There are a lot more photos of the composting toilet project in Flickr tagged as Systems: Composting Toilet.
When we bought the boat it had a normal pumping toilet which went to a Y valve for pumping into a a smallish holding bag or through a macerator pump and out to sea. This was an OK setup for blue water sailing and Coastal Sailing in Canada where pump outs are few and far between and holding tanks are not required. We didn’t like this setup for our Puget Sound home waters nor did we like it for when we’re out cruising. Instead we’ve decided to go with a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet. I’ve blogged about that a few time before, but this post will describe the process from beginning to end.
Here is a side by comparison of the two seats to verify the height of the new toilet will be about the same as the old. Notice that the old toilet is sitting on a little platform. Also that the handle is bent (oops).
The first step was to rip out the old toilet, plumbing, holding bag, macerator pump, and close up the through hull. The raw water in came off the drain for the sink in the head so that was fine, but the macerator pump through hull was dedicated and we closed and put a cap on that through hull with only a minor scare as the through hull didn’t really close all the way anymore.
This picture is of the valve which allowed you to pump the holding bag out through the macerator pump. All of these hoses smelled horrible and would have needed to be completely replaced. These hoses are also in a hanging locker which today I’m happy to reports smells like a new house.
Next we ripped out the old toilet. In this pic you see we have removed the toilet and the little platform on which it sat. The floor here was damp, but not water logged. I ran a heater in here for a few days and it dried out nicely. You can see the plywood subflooring and the teak and holy sole here. We had to bring this all up to level so we put in a 1/2” sheet of plywood (it may have been 3/4” I forget) which was glued in place with Gorilla Glue and screwed down to the sub-flooring. This gave us a level, hmmm ok let’s call it a flatter surface to work with when we went to lay in our tile.
Dawn is the detailed oriented one in our house and but that I mean she does all the detailed design work and finish work when we work on projects together which is usually always. I also operate any heavy machine and anything that beeps when you back it. In this case Dawn came up with the pattern of the tile design, I laid it out and rough tiled it in. Dawn then came in and caulked it, did the final grouting and sealed it.
Next I had to cut the hole and install the vent hose for venting the composting chamber. This was a bit nerve wracking for me because cutting a hole in your boat sounds like a pretty dumb idea to me, but here we go.
This first shot is how I lined up the hole from inside the head. I had a pretty open area on deck, but the placement from below was more crucial because of the wiring that needs to snake around the vent. The vent is a standard Vetus 3” Mushroom vent. I used one of the finishing trims from the vent and some tape to line it all up. I then drilled a hole in the very center of where I wanted to cut the larger 3” hole. You can see how I lined it all up and the initial center-hole drilled through the cabin top. Notice that half the hole goes through the deck and half also has a some additional wood for holding up the headliner. We’ll need to have the whole are flush for mounting the vent.
This is a shot from the top side where I have already started drilling through with the 3” hole saw bit. If you’re not familiar with these bits, they have a drill bit in the center and a circular ring of teeth to the size of the hole you want to cut.
I also think it looks kind of cool and it showed me how my boat was put together.
I mentioned before that we’d need to have the are flush for mounting the vent, so I epoxied up some 1/4” plywood and here you can see that being held in with clamps while it dries. I was doing this in the winter so I put a plastic container over the outside and taped plastic down over that so no water would get on my epoxy work.
At the same time this was being attached, I also put epoxy along the inside edge of the hole I cut. This seals the balsa core from water getting into it.
Here’s a shot of the finished vent installation. Shiny. shiny.
The white trim piece you saw a few pics back slides into the hole from underneath and into the bottom of the mushroom vent. The mushroom vent sits flush on the deck. I put some 5200 along the bottom of it and set it into place. The both sides screw into the cabin top separately. There is no clamping load on the deck at this point.
Next I needed to run a wire to the bulkhead behind the toilet to power the computer fan that draws air through the composting chamber. I wired this into its own switch on my breaker panel and put in a two prong DC plug on the wall behind the toilet. I could have hard wired this, but I think the plug is a nice finishing touch and if I wanted I could use that plug for something else.
