The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Composting toilet second story

Discussing the composting toilet

Composting toilet back doorWhen Mark got home, he had some great suggestions for making the first phase of our composting toilet system more ergonomic.

His biggest concern was that my straw bales on the downhill side would drift out of place (or get torn apart when Lucy heard a mouse inside), resulting in a landslide of humanure.

That sounded pretty terrible, so I was glad Mark also had a suggested solution --- screwing some two by fours on as a temporary retaining wall between the compost and the straw bales.  By using screws, it'll be easy to remove the wall in two years once the bin has filled and mellowed and is ready to hit the garden.

While he was at it, Bradley added a shorter wall for the sawdust storage compartment to make sure we don't lose too much of our precious carbon, while still making it easy to scoop out bucketsful to bring upstairs.

Sawdust trap door

Trap door "And about that sawdust storage compartment," Mark added.  "How exactly are we going to get sawdust into it if there's a floor over top?"

Bradley had an ingenious solution there, turning the central floor into a trap door by setting decking boards on a ledge of other boards.  The floor feels very solid when you walk on it, but the boards are easy to move to the side so we can pour sawdust directly into the central bin.

Lip uphill

StepsMark's last concern was that rain might cause runoff to roll down the hill during heavy storms and wash under the compost bins, causing lots of seepage.  A lip on the uphill side of the compartments should serve to channel the water away.

Toilet box

Meanwhile, Bradley was busy putting the second story on top of the composting bins.  He built a beautiful set of steps without risers (just like the second set he made for Mark's porch) and constructed a very sturdy box for us to sit on.  (We'll close in the sides with plywood once we rustle some up.)

Open air outhouseTo keep the open air effect that Mark and I both enjoy, Bradley chose to make a low privacy wall in the front and a slightly higher wall in the back.  The composting toilet faces away from our core homestead, so there's next to no chance someone will accidentally walk around to the front while doing other tasks.

Mark had the great idea to pin a brown tarp up around the walls rather than using plywood since the tarp will likely last longer.  We don't have the tarp yet --- that's on the shopping list.

What you also can't see (because it doesn't yet exist) is the roof.  Bradley's going to make that free-standing and large enough to keep the straw bales in the back dry.  We've got enough scrap tin lying around that we should be able to build the roof without any extra purchased supplies.

Second story

Here's the second story so far.  We hope to finish it next week around the same time the driveway dries up enough to allow us to haul in sawdust and straw.  I think I'm going to have to put "anticipating using your open air composting toilet for the first time" onto my list of characteristics that brand the permaculture redneck.

Our automatic chicken waterer keeps the flock healthy with unlimited clean water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Anna the new composting toilet looks great. Iwill be interested in your future reports.
Comment by mona Fri Sep 21 08:49:42 2012
Mona --- I'll definitely keep everyone posted with successes and failures. Hopefully they'll all be successes, but who knows.... :-)
Comment by anna Fri Sep 21 09:16:42 2012
Ha! I've not being following this particular topic but when I read the title I just had to come read about the second story on your composting toilet. I am glad to see my original thought of a two story facility was WRONG.
Comment by Heath Fri Sep 21 11:14:07 2012
Heath --- Perhaps not the best way to describe it.... :-)
Comment by anna Fri Sep 21 11:51:28 2012

I saw a composting toilet on a second floor on the University of British Columbia's in the C.K. Choi building that my professor had built. They just offset the toilets from one floor to the next and have the composting system in the basement. Obviously not what your building but it can be done.

In finding the link I was disheartened to see they stopped using the composting system last year and started shipping it to the landfill...

In regards to drainage: Digging a shallow trench (similar to what is done when camping) on the uphill side to help the water drain around the toilets may be an option to consider if you don't want too many nutrients to leach downhill.

Comment by Brian Fri Sep 21 13:50:08 2012
Comment by Heath Fri Sep 21 14:04:45 2012
I learned the other day that in Edo Japan people were actually paid for their waste, since they didn't have the livestock necessary to fertilize their crops. Samurai received more payment for their waste because their better diet meant it was of higher quality (More protein = more nitrogen?).
Comment by BeninMA Fri Sep 21 15:10:20 2012

Brian --- That's funny --- I was thinking about that exact design as being a possibility while out weeding after reading Heath's comment. Very sad that the composting system was ended.

Bradley suggested a similar ditch --- I think you're both right, that it would be a good extra insurance against runoff!

Heath --- That's pretty funny. :-)

BeninMA --- In Farmers of Forty Centuries, the author writes about roadside outhouses built specifically to "trap" organic matter from travelers. Even though it's not humanure, I was amazed by the amount of money the author of Ten Acres Enough spent on organic matter. Clearly, other cultures and times have known the value much more than we do now. Good to add your samurai data point!

Comment by anna Fri Sep 21 15:58:47 2012

I'm looking forward to seeing how this works for you. We are considering options without a drain field. And a system like this is in consideration.

I don't understand a tarp lasting longer than plywood though. And it may even cost more. Maybe I'm missing something.

Best of luck with success!

Comment by Arthur T Sat Sep 22 09:30:46 2012

Arthur --- Good idea to wait and learn from our mistakes. :-)

I'm not sure I agree on the tarp either, but Mark and Bradley seemed to think it made sense, so I figured it wouldn't hurt.

Comment by anna Sat Sep 22 10:27:27 2012
so my farm has had a composting outhouse for 5 yrs now, and we have had no problems what so ever. it was a hard sell at first, with having to slog through snow and rain here in WV, but it has really been a joy. we are now developing a water collection system that will collect rain water from the roof of our outhouse into a rain barrel, and then overflow/ feed a hose system on the roof for hot water that will run into the outhouse, so we can wash our hands in hot water while out there-- that's been the only issue, is that nobody likes the alcohol sanitizers vs the real thing. i strongly recommend readiong the humanure handbook,a nd checking out the british show, it aint east being green, both of which were invaluable resources.
Comment by harmony Wed Sep 26 15:23:24 2012

Harmony --- I'd love to hear more about the design of your composting toilet!

I read and enjoyed The Humanure Handbook. Even though our design is a lot different from his, I'm still taking Jenkins' experiences into account.

We don't mind going back to the house to wash our hands --- that's what we do now with the outhouse, and it's no big deal. I might eventually do some rainwater collection and a sink just for summer hand-washing, but that would be icing on the cake.

Comment by anna Wed Sep 26 18:56:58 2012
I was wondering what the effects of this particular contraption on the plant life. I wanted to know would it increase the success of my farm and if it would be hazardous to our well?
Comment by Nicki Sun Nov 10 20:51:59 2013

Nicki --- I'm not sure what you're asking with your first question --- do you mean when you apply the compost to plants later or whether the structure will affect nearby plants? If the latter, I'd say it would be a lot like a compost pile --- you'd see more growth right beside it. People often plant flowers in spots like that so they don't have to worry about contamination, but can enjoy seeing the growth.

You never want to put any kind of manure near your well (and that includes pastures of all sorts too). Generally, I believe, the rule of thumb is at least 50 feet away, or at least 100 feet away if you put the manure uphill of the well. (It can run further downhill than uphill.) The same rules apply if you're locating a composting toilet or pasture near a body of water.

Comment by anna Mon Nov 11 08:15:38 2013

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