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Old composting outhouse

 
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Im buying a property that already has a composing outhouse connected to the cabin! Awesome..but it is full of someones old poo... So is it not working correctly? I was told that it was used as a vacation house a long time ago. It looks like he diagrams of composting outhouses I have viewed online. It appears to have vents and a door on the bottom out side.

What am I supposed to shovel out the old poo? Is it not working correctly?


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Composting systems need a balance of materials as well as the right amount of moisture. It is normal to add a carbon material and to have a drain to remove excess moisture if it is present. If these conditions get too far out of wack the composting will not happen and you might just have desiccated human waste sitting around.

I would advise starting afresh, what is in there now can be removed and composted elsewhere or if is not blocking or filling the system you might want to just start using it in the proper manner. Add a cup of sawdust or peat moss or the equivalent after every use and see what happens. More detailed pictures of what is there would help.

If the system is not complete you could easily switch to a Jenkins style sawdust toilet either as an interim fix or as a permanent one. The Jenkins system can be set up inside the living quarters without venting or a drain.
 
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We have a composting outhouse next to our cabin that was built by the previous owner. There are several different styles- ours is the kind with 2 chambers underneath, level with each other, and once a year you have to physically shovel the material from the 'active' chamber into the 'inactive' side. Then, a year later, you shovel the 'inactive' chamber materials into an outside bin (and the active chamber gets moved into the now-empty inactive side, and so on). So, just because there is poo in there does not mean it is not working, it just might mean you have a less sophisticated design than the one shown in your post.

I agree with Wyatt- you could just use a bucket system for a bit until you figure out what is going on. I would open that baby up and shovel everything out- you don't know what meds or pathogens might be in someone else's poo. At the very least you don't know what they covered each deposit with, so don't know if they maintained the correct carbon ratio.

You could shovel it and compost it separately, then start again with your own well-mamaged deposits. This is what we did. Unfortunately, though we always planned to upgrade the design we never got around to it. 17 years later I am still shoveling. At least it gives me one day a year to ponder the meaning of life
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Zenais, I am surprised your design has to be shoveled twice. Most two chamber systems simply move the seat location from one chamber to the next to change from active to inactive. You still have to shovel out but only after the chamber has been inactive for a year which should be much more palatable. Any chance you have been working on a mistaken assumption for 17 yrs?
 
Zenais Buck
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:Zenais, I am surprised your design has to be shoveled twice. Most two chamber systems simply move the seat location from one chamber to the next to change from active to inactive. You still have to shovel out but only after the chamber has been inactive for a year which should be much more palatable. Any chance you have been working on a mistaken assumption for 17 yrs?



Ah, I wish the builder would have been that thoughtful! Although I have to admit, he built it in the early 70s (was a Berkeley dropout back-to-the-land guy) and the thing is still working, so that is impressive. A redesign would probably not be that hard, but the task is only high on the priority list a few days before the annual shoveling! The day after the shovel, it mysteriously falls to the bottom of a very long list

We used buckets for about 6 years while I was continuously pregnant or nursing. To be honest, the work load of that one day shoveling is probably way less than the bucket system in total, but the buckets were easier on my body for a while.

I imagine that as I age, the redesign will again rise to the top of the list. I love our outhouse, though, and have a really hard time going to the bathroom in an enclosed room inside a house, into water! Blech! I am totally spoiled.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Pictures showing the clean out doors, seat area and general interior of the unit would be a help for understanding how the design works.
 
Zenais Buck
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:Pictures showing the clean out doors, seat area and general interior of the unit would be a help for understanding how the design works.



Wyatt, I dreamed of outhouses last night! It was a great dream. I hold you responsible!
 
Wyatt Barnes
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