The Relevance of Pit Latrines to a Modern Home

Edited by Namakhonje

A latrine is a dry toilet, one that doesn’t require water to function. In its simplest form, it consists a deep hole, enclosed with a slab that doubles as a squatting platform which has a small opening. It stores human wastes which are deposited by defecation. Advancements in this design include a vent pipe that runs from the hole upwards through the slab then roof then out. This is incorporated to improve aeration by providing an outlet for smelly fumes emitted from the decomposing wastes. Other modifications include a cover for the hole’s opening to prevent flies from entering and later spreading germs. They are commonly used in rural areas and a few urban areas where they are used in addition to flush toilets.
In modern house construction designs, pit latrines seem somewhat ancient and primitive especially in the era of flush toilets which also continue to advance. From squatting to sitter toilets to automatic flush toilets, an old school pit latrine seems like a down grade. Other than the fact that a pit latrine within the vicinity of a home may increase the chances of a spread in sanitary infections by house flies, or that they tend to be smelly because they can’t be flushed with water, pit latrines increase the chances of contaminating water sources especially if constructed near a water source or mains supply pipe. But despite all these shortcomings, pit latrines still are relevant in modern homes. Here are a few merits of a pit latrine that justify their relevance.

Easy cleaning and maintenance

Being dry toilets, pit latrines are relatively easier to clean and maintain compared to flush toilets. Unlike flush toilets where waste is deposited in a bowl, waste in a pit latrine is deposited directly into a hole so the surface is usually left cleaner than the former. This means pit latrines are generally easier to clean and maintain since it only requires very little water to clean the slab. The simple nature of pit latrines also makes maintenance easier compared to flush toilets. This is because it consists few components hence damage and repair rarely occur compared to a flush toilet where the bowl may be broken, the flush system may stop working and this may need a technician to repair. The only maintenance that takes place is monitoring the slab for any cracks for safety of users.
They can be used in a wider range of conditions.


Since pit latrines don’t require water to operate, they function in a wider range of conditions even in areas of water shortage unlike flush toilets that are rendered useless in case of a water shortage. That is why they are most commonly used in rural areas that have less access to clean water supply. They can even be useful in urban areas as they come in handy in times of water shortage as a backup option.
Cheaper to construct and maintain.

Cost efficiency

Pit latrines are more cost friendly compared to flush toilets both when setting up and maintain. There is no need for constructing a septic tank, no need for internal plumbing. It also doesn’t require any of the equipment used to construct flush toilets like a bowl, tank and an entire flushing system. It’s as simple as digging a deep hole, putting a floor above it and a small shelter for privacy and the set-up is done. It requires minimum equipment and labor of minimum expertise to dig up a latrine and raise it to completion. It also saves costs on water bills since they are dry toilets and don’t need water to function.

Pit latrines are convenient and user friendly

This can be advantageous incase a house hold has a lot of children. Whereas flush toilets may require prior knowledge of operation like how to flush or what to do when it gets clogged, pit latrines don’t require any of that. It’s a very basic toilet to use. Pit latrines are also convenient because they don’t give out a stench when in use like a flush toilet. This makes them more comfortable to use.

A pit latrine is less likely to spread communicable disease

From a health point of view, flush toilets may increase the chances for spreading communicable diseases, especially when shared by very many people and not properly cleaned on a regular basis. This is especially for sitting toilets which involve a lot of body contact between the user and toilet. In case of infection of one user, all other users are at high risk of getting infected.

A used pit latrine can easily be disposed of

When a pit latrine is fully used, it may not need emptying, unlike a flush toilet whose septic tank needs to be emptied every time it is full. The used pit may just be covered by soil or vegetation and another dug if need be. The added advantage is that soil around that area may overtime become very fertile due to the decomposed wastes.
Waste can be recycled.

Decomposing waste materials in a pit latrine produces energy

Under certain conditions and with necessary equipment, this energy can be harnessed in form of biogas. Biogas gas serves a variety of functions like cooking, lighting or producing electricity or can even be sold. This implies that the wastes can be recycled into energy or even better, revenue.


Those are a few reasons why a pit latrine is still worth having even in a modern home. Regardless of the advances in technology as per toilets are concerned, pit latrines still play a vital role in waste disposal and management because of their simplicity, convenience, cost efficiency and recyclability. They may not be a primary means when it comes to disposal of human waste, but they are certainly necessary as an alternative or rather a backup. Thus, much as every modern home ought to have at least a flush toilet, a modern home owner should also consider having at least a pit latrine.

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