Living with a compost toilet for 2 years and we have a few tricks that work for our budget, lifestyle, and overall peace of mind! Here are just a couple of many tips on using a compost toilet, the media to use, and how to keep it dry while traveling! Now….I gotta go clean the shitter….. 🙂
The bathroom was a bit complex bc I wanted a shower that was comfortable for Crab to stand in, comfortable to use the large compost toilet, and have room to put in the American Made RV water heater we decided to go with, Precision Temp’s RV 550. The size of the bathroom was adjustable at this point, but we went with interior measurements of 32″ deep (The exterior depth was the same as the bunkroom located on one side of the bathroom) x 70″ long. (Measured with the corrugated metal we used as the paneling). Exterior length down the bus, the bathroom measures 77″. The shower pan was 32″x32″ from Home Depot. Remember, we ran our electrical after we built because we had no idea what the space would really look like or how it would function really until we built it. Total Newbies!:)
We painted all of the framing wood in the bathroom with Red Guard. Thus was suggested by a contractor We met. He swears by it. It paints on pepto bismol pink, but dries a red plastic covering over whatever you paint. So if water ever gets through, it will save the wood at least! We then used galvanized corrugated metal as the walls and used hex head screws with rubber washers to help seal where we had to install. I used a clear silicone to caulk the seams.in the shower and where the wall met the ceiling.
We had to cut a hole in the side of the bus to install the tankless water heater and allow it to vent properly. Well we cut it too big….and then hung a piece of metal to cover the mess up lol. We had some experience with metal work so this part no longer seemed so scary and daunting. Confidence was building:) We actually felt good about making a hole in the bus. Wowza…
The Plumbing for the shower looked like this:
After much research on youtube and seeing how people liked their composting toilets, we decided to not build a black water tank and just use a compost toilet! The Nature’s Head was what we decided on, as it was really the only one I could find! I wrote an article The Dirty Rotten Truth About Compost Toilets for an in depth look at how I like ours.
We positioned it in the corner of the bathroom so we would have space to sit comfortably, and be able to vent it properly, and plug it in to a power source so the small fan inside runs to keep it from being stinky.
Plumbing Propane: (link to full article coming soon!)
This happened towards the end of the build when we were finished with the propane “cage” we fabricated at the rear of the bus on the extension we also built on. This way, we knew exactly the distance and we were just measuring, cutting, and flaring. We had our great Mentor, Robbie, to show us how to do a double flarethat was perfect (we had a lot of re-dos doing the flare at first, but it is very important it is done without having cracks or uneven edges on the flare). A double flare is RV standard for double safety, basically, you can find this out on a google search. However, a single flare will do the trick, but if you already have the Flaring kit, you might as well do a double and be safe. (If you do this, have someone look at it that approves. Try a heating/cooling business, A/C repair. You can even have a licensed propane inspector check it out. Might cost $100 but its worth it if you are not sure. )
We ran copper piping from the propane cage we built underneath the bus up through the floor underneath the water heater. Underneath the bus, right underneath the water heater, we “T”ed a connection to also connect the RV refrigerator to propane since we bought a 2 way by Norcold (info on that in a future article) and it was just a few feet away on the same side of the bus.
And since we are talking about propane, lets talk safety. NO BUILD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SAFETY. At every connection (2) inside of the bus, I have a Propane Sensor on the ground (PROPANE IS HEAVY AND WILL DROP TO THE GROUND NOT FLOAT) connected 12 V to the SOLAR battieries and they are on 24/7. That is not to say that spraying febreze or other chemical wont’s set off the sensors…that has happened…but I know they work! We also put on and off valves inside underneath the water heater and fireplace so we could turn off the propane easily in here without going outside.
Also, we wrapped our copper in foam insulation so that it would not rub against anything underneath the bus. REMEMBER VIBRATION IS YOUR ENEMY. ALWAYS THINK OF HOW THINGS WILL VIBRATE or TWIST while bumping down the road! And things move! We also attached the foam covered pipe with metal hangers securely to the frame of the bus with TEK metal screws.
Crab built a box to cover the plumbing, propane, and water heater and I put a basket on top of it for an air freshener, lotion, and TP holding area. We also trimmed around the bottom of the box and the doorways! We should have gotten a type of cover for the top, stone or wood, but we always keep our eyes open for something to add later.
