Everyone Poops. Tiny House Toilet Options.

I came across an interesting article about toilets and thought I would share it with you all, as toilets seem to be a favorite topic of discussion among tiny housers.  Click HERE to read the Fast Company article about Bill Gates’ sponsored toilet inventions around the world.  One submittal:

China’s toilet submission.  Not sure where you sit.  Looks dangerous…

My fave was China’s toilet design submission that “extracts and disposes fecal sludge on-site”.  Not to pick on the Chinese… but c’mon, do I really want to dump fecal sludge outside my home?  I’m sure there’s some way to make it “odorless” right?  … but I have no trust for systems claiming to be odorless, as that has been our main complaint with our Incinolet incinerating toilet.

Our Incinolet incinerating toilet.

I happily (and naively) blogged about our incinerating toilet previously in this blog, prior to having used it.  We bought it used for less than half the new purchasing price ($1,900-$2,100!!) and have thus far replaced almost every major mechanism in the toilet (almost $200 more), and it still has an odor!  Thankfully the odor is all outside now, unlike when we fired up our first batch of “brownies” (as we lovingly call our waste) and filled the house with smoke!!  Shane’s repairs restored the toilet to working condition but there were still odors outside that would waft in through open windows.  (I cannot believe the neighbors never complained….)  We have since minimized outside odors by adding a 4″ pvc vent stack outside that rises above the roof level.

So what are the toilet options for Tiny Houses? 

Here’s what I’ve seen so far, would love to hear everyone’s feedback on their experiences.

1.  RV low-flush toilets

RV low flush toilet shown in a tiny house.

1.  RV low-flush toilets with a holding tank… that must be emptied… somewhere.  Or drained directly into a preexisting sewer system.

  • Pros:  fairly clean, small, no smell inside, simple typical American toileting experience.
  • Cons:  uses clean water and generates blackwater.  need connection to a sewage system or a place to dump the tank.  more plumbing adds initial construction costs.  without a municipal sewage system, a septic system would be cost prohibitive to many.  to sum up the Cons in a word: sewage.

2.  Incinerating Toilets

Incinolet brand incinerating toilet.

2.  Incinerating Toilets available in electric (Incinolet) or propane (Scanlet or Storburn).  Using 20amps of power (arguably too much for off-grid / solar…) this toilet burns waste to a minimal amount.  A metal bowl full of ashes is emptied into the trash twice a week, in our experience.

  • Pros:  no water!  great for arid climates.  waste is reduced to a very small amount. no plumbing in the house, no septic system, no blackwater.  don’t need to be connected to a sewage system.
  • Cons:  expensive!  $1,900 to $2,100 new.  high energy useage.  complicated to use.  prone to mechanical problems.  smelly.  (ever smelled burning poop?  mostly this smell is outside… but still not pleasant)  to sum up the Cons in a word: electricity.  smoke.  odor.  (one word wasn’t enough.)

3.  High-Tech Composting Toilets

One style of composting toilet: Nature’s Head.

3.  High-Tech Composting Toilets would include SunMar, Nature’s Head, Envirolet, Biolet, etc. etc.  Manufactured self-contained toilets that convert waste to compost with or without electricity spurred mechanical stirring.

  • Pros:  no water or low water.  no plumbing in the house, no septic system, no blackwater.  don’t need to be connected to a sewage system.  turns waste into a useful material like compost (regenerative)
  • Cons:  expensive!  $900 to $2,000.  large.  you have to do something with the “compost” or straight-up urine in some models – not ideal for city/town use.

4.  Low-Tech Composting Toilets

Bucket Toilet

4.  Low-Tech Composting Toilets or a bucket toilet like the Loveable Loo by Joseph Jenkins, author of the Humanure Handbook, which is a highly recommended read!  The first chapter on humankind’s parasitic behavior makes it worth the purchase price.  These are a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a toilet seat; sawdust is applied to waste after each use, then waste is put outside in a compost pile.

  • Pros:  small.  inexpensive ($250) or you can make your own for much less.  no plumbing.  no sewage.  turns waste into a useful material like compost (regenerative)
  • Cons:  potential for odors inside.  need sawdust and other composting materials.  need a site with several humanure compost piles that you can maintain and let cure for a year before use.

5.  A Litterbox.

Litterbox.

5.  A Litterbox.  I’m joking about this one (kind of…).  We recommend “multi-cat”.  Enough said.  Ha haha  haaa?

——————————————————————————

Here’s a good source I found with way more info than I just scrounged up for this post if you want to read more about toilet options: environalternatives article.

Would love to hear everyone else’s feedback and research.

I leave you with this:

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Categories: Living In the Tiny House, Tiny House Design | Tags: , , , , | 49 Comments

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49 thoughts on “Everyone Poops. Tiny House Toilet Options.

