A New Homeowner Discovers Some Old House Features

British immigrant and new American citizen Laurence Brown, who recently bought his first house, shows us some features of his 1942 home that are not seen in houses built today. These include a basement toilet, a coal chute, and a phone nook. But they need some further explanation.

A basement toilet is often accompanied by a sink or a shower or both, but rarely this much privacy. Sure, these were used by workmen who wanted to get clean before entering the living area, but that's not what they were originally built for. These are often called Pittsburgh toilets. An extra toilet in the basement was handy because when the municipal sewer system backed up, which was often, sewage would flow into the concrete basement, where it could be washed down the floor drain with lots of water once the sewer was functional again. Without that release, the backup would occur upstairs, flooding the living area where it would ruin wood floors, carpets, and your family dinner enjoyment. Once the plumbing was available in the basement, sinks and showers could be easily added for cleaning up after work.

The "coal chute" he pointed out looks a lot more like a septic tank cover to me. But this is an urban area, and many commenters pointed out that it is a sewer access point called a cleanout. Coal chutes were built into the foundation of the house, and had much lighter doors of wood or metal for easy access.

The phone niche is more often called a phone nook where I'm from. Some commenters said it was for the doorbell chimes, but I believe that was only a secondary use. There's no need to put doorbell chimes where they can be easily reached. Mine are hung on the wall near the ceiling. Still, mysterious remnants of the past in your home are a bonus if you ask me.  

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