I use a friend’s old shoe organizer to organize our bathroom necessities. With 3 girls and guy that shaves his head, there are quite a few pockets filled with feminine hygiene, extra soap, razor blades from dollar shave club, sunscreen, face and hair masks, all of our toothpaste and brushes…etc. It works Great!
We have a curtain for privacy when showering that we tuck behind the organizer when no one is in their. I also orginally had a towel hanger there but it was in the way a lot so it was removed and we have since found another place for towels.
DRAIN LINES: (another article coming)
When it came to installing the drain lines, again, this was something never done before. We read the lines should hang at a 1/4″ slant all the way to the end. This lets gravity do its job. So we used some of these awesome metal straps with holes in them (we used these for lots of stuff and hanging things) to hang the 1″ PVC from the sink drain under the bus to the shower, all the way to the rear of the bus to the Gray water tank we installed at a later time while on the road (that will be in the future drain line article).
A Look Back:
The Rv550 has worked decently the last almost 2 years. Here are the issues we had. The first time we installed it, the face that goes on the outside of the bus didnt really fit.
The company has great customer support. They sent us a new one, no issues. After about 8 months and tracking from Texas to Washington then down to Cali, the water heater sprung a leak shooting water down the outside side of the bus. At least it wasn’t inside. The company sent us another new one, took back the old one, all paid for. It just sucked to have to deal with. Over a year later we traveled from Cali to Arizona and have been exploring the state, no issues. It is hard to find the correct setting for how hot you need it, and lately the hose being in the sun is enough to get the perfect temp shower lol. If it craps again, though, and isn’t covered with the warranty I want to take out the box Crab made to cover it, and install an Eco Temp or other style I have seen other skoolie/tinyhousers use. And we will get some floor space back in the bathroom which would be a cool change:).
I never ever thought I would be supportive of using a composting toilet. Not that I have bias towards or against it…I just never thought of it. When we started researching how we were going to build #ChittyBang we definitely wanted a way around a black water septic. We wanted it more self sufficient than that. So we researched some other rv’ers/tiny housers who made the move to Composting Toilets, and amazingly enough it was legit.
People loved their compost toilets! People were making their own compost toilets. We had the money to spend, and I wanted something easy because I was learning enough about building a house out of a bus to keep me busy for years! So we purchased the Natures Head Composting Toilet for around $900. We are not being paid for this review by Natures Head and it is all based on our own experiences installing and using this toilet. This Composting toilet is all self contained, has a separate spot for urine and solids so that way they do not mix (keeps the smell from going all porta potty-ish), has a handle outside to turn the soil and solids, a small vent fan to pull fresh air through and out into an included vent hose that you vent outside via floor or wall, and you never worry about black water systems!! We chose the toilet with the Spider Handle Design because it looked like it would be better for your hand and was best for tight spaces. I am happy to say I love that option. They do offer another handle though as well 🙂
Not difficult at all. If you are a DIYer, this will be no problemo. Since we had to manufacture all of our holes in our bus, We had to drill a hole in the floor to stick the vent tube (comes with toilet) into it, I then stapled a screen to the bottom side of that hole via construction stapler so no bugs can come in. I just used a staple gun to secure it underneath the bus and then caulked the edges. Next you install the two side brackets the toilet will be secured to. These keep it from moving in travel and use, and easily unscrews (by hand, nice sized knobs) on each side for solids emptying.
But what about the smell from the solids?
To be honest, as long as you have the right amount of medium in the bottom of the solids container, and only add more medium after a few solids uses, turn the handle after each use, and keep the solids hatch closed while you are going #1, you are totally good. The only time it ever stinks is if the liquid and solids mix. Ways to prevent this are to dispose of your toilet paper separately instead of in the toilet. Also, park level or at least where the urine can go into the proper tank and not into the solids tank. Some compost toilet users will put a piece of wood under the back side to tilt it to make sure the urine flow correctly.
What kind of medium do you use for the solids container?
From my experience, Peat Moss and Coco Core have worked the best and each can be found on Amazon. The Peat Moss is cheaper at Home Depot and you get more. 1- 3 cubic feet bag of peat moss ($13 or less) will last us about 3 months. Coco Core is the newest medium I am experimenting with. I found a 10 lb. compacted brick of Coco Core for $15 on Amazon. So far, it has lasted a month and a half and prob will last another month and a half. I carry a 5 gallon Home Depot bucket to keep my “ready” medium in, and the extra in the original bag or I will put a trash bag over it to keep from spilling. The bucket keeps the medium dry and alows me to store it right behind the front of the bus tire or in the back of the truck without worry.
