“If you're embarking around the world in a hot-air balloon, don't forget the toilet paper.”
Sir Richard Branson
When it comes to an off grid toilet, you'll have several choices, but before getting into that, Our ancestors grew up without state of the art toilets, but today, not even the most hardcore supporter of off grid living will likely not want do without them. Alas you can't live off grid without contemplating the practicalities of going #2. Here are some things you should bear in mind before picking one.
Things to Consider Before Choosing An Off Grid Toilet
You can't close your eyes and pick the first toilet you find. Human waste management needs to be carefully thought out, otherwise you risk spreading diseases, or drawing the wrath of local law enforcement.
How Hard is an Off Grid Toilet to Install?
Remember you'll be living off grid, and as such, you may not have access to the typical services urban cities have. Suddenly, plumbing might become a necessary survival skill for you. So before buying an off grid toilet, think about the ease of installation. If you need to bring someone in from the closest community, it will cost a lot of money.
Is it a Long or Short Term Solution?
Are you living off grid temporarily? Perhaps you're fed up with the big city and just want a getaway to recharge? The shorter your stay, the less sophisticated your off grid toilet needs to be.
How Many People can Use it?
Most manufacturers say their products will hold up "with regular use", but what does this mean? If a family of 8 share that one toilet, will it be as effective? Or will it fall about after a week, and leave you without a toilet? When you're researching your off grid toilet, learn how many people can safely use it, and for how long.
Bucket toilets probably went out of fashion because no one likes carrying their buckets of feces around, before finding a suitable dumping ground for it. It'll be do you good to learn what sort of maintenance your off grid toilet needs. If you have to re-dig a hole every so often, you might want to find alternative toilets.
Local Laws and Temperature
First, going to an in-house, modern toilet when its cold sucks. Imagine having to go outdoors, to an outhouse, in the middle of the night, just to relieve yourself. It'll be freezing, and it might force you to look for alternatives - like peeing in a cup, which is gross. Find out if the toilet you want will suit the temperature in the area. Second, see if that toilet complies with the local law, otherwise, you'll be carting a bucket of feces, as law enforcement carts you away.
Types of Off Grid Toilets
Regular Toilets with Plumbing Connected to a Septic System or Tank
The beauty of technology today, is that you can ditch all the other stuff without losing good toilet.
If you have a very good off grid power system, either powered by wind or solar, with a generator as backup, a regular toilet would be possible.
Because you won't be connected to the city's sewage system, you'd have to ensure the plumbing drains into a septic tank.
With a regular toilet, you might run into problems if the weather gets too cold, and the tank's above ground. Freezing temperatures can cause it to crack and leak.
Most people in freezing temperatures drain out the tank before the winter, so there won't be anything in it that'll trigger a freeze expansion. You'll need to budget well for this, because it isn't easy to install alone. Regularly draining the septic tank also requires assistance.
The good news about this is that it can last forever, regardless of the number of users, and most local laws won't discriminate against it, once you show proof of sewage draining capability.
Way back when, before plumbing toilets became a thing, women used to hang their own toilet seats in their cabins and take it to the outhouse when they needed to "go".
Outhouses are easy enough to build if you have basic carpentry skills. You'll need to dig a hole that's at least 3 feet deep and ensure its enclosed with a lid. Before digging, make sure your outhouse won't be close to any water source.
Regardless, there are many DIY tutorials on the subject matter, so read up if you plan on using an outhouse as your off grid toilet.
Electric/propane Incinerator Toilet
Oh this works like magic. It heats up and burns away all human waste, leaving you with ash as the final product. It completely eliminates the need for plumbing and a sewage system, so it'll be the easiest to install. It can serve a lot of people without crashing, and most local law enforcement agents won't bug you about it. Problem. It consumes an obscene amount of energy.
First it has to heat up waste to a certain temperature, before it can incinerate it. Power is precious when you're living off grid, and this toilet can be quite selective with its energy source.
Cheap solar systems won't be able to power it, and even propane (gas - which you'd have to go out and buy regularly) would cost you a lot. Basically, this would be ideal if you had a ton of money, just sitting somewhere, and wanted to live off grid.
This is literally a bucket covered with a toilet seat. It's the simplest and cheapest off grid toilet, but perhaps the most problematic for long term purposes.
First, you'll have to designate a spot on your property as the dumping site, then dig it. You'll need to check that the site is far from all water sources. Second, you'll have to consider emptying out the bucket - probably the most uncomfortable part of this.
If you're environmentally conscious, you'll have to make sure no plastic tags along with the waste you'll be dumping, since plastic isn't biodegradable. Lastly, you'll need to check with the local laws - that they won't have a problem with this.
Composting ToiletsWaterless compost toilets don't require septic tanks to operate. They simply evaporate all liquid from your waste, then turn the solid part of the waste into fertilizer.
Good compost toilets do this without odor, but with time, they'll cost you a lot of money. Note that most states prohibit compost toilets as off grid toilet solutions.
Store Bought Solutions
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