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Candle-powered pooper butt warmer

 
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I was thining of how to warm a toilet seat, and this idea is what has come to me:  tiny tea lights below either side of the O -shaped seat: xOx, where the butt cheeks land more or less, and the part of the seat that's there having either a) metal wrapped around to conduct heat up from the candle to the top of the seat there or b) actually put a hole in the middle of the wood of the seat and then metal over that, if the heat won't transfer fast enough.  

problems--it might get too hot (from Google I see a candle is 70 watts's worth of heat, which could burn you; solution: put it a bit farther away?)

flame inside a wooden structure (outhouse)--problem: obvious.  solution:   maybe there could be a really bad candle that burns itself out after 5 minutes?


other interesting points: if you want to reduce methane, or even smell in general, a flame is a good way to do that.  

This would be for an indoor, winter pooper situation.

Thoughts?
 
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I've been using an outdoor pooper in a cold climate for some 25 years, and now I've got the composting toilet attached to the cold north side of the house, unheated, so I have experience in the problem you are trying to address. My solution has always been to squat when the weather is cold, and only use the seat when the weather is warm enough. We happened to design our composting toilets with two holes, and we keep a seat over only one of them.

I guess it depends on being able to squat comfortably, though! Luckily I can, always could, even before I lived in Asia.
 
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I'm not in your situation, but I think I'd try a simple method. I'd use an easily removable toilet seat and hang it on a hook inside the house someplace warm. Plus I'd  have have one of the fuzzy covers on it or use one of the padded ones that doesn't get instantly cold. So as I head for the loo, I'd grab it on the way out.
 
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Sounds complicated. I'm with Rebecca - just squat!

Oh and I'm someone who squats year round en plein air blizzard or downpour be damned. Not that big a deal really.
 
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:other interesting points: if you want to reduce methane, or even smell in general, a flame is a good way to do that.  



My first reaction is Methane + fire = explosion . But maybe not in this instance?

I like Su Ba's idea. keep the seat warm and take it with you.
 
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To avoid the fire issue and the possibility of it getting too hot, I think I'd go with a highly insulative material for the toilet seat, or at least it's upper surface.  If the seat is highly thermally insulative then it will feel warm to your bottom even if it's actually cold because it won't be able to move the heat away from you.  Instead the surface of the insulative material will very quickly come to the same temperature as your skin that contacts it, thus feeling warm.  
 
Greg Martin
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Oh, and add a radiative reflective layer....that would be great.  Get a piece of foil lined foam board insulation, put it in the refrigerator then pull it out and sit on it bare skinned.  I bet that will feel fine!  I'm going back and forth as to whether I should try this out and report back.  You guys vote and the will of the people will rule :)
 
Greg Martin
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It's ok with me if you say "no, don't do that Greg", really, that would be fine!
 
Jan White
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Haha - do it, Greg, do it!

I use mylar a certain amount for insulating things so I'm pretty sure you're right and the test is unnecessary, though :)
 
Greg Martin
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Ok Jan, I've registered your vote, but since it's only one vote I'll hang in there for more as I'm fairly sure everyone else will say..."no, don't do it!"
 
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We always had the seat hanging in the warm.  I'll admit that nowadays I'm getting soft and have started using a sawdust bucket/humanure setup in the very cold.  Just bring the bucket inside and back out again. A propane lantern is enough to keep a bathroom sized place warm enough to take the chill off. I don't think I'd want to leave a candle unattended.
 
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I'm with Greg. insulation. It won't conduct any heat away from your butt. Su Ba's padded seat is an off the shelf solution.

If you need active heating, a battery powered heater (like found in motorcycle gloves, work clothing, etc...) could be adapted.
It could even be rigged to come on with the door latch or lid lift, so it would start before you do, and get shut off when you leave.
You could add a solar charger for the battery...

 
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Growing up on the Yukon I have a lot of outhouse experience in temperatures down to 70 degrees below zero and I have seen a lot of different solutions attempted/implemented.  

