When you gotta go, you gotta go, but where to go and what to do with it is a big question when you have no septic system. Our cottage did come with an outhouse, but as I previously mentioned, something has made a home out of it, judging from the gnawed door and digging in front of the door. We have only ever encountered spiders and they alone are enough to discourage us from spending more time than we need to in there. It is also full, so we began by thoughts of digging a new “throne room”. That takes time and we needed a instant solution, so we began with the purchase of a Luggable Loo – the type hunters take into the woods with them. We have a tiny storage room that came with a (used!) chamber pot, suggesting the previous people had used this room for the same purpose that we intended to use it for and made ourselves an “inhouse” that we could empty in the outhouse. The other pressing issue we had was that the cottage has no internal doors, so we purchased a screen and created ourselves “inhouse 1.0”.
As you can see, my photographs in the screen, intended to focus the mind on all the cool wildlife around us, doesn’t really hide the fact that time spent in here is only a slight improvement on hanging out with the spiders!
The other big issue that we had to address was the overflowing outhouse if we continued to add to the already full state of it. Winter was approaching, so we closed up the cottage and had several months of bedtime reading on human waste management without the use of septic systems. We discovered a whole world of writing on the subject and realized that our modern approach to flushing it away and never giving it another thought is fundamentally wrong on so many levels.
It turns out (not surprisingly when you stop to think about it), that most of the world doesn’t have septic systems nor sewage treatment plants and in their opinion we are throwing away our Liquid Gold, which is used in many places to fertilize fields with its high quality, all-natural rich fertilizer. Composting the solids is an approach that is used very successfully in many places. In ancient China, the farmers used to compete to build the most appealing outhouses along the roadside so that travellers could make a deposit, which the farmer would turn into fertilizer for his fields. How times have changed!
We realized a few key things after much research: you can safely compost human solid waste (thank you Humanure Handbook), you can use urine as a natural fertiliser (thank you Sweden for great research and pilot projects) and that awful stench that you get with a bucket full of deposits was due to the mixing of liquid and solid! This last point was critical and this is were we decided we would make our first change. We would separate the liquid and solid and see how the air quality improved in the “inhouse”. Actually it wasn’t just in the “inhouse” that we had concerns about air quality. With no doors inside the cottage, a visit behind the screen soon had others enjoying a trip outside for a breath of fresh air.
There are urine diversion toilets on the market and my husband was very keen to try this route, but all the females I consulted agreed with me that this system was not designed with a lady’s anatomy in mind. He reluctantly agreed on toilet 1.2 and we added a second luggable loo, one for liquid only and one for solid only, appropriately labelled and never the twain shall meet. We installed a bucket of wood shavings and peat moss to cover our solid deposit and were thrilled with how well it prevented odour, absorbed any moisture and made emptying it into a composter a joy, compared to emptying the slop bucket in the outhouse. That old job was pulling the short straw and avoiding splash-back was a technique you very quickly developed!
The walls need to be painted, but we have added a vinyl floor to our “inhouse”, which has made visits behind the screen so much more pleasant than they were.
We built a composter outside from pallets and every time we empty our solid bucket we cover it with straw and leaves. We also put a wire mesh on top to make sure no wild animals decide to dig amongst our deposits. It is amazing how well it works. There is no smell. Even our “inhouse” air quality clears quicker than that of our washroom at home. Covering solids quickly with organic material is very efficient at preventing odour.
However, we didn’t have the same story to tell when it came to urine. We continue to empty our “liquid gold” in the outhouse, as we are not now adding volume, so our urgency for a new depository is less pressing. However, collecting the urine in a bucket without odour proves to be a challenge. We add water to the bucket to dilute it, but the smell of urine is there each time you lift the lid. We started increasing the times we emptied the bucket, but that smell has not improve enough for our liking.
We really need a way to collect the urine so that it is removed from the toilet bowel. My husband has bought a urine diverting funnel, still believing this is the way to go, and is working on ideas to build toilet 2.0. He doesn’t like the dance he does to make sure he is using the right bucket and is keen to have an all-in-one urine diverting toilet. I like the idea of the diverting urine part of it, but need to try his future prototypes before I can be sure it is female friendly. Who knows, we may be starting this year adding yet another vessel for collections and have a third options to dance around!
No story about toilets is complete without talking about health and hygiene aspects of hand washing and I will talk about that in my next post.