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.
I once met a vegan who ate plants because they were closer
to the sun. His reasoning: if plants get power from the sun, animals eat
plants, and we eat animals or their byproducts, we get shortchanged in the sun
department. By simply eating plants, therefore, he figured would close the gap and be fortified
with much more solar energy.
Luckily, the universe has finally come to its senses and
allowed cheese-lovers like myself an opportunity to harness the power of the
sun in a less calcium-deprived way: solar panels.
Soaking up the sun
It's hard to think of a better way to power a tiny house. After
all, you can get sunshine pretty much anywhere you bring your home. Install a
panel or two on the top of your house and boom! Good to go! Or, you can try my personal favorite and use a plug
and play system. This way, you can place your panels wherever you'd like.
(See also: A Tumbleweed in the Sun)
Given the small scale of a Tumbleweed, a little
energy goes a long way. On a sunny day you've got yourself a pretty bright
little space already, and you'll probably want to spend your hours basking
outside on whatever gorgeous piece of land you're currently calling home. Then,
when the sun moves on to power another hemisphere, you tap into your stored
supply of solar juice, turn on a couple light bulbs, plug in your two or three
necessary electronics, and live it up.
That said: yes, the sun is great, and with some smart
investments, we should be able to do all we want electricity wise. But the
first way to save money and help our earth is to scale down our usage in general. Just because the sun shines fairly
reliably doesn't mean we should go crazy with it- after all, our usage of
electricity goes beyond what's powering our devices. We have to think about who is making
them and how, what they're contributing to on a larger scale, and if we
actually need all of them on a regular basis.
Start by figuring out what uses the most power, then figure out if there's another way you can swing it. For instance, an electric water heater will use a good amount of electricity. Instead, why not try a simple passive solar water heating system?
You can read about how Laura decided which appliances made the most sense here.
In a tiny house, you'll probably find it easy to realize exactly how
little you need- the rest will seem like clutter in no time. So live simply
with solar power, and live simply with your solar-powered devices. But more
importantly, get out and run around in that sun!
Have a good story about your solar powered tiny house?
We're hiring in Sonoma and beyond!
Are you a tiny house fanatic? Have you ever dreamed of working for a small, vibrant company in the middle of glorious wine country?
Join our team!
You're in luck- Tumbleweed is currently looking to fill the following positions:
For more information on working for our team, please visit our Jobs Board
Are you a writer with a love of tiny houses? Are you a tiny house enthusiast with a passion for writing? Are you just really smart and looking to share your brilliance with the world?
We've had some awesome guest
blog posts recently, like Sicily's or Kendra's. We love having different voices on our blog, and we want to bring in more guest posters. We're especially looking for people with specific expertise. Are you a solar power buff? A plumbing genius? An interior design guru? Share your knowledge!
Be our guest!
If you think you have an
interesting topic for a blog post that you'd love to share with Tumbleweed, please check out our Guest Blogger posting on the Job Board.
We're looking to add regular guest bloggers to our
Tumbleweed team, so if we love what you've got, we'll be in touch about future opportunities.
Good luck, and happy blogging!
You might have noticed more activity on our blog,
lately. We're making it a priority to share more stories of tiny house builders all over the world, and we need your help!
Share your experiences.
Open your tiny door to the world.
The best part about working at Tumbleweed is getting to
celebrate each and every individual step in the planning, building and finishing processes. The stories we get to hear from you are inspiring- we talk about them all the time in our office. From young, family-loving builders like Jonathan Black to aspiring Danish builders like Lone Hansen, everyone has a different vision, a different method, and a different end
We love hearing your stories, and more
importantly, being able to share them with the tiny house community.
If you're building a Tumbleweed now, have plans to
do so in the future, or know someone who has a tiny house, please let us know. We'd
love to have one of our writers get in touch with you via e-mail, phone, or carrier pigeon.
Happy story telling!