More pottie talk
There have been several requests for more info on why we decided to revert to a traditional marine head from the composting toilet that we installed earlier this year. So, to give our readers the “down and dirty” truth that they seem to want, here goes…
To start, a key requirement seems to be that the head be vented properly. This venting is not only to remove smells but also to aide the composting action of the toilet. I chose to use the supplied computer muffin fan and vent the toilet through the old holding tank vent hole on the inside of our starboard hull about 2.5 feet above the waterline. When I had posted this before, I read some comments that felt that this would be inadequate. The same poster wrote that a 4″ hole would be required. When I discussed my plan with the retailer, I was told that no such large hole was required. He said that only a small hole was needed and he thought that my plan would work. Why did I choose to go this route? I simply didn’t want to drill any more holes in the boat!
For composting medium we chose to use coconut coir. This was purchased from Home Depot before we left Canada and was fairly inexpensive. When added to water it expands in size a huge amount. We bought two packages of it for about 30 bucks and I bet we would have had enough for a couple of years! We also purchased some enzymes from Sun-Mar which, when added to the composting medium, apparently contribute to the composting action. This stuff also contains citronella which the label says helps to repel insects.
So, the big thing everyone wants to know is “does it smell?” Once the composting action begins I would say no, there is not really any smell of waste. There is however an “earthy” smell and when the enzymes are added, a strong smell of citronella. When I contacted the dealer shortly after getting the unit to ask about this, he said “it will never smell like a rose garden” but it shouldn’t stink. I would say this is accurate I guess.
With all that said, here is what we didn’t like about it:
1. The head (bathroom) was always dirty because little bits of the coconut coir would get spilled. This required a lot of extra clean up.
2. Dumping the urine every two days was not a huge deal but it is still a hassle that is not required with a holding tank head.
3. It is big, and high! Our boat is not large and it barely fit. It was so tight in fact that we couldn’t use the supplied handle to stir it. We actually came up with a method of using a ratchet and socket to stir the head. Because it is so high and our head, like many others, has a small platform that the previously installed compact head sat on, we needed to use a step stool to comfortably access the Nature’s Head unit.
4. The biggie… Insects. On two separate occasions we had an infestation of insects so bad that we had to completely dump and clean the unit. Dumping is one thing… cleaning is an entirely worse procedure!
About four or five days ago I noticed that the muffin fan wasn’t on. The plug which supplied the power to the fan was never really secure. If the wire was jiggled a bit it would stop, or start. Remember that this venting is required? Obviously this wasn’t good. When I noticed that the fan wasn’t running and looked down to jiggle the wire, hoping to restart it, I noticed that the vent hose was full of water! Yes, water, almost to the level of the head. The previous days of hard sailing in big waves had allowed water into the vent hose. Obviously no venting had been going on! This is strange because we noticed no difference in smell. After draining the water and still not being able to get the fan to work, I took it apart. My troubleshooting determined that the fan was toast, perhaps caused by water ingress or overwork. Oh, and there were a bunch of flies in the toilet!!! This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and a decision was made by the two of us to replace the unit with another Jabsco.
Fortunately the holding tank and discharge hoses were all still installed. I never removed them when I installed the composter, wanting to ensure that we had a fall-back plan.
The final interesting part, which makes me believe that we never had it vented properly in the first place, is that it took us several days to acquire and install the new head. During that time we continued to use it, without it being vented (what choice did we have) and there was no increase in smell.
I know there are some people successfully using toilets like this on boats so if you choose to go this route, your results may be better than ours. In fact, I hope they are.