Compost Toilet in Suburbia (Update)

So we’re about 8 days into the compost toilet experiment, and I can report that the Humanure method of collecting your waste is extremely well received. I have had waste in the bucket inside the house now for over a week (here’s the original post.) There is absolutely NO smell to it. It’s really quite remarkable. It makes you wonder why all of suburbia doesn’t just use this method. If you have a spot to compost somewhere on your lot, it would save the average household a LOT of water and give you ongoing, great compost for your flowerbeds or garden…etc. I guess water isn’t expensive enough yet. Ha!

Anyway, what a great system for off grid living. That is one challenge overcome. On to the million other challenges.

I’m still experimenting with my water catchment system. I’ll post some pictures and perhaps a video, soon.

One of the ways I’m looking at building out the mini basement (inside crawlspace for the kids to play in, under the house) is to use ICF forms. These are relatively inexpensive, great for insulation, awesome for below grade use (below ground level) and is really, really simple to construct. I think I’ll use them to build the crawlspace area, up to where the first floor joists will hang, and then assess it from there. They are more expensive than just using traditional stick framing so I’m not sure if I’ll use them for the entire shell of the house. But they’re darn near unbeatable for below grade walls. So, I’ll definitely use them for the crawlspace “stem” wall. Then I’ll see if I want to continue and just build the entire structure out of ICF. We’ll see.

Cabin update…after a LOT of thought and planning and mulling over things… we’ve decided to build a 14′ x 14′ structure, with a full second story (no loft overlook.) So, the official footprint size will be 196 sg ft. But the upstairs will be about 172 sq ft of usable, open space. Then we’ll have a flat roof that can be used as a roof deck.

Of course, I say all this but then I’ll probably keep changing the plan until the last nail is in place. I just want it to be exactly what we need for the second cabin. No more, no less.

My HOPE is to break ground sometime in Oct. But you know what they say about the best laid plans….

Composting Toilet in Suburbia

I have embarked upon a grand experiment. I have set up a “Humanure” composting toilet here in the bathroom closest to my office.

It’s about the simplest set up there is. Some peat moss (purchased from Home Depot) and two buckets. One to hold the peat moss and one to do your business in.

I used a Home Depot (no offense to Home Depot) for the defecating receptacle and I got an aluminum bucket to hold the peat moss. The metal bucket seals quite nicely, so there is no smell of peat moss in the bathroom (although peat moss smells pleasant.) I want the air to be nice and clear so if there is any lingering odors from the Humanure toilet, I want to know.

I did put a plastic garbage bag liner in the orange bucket to facilitate easy handling of the waste. I actually just got some compostable plastic bags in the mail today, after I set up the toilet. So, I will use that after I empty the current “batch”.

The pictures inside the defecation bucket, below, is pictured prior to any human deposits. What you see at the bottom is the first layer of peat moss you’re supposed to put down before starting a new batch of waste.

So far, I can report, it works. Haley has done a #1 in it and I have added #1 and #2. That was approximately 2 hours or so ago. There is no smell in that bathroom, whatsoever. After doing your business, you’re supposed to cover the deposit with a generous layer of peat moss. That’s it. NO WATER. Actually, if you use water, you ruin the effect of the Humanure toilet and it WILL start smelling. There are two ways in which waste is managed. There is anaerobic and aerobic. When we flush our toilet into the sewage, we’re using the anaerobic method. The Humanure system is aerobic, which means air only. No water is inserted into the system until it reaches the compost pile outside, and is exposed to the weather. But by that time, you have it covered with straw and it’s outside. While it’s inside, it is quite non smelly.

One thing I have discovered is, we’ll have to use an actual toilet to sit on. Sitting on the Home Depot bucket, with a compost toilet seat on it, does NOT work well for… um… men. Without going into too much detail, we have parts that don’t fit into the bucket all that well, when they are needed to be pointed in that direction. So, I think we’ll use an actual full sized toilet, but just line the toilet with compostable plastic bags and when it’s ready for emptying, we’ll just take it out and replace it with another bag. And we can store the unused peat moss in the tank that normally holds water behind the toilet. I think that’ll work nicely.

