Tiny Toilets

by andrewodom on September 13, 2010 · 9 comments


Since hitting the road nearly a week ago now Crystal and I have collectively taken approximately 9 showers and used the commode roughly 39 times. (I have a very small bladder.) Save about six trips to the tree next to our pop-up at the James Island site we used the facilities in the community washroom. This led to a couple of conversations about toilet option in the tiny house. I am sure we aren’t the first to contemplate such an issue but when you have virtually no experience using anything other than the traditional, indoor, commode, the thought of using a composting or even incinerating toilet can be a touch frightening. It seems though that 3-4 things need to be considered when choosing a toilet for the tiny house.

  1. Building Codes and Zoning Laws. Our tiny house as well as most others, I think, will be spending 90% of its life in a stationary position rather than on the road. Therefore, we should consider a toilet that functions well within such a context. We know we will have access to municipal water and sewage on our land.
  2. RV or Marine Toilets for Full-Time Use. I have used a total of 3 RV commodes in my life. The most recent being in the last two years. I have not felt that either of the three was adequate and supported my weight. They appeared almost completely plastic and had parts such as flush handles and foot pedals that were flimsy and small. I would like to think that larger, more expensive RVs such as 40′ motor coaches and land yachts had much more substantial units. But because I don’t normally hang out in such homes I don’t have much point of reference. This says nothing about the look either. Just because we are choosing to live on a small scale does NOT mean we have to live void of style or class. I don’t like the look of plastic. I don’t believe in the creation of or short life cycle of plastic and certainly don’t want something as such in my house. Granted they are probably plastic so as to stand up to road conditions and the occasional use of the RV lifestyle, I still don’t think they could handle day-to-day use for any long amount of time.
  3. Size Restrictions. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a toilet. There are different bowl lengths, different widths, different heights, etc. We are going to have to measure the total space available for both the toilet and a person sitting on such as well as the rough-in space, or how far the center of the toilet bowl is from the finished wall. We also have to consider the size of the toilet trapway. That is the part of the toilet through which the water and waste exit. The minimum standard allows waste with a diameter of 1.5 inches to pass through. To avoid clogging we may want to think about a larger diameter.
  4. Price. We don’t have $1000 to spend on a toilet. In fact, our budget will allow for about a $120 commode (unless we choose to go with a composting unit in which we will have to totally reevaluate our budget to accomodate such an investment.) A plastic RV toilet is not worth the money you would spend. A completely ceramic may not be the eco-friendly solution we are looking for either and may not at all answer the problem of the 10% we will be traveling in our tiny house.

And if those considerations weren’t enough, I still have not yet begun to truly weigh the pros and cons of “alternative” toilets. That just seems like a lot to wrap my head around right now.

Have you used an RV toilet for any amount of time? Did you feel like it was as good as a more solid, ceramic, indoor, unit?

  • http://twitter.com/Leedalton1 Lee Dalton

    How about a seperate composting toilet on your land, with a portable ‘cassette’ type toilet for when you are on the road.
    Best of both worlds perhaps, as it frees up some space in the house.

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

      Thanks for speaking up Lee. You raise a good point and one that my wife and I have casually thrown around. A composting toilet on the land in a bit of an “outhouse” seems like a good idea but knowing the autumn and winter season here…well, it could get quite a bit cold not just in walking to and fro but while in the commode.

      We are still weighing a lot of options for the Tiny Toilet. Your idea is as worth as any! Thank you.

      • Anonymous

        It need not be so far away, you could have it the right hight to park the tiny house next to, and have a doorway through to it. This would make it almost a part of it, but seperate, if you see what I mean ?

        • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

          I do see what you mean. I am curious as to what my wife thinks about this. It might even be neat to make a larger outhouse that is connected by a bit of a “dog walk” or covered hallway that leads into a bathroom that would have a toilet, bathtub, etc. Interesting, indeed.

          What do you think of that idea and if implemented, would you still go composting and then cassette when on the road?

          Do you think this takes away from the overall portability of the Tiny House?

          • http://leedalton.wordpress.com Leedalton

            I think that a composting toilet, with a reed bed is a really neat way of dealing with waste, naturally. Having a 6’x6′ or 6′ x 8′ “bathroom” linked to the side would make it more useable I suspect. Cassette has to be the easiest way to deal with it on the road, with a camping style shower tent. You could throw a solar shower container onto the roof of the tiny house for a couple of hours to warm the water up before you use it.
            Obviously having the seperate bathroom does make it seem less portable, but does give you the best of both worlds. Tiny living looks great, but I think the bathroom is something that needs to be practical more than it needs to be small.

          • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

            You raise some great points. Here is what we are thinking ultimately. We do need to wash clothes at some point (especially because our land has no natural water such as a pond, lake, etc). This uses electricity, water, and requires some space. The former two can be dealt with off-grid. The space though must be secure and weather-proof. We are thinking of a small bathroom in the Tiny House for the initial project. Then upon expansion (should that happen) we would create a linked space that would have a nice bathroom with full facilities and also house the washer/dryer.

            We are also now talking loosely about water holding and grey water / black water usage in the Tiny House for complete portability.

          • http://leedalton.wordpress.com Leedalton

            If you go down the linked space idea, your waste water from the washer/dryer could be fed into the reed bed, to be recycled naturally as long as you dont use heavy detergents. The water can then be pumped back out once cleansed and used to water the garden/vegetables.
            You could incorporate a rainwater harvesting system on the sides of the tiny house and the extension, with a water tank stored under the extension, DIY water treatment systems are not horribly expensive, and would allow you to use that water for the washer/dryer and showers/toilet flushing.

            Water storage within the tiny house would increase your weights significantly though wouldnt it ? Certainly another 1000-2000lbs if your looking to be mobile for any great length of time.
            For washing, an outside shower on your rear balcony with a wrap around screen could offer a solution. You can also get here in the UK (I guess you must get them in the USA) a tabletop washing machine, http://www.busyoutdoors.com/shop/waste-water/portable-washing-machine/prod_613.html
            This could be a neat solution for when you are on the move.

          • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

            Are you reading my mind Leedalton? When talking about the grey water / black water system in Tiny House we are talking about the shower and sink(s) draining into some sort of container that would have a spigot attached. When opened that spigot would feed our soaker hoses (gravity fed, ideally) into some raised beds. We were thinking of a 30 gallon for now. Again, that issue is just now making it onto the conversation table.

            As for showering, in the warm months we outdoor shower. Earlier this summer we built a solar heated shower and loved sever second of it and intend on using it on our new land. Check out the blogs about it:

            http://anotherkindofdrew.com/blog/?p=2868
            http://anotherkindofdrew.com/blog/?p=2873
            http://anotherkindofdrew.com/blog/?p=2877
            http://anotherkindofdrew.com/blog/?p=2881

  • rob

    I would be afraid that the ceramic toilet would possibly crack due to being jostled around while the tiny home is in transit.

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