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Building Our House - What Design Of Composting Toilet?

 
Posts: 43
Location: Oklahoma
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Now is the time! We are in the process of building our homestead house. We are considering a composting toilet even though there is an existing septic system. What type of composting toilet should we be looking at? We have no experience with c/t at all, but have in mind vermicomposting. Are there designs we can look at? It will need to support 7 people - we have five kids.
Thanks!
Building Our House
 
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Hi Tim, I am using a simple sawdust pail collection system that in turn is composted outside. It is described in detail here http://humanurehandbook.com/ . It is very simple and cheap to implement per unit so the main limitation to the number of units is space and hand washing stations. It is more labour intensive in use than a flush system but it isn't a lot of time per week per person and it allows you to take direct responsibility for what would otherwise be waste and a drain on our natural resources. From the point of view of being a parent I think it teaches more than one valuable lesson to our children about responsibility, nature, permaculture and the whole circle of life. I am walking the walk with this one and happy doing it.
 
pollinator
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We also use the same bucket system.

We started using it because it is cheap to get started with and I was/am on the fence about getting septic. It is more labor intensive - on cold winter days I often wish I could just have a regular flush toilet! But then there's the compost... reclaiming fertility that normally would just be gotten rid of.

Truth be told I'm still on the fence about septic, or at least a fancier composting toilet. I'm a single mom and I have three kids, and living without a partner and being off grid is hard enough where I often have to re-evaluate what I'm doing and sometimes make decisions based on not what is the most sustainable, but what is the most effective use of my time/energy. I'm still not sure.

Practically speaking, I can tell you a few things. A compost bucket toilet does not stink, which I know is a concern for a lot of people. It DOES stink in the bathroom when you are using it, mainly because in a regular water toilet, when you poop, the poop goes under the water and then it stops emitting a smell. With a compost bucket toilet, it doesn't stop emitting a smell until it's covered, which isn't until you're done.

It's undeniably a hassle to empty the buckets. We have three buckets that we keep on hand, ready to rotate in, and I clean them all about twice a week and it takes about a half hour each time. Not terrible, but again... in cold snowy weather, it is totally not my favorite thing to do.

Some people save their urine separately - I don't do that because I have three little girls (lol, like that would happen!) so I do have to change my buckets more often.

The compost is awesome. I haven't used mine yet but recently the chickens have started scratching at the top of last year's piles - lovely, decomposed stuff that is. I don't bother with worrying about temps during composting, what I've done is create a new pile for each year and my oldest pile is over a year old, and I'm going to inoculate it with worms soon. I don't think worms could process the fresh waste, but adding them now adds one more step of decomposition to it which will make me "trust" the compost more. I will probably harvest last year's pile next spring, so they will be about 2 years old when harvested.

Mine is ugly, although I am sorta working on building a nicer one (got the materials, but had some other more important projects I need to work on right now).

Now, this style of composting toilet compared to a Sun Mar or another commercial toilet, I have no idea and I am totally curious. I'm considering getting one of those also, my biggest concern is I hate emptying the compost the most and I don't see how I'd have to empty it any less with a commercial toilet, so why bother? Once I finish my nice toilet, it will just look like a nice wooden bench with a toilet seat in it. I'm not sure I want to spend the kind of money for a commercial composting toilet unless it has significant advantages, and since to me the only real disadvantage to my current system is emptying/cleaning the buckets (mostly in cold/snowy weather... it TOTALLY SUCKS), that would be what would have to be different.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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To say I am easy going would be accurate and I am the type that appreciates function over looks. I say this to give you a base line to help put my words into your own perspective.

At present we have two adults using our system on a regular basis with an occasional visitor using it once or twice a week. We produce about 2-3 30 lb pails of compostables a week. I have 10 pails available for use so if I want I can go up to 3 weeks avoiding the outside compost bin due to weather, sickness or sloth. I did that for the last half of January and the first half of February. The weather sucked and I didn't want to deal with it.