Do not try Planting Soil! Just don’t! We had ran out of peat moss and could not find it anywhere, so we ended up using Planting Soil. Big Mistake. It was like mud. I made the solids container smell sour, so I dumped and got Soil Conditioner. The texture was more like peat moss, but the chemicals in it made it have a weird smell. I dealt with it because locally there were no other options, until I decided to go on Amazon and order some Peat Moss, but just 1 cubic foot was $20+ dollars! I received it and used it anyway, and by the time I needed more, we were in an environment that sold it locally for much cheaper.
Does the Urine Container Stink?
Occasionally there is a smell from the pee container, but a splash of vinegar solves that quickly.
You can buy additional urine containers and they do come with a screw on lid. I guess if you don’t want to empty it right away, this would be a good option for the winter. We use just the one it came with for now, but I did order an extra for just in case this one is damaged ever or if we need to just let it dry in the sun a few days. The leftover urine will dry and flake off and you can just shake it out from there.
How often do you have to empty it?
Urine container with 4 people, once a day, usually every morning. Solids container once every 4-7days. I think that since we have 3 girls, we use more TP…lol so every family is different:) We have also changed our diet while using the compost toilet and as we became healthier, the less often I had to empty it.
What about emptying the poop out into a bag?
Yes…it is super gross mentally. But honestly, there is not a smell if you do the soil:solids ratio right and it mostly looks like soil. I use a trash bag and gloves! Unhook the toilet from the floor (2 screws), take vent and plug for fan out, carry toilet outside…about 15 lbs when its full I think. Unhook the top of the toilet from the base, Slip the trashbag over the top of the solids base, turn it over, and bang it out into the bag. Then we place the bag in the big dumpster at our rv spot. Seriously, the flies didn’t even go near the bag! Think about all of the diapers in our landfills, baby and elderly and hospitalized people. Maybe that will help with any mental roadblocks you may have with it. It helped me!
Do you have to use the RV type toilet paper?
No. At least we do not! I use the softest TP with lavender smell (charmin!) I can find. Why? Because I appreciate those small conveniences in life and I have not noticed any issues with it in out compost toilet system. The lavender helps freshen the space too!
Does it use electricity?
Yes. 12 volt or 110. I bought the DC adapter seperately and I plug it directly into my bathroom outlet. Or wire it with the plug it comes with directly to your bus or house batteries. The small pc fan inside the housing of the toilet uses very little electricity to pull that fresh air through the toilet and out the vent. You can wire it directly to your house batteries, or buy the transformer here to easily plug it in (that is what we did!).
The company has been awesome! My little fan for my toilet became loose and stopped working, so I emailed them. They sent me two replacement fans for free 🙂 So I found out you get FREE REPLACEMENT FANS FOR LIFE! It was all in the housing unit, so the switch was as easy as two screws! No worries with this product’s warranty at all 🙂
Can your kids do this chore?
Yes. But this depends on every family. My eldest takes out the pee container. Eventually she can do the whole toilet, but I don’t mind doing it and I like to make sure it is fully cleaned.
What is cleaning it like?
The toilet actually comes with a small spray bottle you can keep vinegar or soapy water in. Every time I dump the solids, I end the job with cleaning the outside of it with bleach (I feel better using bleach) including the handles, clamps, everything. The toilet seat is bleached too. I clean the top of the toilet (the bowl you sit on) with gloves at this time too, but I also do this if it gets dirty after use in the house. Everyone knows it is their job to clean their own mess. This happens very rarely though.
The Natures Head Compost Toilet is a great investment for those wanting to boon dock, not have to deal with a black water tank, or live out in the woods. I seriously would not mind having this as a permanent solution for our future homestead…but time will tell:)
Their free fans for life is great. I have used this 3 times. I like to have 1 on hand and I am down to 1 currently, but they are pretty punctual. It normally takes 7-14 days to get them. So have one on hand at least.
Until Then, Happy Flushing to you Modern Folks… *heehee*
-After caring for other human beings and animals on a homestead, from poop messes to full blown vomit…adult and child… taking care of and cleaning this toilet is not crazy. If you don’t think you can do it, even after researching, don’t! Everyone has their own limits of comfortability, which is what building your own home is all about:D It is prob easier to just go with the black water first and then take it off later if you want to go compost option.