In the process of house hunting with my clients, I see some pretty strange renovations. But this one, well, it makes the top ten for weirdness.

See for yourself:

toilet in atticYes, that’s an unfinished attic.

Yes, that is a toilet.

Yes, that is a connected toilet.

It is a fairly old toilet — with a large tank. It was probably there for a long, long time.


There are multiple problems with this set up.

  1. Who would want to pee/poop there? I have seen similarly exposed toilet in basements. But people regularly do laundry or work on messy tasks in a basement. It is rare that anyone spends waking hours in an unfinished attic. Basement toilets also serve as an early warning sign if the main sewer line backs up into the house. (More on that below).
  2. It can get to freezing temperatures in the attic. That toilet could freeze, crack, and leak through the ceiling.
  3. If no one used it for a while, the water in the toilet could evaporate. That would allow sewer gases to rise through the pipe into the attic. Sewer gases are not merely smelly, they can be dangerous.

Sewer gases:

sewer gas trapSewer gases get into the house when the trap under a fixture dries up. If you look under your sink, you will usually see curved pipe. That is the P-trap. It is named for the shape of it. There are also S-traps and J-traps, but who cares what they are called!  It is there to block gases from coming up your pipe into your living space. Gas does not pass through the water at the bottom of the trap.

When a fixture is rarely used, the trap can dry up and allow gases in. This was the danger of having a toilet installed in an unfinished attic. When the toilet is unmonitored for months at a time, the trap could dry out and allow sewer gases into the house. This could also happen in the basement; but most households do laundry regularly and would notice if the basement began to smell.


Sewer back up:

Sewers back up when sewer line fails to send your waste water to the street because it is clogged with household waste or has filled up with tree roots. The waste comes back into the house via the lowest opening available. That is a reason that having a toilet in the basement can give an owner notice that the sewer line is clogged up. If there is no toilet, the next spot where it might come out is the washer or the laundry sink.

Sewer line backups also happen when rain or flood water penetrates the exterior sewer line and forces waste back towards the house. This takes some pressure, since water will only flow uphill through that pipe if there is a lot of water weight behind it.

In the United States over 500,000 sewer backups happen each year, and can be costly for individuals and businesses. Recent excessive rainwater and flooding can make these issues even worse.  Because of this, Bankrate created a guide to preventing these sewer backups. The guide includes:

  • The main causes of sewer backups
  • Breakdown of the financial information behind them
  • What to do if you experience this
  • Cost of sewer backup damage