My method in the cold is to take all full pails out, dump and then leave the empty pails outside until I need them. As each one comes in I rinse them out in the tub, add a bit of sawdust and put them to use. I stopped washing the pails with soap but I will if odour becomes permeated in them. Once the weather goes above freezing I am going to have a garden hose at the compost for rinsing. Any unrinseable deposit on the inside of the pails gets wiped off with a bit of toilet paper when I am swapping in the new pail.

I am figuring an average of 45 minutes chore time per week to this venture but I expect to lower that in the warm weather when I will be able to transport full pails out on my way to do other things. One of the great things about this system is that it is so cheap you can easily afford to either abandon it or shift it to emergency or outside use if you decide it is not the right fit for your family. Personally I like this simple, foolproof, ethical system and plan to add another one to the house for convenience.
 
Tim Clauson
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Thanks all for the replies. I don't think the bucket system is what we are looking for a simple as it sounds. What I have in mind (and it may be way off target!): We have about 3 1/2' of easily accessible space under the floor of our house. I envisioned building a small cubicle about 3' square and up to the bottom of the floor joists out of cinder block with a concrete floor. The top will be closed except for the hole in the top under the "toilet". There will be an access door in the side that can be opened to remove the composting waste. The toilet itself will look like what Bethany describes - just a bench with a hole in it. With five kids, maybe a two-holer......
I would like input on this thought and see what / where I need to go with this basic idea to make it feasible and work properly. So much I don't know about composting toilets...
Thanks!
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Tim I think most systems like you are vaguely describing are two chambered. The first chamber has the seat over it for about a year and then the seat gets moved to the second chamber allowing the first to compost for about a year with no new additions. Before the second chamber becomes full the first is harvested of its compost. This system would probably be a good candidate for vermiculture in the dormant year. The bench above simply straddles the dividing wall so the seat panel can be swapped out with a solid panel on the other side.

I think these systems have to have a drain and from a nutrient point of view a urine diverter would allow you to harvest the urine for plant use before it is made non sterile with fecal contact. The other up side of the diverter is avoiding putting in a blackwater drain in the chamber. How much of your decision is based on finances? There are some nice commercial systems available.
 
Tim Clauson
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:Tim I think most systems like you are vaguely describing are two chambered. The first chamber has the seat over it for about a year and then the seat gets moved to the second chamber allowing the first to compost for about a year with no new additions. Before the second chamber becomes full the first is harvested of its compost. This system would probably be a good candidate for vermiculture in the dormant year. The bench above simply straddles the dividing wall so the seat panel can be swapped out with a solid panel on the other side.

I think these systems have to have a drain and from a nutrient point of view a urine diverter would allow you to harvest the urine for plant use before it is made non sterile with fecal contact. The other up side of the diverter is avoiding putting in a blackwater drain in the chamber. How much of your decision is based on finances? There are some nice commercial systems available.


Thanks Wyatt - that gives me some good information. As far as commercial systems, they are far,far beyond what we could possibly afford. Everything we are doing is shoestring budget or less. The house we are "building" might actually be labeled as "moving". We were given a house that needed moved. We didn't have the means to actually move the house, so we disassembled it and moved it piece by piece to the homestead where we are now rebuilding it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8m_pl4TlYZ0
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Tim I have done a fair bit of tearing out as well. I prefer it to the excavator approach and a good bar is your best friend. How far is the move?
 
Tim Clauson
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:Tim I have done a fair bit of tearing out as well. I prefer it to the excavator approach and a good bar is your best friend. How far is the move?



It wasn't bad at all - about 2 1/2 miles from our property. There are also two other people who want us to take their houses for them. One is a really nice house that had a smoky kitchen fire.
Thinking on it. Maybe a small business reselling used lumber.....
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Ethical demolition. One that reuses or repurposes the materials. I think its time has returned, I don't think it was unusual 30 years ago but has gone out of fashion.
 
Tim Clauson
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:Ethical demolition. One that reuses or repurposes the materials. I think its time has returned, I don't think it was unusual 30 years ago but has gone out of fashion.



