Why Old Homes Have Toilets in Their Basements


Older homes are full of charm. One unusual feature in some American homes built before World War II is a random toilet in the basement. While some homes have a full basement bathroom, many have just one toilet in the basement, sometimes with no partition, privacy walls, or sink nearby.

While a lone basement toilet may seem puzzling, it is quite common in older homes, especially in cities. They are so prevalent in Pittsburgh that lone basement toilets are sometimes known as a Pittsburgh potty, even though they are found all over the country.

Why Is There a Toilet in the Basement?

Nobody quite knows why Pittsburgh potties are found in older homes. There are some theories, like:

  • Blue-collar workers used them to clean up. After coming home from mines or factories, they would head into the basement to use the washroom before entering their home. This theory makes sense for those random basement toilets with a nearby sink, but cleaning up is unlikely in basements where there is only a toilet.
  • Builders installed toilets for convenience. Some have suggested that basement toilets could have been for hired help before port-a-potties existed.
  • Homeowners added toilets for large households. Before World War II, multigenerational homes and larger families were more common, and homes tended to have fewer square feet — and bathrooms —than today's houses.

Old School Plumbing and Basement Bathrooms

Many cities quickly set up plumbing systems in the late 1800s and early 1900s without modern plumbing knowledge. As cities grew fast, these older systems did not always stand up to the pressure of heavier use. Sometimes, sewer sludge would bubble up the drains and fill tubs, sinks and basements.

Some architects and historians think lone basement toilets were installed to help deal with this. The theory is when sewer sludge rose into a home, it would remain in the basement toilet rather than the basement floor or upstairs toilets. Some basement toilets are directly over the sewer line, which further fuels this idea.

Contact Us for Your Plumbing Needs

Whether you have a basement toilet or not, any plumbing system eventually needs service. When you need help, choose a licensed plumber. Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Oneida e has licensed, courteous plumbers who correctly solve your plumbing issues.

Whether you have a clogged drain, backed-up toilet, or a leaking pipe, you can contact Mr. Rooter for professional plumbing services.