This spring, Hampshire College Professor Gabriel Arboleda taught an unusual class: Reinventing the Toilet (course description). Addressing the fact that a single flush toilet can contaminate thousands of gallons in just one year of operation, he and his students will attempt to build alternative workable toilet models.
An important class? I think so. Many Tiny House folks would agree, having found that the mobile lifestyle necessitates flexibility when it comes to things like electricity and plumbing. Of course, there's an easy solution already at play, and it's something we don't think twice about doing with cows: composting.
I recently tried my first official composting toilet, and loved it. Our friends Pepper and Dylan built this awesome composting outhouse on their property in Healdsburg, CA, and were kind enough to let me, ahem, try it out.
Who knew an outhouse could be so beautiful?
In addition to the requisite crescent cut out, the outhouse has a light, a nice big bucket of a cedar chips, and a magazine rack!
A pleasure to use
Plenty of open-minded people like Pepper and Dylan are pushing the envelope with practical, conscientious ways to dispose of waste: while we wait for Arboleda and his crew to envision the next big alternative, we can manage pretty comfortably. While making a separate outhouse is a viable option, the bucket and cedar chips method can easily be applied in any tiny house.
In addition to the composting toilet, there's the incinerating toilet. Incinerating toilets are a bit more high-tech than a bucket and some cedar chips (though there are plenty of more advanced composting toilets available). Essentially, they incinerate your waste, converting it to a clean, non-polluting ash. An incinerating toilet can be powered a regular outlet, by gas, propane, or of course, solar panels. However, it uses more electricity than a composting toilet, and doesn't provide rich and useful fertilizer!
No matter your preferred commode, there's a reason colleges like Hampshire are highlighting the urgency of reinventing something most of us take for granted. We are far too distanced the effects from our own, for lack of a better word, crap. With the help of sophisticated indoor plumbing, most people never had to accept that what comes out of their body actually goes somewhere.
We want to live responsibly but we also want to live in a sanitary and safe. When choosing how to outfit our houses, we can think outside the porcelain box and attempt to do both.
Here's an update from our friends over at Boneyard Studios:
I left for Brazil just as everything started happening on the lot. I promised I wouldn’t disappear for a month but try and stay engaged in the project while here. Thus, I write this from a hammock in rural Northeast Brazil where we’re staying with an amazing community leader and learning about the Xukuru’s fight to regain their territory here in Brazil. While feeling grateful for the opportunity to be here, I’m also sad that I’m missing out on all the work that is being done on the lot. Fortunately, Tony and Brian have been keeping me updated via photos, email and Skype.
Here’s a recent update I received from Tony about the past week:
What a week! We took delivery of the shipping container on Monday, we’ve set most of the fence posts and Brian and Jay picked up their trailers on Friday. We should have the fencing up by the end of next week and, hopefully, we’ll have your house on the lot in about a week. You’re not gonna recognize the place when you get back!
It took some doing to get the trailers on the lot, but everything went well and we learned a lot about the logistics of moving and siting them. Once they are built up, it’s going to be even trickier to move them around. There’s not enough room in the alley to back them all the way into place with a truck. We ended up situating them by hand. We’re going to look into getting some type of hand dolly for future use. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up renting a small tractor to move them on and off the lot. One nice thing about the lot is that the yard slopes down perfectly to meet the back of the trailer. You’ll probably be able to step out of your back door directly onto the grass without stairs.
Brian and I have spoken to a lot of people passing through the alley and the feedback we’re getting is very positive. People are excited about the garden beds and curious about tiny houses. I know you feel like you’re missing out, but a lot of what we’ve been doing is dirty, sweaty grunt work. The good news is that we should be ready for the fun part of designing and building out the interior of yours when you get back.
Check out the photos below – they’ve really made progress, and I’m excited to get back and start working on this project again!
Head over to Barnyard Studios to see the rest of the pictures.
One of the most common questions we are asked is how did we set up the electricity in our tiny house. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not that familiar with all the technical aspects of our system so here is what we said about it on our blog:
“We designed the solar for our cabin by first minimizing our needs - energy hogs like electric stoves, fridges, washer / dryer, air conditioning, water heaters, microwaves and such were ruled out. Our system provides lights, small fans, and plugs for small appliances. When we need to run construction tools or other items with large power needs, we use a portable generator. The generator can also recharge the batteries if we need it to.”
We both work from our tiny house. I use a laptop computer which probably draws the most power. Matt is able to do most of his work from a tablet which uses a lot less energy to run.
We don’t have a traditional refrigeration system. We did find a great invention called the Coleman Stirling Engine Cooler that was used by long haul truckers and boaters. Coleman doesn’t make them any more. Even at its coldest setting it draws very little power. We don’t use it as our primary cooling source, however. We set it on freeze and put ice packs inside which we then transfer to a regular cooler. We also changed the way we buy and eat food. We bought into a CSA and we make frequent trips to the farmer’s market to get fresher ingredients that we use faster.
We also didn’t install the recommended propane fueled boat heater in our tiny house. We live in the southern Appalachian Mountains and during the summer it will never get cold enough to need it. For now, we don’t plan to live in our tiny house over the winter months because we’ll take that time to travel and see family in other parts of the country.
Next time, I’ll share our water systems and how we have a pressurized shower without any indoor plumbing.
||Over a dozen new green home designs are almost here. Pictured to the left is the updated Enesti. We added an optional bedroom on the ground floor. These plans are complete, and the new house measures a tidy 774 square feet for the 3 bedroom version (ground floor pictured on top). When you purchase the plans, you'll receive plans for both the 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom versions. The bottom picture features the side view of the house with the additional room.
The following five houses will all be updated shortly:
- New Vesica
...with more plans to come next month.