The first shot shows the wire behind the plug, its in a small locker and then the plug itself. I used Ancor marine grade tinned wire and a Sea-Dog polarized 12volt outlet (PN SDL 426142-1). It was important that the fan be wired correctly, because it wouldn’t just run the wrong direction it would burn out the fan. That’s why I went with the polarized plug.
The toilet mounts to the floor with two brackets and then screws into the brackets with handles so i can be removed for emptying. I through bolted the brackets all what through about 2” of sub-flooring with bit washers. That toilet isn’t going anywhere.
Here are two shots of the almost finished (left) and finished project (right) with the vent hose and new toilet paper holder which Dawn installed. I include both pics because I got the exposure off on the 2nd shot and the tile doesn’t look at nice.
The project was pretty easy even for a newbie like myself. We’ve been using it for several months and have emptied the compost chamber once. It smelled like dirt to me, a complete non-issue. Just like we intended. Having extra urine chambers is a definite must-have as when there are 4 people on board and you’re partying (like on the 4th of July) you’re going to emptying them frequently.
I have a lot more pictures related to this project on the Flickr tagged as Systems: Composting Toilet.
Here are our operating instructions:
- Lift Seat
- Sit Down (yes, even if you’re a guy and you’re just going pee)
- If you just have to do number one, go for it. It’s ideal if you can keep your aim towards the front of bowl so most of your business goes into the urine container.
- If you have to go #2, with your left hand flip the little lever which opens the trap door to the composting chamber. This is not a chamber into which you yourself would want to enter.
- Poop ! The trap door seems to be lined up perfectly for me, but remember “In the hole is better than on the bowl!” © ™
- Now your done your #1 and your #2
- Wipe – fold the paper over and set it aside. You are going to throw it away in the trash, not in the bowl.
- Put in one scoop of coir which is stored in the sliding cabinet.
- Close the trap door
- Squirt the bowl with the spray bottle just to wash down any urine in the bowl. 3 or 4 squirts is usually good.
- Turn the crank on the bottom right side (as you face the toilet). Turn it gently 3 or 4 times. If you go crazy with your turns you flip stuff up against the bottom of the top half of the toilet and it makes a mess when I go to empty it.
Two weeks ago I took off work on Friday to work on a bunch of projects one of which included using epoxy and I wanted to take advantage of the warmer weather and have an extra day to get things done. That Friday went pretty well and I worked on cutting the hole in the cabin top and sealing the edges with epoxy so I can install the mushroom vent for the composting head (more on that to come) but about 11pm that night the Flu (or maybe food poisoning) hit me and I was down and out for about 4 days. Well this weekend I’m feeling much better and Dawn and I are ready to tackle the to do list. Here’s the goals:
- Finish Installing the mushroom vent in the head
- Wire up the DC power to the fans in the composting head
- Change the Oil, Oil Filters and Fuel Filters, remove sediment and water (don’t think we have any water) from the RACOR catch bowl
- Check the Port water tank for a leak. I think one of my fittings is leaking
- Check the Propane tank overboard vent – I’ve not expected this since the purchase. I want to make sure its not clogged or broken
- Secure the Plumbing – All of the plumbing is working great but all the lengths of hose need to secured under the salon floor. Not hard, but time consuming since the work space is so confined
That list feels a little ambitious, but I think we can get it done. I have a bunch of pics from cutting the hole in the cabin top for the vent and I’ll take some more as I get everything installed and do a write up about the installation process.
You may recall that I've ben removing all the old plumbing for the head and holding tank. Today I decided I'll pull that last 4' of hose off of the thru-hull wich part of the system that would pump the holding tank over board when at sea. Well it turned out that seacock no longer closed all the way and we had a bit of water coming into the boat. Not that much and not that quickly. I had my wood plugs handy for just such and emergency and pounded one into the 90 degree bend coming off of the seacock. It was dripping a little bit but everything was under control.
