Thursday, 22 December 2011

A Somewhat Delicate Topic, Human Waste Issues

Not a bad sunset last night. It started to snow and I thought for sure I wasn't going to get a shot but it stopped just before I took this. 

I'm not quite sure where to start with my topic for today as it seems to be, at least for many, something that isn't really talked about or for that matter given a whole lot of thought. Generally it is flushed down the sewer never to be thought of again and, except for maybe a few necessary shots of something nice smelling, it leaves nothing behind as a reminder. Human Waste, OK, there I said it. When we first decided to live an off the grid lifestyle one of the topics that came up was what type of sewer were we going to have, how were we going to build it, and what would be best for us and the farm not to mention the pocket book.

I spent a LOT of time doing research and checking out different websites. Of course growing up on a small farm an "outhouse" was standard and many farms still have one somewhere on the property although they are rarely, if ever, used. I knew I wanted one but I also wanted to try something new; a compost toilet. There are a lot of different models out there but because we knew our power would most likely be in short supply it couldn't be an electric model. I finally choose one from the Sun Mar Corporation, the Excel NE.

This toilet had rave reviews! I felt I had done extensive research and made a wise decision. Our new toilet was installed very easily. There really isn't much too it. It looks bigger than an normal toilet but still has a nice aesthetic appeal and because we live in such a cold climate I was very happy to have it. The one thing I really love about a compost toilet is, there is no smell. The vent (pipe) is specially designed to keep the air moving up and out. 

Mountain Man has even created a very cool outhouse in the house which is very rustic. I love how he creates things. However, as much as I loved it and have used it, to date I have yet to get it to work properly. I have spent 3 years attempting to get it to compost and would LOVE to hear from anyone else who has used this system and has been successful.  Really, I think I must be doing something wrong! I purchased the Compost Sure, the composting enzymes and everything else I was told I needed. I called the company and spoke to their very nice and helpful agents all to no avail. Nothing works.

So, even though it is cold outside we made the decision to mostly use the outhouse this winter. Please don't think me a total wimp because I'm not but at -35 C it is just a little cold so Mountain Man was kind enough to put a little propane heater in there for me if I need it. What a guy!

So the dilemma now is do we stay with the system we have or try something new? I found a book recently called the Humanure Handbook which can be purchased or downloaded here. The basic concept is composting but it does it in a completely different way and it is such a simple system. His premise is that you must cover what you want to compost with something, he recommends sawdust. Once a week this sawdust "mixture" is taken to the compost pile and deposited then covered with a layer of straw. He basically guarantees no smell and compost that can be used for whatever you want in a year or two. I really don't think I could use it for anything other than ornamental's but each to his own.

While there is quite a bit of his own philosophy in the book when you get down to the real science I think it has merit. Having said that it is probably not be something most people would subscribe too...  then again, people who live like this can't really be classified as normal can they? At least, as I've always told my children, "I hope not!"  For now I will not be making any more changes. I want to talk to someone who has used both systems so I can hopefully make a more informed choice. Besides, getting fresh air, even if it is cold, is not a bad thing.


  1. I looked into the Humanure Handbook method too, and we were planning to do that till we ended up living short term in a camper and now in a converted semi which both have flush toilets. We made our septic system out of two 55 gal drums buried in the ground with a normal drainfield. So far it is working great!

    We did, however, make a simple compost toilet for the times we were working out here clearing and making our long lane before moving onto the land. We simply got a 5 gal bucket and put a round toilet lid on top, and used pine needles to cover everything. We placed it between some trees for privacy and kept a pack of wet wipes beside it. With six ladies/girls using it and sometimes the guys as well, I was amazed at the lack of odor.

  2. Pine needles? Genius idea! Thanks for sharing!

  3. We stayed at a cabin with one of these was and it worked well.

  4. whoops

  5. We live off grid also... in Queensland Australia.... in a subtropical environment so our system would probably break down quicker than in your area.... we use a basic omposting toilet with a fan, that we empty into 44gallon drums way down the back behind the woodshed and in about 12 months they're broken down to a lovely,, sweet smelling compost which we use around our fruit trees..... (we use a little sawdust to cover the 'offering' when we use the toilet and very RARELY use it for urine.... we use a seperate bucket for urine and water it down and throw it around the gardens/lawn...

  6. Thanks for the info! There seem to be a quite a few people who use the sawdust method.

  7. Our son and his wife use a 5 gallon pail as a composting toilet and they cover with leaf debris. It is efficient and there is so little odor. We are in NY State and I am constantly amazed with what people can do and live in or at.Here in NY you would not get away with making your own septic system, there are laws and rules and regulations for EVERYTHING. Building there cabin with plans for a composting toilet and a natural greywater system, they still had to put in a septic system. EVERYTHING in the cabin must be inspected.

  8. I am sorry to hear that you are having problems with your Excel NE. Please contact us, toll free at 1-888-341-0782 ext 218 for advice on getting you toilet functioning as it should.

    Your Sun-Mar Service Team


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