So true!
 
Wyatt Barnes
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These houses people want removed, could you charge 75 percent of what an excavator demolition with trucking away and tipping fees would be? Not sure how things are done in your area.
 
Tim Clauson
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:These houses people want removed, could you charge 75 percent of what an excavator demolition with trucking away and tipping fees would be? Not sure how things are done in your area.



I have to look into that. Not sure how it works here either. Good thought.

Thanks!
 
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Location: Bluegrass region of Kentucky, USDA Zone 6a - unpredictable but manageable
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First off, Tim I just clicked over to your YouTube channel and I love what you guys are doing. Great job doing life together as a family.

We are a family of six starting a homestead on 16.5 acres in Central Kentucky. We are also planning on using a composting toilet. I think that we will eventually use a SunMar unit (maybe) or a similar design (we're permitting our timber-frame and straw bale house, so we've got to work with inspectors who won't issue a certificate of occupancy with just the humanure bucket system. But, right now we use a simple bucket system when we are camping on our property. I'm a teacher (for now) so we have summers off to work on our land, so this is our only toilet when we live in the camper for two months, and it works fine. I'm attaching a few pictures of what we have now, and I'll describe the rest and try to post some pics again later when I can get through the snow-pack to our place. These pics are in our summer bathhouse which has a loo on one side and a shower on the other. This is the bucket loo in the bath-house before we put the skin on. The water is gravity fed from rain catchment up slope, there is a homemade urine diversion unit underneath that seat which separates our solids from the liquids. The urine diverter is flushed by the sink water, and it simply empties into a mulch pit down grade at the base of a big cedar tree. The solids are then composted. Here's closer look at the toilet itself when it was just surrounded by a tarp on a clothesline in the woods. The wood is just scrap that I salvaged. The top piece had a big map painted on it. (sorry no inside photos, but I can arrange that if you like). The two black pipe elbows you can see are air intakes that allow air into the chamber, and what you can't see is the tall black chimney that rises out the back to vent air out. Not as important in the woods, but I'm experimenting for the future. That "tank" on the back of the toilet is for our carbon (sawdust, coffee hulls, shredded barley straw, etc.) We put in a scoop each time we poop and and it works to break down when the bucket is emptied into the compost bin. Right now ours only gets seasonal use by the family. I hope this helps. Good luck on the homestead.
10511663_10203412279043537_4018231145712951831_o.jpg
[Thumbnail for 10511663_10203412279043537_4018231145712951831_o.jpg]
In the bathhouse before it was clad and roofed
10382033_10203102578901227_7666870445069122186_o.jpg
[Thumbnail for 10382033_10203102578901227_7666870445069122186_o.jpg]
Closeup when it was just surrounded by tarp in the woods
 
Tim Clauson
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Adam Chisholm wrote:First off, Tim I just clicked over to your YouTube channel and I love what you guys are doing. Great job doing life together as a family.

We are a family of six starting a homestead on 16.5 acres in Central Kentucky. We are also planning on using a composting toilet. I think that we will eventually use a SunMar unit (maybe) or a similar design (we're permitting our timber-frame and straw bale house, so we've got to work with inspectors who won't issue a certificate of occupancy with just the humanure bucket system. But, right now we use a simple bucket system when we are camping on our property. I'm a teacher (for now) so we have summers off to work on our land, so this is our only toilet when we live in the camper for two months, and it works fine. I'm attaching a few pictures of what we have now, and I'll describe the rest and try to post some pics again later when I can get through the snow-pack to our place. These pics are in our summer bathhouse which has a loo on one side and a shower on the other. This is the bucket loo in the bath-house before we put the skin on. The water is gravity fed from rain catchment up slope, there is a homemade urine diversion unit underneath that seat which separates our solids from the liquids. The urine diverter is flushed by the sink water, and it simply empties into a mulch pit down grade at the base of a big cedar tree. The solids are then composted. Here's closer look at the toilet itself when it was just surrounded by a tarp on a clothesline in the woods. The wood is just scrap that I salvaged. The top piece had a big map painted on it. (sorry no inside photos, but I can arrange that if you like). The two black pipe elbows you can see are air intakes that allow air into the chamber, and what you can't see is the tall black chimney that rises out the back to vent air out. Not as important in the woods, but I'm experimenting for the future. That "tank" on the back of the toilet is for our carbon (sawdust, coffee hulls, shredded barley straw, etc.) We put in a scoop each time we poop and and it works to break down when the bucket is emptied into the compost bin. Right now ours only gets seasonal use by the family. I hope this helps. Good luck on the homestead.



