You need somewhere to go, don’t you? Whether you are living off the grid on a rural homestead, or even a tiny home, you’re going to need somewhere to do your personal business. In order to make sure all needs are taken care of, it is absolutely essential to determine what method is going to be used in regards to disposing of human waste.
It’s understandably a difficult subject, but something that shouldn’t be ignored. Luckily, there are many types of off grid bathroom solutions that you can use. In this article you’re going to learn about the different solutions, their pros and cons, and hopefully get a better understanding on what system would work best for you.
A Look Into the Different Types of Off Grid Toilet Options
1. Septic Systems
If you’re going to be staying in one area off the grid and you have access to a water connection, then a septic system is a great choice. Not only does it collect waste and water from the toilet, but it collects waste-water from sinks and tubs as well.
How They Work
The main part of a septic system is a large tank used for collecting water and waste. Inside the tank, bacteria breaks the waste down, making the waste separate into three different layers.
The top layer is scum, while the middle layer is liquid, and the bottom layer is sludge.
When the waste-water makes it’s way into the tank, liquid then disperses from the pipe to drain into a field.
This is safe because the soil “filters” this water through natural processes. Professional sanitizers are required to empty the septic tank annually.
The Pros and Cons of Septic Systems
- Using a septic system is the closest alternative to the modern municipal sewer systems we are used to.
- Septic systems make it so you don’t have to deal with the waste yourself.
- You can choose from many types of systems in terms of materials and size.
- They’re a great for a long term, off grid toilet solution.
- The ability to have a septic tank means you have access to running water for your home.
- It is possible to create your very own DIY septic system. Be wary as this may result in fines and legal action against you. Read more about it here
- The costs of installation, annual maintenance & cleaning, and repairs or replacements can be expensive
- Extra caution must be taken with any task that requires the use of water
- You will need to make sure you have fixtures that are septic system friendly
- It is unlawful to create or install a septic system where it is not allowed. Fines are high, and you could potentially be charged criminally.
- You’ll need to be extra careful about where you place a garden so it doesn’t interfere with your system.
The biggest advantages you get with septic systems are their low maintenance, durability and strength. Septic tanks can be made from different materials, meaning quality will differ depending on what material it’s made from.
Approved materials for use are steel, concrete, fiberglass, and aerobic. We will now go over the off grid toilet solutions for septic systems.
Steel septic tanks will typically last up to 25 years and are also prone to rusting. Corrosion may also occur on the tank’s roof, ultimately weakening it’s support.
This can put a person at risk for falling into the tank. It is, however, possible to replace the rusted cover for less than an entire tank swap.
Septic tanks constructed from concrete tend to have a lifetime that lasts for several decades. The downside is that concrete might crack, leading to waste leaks into the groundwater.
Backups in concrete tanks can also have an effect on the water’s drain outflow. These problems are difficult to detect, meaning it can be too late once a problem is diagnosed.
Fiberglass septic tanks are more durable than both steel and concrete tanks because they don’t crack or rust. Effluent levels may be present due to plugs being dislodged on the bottom of the tank.
Fiberglass material is also less dense, making it prone to damage from weight above the ground. If the soil around the tank becomes wet or damp, it may displace the tank.
These tanks run on electricity and last a long time. Aerobic tanks are a last resort for when previous tanks fail to perform. They are typically three times more expensive than the other septic tank materials.
In return, aerobic septic tanks have higher efficiency and don’t require drain fields as big as the others. Maintenance needs to be done more frequently as well.
Related: How To Live Off The Grid In A Tiny House
2. Compost Toilets
A popular off grid toilet option are compost toilets. They are pretty convenient since they don’t need plumbing, and are environmentally friendly as well.
How They Work
Just like septic systems, compost toilets come in different types as well.
Generally speaking, they all function the same. After every use of your composting toilet, you need to sprinkle either wood shavings or sawdust into the toilet.
Over time the waste, toilet paper, and wood shavings or sawdust turn into compost by breaking down.
Depending on the composting system you choose, you may or may not have to turn a crank handle in order to “mix” the compost.
The resulted compost can then be used as fertilizer for your trees, bushes, shrubs. You can also further compost it in a largest compost collection outside.
It is extremely important to keep in mind that you should never use the compost in your food garden straight from your bathroom for health and safety reasons. If you plan on using your human waste compost for your food gardens, then you’ll need it to compost for at least 1 year for it to be safe.
The Pros and Cons of Composting Toilets
- Composting toilets have low costs (depending on what kind you get).
- They are also low maintenance as well.
- They’re a good long term solution for a tiny home or homestead.
- You will usually have the ability to transfer these toilets to a new residence if needed.
- It’s extremely environmentally friendly, and may even be beneficial for plant growth.
- No water is required in order to have a fully functional composting toilet.
- You have the option of running a system that does or doesn’t require electricity.