  1. We decided to go with the low-tech composting toilet in our tiny house, on the assumption that we could always upgrade later if it didn’t work for us. So far it has worked quite well, and with two people living here and occasional guests, we only empty it every week or two. We started out using sawdust, but are now using Peat Moss instead due to the particles being smaller than most sawdust and dispersing more readily. We haven’t had any problems with odor as long as we don’t skimp on the peat moss (we add a good 20 oz. of it after each use), but we also have a high-power bathroom fan in the room as well so I’m sure that helps a lot. We are very lucky to live on a piece of land with space for us to place our compost piles, which I know not everyone is so fortunate to have. I know some tiny housers have to dump their composting waste into the trash due to not having anyplace to allow it to compost. That’s our two cents on the low-tech composting toilet.

    • Margo – this is great feedback! where do you buy your peat moss? is it hard to find? is it expensive?

      • et

        You can find peat moss at any garden supply store. In small bags or big bales.

  2. anotherkindofdrew

    We have actually decided not to poop. We just feel like it is too time-consuming and a toilet of any sort takes up too much precious room. So, we have just cut it from our “needs list.” From this point forward we are just going to roll the dice with our internal organs and see what happens. Stay tuned (if you dare…..). HAHAHAHAHH.

  3. Dave M

    #4 Low Tech Composting Toilets – Heh. Full time boaters have a name for this – “Bucket and chuck it” :-)

  4. I like the idea of the Low-Tech Composting Toilets the most. It’s regenerative. That’s important to me. Human waste is given such a bad wrap. We need to change that, I say! :P

    • I totally agree – I like the idea of turning waste into something useful. In a small space it is VERY important to consider smells…. But maybe an outhouse would be the best way to deal with this? I have heard of tiny housers who opt not to have a bathroom in their house and use an outhouse.

      It’d be so nice to have the toilet space available for a full height closet or a full size bathroom sink / counter…

      • To help the paradigm shift along… Jenkin’s isn’t talking about “turning” waste into something useful. It’s already useful, we have just erroneously turned it into an ecological disaster by viewing it as not useful to begin with

  5. leepera

    This makes me a bit scared, Carrie, as we have three incinolet toilets on our lot. None of us using them fulltime yet. I’ll let you know in a few months what our experience is. Hopefully we can make them work! : )

    • I hope they work for you! please let us know if they do, because maybe our Incinolet is just a lemon….
      – Carrie

      • It must be a lemon. I have had mine for two years now, and it works great. We do have to dump it a bit more frequent than they say though. We use ours full time and dump the pan at least 4 times a week. Found out it burns better when the pan is cleaner, which causes a lot less smoke, and odor. The other thing about taking care of odor is that you must have the vent pipe somewhere between a foot to 18 inches higher than the peak of the roof.

      • this is great to hear! we were wondering if anyone had any luck using an Incinolet. Yes, we found the vent stack needed to be much higher than manufacturer recommendations. we still got some odor in the mornings especially when the air is sitting low in the valley.

  6. anotherkindofdrew

    I think there is a lot of confusion when it comes to this conversation. As you pointed out all the toilet options have pros and cons and if you are truly looking to remain mobile you have to think about what is best for you situation, whether or not you have to worry about neighbors, and what maintains a safe sanitary area. I would strongly encourage all folks looking to move into a tiny house or small house with “alternative waste solutions” to use a Lovable Loo (the bucket and chuck it) for a week or so to see what sort of effort they are willing to put into waste disposal and if they can transition from a water tank toilet effectively.

  7. et

    I’ve lived off and on for years with an outhouse. Given a choice I don’t want a toilet in my house. A shower or bath would be nice, tho.
    I have a narrow storage space with a door that opens outwards if I ever need to set up my tiny house with a bucket/composting system.

    Don’t forget that many of these options aren’t legal.

    • Carrie

      thanks for the comment! cool to hear what others are doing. I am sure it is better “feng shui” to utilize an outhouse too…

  8. oh my gosh! the kitty litter is HILARIOUS!!! and the “ha ha haaa?” – you should be a stand up comedian!

  9. Lauren Neher

    Lamarr at Simple Solar Homesteading has a bit of a twist to the low tech toilet. He dumps the waste into a “solar” composter with a clear plastic lid that encourages the composting process along tremendously.

  10. Amanda

    Do you think it would be possible to burn the stuff in the wood stove for heat in the winter instead of composting? I have heard about people using dried cow dung as fuel in India.