1) Hanging a toilet seat by the stove and taking it out to the outhouse -- works good, but you have a toilet seat in your living space, and how do you keep it clean?  If you are using an outdoor pooper you may not have lots of running water for frequent scrubbing, and a hot dirty toilet seat by your stove can be aromatic in a bad way.  

2) Padded/fuzzy seat is awesome -- but again, how do you keep it clean?  Caribou fur is the most comfy toilet seat cover I ever used and hides soil well, but try really hard not to think about sanitation issues.  Once it gets soiled, it's soiled forever.  Just about any cloth material would have the same issue but would at least be washable.  Again, though, if you're using outdoor plumbing you probably don't want an unpleasant laundry task.

3) Seat made of insulating material is even more awesome.  In the 1970s people would use thick white styrofoam slabs with a suitable hole cut.  It felt warm to the touch when you sat on it no matter how cold the air temp, but was fragile and squeaky and also prone to staying soiled once it got soiled.  These days some of the closed-cell foams with vapor-barrier surface might offer a better durability/washability profile.  But I suspect there'd still be fragility and grossness all around the cut surfaces.  

4) At the end of the day my family reached consensus that we all preferred a simple hole in a half-inch slab of birch plywood.  Cold in the moment of sitting, but warms up "fast enough", durable, easy to scrub clean, sands nice and smooth, takes polyurethane well.  MUCH better than a plastic or plastic-coated wooden toilet seat, which lets air circulate under your butt and, at subzero temps, never warms up to body temperature or anything close.  There's more thermal mass in the slab of plywood, so it insulates the parts of you that are touching it (as opposed to the parts that are dangling over the pit, for which there's no help).

In my opinion candles or any other heat source in an outhouse are very much contra-indicated.  Smell-wise, the colder the air is in there, the better.  Bad smells are molecules in the air; the warmer the air is, the more copiously and energetically those gasses and and particles are being transported from their source to your nose.  Nothing worse than a heated outhouse! I used to notice this in particular when some cheechako visitor would insist on taking a Coleman lantern to "find their way" or "find the hole" or whatever -- those things give off a whole lot of heat in a confined space and going after them would be especially noxious.
 
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Greg Martin wrote:To avoid the fire issue and the possibility of it getting too hot, I think I'd go with a highly insulative material for the toilet seat, or at least it's upper surface.  If the seat is highly thermally insulative then it will feel warm to your bottom even if it's actually cold because it won't be able to move the heat away from you.  Instead the surface of the insulative material will very quickly come to the same temperature as your skin that contacts it, thus feeling warm.  


I totally agree Greg.
 I grew up using an outhouse where my grandfather carved a toilet seat out of rigid foam very similar to the one in the picture below. Within seconds of sitting on it, not only did the heat of the seat match your butt temperature but it actually felt warmer. Because it was about 2" thick, it was hung up on a nail in the outhouse otherwise the toilet lid couldn't close.
Warning: After a while, I do recall my sister writing on it "Don't S**t on the seat" after someone accidently... (well you know).... which can't be easily cleaned due to the porous nature and can only be shaved/sanded off. Then, I remember my grandmother had the great idea to paint it (filling the pores) so that she could clean it easier, but you know what? It lost about 90% of its instant insulative value and so it was tossed and a new one made. Perhaps a personalized one could be hung in the outhouse framing a picture of you so there is no doubt?!
949282adac0e45d89322f84a8a201006.jpg
[Thumbnail for 949282adac0e45d89322f84a8a201006.jpg]
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Great responses everyone!

A few points:

my thought was you can light the candle and then put it out when you leave.  Problem: someone might forget.  Possible solution: really short wick that you have to adjust before each use.  You could cheat, but you'd have to do something active, passively it will just go out on its own after 5 minutes.

Methane--I'm assuming the quantity that is coming out is not that large--we're not talking about a biogas digester here, just intestinal gas...you know, from all those sunchokes. :)  Am I missing something? Willow feeder model?  I envisioned this as for the indoor pooper with small bucket you take outside once a week--but still it's a bit of a chill.  Coleman lantern seems way overkill, and I wnat to do this without electricity if possible and without possibly-toxic gick.  