- You can create your very own composting toilet. (Read more about it here)
- Smell could become a problem, though this does depend on the composting toilet you choose.
- Composting toilets take up more room than the common toilet we’re used to.
- You need to make sure your compost is disposed of properly. This means it can’t be too close to water, must be deep enough in the ground, etc.
- Initial costs can be pretty high if you decide to purchase a more modern style composting toilet.
- It could take a little time for you (friends and family too!) to get used to.
With composting toilets, you have 4 different styles to choose from. There are non-electrical self-contained units, electrical self-contained units, 1 pint flush units, and water-less units.
Each one has their own benefits and set backs, which we will go over right now. Let’s continue our list of off grid toilet options.
#1: Non-Electrical Self-Contained
Every self-contained unit has a Bio-drum, which is where all the composting happens. The size of this drum determines how much the toilet will be able to collect and compost. It is recommended that you choose a unit with a larger Bio-drum than you think you will need, just for safety measure.
All self-contained units don’t require any plumbing. Because these units feature a liner for what goes on under the seat, clean up is relatively easy to take care of. With that being said, it’s important to note that these types of composting toilets, electrical or not, need to be emptied more than the other types we are going over.
#2: Electrical Self-Contained
Electrical self-contained composting toilets are simply plugged into an outlet. The electricity is used to power up a fan, as well as a heating element which helps speed up the composting process.
These electrical units may be unplugged whenever they are going to go unused for several days. Power usage is anywhere from 80 watts to 150 watts. Larger Bio-drums are typically used on these units to enhance the composting bacteria.
#3: 1 Pint Flush
Being a central composting toilet, the 1 pint flush unit is the most commonly used unit. It’s comforting to most because of the flushing mechanism. These toilet types are the most similar to the traditional modern day toilet. (No wonder why it’s so popular!)
The deal with centralized composting toilets is that the waste is re-located via pipes to a composting bin outside of the bathroom.
The system put in place with the 1 pint flush unit is nice because waste clean up is performed much less. This is thanks to the larger composting tanks. These types of units can get pricey, so it’s not the most affordable option.
Unlike the 1 pint flush, there is no water in a water-less composting toilet system.
While they are both centralized unite, the main difference with water-less and 1 pint flush systems are the type of piping used. water-less units have pipes with a larger diameter, so flushing and water aren’t required.
These toilets typically feature a fan that helps circulate air down, as well as through the vent. Like 1 pint flush systems, water-less systems feature a large composting tank that don’t need to be emptied often.
Related: What are Internet Options for Off Grid Tiny House
3. Our Final Option: The Incinerating Toilet
Now moving past the composting toilet options, incinerating toilets are another off grid toilet solution. The thing with incinerating toilets are that they come in with a big price tag.
How They Work
As you can imagine, an incinerating toilet works by incinerating the waste. The result is a collection of ash that is sterile and safe to dispose of in the trash.
Waste can either be self-contained, or “flushed” into an incinerator separate from the collection bin through a dry-flush method. The incinerator is powered by either propane, natural gas, or diesel fuel.
An exhaust pipe that runs through the roof is required to eliminate gases. You will be informed of when you need to empty out the ashes via an indicator light.
The Pros and Cons of Incinerating Toilets
- There is no risk of bacterial contamination since the resulting ashes are sterile.
- Incinerating toilets are considered environmentally friendly due to the fact it doesn’t require plumbing or water.
- This is the lowest maintenance option on our list.
- These toilets are simple to use, only requiring a push of a button.
- Waste is gotten rid of much faster.
- Additional costs are required for propane, diesel, or natural gas for incineration.
- Incinerating toilets need to be emptied more frequently than composting toilets.
- Costs of these toilets can be as much as $4000, not including the installation and long term costs.
- You don’t get the benefit of being able to compost the waste.
- A constant source of electricity is required.
- Odors may be noticeable and unpleasant at times.
- These toilets require a lot of energy for operation.
Do composting toilets smell?
The answer is no. Composting toilets do not smell. Most composting toilets are built with a ventilation system that helps to eliminate odors. Many of these toilets also come with fans or filters to help reduce odors even more. Additionally, many composting toilet systems include a dry material layer that absorbs liquid and helps prevent odors. With proper maintenance, composting toilets can remain odor-free for an extended period. Nature’s head is one of the most popular composting toilets available.
Now that we’ve gone over your off grid bathroom solutions, it should be easier to figure out what you want for your home. You can also look at more innovative solutions like an evaporative toilet and a vacuum toilet. Additionally, an outdoor shower can be a great addition to homes that are looking for a cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing way to get clean.
No matter where you live, it’s important to make sure you have a place to do you know what! We hope these off grid bathroom ideas have given you some insight into the possibilities and inspired you to create your own unique solution.
If you have any experiences with these types of toilets, or anything you would like to share, please make sure to leave a comment to get involved in the conversation!