Outhouses are Out!

By Chris Briggs

Land University has provided many useful articles on the topic of improving undeveloped land. This article will be dedicated to a gross but important topic: poop.

As the bestselling author Taro Gomi put it, “Everybody Poops”. Dealing with waste on your property can be done in many ways. Matt Valzania has provided two very helpful articles on this topic here at Land University: How To Deal With Waste on Vacant Land and Off The Grid Living Part Three: Waste.

So, you have a new parcel of undeveloped land and you need a way to deal with your poo. An outhouse may come to mind as an option. People have been digging holes in the ground for their poops for thousands of years, and humanity is still up and kicking, right? Well, there are other factors to keep in mind.

The first consideration is zoning. If you live in a town, a municipal sewer hook will probably be your preferred (and usually most affordable) option. Should you be in a rural area and do not want to go forward with a traditional indoor toilet-to-septic option, an outhouse may seem appealing. This, however, is not legal under most county-zoning restrictions. The reason is that diseases can leach into the ground water, causing all manner of problems, such as cholera. If you ever lost a game of Oregon Trail you know how frustrating this lethal waterborne pathogen can be.  If you are interested in going with an outhouse, you may be required to install a septic tank or similarly-lined tank for waste containments to prevent contamination.

Comp_Toilet_DiagramIf you are looking for an off the grid waste removal option that doesn’t involve digging a septic tank, composting toilets may be the best option for you. Composting toilets work on the principle that human waste is compostable, and this can be quickly achieved via aerobic decomposition. Here are a few facts about composting toilets goes:

  • Composting toilets use nature’s decomposition process to reduce waste by 90% and convert it into nutrient rich compost.
  • They do not require water hook ups, which is great for our already stressed water supply.
  • Composting toilets use oxygen loving bacteria that are naturally present in human waste to do all the work.
  • Bugs, worms, and other critters have absolutely NO role in the composting process.
  • The material you remove post decomposition is no longer waste, it is nutrient-rich compost.
  • Composting toilets are a way to allow waste to decompose safely and without odors.

There are both do-it-yourself and commercial composting toilets available, both of which achieve the same overall result. The basic concept is that waste enters a chamber where it is left to aerobically decompose. Typically, an additive like sawdust or peat moss is also introduced to increase the decomposition rate. This chamber can have some form of mechanical agitator to aid in the decomposition rate. Liquids that enter the chamber are diverted to a drain where they are separated and left to evaporate or leach into the ground. Commercial versions of composting toilets can include a heater and vent fan that help to maintain a proper and consistent heat level which helps to speed up the decomposition process and regulate odors. The biggest benefit to composting toilets is that after the waste has been broken down, you are left with a nutrient rich fertilizer that is perfect for plant beds.

A great technical reference on how composting toilets work is available in the Composting Toilet System Book.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. And remember, it’s not ok to just poop in a hole anymore.

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