Living off the grid is a romantic notion to most of us—the silence of nature, the tastiness of fresh fruit, and the peace of isolation. However, one not-so-romantic element of off-grid life is where the human waste goes. That’s right: we are talking about toilets. One of the best ways to embrace a sustainable lifestyle is investing in a composting toilet. You may be asking: “But how do composting toilets for tiny houses work?” We have created an essential guide to composting toilets for tiny house living!
What is a Composting Toilet?
First and foremost: a composting toilet is not an outhouse. You can have an almost entirely regular toilet space while owning a composting toilet.
The average person flushes the toilet about five times a day. Multiply five by every day of the year, and with a bit of extra math, you waste 3,650 gallons of water per year.
Rather than wasting all of this water, a composting toilet will collect human waste and turn it into compost. A composting toilet will take solid human waste (yes, we are talking about poop) and create an oxygen-rich environment to break down bacteria in the waste. Once that is complete, you will have excellent compost to use in flower beds, as mulch, around trees, enrich your fruits and vegetable garden, and a lot more. This natural process is exceptionally good for the environment, especially compared to traditional flush toilets.
How Does It Work?
These natural toilets can use either a self-contained or central system. A self-contained composting toilet has detachable bins for liquid and solid waste. Generally, a self-contained system has to be emptied by hand. This is the most popular style of composting toilets for tiny home and RV owners.
A central system is also known as a bi-level system. The toilet is on the bathroom floor, and the composter is usually below the floor or in an adjacent space. A central system option is generally chosen over self-contained because of its more extensive volume and more time between maintenance. If you live in your tiny-home full time, a central system may be more practical for day-to-day living, but require you to expand your home.
Whichever you choose for your tiny home, the appropriate environment is needed to break down the waste material. The proper climate involves maintaining a suitable temperature, moisture level, and carbon-nitrogen balance.
If the composting toilet is too wet, it will drown the bacteria trying to compost the waste. So the system must be kept moist but not wet. An excellent way to aid this process is to utilize a separate container for liquid waste, particularly in self-contained toilets. Disposing of liquid waste will help the nitrogen level stay low. Liquid waste is just as good of fertilizer as solid waste – so go ahead and spread that around your plants too! Additionally, adding carbon-rich materials like coconut fiber can help keep things in balance in central systems.
Lastly, the bacteria best survive in temperatures between 60-100 degrees. Many composting toilets include a thermostat, but some models include sensors, automatic mixers, or other materials to maintain the three proper elements.
What Does It Look Like?
Do not fear – your tiny home’s bathroom does not need to look like an outhouse to have a composting toilet. The folks designing these toilets are continually improving their composting designs to make your bathroom look more familiar to traditional homes.
Will a Composting Toilet Make a Tiny Home Smell Bad?
No! If you follow the proper directions when building and maintaining your natural toilet, you will have limited to no problems with smell. Generally, if there is an odor, it smells like mulch or wood rather than human waste. As with all areas of cleaning in tiny home living, be sure to keep up with the maintenance of your composting toilet regularly to avoid any issues building up.
Can You Flush Toilet Paper in a Composting Toilet?
Yes! You do not need to purchase any particular types of toilet paper for your sustainable toilet. The system can break down toilet paper in the same way it breaks down human waste and make it usable for compost. In general, it is still considered best to use a single-ply toilet paper, but not a requirement.
Why Should You Choose a Composting Toilet Over a Septic Tank?
For a long time, septic tanks were the standard for tiny homes. The goal of a septic tank is to treat waste to prevent cross-contamination with your freshwater. Unfortunately, they are highly-regulated and challenging to use. Additionally, septic tanks are expensive and not easy to fix when something goes wrong. If something goes wrong with a composting toilet, you simply have a smelly mess. With a septic tank, you have disastrous cross-contamination of water. Installing a septic tank on your property will cost somewhere between $3,000-$9,000.
Are Composting Toilets Expensive?
Installing a sustainable toilet costs about $600 but can be upward of $1,000 depending on the model. So at the end of the day, composting toilets will be more expensive than a traditional home’s toilet. However, a composting toilet is an excellent option for your tiny house if you are genuinely passionate about sustainable living.
When all is said and done, a composting toilet is incredibly natural and beneficial to the environment. A composting toilet saves copious amounts of water and creates highly effective natural fertilizer for plants and gardens. Unfortunately, a composting toilet is a financial investment that is more expensive than a traditional toilet. However, if one is truly passionate about sustainable living, it is an excellent option for a tiny home. A self-contained composting toilet will serve most needs, but a central system is a bit less maintenance if you are willing to put in the extra work. We hope you found this a helpful post and you are inspired to consider a composting toilet for your tiny home!