The Pittsburgh Potty (That Wasn’t)

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This is the tale of the Pittsburgh Potty that wasn’t. It is a story I keep meaning to write because it is memorable, but I keep thinking no one would want to hear about our plumbing issues. But the thing is, we all have toilets and I’m sure stories about them, this being one of the more tame ones. So on we go, with the story of our Kittanning home and the potty that helped me get the bathroom of my dreams. 

What is a Pittsburgh Potty? 

Let’s just say any home repairs or remodels involving plumbing in Pittsburgh takes innovative solutions to handle our uniquely set up, historical homes! For those of you who are not ‘Burghers, it would be best to start out with telling you what a Pittsburgh Potty is and how they came about. 

Pittsburgh Potty

Many Pittsburgh area homes have basements…unfinished ones at that. In those basements, many homes have a toilet. Many times that toilet is standing all alone in an odd spot. In my grandparents’ home in Wilmerding, I remember that it was right in the middle of the floor, but at some point my Pap had put walls up and a shower curtain (I think, or at least that is what I want to remember). In our home in Tarentum, it sat on a pedestal of cement, a true gem of a throne where if you used it (we did not because it was disgusting), you were wide in the open to the hair salon station that also graced that basement (not a Pittsburgh thing). And nearby to our current home, my parents’ Ford City house had one along one of the basement walls – right out in the open, too. 

Oh, and often there was no sink nearby to wash your hands. If you were lucky, there might be a laundry tub (or hair washing sink), but more often than not, it was do your business and go about life…I guess. Ah, the days before hand sanitizer?!?! 

Plumbing in Pittsburgh, THERE?

Now that we know the what, why were they built? I can’t imagine that anyone would really want to do their business all out in the open like these toilets made possible. (Though funny enough, I recently stayed in a timeshare room where the toilet was wide open to the soaking tub, so there’s that.) 

There are several stories – and I’m sure your Pittsburgh area Realtors can share some really fun ones – but the most logical one I have heard about why they are found in the basement is that it was to avoid having to clean up backed up sewage lines on the main living floors. These are often homes that were built pre-World War II, so you can only imagine where plumbing techniques have changed since then. Oh, do we get this

Our Closet Potty

The home we live in was built in the 1940s and without a basement, but with a Pittsburgh-ish Potty. I’d imagine the “room” it was in was at one point a large, open utility room that eventually was closed off for a little bit of privacy and to hide the boiler and such. In the case of our experience, the toilet was in a closet. Not unlike the Pittsburgh tradition, there is no sink to be found. 

When we first moved in, this was the sole toilet on our downstairs level, so the kids were potty training in it, the grands would use it, and it was right next to what used to be my office. Needless to say, that toilet got traffic. 

In the summer of 2019, we found out that that toilet of ours never should have been. We literally flushed money down it in getting plumbers to help us solve the problem to find out that it was backed up with at least five years of “solid waste” that had started leaking into our laundry room. (Sorry to those of you who visited at this time and may have experienced the stench that was…at the same time our 20+ year old HVAC blew.) Awful. Just awful. 

The reason being, it was just a toilet sitting on a normal old drain pipe, which means that pipe expected things like toothbrush spit and laundry gray water to be flushed down it. Not our 10-year-old’s favorite emoji. You get it. 

Not our toilet and not a Pittsburgh Potty but one with some privacy.

The Happy Ending for our Pittsburgh Potty

Thankfully, plumbing in Pittsburgh has come a long way and we were able to cement up that nasty situation and get the bathroom of my dreams, but you’ll have to keep an eye out on my lifestyle blog to find out exactly how that ended up. 

In short, we do have a toilet on our main floor once again, but this time it is a grinder and not in a closet but in a spa-like third bathroom. Thank goodness that things have come a long way since then and our only struggle is how to get the new roll of toilet paper when it runs out. At least for now. 

My only regret? I think the closet toilet is the only “before” photo we’re missing from our recent home renovations!

Tell us something unique about your house – we love houses with character and hearing the stories behind them!

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