Tiny Houses and the crap that goes with them

by andrewodom on April 29, 2011 · 26 comments


When you make the decision to abandon the traditional sticks and bricks method of Americana living decision become much more difficult and less tested than you can even believe. Between how to get a certificate of occupancy to gaining space on the electrical grid for your tiny house the territory is unchartered at best. The rules, laws, and codes we have encountered so far are little more than a hot, steaming pile of sh……….and speaking of poop, let’s talk toilets. Perhaps the most unapproached subject in tiny house living, sewage and toilets is just a really stinky situation. For a moment, let’s consider our commode options in the tiny house. We can:

  1. Hook up standard plumbing to either the city sewage or build a septic tank.
  2. Install RV type toilets and holding tanks.
  3. Set up a simple composting toilet or purchase a commercial grade composting commode.

The first option requires permits and permanent establishment. It is also a rather expensive endeavor in any city/state. Obviously if we’re building on a trailer, that’s not what we have in mind.

The second option requires a lot more cost and moving the house back and forth to an RV sewage dump. That too, would be a tremendous amount of time and expense.

The third option seems not only to be the most cost effective route to take, but it’s the most sustainable and earth friendly. Check out this comparison:

Right now we are pretty secure in our decision to go with option #3. While we do, in fact, receive a number of foul comments and strange stairs when we talk to people about composting in our home the information we have become aware of is staggering. By using a compost toilet:

  • Water and the energy are conserved. Over 3000 gal/year are saved when compared to typical toilet and 1500 gal/year when compared to a low-flush toilet.
  • We are able to turn a waste product into a valuable soil amendment, a key for sustainable agriculture.
  • Nutrients and pathogens don’t end up polluting waterways.
  • We avoid costs of a conventional sewage system.

Did you know that The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has reported that, “there were more than 20,000 days of closings and advisories in 2005, at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches.” The bulk of these closings are the result of improperly operating sewage treatment plants and septic systems.

The EPA estimates that each year, one billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into U.S. waters. That is 3000 gallons for each person in the United States. Again, composting toilets could conserve water and change this hazard into a valuable resource.

So how does a composting toilet work?

  1. It operates almost identically to a normal flush toilet.
  2. The user covers what they put into it with sawdust, wood chips, shredded newspaper, etc.
  3. You then wash your hands
  4. When it gets full, dump it on a compost pile and cover that too.

In closing, yes, we are different. We know that and we are okay with that. We are not always looking to make a statement or to be seen as sojourners of a brighter tomorrow. In this area we are passionate though. Flush toilets are a bit insane to me. They take 3-5 gallons of perfectly good drinking water (the same thing you have flowing from your tap) and provide a landing pad for our excrement. This produces sewage which is a mess and can only be turned back into safe water through treatment plants – large systems of pipes that require maintenance, chemicals, etc. The chemicals treat the water and land in our…wait, did I say clean? – drinking water.

So why do we find this so bizarre? Well, if given the right amount of time, temperate, and conditions, the waste will simply break down into nitrogen rich compost. We, too, are animals and if our diet is good our manure is pretty free of toxins and can be used as amazing garden compost the same way cow manure, chicken litter, pig poo, and other animals waste can.

Allow me to say this though. Yes, part of composting is, in fact, having a dedicated compost pile with enough space to cook the compost, so to speak. The odor is buried under a layer or two of straw. It is mixed with a bit of soil and some scraps. If you don’t have a more than 1/10 of an acres to live on or if you are an urban dweller perhaps composting is not yet a real option for you. For us though it is an amazing option!

So what do you think? Are we full of crap? Are we putting ourselves in a stinky situation? We’d love to hear your experience with composting, composting toilets, and the like. And as always, if you like this post please consider sharing it on Facebook or Tweeting out the link!

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