns out, there are a few reasons these seemingly random basement toilets exist. Commonly referred to as “Pittsburgh potties,” these basement toilets were installed in homes that had a separate entrance into the basement from the exterior. The idea was that workers, specifically steel workers in Pittsburgh which is where this toilet idea is thought to have originated, could enter through this basement entrance, use the washroom, and remove their dirty work clothes before entering the “nice” part of the house.

source: Zocalo Public Square via Colonial Steel Collection, University of Pittsburgh, Archives Service Center

The second reason for basement toilets extends far beyond Pittsburgh and was common throughout many homes in North America. As cities began expanding prior to World War II, sewer systems were not able to keep up with all of the new homes and their residents. As explained by the Calgary Real Estate Board, “When these homes were built, city sewer systems were crude, unreliable and prone to backups. When backups occurred, sewage would enter homes and overflow from the fixtures lowest to the ground, so the basement toilet acted as a safety valve – placed right above the sewer line where it came in from the street.”

source: CREB

So instead of a first or second-floor bathroom backing up in the nicer parts of the house, the random basement toilet would back up instead. This would have been a far easier and less stressful mess to deal with, as basement floors were made of stone or concrete, and basements were used strictly for extra storage for most people. When you think about it, the reasoning is actually quite smart.

source: Everyday Old House

Nowadays, most of these Pittsburgh potties have been out of use for many, many years, or have been disposed of altogether. However, there might be a day when you’re looking in the basement of some old home and spot a singular, seemingly random toilet – however, you now know this toilet isn’t so random after all!