Anyway, a lot of running around a late night doing some unscheduled but needed maintenance. Sometime around 6 months when its time to haul for the next set of zincs well probably go into the yard to work on the rigging and bottom paint.
The good news is everything is for the renaming ceremony tomorrow!
This weekend Dawn and I proved Deep Playa still goes by driving her over to the pump out to empty the holding bag and rinse out the whole toilet system so we could remove it completely as part of installing our Nature’s Head composting toilet. Our neighbor Dan was heckling us as we drove out of the causeway since he’s never seen us take the boat out. We need to replace the jib halyard before we can really sail her again, but was good to motor her around the marina. We got a little docking practice in as well proving to ourselves that we need a lot more practice. :-
The goal for this weekend was to remove the toilet, the holding bag and as much of the plumbing as we could without covering ourselves and the bilge in poop! As I said we first went over to the pump out and emptied the holding bag. We ran about 20 gallons of fresh water though the system and pumped that out. We also used the bilge pump-out and were able to get the water in the sewer down to less than inch. We’ll need to get down there and really clean it good in the next few months.
So after our docking adventures pulled back into our own slip and got to work ripping things apart. My strategy was to pull close to through hulls, pull the toilet and then start removing the bag and hosing in sections. The toilet was head down on a small wood base which was on the larger platform. Disconnecting the toilet from the hoses wasn’t too hard but I had to cut the waste pipe with a hack saw. After that the whole thing lifted right out.
Next, I disconnected the hoses to the holding bag. Some of these hoses had plugs handy and some I closed off with plastic bag duct taped in place around the opening. With that done the empty holding bag was removed.
Finally we removed as much of the hoses as we could leaving only those which were directly connected to the through hulls. While the through hulls are closed I’m not sure of the best way to cap the ends. I have a guy coming out to do some fiberglass work and he’ll cap those through hulls and remove the remaining hoses.
With all the “messy stuff” removed I attacked the 2″ high platform the toilet sat on. The wood underneath this was wet and I’m not sure if its rotted. It seems pretty solid but I’m not sure. I left the heated in the head and it dried out a lot in less than hour I hope it will dry out completely over night and the wood will prove to still be solid.
Here’s a shot of the bilge area without the holding bag, that is a LOT of storagesystem area we are regaining.
A great weekend of getting things done! This next week the fiberglass tabbing should be repaired and then we can start putting Deep Playa back together on the inside and start taking her out.
When you’re out of the US Coastal waters (as close as BC, Canada) is it legal to pump your marine toilet directly into the sea. There just aren’t pumpouts available in every remote cranny of the earth like there are in Puget Sound. This is kind of like you wouldn’t poop in your neighbors yard (unless they live in BC), but for extending backpacking trip its considered acceptable to use a cathole.
Our current toilet situation on Deep Playa is that we have a Wilcox Crittenden Imperial toilet and instead of a rigid fiberglass holding tank we have a 20 gallon bladder into which everything is pumped. We’re also setup with a macerator (like a garbage disposal) that can be use to grind up everything when you’re in an area where pumping directly overboard is acceptable. This also keeps fish from having to swim around with toilet paper stuck to their tail fin. Well, the toilet doesn’t pump very well (I bent the handle this weekend), using bladders as holding tanks is kind of a nuisance (you have to lift them while you’re pumping) and all of the plumbing needs to be replaces because it smells (this can happen as they age).
Instead of doing all that work we’ve decided to go with a MUCH simpler solution, the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet. The basic system is that urine is captured is in a bottle and your poop is composted along with some peat moss or coconut husks to absorb water. The urine can be disposed of on-shore in the toilet and the compost can be deposited in any flower bed or bagged and placed in the regular trash. Before you get all gross, read this about compost. And then realize that the fact is on a boat (or in an RV, or camping) you become more intimately involved with your bodily functions, and this was the best option for us given our the attractive ness of eliminating 2 through-hulls and to be as good stewards as possible when we’re traveling.
I’ll have a bunch of photos and more discussion about this as we move forward with the rip and replace. Right now everything has been ordered and is on-hand ready to go, just need to pump out one last time and start removing the old system.