Thanks Adam! 16.5 acres would be really nice. Where we live there is no permit nor even a building department. We couldn't get a permit if we wanted one! Coming from Oregon that is so odd to me. You couldn't do anything in Oregon without a permit. Is there a chance you could do a basic sketch of the toilet with the diverter itself? What I see in the pictures all make sense. When we bought our place here (10 acres) it already had a good conventional septic, well and electric pole on the property. That was really nice even though we hope to go off grid when we can afford to slowly change over. For now, the electric is convenient. We don't use the outdoor shower in the winter here of course, but will likely set it up again in warmer weather. For now, the strong winds destroyed the temporary one we set up when we first started staying here (camping). I would love to timber frame a house, but we have no timber here so that's out Since we haven't a permit requirement here we are thinking on building a composting toilet system, but I think one more as I described above rather than a bucket system (which would work quite well). I think with 7 people, a bucket system would get pretty tiresome pretty quickly. All of these posts are giving me more and more of the pieces I need to figure out the right system for our place. A commercial system would be nice, but at this point would cost more than our whole house

Thanks,

Tim
 
Wyatt Barnes
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I dream of building in an area with no building code. Not going to happen, the nanny state is here to stay. I do hope to take some of the petty stupidity out of our local code gradually. I should have started 20 years ago. In the jurisdiction next to us you can't have more than three buildings on a lot without a minor variance. ( at $500 +) A women I know had a house, a shed and a gazebo on her property. Before she could get a building permit for a garage she had to agree to remove one of the other buildings after the garage was finished.
 
Tim Clauson
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:I dream of building in an area with no building code. Not going to happen, the nanny state is here to stay. I do hope to take some of the petty stupidity out of our local code gradually. I should have started 20 years ago. In the jurisdiction next to us you can't have more than three buildings on a lot without a minor variance. ( at $500 +) A women I know had a house, a shed and a gazebo on her property. Before she could get a building permit for a garage she had to agree to remove one of the other buildings after the garage was finished.


I hear you there. That sounds like the kind of foolishness you would find in Oregon. It is so refreshing to be in an area that is still somewhat reasonable. But it will chance soon enough. I have no doubt.
 
Adam Chisholm
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Is there a chance you could do a basic sketch of the toilet with the diverter itself? What I see in the pictures all make sense.



Sure Tim, I'll see what I can sketch up quick after work today as well as our other option we're considering instead of the very expensive SunMar. If I wind up building a large scale chambered unit similar to the SunMar, I'll use the same urine diversion I built for the bucket system in the woods. We've considered the cinderblock chamber like you mentioned, but it's not as feasible on our location. I like the idea of longer time between clean outs too. Hopefully I'll have something posted this afternoon.
 
Tim Clauson
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Adam Chisholm wrote:

Is there a chance you could do a basic sketch of the toilet with the diverter itself? What I see in the pictures all make sense.



Sure Tim, I'll see what I can sketch up quick after work today as well as our other option we're considering instead of the very expensive SunMar. If I wind up building a large scale chambered unit similar to the SunMar, I'll use the same urine diversion I built for the bucket system in the woods. We've considered the cinderblock chamber like you mentioned, but it's not as feasible on our location. I like the idea of longer time between clean outs too. Hopefully I'll have something posted this afternoon.


Thanks Adam! I really appreciate it. Sounds like we are both on the same page for the end result. The sketch would be great! No hurry though

Thanks,

Tim
 
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