First question: composting toilet. Why did you choose this over whatever the normal RV option is? What are the costs? (initially and on-going), what is involved in the upkeep?(how often? where do you “dump”, etc)
Emily’s Answer: Great use of “dump”. The normal RV option is basically a regular flushing toilet. It flushes into the black tank. And uses water, a decent amount of water from my understanding. The black tank is for sewage. There is also a grey tank and a fresh water tank. Grey water is used water from the sink or shower. With the research I had done, right off the bat I was interested in looking at composting toilets. I DID NOT want to have to deal with sewage. Disgusting and biohazard. What I saw in my initial research is that a composting toilet did not create sewage, the ones I saw recommended diverted the liquids from the solids. Each, on their own, are not hazardous. In fact urine can be responsibly spread outside in the wilderness or if you’re at a campsite poured down a toilet. And solids on their own can just be thrown in a trashcan. Legally. Honestly, I’m surprised now that I write it, because I was not, on my own, motivated to do a composting toilet. I thought that sounded disgusting. But the people I researched and followed, The Wynns, made such a convincing case. It just made sense to me, the way it made sense to them. Also you are kind of stuck with a black tank, you can not dump it out in the wilderness because Mother Earth will strike you dead with lightning. And because its wrong. So with us planning to boondock, it was likely we run out of black tank room and grey tank room quickly. Our tanks, the grey and black, aren’t that big on their own. By using a composting toilet, it allowed us to combine our two tanks so that both would hold our grey water.
It was also appealing on a conservation level. I read that the Gates Foundation invested a large sum of money in re-inventing the toilet: it hasn’t changed in decades, it uses water, and it creates a basically unusable by product. To be a part of doing/trying something different. It has pushed me to think a lot about our sewage treatment plants; and how we deal with our waste. And how people used to yell, “Gardyloo!” and dump it out their window onto the street.
The costs: We have a C-head toilet. Initially designed as a marine toilet, that’s why its called a head. It was $600. The one I initially wanted was about $960, the Nature’s Head. It’s fancier and probably, we’ve discovered through experience, a better design. I would recommend the Nature’s Head to people that aren’t especially skilled craftsman. Jeff had to do a lot to make it work in our RV. Like engineering certain things. Customer service is excellent from both these brands.
Ongoing costs: We’ve spent anywhere from $3 to $24 for the composting medium. The $24 option is coco coir (coconut by-product fiber) is super duper compact and lasts a few months. So that part is not much of an expense at all. A gallon jug is used for liquids. That can be replaced with fresh jugs whenever you want, it does not come with one.
Jeff’s comments: the $3 medium is available on line or at Walmart. Since we don’t intentionally shop at Walmart, we would have to be in the middle of nowhere and have no other option to go buy anything there. When we were exactly that, about 12 miles from the border of Mexico on a forest service road, we made a 45 minute drive to Walmart in Nogales to buy this medium. It is known as “Aspen Bedding”, made from, you guessed it, Aspen trees. The claim is that it’s sustainable due to how fast Aspen trees regenerate, but who knows. We didn’t research any further because we began having odor issues, and at first blamed this medium. In fact, this medium is extremely inexpensive, the easiest to use, lightweight, and probably works the best after all. We are going to have to try it again since the odor issue was resolved via an upgrade to the toilet. The downside to using coco coir is that is requires work to prepare it for use in the toilet. Not a lot, but it does take some time and effort…break it off the bail with a screwdriver into smaller pieces, soak it to a level in which it’s the right consistency, but not wet, break it down to its final consistency with your fingers, then it’s ready. The aspen bedding is ready to go as purchased.
Upkeep: With the C-head, dumping liquids daily for 2 people. The Nature’s Head has its own manufactured liquids bottle that is 2 gallons, I believe, and the Wynns report it needs to be dumped every 2-3 days. C-head solids: Jeff does this one. I do Kitty’s litter box, Jeff does our litter box. This has to be dumped every 4-6 days. This one was disappointing to us because we were told it would only need to be dumped every 7 days. The Wynns report that with the Nature’s Head they regularly are able to go 3 weeks without dumping the solids. It seems to be much more of a actual composting toilet than ours. When dumping the solids, it just goes into a trash bag and into a dumpster/trashcan.
