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Teen entrepreneur builds outhouses

Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

PALMER - Daniel Buckingham points out features that come standard with his custom Alaska outhouse.

"This is sort of the basic," the 16-year-old says, standing in front of his 4-foot by 4-foot, nearly 7-foot high plywood and spruce outhouse with a pitched, shingled roof.

The basic, which sells for $299, comes with a hinged door with handle, toilet box with hole and toilet seat, Daniel says.

In a pitch to a broader audience, Daniel points out that people don't actually have to need an outhouse to buy an outhouse.

"Some people just have an outhouse to make the yard look sort of Alaskan," he says.

Daniel - who has yet to sell an outhouse but is looking for buyers on the Web site www.craigslist.com - is aiming to please.

"Willing to add whatever fixtures you'd like for additional cost." "I build custom outhouses to suit your taste!" his ad says.

While Daniel's new enterprise may seen nutty to some, it's not, said Harry Walker, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-raised photographer now living in Anchorage whose 1996 book "Outhouses of Alaska" is in its 11th printing.

"Alaska is one of the last places in the United States where I think someone can find a market for outhouses. There are still a lot of places where people live off the grid and need outhouses," he said.

The 2000 U.S. Census found that one in four homes in Alaska was without indoor plumbing, placing the state first in the nation for a lack of modern plumbing. It also puts Daniel in the catbird seat for a market for his handmade thrones.

Daniel's family, like many in Alaska, are familiar with outhouses. When they lived in Fairbanks they had some trouble with the septic system and occasionally relied on the outhouse. They had friends who had nothing but the outhouse.

"A lot of people legitimately had outhouses," said Jim Buckingham, Daniel's father who retired recently after 26 years in the Army, reflecting on the five years spent in Fairbanks when he was stationed twice at Fort Wainwright. "They have braved cold at 40-below going to the outhouse every day."

Daniel says what the customer wants, the customer gets.

A toilet paper holder, light fixture, electrical outlets and special custom features - perhaps a moon shape cut into the door or moose antlers hung on the front - are extra. Ditto for insulation and heat.

Can he make a two-seater?

Sure. "I'll put up a divider," he says.

What about comfort-enhancers?

No problem. Blue insulating board on top of the wooden toilet box is always nice.

"People like using that because it warms up real fast," he says.

A cushioned toilet seat?

Almost a necessity, says Daniel, who knows the shock of hard plastic coming in contact with exposed skin at 40 degrees below zero.

"It keeps it warm," he says.

What about atmosphere?

"I could make a candle holder out of birch," he says. "I could make a little bookshelf."

For now, Daniel's outhouse sits on a concrete pad outside the spacious log home on 100 acres north of Anchorage where he lives with his mother, father and six brothers and sisters.

Daniel used local spruce trees and used the family mill to frame his outhouse. For the design, he drew upon his experience in building the smokehouse. He made his outhouse more stout so that it would look more like an outhouse, not like the tall, thin one they had in Fairbanks.

"I didn't want it to look like a rocket," he said.

He gave the roof a 4/12 pitch so that a heavy snow load wouldn't cave it in.

The exterior is CDX plywood, waiting to be finished to the customer's taste.

Walker said outhouses are an appealing project.

"There is something about an outhouse that the scale is much more human. It is not big and sweeping like grand-gesture architecture. It is much more intimate," he said.

Daniel, who is home-schooled, is not overly concerned that he doesn't have buyers lining up, yet.

"I am sort of self-employed. It is sort of something I am doing for myself to keep me busy," he says. "I'm not planning on doing this as a lifetime job, of course."

Daniel's father said he received one interesting query.

"We had one man from New Jersey who e-mailed and asked how much we charge for delivery. I told him thanks, we don't deliver."



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