Toilet seat indoors by the stove--no, the objections raised by the Yukon poster make sense.

Something natural, insulative, easily cleaned even without paint...sound like the birch is the best one so far, but the cleaning part is still slightly dicey.

Squatting--I can squat, but I can't squat over a 5-gallon bucket.  I'd at least need some framework around it.  Other Americans usually cannot squat.  Elderly people would probably not be able to access the contraption.  

Great input everyone, keep it coming!

Greg, did you do the test?
 
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Greg Martin wrote:Ok Jan, I've registered your vote, but since it's only one vote I'll hang in there for more as I'm fairly sure everyone else will say..."no, don't do it!"


I think all of the thumbs up on Jan's post should count as votes... ;)
 
Rebecca Norman
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I am the one who said I just squat when it's cold, but I sure like the insulated seat ideas above! Maybe I'll try to get or make one before next winter. I seem to remember in the US in my youth some people's houses had a commercially bought insulated seat that was some kind of squishy foam with a plastic cover integrated on it. Are those still available? As I remember them, they'd probably be cleanable with a quick wipe. (Then I could read the news on my phone in the morning, even in winter -- uh-oh, TMI!)
 
Greg Martin
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My son lights a candle when he's gotten the bathroom to "do NOT go in there" level and it's always smell free when you do go in there.  A candle's fire draws surrounding air into itself as the hot air rises and burns up the offensive organic entities, thus cleaning the air, rather than just masking the smell.  Heating the seat with candles would put the fires right where the air cleaning is most needed!  The candle trick also works quite well when cutting onions....no tears.  If I had a propane stove (no fossil fuels in my home) I'd probably light a burner on low, preheating a cast iron pan, and cut the onions nearby.  

Since no one said don't I ran the test with foil coated and bare foam that were at fridge temps.  The bare foam was instantly warm, while the foil coated took about a second...both not bad.  I think the foil is likely not needed, but if it was thin, like metalized mylar emergency blankets (oh no, another test) then I don't think that the cold would have been felt for even a second.  Since the foams were relatively warm (upper 30s) I went ahead and put them outside along with a thermometer.  I will repeat in another hour and report back.  Just checked the temp and it's pretty warm, though....lightly snowing and about 25F, so still not a super challenge.  Although winter started earlyish this year, it hasn't gotten harshly cold yet....a few dips just below zero.  My fig tree branches that I left exposed and my hardy citrus seedlings I'm trialing are all fine....I digress.  Nothing like the testing Dan did in the Yukon...-70F....yikes!  I like the wood idea very much.  The lower the density of the wood the better.  Maybe glue a sheet of balsa onto plywood?  Or maybe one of the conifers as they generally have a low density.  According to the engineering toolbox willow, cottonwood, alder, and butternut (Wow, that would be a fancy seat!  Do the rich and famous have those?) have low densities for deciduous trees.  


 
Greg Martin
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Brushed the snow off and brought them in.  At 25F the experience was the same as for the fridge temp foams.  I then sat on my room temp (about 64F) hard plastic toilet seat and that one felt colder than the 25F foams.  I'm really glad that one wasn't 25F (please, no one ask me to do that test).
 
Greg Martin
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EDIT:  I contacted the person at the link in this post and he no longer does this, but can't figure out how to get rid of the web page, so please do not contact him for this.  Thank you, Greg

For giggles I ran a search on "butternut wood toilet seat" to see if anything came up and low and behold someone offers them as a custom made product!  I dropped them an e-mail to see how much they might be.  The only concern I'd have is that perhaps the urethane will penetrate deeply into the wood creating a thick zone of solid plastic that will diminish the effect.  I'll let you guys know what Shawn charges in case you're curious too.

Here's an example of his work (probably oak?):


I wonder if they are at all prone to cracking since the grain all seems to run the same direction?  Dan's plywood suggestion addresses that nicely.  Might be nicer to glue the butternut onto the surfaces of a plywood core.
 
Rebecca Norman
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After enjoying this thread I finally searched for "padded toilet seat" and "toilet seat cover" on Amazon and found that there are dozens of solutions for our cold cheeks.
 
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