Jeff’s Comments: Liquids: daily meaning sometimes twice. Depending on the conditions and how much water we are drinking, 1-1/2 to 2 gallons a day is common. This is also affected by where we are. If boondocking, peeing “behind a tree” is my method of minimizing work. Not also a gallon of pee stinks, so far as we’ve found, no matter what you put in it! Ok, we haven’t tried roses, maybe an idea 😉
Solids: Really, I feel it’s more like every 3-4 days the medium should be changed. Not because it’s nasty or anything, but because the “agitator” that mixes the medium with the pooh gets difficult to turn within 3 days, not the 7 as claimed. When it gets too difficult to turn, I am afraid for the durability of the unit, as the lid begins to move, possibly wearing out the lid’s connection to the housing. Bear in mind we aren’t pooping several times a day, maybe once on average for both of us (more than you wanted to know!). But, point being, we (mostly me) are disappointed with the frequency of dumping our litter.
For me, a good aspect of the C-head is that the solids container is a modified 5-gallon bucket. When I am dumping the solids in line of sight, at say a campground or RV park, I could simply be dumping trash into a bag.
With the Nature’s Head, the much larger rectangular container would stand out a bit and make people wonder, and it’s got to be harder and much heavier to manage if you can, as they claim, get two weeks of pooh into it. When we go 5-6 days with coco coir, let me just say, the s#!t ain’t light!
Almost every detail I wanted to know about I found on the Wynns post on composting toilets. They say its one of the things they get the most questions about: here. They’ve done like 6 videos dedicated to this topic, I love it.
Extra info: I think a composting toilet is even easier if you are in a home, when you can set up permanent adjustments to it. And you can create a composting pile to turn into usable soil.
Jeff’s Comments: I agree with having one in a home, especially if a better system is available for say up to two weeks before a change and maybe a week on the pee (or a different pee solution altogether). The greatest benefit to composting at home (other than if you actually use it in the garden) is that your wastewater could then ALL become graywater, no longer go to a treatment plant and instead be used to water the garden and/or your home’s landscaping. Love it!
More On This From Jeff: The odor issue I mentioned before ended up being the pee. We’ve used an RV blackwater tank deodorizer as indicated by C-Head (although not the brand they specified), but to no avail. We did everything else we could think of in an attempt to resolve it. The toilet also came with special hoses and plastic pipe fittings to install an exhaust fan system, but no fan was supplied…and it was indicated that the fan was NOT for odor issues, but rather for moisture issues. Being in arid environments thus far, moisture only became an issue when the “litter really needed changed badly”, but only once or twice did this occur. Emily had seen the Wynn’s posts indicating bad odor when the fan broke or was turned off (Nature’s Head apparently has one as standard equipment), so we set forth to install a fan. This was a fairly significant effort, not just to install, but to acquire the necessary tools, materials, etc. It required removing a wall panel and the ceiling exhaust fan shroud above, drilling two holes in the toilet housing (really three), drilling a hole in the roof and installing a vent cover, running the exhaust house/piping within the wall, tying into the electrical in the wall and running wiring, installing a switch, mounting the fan, and putting everything back. It went smoothly, maybe 4-6 hours worth, and guess what…no more odor! And the tiny fan uses effectively no energy running 24/7. Subsequently I’ve made some changes, mainly due to the fan mounting method I chose had caused a vibration at a frequency neither Emily nor I could manage, but otherwise we are happy with the result. Now, we can once again try the Aspen Bedding. On the other hand, once the pee bottle is out of the housing, the pee still stinks! 🙂
A couple of points for you if you are considering one: 1) as a single user you should be able to get twice as many days as we did with ours (almost 2 weeks!), 2) consider the weight of the Nature’s Head housing, medium, and say a month’s worth of pooh and what that will be to dump by yourself. You do effectively have to dismantle the toilet to dump the solids. With the C-head, it is a 5-gallon bucket with a handle that comes out fairly easily. 3) whichever system you get, there is going to be some work involved in removing the standard flushing RV toilet, adding a “wood shim” to get the base of the new toilet above the original toilet flange, and mounting the new toilet to the floor, as well as installation of the exhaust fan, which as we’ve found, is a necessity for odor management. 4) the Nature’s Head is a better looking, more intentionally designed/built system than the C-Head, and I’d have to believe considerably more durable. 5) the Nature’s Head I believe will be easier to install or have installed since it comes with the fan already, and the fan has mounting hardware, etc. I had to figure much of it out on my own with the C-Head.
If I had it to do again, I don’t know how I’d go. I’d like a run with the Nature’s Head first, as I know with anything you buy, there will be pro’s and con’s. After five months with the C-Head, I am kinda becoming accepting of it, just that I’d really like to change our litter at a frequency of only once/week. Oh…pooh.
Where is the guest room in the palatial palace?
Emily’s Answer: It’s on the second floor.
Jeff’s Answer: The guest house (aka the cab of the truck) has room for two.