    • Well maybe. But cows eat grass and once that goes through there system and comes out it dries back into grass. So if you do burn human compost I would only burn it if you eat like cow.
      Shane

  11. M

    So… do you just pee in the bucket as well? Do you somehow separate the urine? Nobody really mentions these specifics :/

    • if you’re asking about the low-tech composting toilets like the “Loveable Loo” yes, it is my understanding that all waste goes into one bucket. Brad Lancaster of Rainwater Harvesting has a very complex composting toilet system that separates the urine. then he adds water to it and pours it directly on landscaping at his Tucson complex. I’ve heard some of the high-tech composting toilets do separate the urine…

      • Erika Eaton

        We have a bucket in the mudroom for me to pee in (my husband just goes outside.) Then we have another bucket outside in an outhouse for pee & poo. We line it with garbage bags & when it’s full, we take it to the city sewage plant. Other people just take it to the dump. I don’t put anything in it besides human waste, but we live in the arctic. The indoor pee bucket can get really stinky though!

  12. Sarah

    Yes you pee and poop in it. Compost heats up better with moisture so it will turn into compost more quickly given more liquid. We have separate 5 gallon buckets for our food scraps and include liquid in that as well, such as outdated mayo, salad dressing, etc. Makes throwing out food that’s gone bad feel ok-its on its way to a new life!

  13. Sarah

    The peat moss idea is intruiging. We use sawdust currently but its a pain to get it (1 hour plus drive to the mill) and the sawdust we got from the mill doesnt absorb like the sawdust we save from our miter saw. Does peat moss soak up well? I have found it to be not so great soaking up the water for seedlings etc. I find there is an inverse relationship between cover material absorbency and volume required for effective cover. We always cover it to no detectable smell, and the amount seems to be less with the very fine dry sawdust compared to the coarse mill dust.

    • debra

      if you have trouble with the saw dust a cheap option is pellet stove wood pellets (saw dust pellets) and they must be the all wood ones. they desinigrate easily and absorb the moisture more easily. They generally only cost ( rounded out and with taxes) about 5$ a bag and these are big bags some are even cheeper. and they work really well as an option, when you can’t get good sawdust.

      • Great suggestion about the pellets! I was paying $5 for a garbage bag of sawdust, and I had to shovel it myself at a local sawmill…

  14. Elisa

    During my journey in being a sponge, this is one of the pieces of information I absorbed and can now happily share with you and your readers ^_^

    • Ken

      I’m curious, what community you live in? I don’t know any around here or elsewhere where this is legal. Out in the country perhaps, but not in any actual town or village. I don’t doubt that they work, I’m just saying most places this would be illegal. We are not even allowed to use household gray water in my community.

      • we have lived in the tiny house in Prescott, AZ in a residential neighborhood, and outside of Santa Fe, NM on 5 acres. alternative toilet options are probably not allowed in towns or cities, unless maybe active composting toilets…

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  17. judy

    The low-tech definitely works. Cheap and easy. Just don’t let your bucket get too full – it gets heavy!

  18. alice h

    Peat moss isn’t a good sustainable choice. If you do a search on its environmental impact you may be surprised.

  19. I actually do use a litterbox for my daughter, who is handicapped and uses a toilet chair next to her bed. She is difficult to move very far, so it is convenient. I had to laugh at your comments, though.

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  21. Jen

    Well I do already have a cat… I wonder if he would mind sharing.

  22. Michael Rudmin

    I’d like to suggest an alternative: a rotating barriers bin that triggers sterilizing heat… then at one location dumps to a outdoor terrarium that grows a variety of plants such as corn, kudzu, asparagus, beans. You harvest and compost the entire plant top as it grows past a certain height. In the top of the terrarium are air ferns. Exhaust from the heating vents thru the air ferns to feed them and eliminate odors.

    • this sounds very cool! not very portable though… and if you’re renting land, it might be a tough sell to the landowners…

    • Do you have any links/schematics to a system like this? I’m building my tiny house on my lot as a permanent structure right behind our vegetable garden. I’d love to create an entire aquaponic composting system and haven’t found a good design. Great idea! Thanks.

      • Michael Rudmin

        No, I have no schematics. It is a suggestion, that’s all. (I’m amazed I stumbled on my post… I’d forgotten it.) I would actually suggest you compile a list of elements to do it… then see how you could arrange them, and then design the rotating chamber to match. Bearings could be taken from high-force casters at lowes. The heating elements could be from a portable stove burner. When you have everything else, then set the heights of everything, and then have a welder produce the turnstile. Then try it out… with a backup system so that you can actually dispose of anything that doesn’t work out.

        I suggest trying it in a shed, where you already have plumbing. Once you know it works, then make two. One is backup, and kept clean in case the other breaks down.

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  25. Alan

    I have used a composting toilet made by E….. for a few years. I hate it. Sure it puts back to the soil & all that but it is very finicky. One thing to know is poop is heavy, then add sphagnum or sawdust and wet it all with pee, and the agitator you are supposed to use after every use, which never happens, would get bogged down by the weight. I had to reach into the tank regularly and rake it. Not a pleasant procedure and if it is humid out the drying process is not complete. And of course when the roaches invaded……well it was really disgusting. I would probably try the Incinolet if I knew more about the liquid part of it. What happens when you have a party and 10 guys are peeing all the time? The cost, well if I had to install a waste treatment tank system, septic tank style, that can be used near the water, that would be several thousand, if approved. I like the option of not pooping and have tried it. Unsuccessfully unfortunately.