Family reactions to my experiment;

Haley… “Can I use it? PLEASE??”
Zoe… “What? Why? Huh? Mom, can I do your hair?”
Mom… Look of extreme disgust at the mention of it and refuses to talk about it. Ha!

I’ll update you on this experiment as it unfolds.

Part 2 of this post

Off Grid Advice – Expert Opinions

Shows where our new mini cabin location will be compared to the main cabin spot and I threw in the zip line location so you can see that too.

If you check out our Facebook page (link on our front page), you’ll see I posted some photos and videos of the property yesterday. We took a trip during the holiday weekend.

The main reason for the trip was to consult with someone (Ken) who knows a lot about the area, about building stuff, about the land, and water and sewage and, well… he’s just knowledgeable.

We’ve had 3 different spots in mind for the mini cabin and what we finally came up with was yet another spot. Best laid plans….

Some things I’ve determined based on my consult with Ken, are:

  1. I need to place the pier footings about 30 inches down, just to be on the safe side from a frost heave perspective. He said 18″ to 24″ would be fine. And my piers will be well within the interior of the home’s imaginary borders and I’ll be cladding the underside of the cabin with materials that will help to trap heat under the house. All that combined probably means I could go even shallower. But I’ll probably put about 6″ of pea gravel in a 30″ hole so the pier blocks will rest at the 24″ level. With that, I’ll be confident we’ll have absolutely no problems with front heave.
  2. A septic system is just out of the question. He said it’ll probably cost around $5K. Heck, that’s probably about half what the entire cabin is going to cost. I’m not going to spend that on a septic system. That’s just crazy. So, compost toilet it is. I’ve been reading a LOT on this topic and have come to the conclusion that the Humanure system is simply the best and most simple (and cheapest) system to compost human waste. I bought the book and it is quite detailed in what you need to do in order for the system to work well (with no smell…etc.) If you can weed through the sanctimonious “save the world” speeches, it does have some good practical information.
  3. A well is also out of the question. Ken said if he had to take a guess, he’s say we’d find water around 300 ft down. That translates into about $10K. Again, that’s just crazy when it falls free from the sky. Even if we had to truck in all our water, we wouldn’t hit $10K of usage for 4 or 5 years. And I’m pretty sure we can get about 50% to 100% of our water needs from the sky. (We’ll see what that ends up being.)
  4. Rocks are no problem. Ken said he wouldn’t be too concerned with rock slides on our hill. He said, at the most, just put up a retaining wall to block some more worrisome rocks in the event one becomes dislodged. But the slope is such that even if one came down, it would come down fairly slowly. But with where we’re going to put the the mini cabin, there is really no rock danger anyway. So, the question was mainly for any fort activity we build for the kids, into the hillside, than for the cabin.
  5. Great building season. The part of Arizona our land is in has a year ’round building season. He said the first frost doesn’t come until around mid Oct and it’s mostly really nice weather all the way through Thanksgiving. Even the winters, although can be a little cold, are not bad at all for building. Very little moisture to get in the way…etc. So, that’ll be nice to not be hampered for months on end due to the weather. That is completely different than where we moved from, in Oregon. Ha!

So I have many of my preliminary questions out of the way. My blueprints are at the drafter’s office. He’s tweaking the plans to my specifications. Once we get that finalized, it’s off to the county for a permit. That will take about 3 weeks, give or take. Then I hope to be breaking ground in mid Oct.

Allison wants to spend Christmas at the cabin. I have some work cut out for me. Ha!

Picture above gives you an idea of where our mini cabin will be (the newly picked spot) compared to where the main cabin will be built. Bonus points… I drew where our zip line will go, too. Just for the fun of it. The zip line will go from about 100 ft above that valley to about 40 feet. It’ll definitely be a heart pumper. (BTW.. this drawing is not to scale. The cabins will appear smaller if they were actually in the pictures.)