    • Haha! I hear you! The incinolet was not great with pee… The little coffee filters you put in would overflow! Really gross when that overflow is then cooked.

      with a sawdust toilet it is best to separate urine way too heavy! – probably true with an incinolet too – remember the 90 minute burn time after each event too! Have to pee in a separate bucket.

      Check out humanure handbook and their composting toilet with pee separator, seems best, and only $200 vs. $1,800 for the incinolet.

  26. Aran@sendan.com

    I live in rural Hawaii in a conventional house with a vast and expensive ($30K) state of the art five years ago conventional State approved, EPA compliant septic system. But I have an interest in building a tiny house – well not that tiny – 12×16 or 192 sq feet. Maybe it would be a guest house or maybe we’d find some agreeable gardening type to help out on the property in exchange for a place to stay. Don’t know.

    It seems to me that a bucket with a lid ought to do the job for one or two people. It should last two or three days especially if an outdoor shower was available for number one. The idea is to add an inlet into waste line feeding into our existing septic system so that the tiny house occupant could conveniently and safely empty their honey bucket.

    I think that what would be good is to have at least two buckets. They should have screw type lids for transport. Lids and seats and such are readily available as camping items. Seem all to use plastic liners that a person sneaks into the trash somewhere. We don’t want to do that.

    Any experience to share on the matter?

    • We do have experience using a “honey bucket”! The bucket was always outside and we used plastic liners and sawdust and took the bags to the dump.

      After using an Incinolet incinerating toilet and a sawdust bucket toilet I have a rekindled appreciation for flushing toilets! They make low flow RV toilets that use very little water, and flushing toilets that have a hand washing sink above the tank so you fill your tank with slightly used water.

      I think you would have to find a very willing person to use a bucket and dump it every 2 days in your septic system…and a male person to pee in an outdoor shower… If you already have a septic system and ample water, and it doesn’t freeze there, I would recommend a flushing toilet in the tiny house, connected to your septic system via an RV pedestal type connection.

      If you’re adamant about a sawdust toilet I would highly recommend building it according to the Humanure Handbook’s design. This involves a closed wooden box (bucket inside) with a toilet seat on top that is vented to the outside (human waste has a lot of moisture, and does not smell good).

      good luck!
      Carrie

      • Aran@sendan.com

        Thanks for your considerate reply. Your points regarding an enclosure for the “honey bucket” and the need for venting are well taken. My current design thoughts involve a free-standing shower/dressing room structure – a mini pool house if you will – that would incorporate an Ecovita separett privy kit. The thought is to place the “honey bucket” on a roll -out (with full extension hardware) so that it could be accessed easily without entering the structure.

        I don’t seeing it being that difficult to tie up a bag, place it in the back of a mini truck, drive 300 yards and place it in the very large rolling trash can that our county sanitation people pick up weekly (using a truck mounted mechanical grabber/dumper).

        The seriously committed could use Bokashi bucket composting for on site processing,

        I suppose it wouldn’t be that difficult to incorporate a porta-potty style urinal into the system. I plan to drain the shower and the diverted urine into a chambered leaching pit. Tying in another line is certainly doable.

        The building site for my tiny house is about 150 feet from the existing septic system and about 40 feet lower in elevation. The technical solution to make the connection would involve a macerator and at least two sewage injectors. I’ve pumped concrete that far and that high with success but do it to poop?

        To wax on philosophically the only thing that I am adamant about is Mom and Apple Pie. Still though I am becoming a firm believer in urine separation. When I last checked my personal equipment I had two entirely separate systems. God and evolution must have made it that way for a good reason.

  27. Carrie,

    You laugh about the kitty litter. We have invented and manufacture The Sanitizer™ Evaporative Toilet that in fact uses kitty litter.

    The Sanitizer™ is a simple, low maintenance, convenient, inexpensive and environmentally safe solution for sanitation. The Sanitizer™ weighs just 45 lbs. and is an odorless, waterless, evaporative toilet. It runs on 110 volts and aside from some minor methane venting it does not need any installation. Just plug The Sanitizer™ in and use it. It has a high capacity. The solids dry and are sanitized for safe, easy disposal in the trash. The liquids evaporate. The Sanitizer eliminates the need to treat toilet water.

    I invite you to visit our website at http://www.CUAProducts.com to learn more.

    Cordially,

    Ted Knight
    Vice President
    Clean Up America, Inc.
    P. O. Box 5169, Arlington, VA 22205
    “Join the revolution in human sanitation!”
    http://www.CUAProducts.com
    703 532 2210

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