Some cabins have all the modern conveniences of home from day one, including a run-of-the-mill plumbed toilet. But some newly built cabins lack a well and a septic system as the owners slowly add these features over time. And then there are those cabin owners who can install conventional plumbing but don’t want to hassle with permitting agencies and the ensuing red tape. Other folks are just looking for an easy option for a garage, boathouse, workshop or guest cabin. And some, especially near lakes, have a strong interest in conserving water to keep their septic systems healthy – especially by alleviating the stress put on septic systems during busy weekends at the cabin. For all of these reasons, composting and incinerating toilets can be a practical, economical and eco-friendly choice for cabin owners.
These use nature’s composting process to break down waste into a nutrient rich soil – can run on electricity or batteries; require little or no water; are less expensive to install and maintain; and can be self-contained or connected to a separate composting system. Some composting units require a power source for heat and/or ventilation; they also require owners to periodically clean out the composting tray.
These use electric heat to incinerate waste into a small amount of ash, which owners empty occasionally. Incinerating toilet systems require no water or additives. They do require electricity, but it’s only drawn when the toilet is in use.
Here are five composting and incinerating toilet options that may work for you:
A Biolet toilet is easier and more economical to install than a conventional toilet. And the fact that it saves water is a huge perk. One Biolet customer reported reducing his water consumption by 200 gallons per month after installing a composting toilet. Peter Andersson, managing director at Biolet, says customers also appreciate that the toilet seat sits higher up than a traditional flush toilet. “Our seat is 20 inches from the floor, which is a handicap-accessible height,” says Andersson. Cost: $999-$2,499. For more info: (800) 524-6538, www.biolet.com
Envirolet by Sancor sells waterless self-contained, waterless-remote and low-water remote toilets. Sancor’s most popular model is the Envirolet FlushSmart VF, the first vacuum flush and composting toilet system combo with a modern bowl design. “It is a fusion of proven sanitation technologies that is not only modern in function and appearance but can also be installed almost anywhere,” says Scott Smith, a sales representative at Envirolet. Cost: $1,679–$6,049.For more info: (800) 387-5126, www.envirolet.com
Incinolet toilets incinerate waste with electric heat. A paper bowl liner captures the waste, then is dropped into the incinerator chamber where it is reduced to ash. Carol McFarland, sales manager at Incinolet, reports that customers appreciate these toilets for multiple reasons. Saying farewell to the outhouse – especially in winter – is certainly one incentive for installation. “Folks are also thrilled to be able to build their retirement home or dream cabin on land they were told couldn’t be used because it wouldn’t ‘perc’ for a septic system,” says McFarland. Cost: $1,749-$1,899. For more info: (800) 527-5551, www.incinolet.com
Nature’s Head specializes in designing composting toilets that can withstand the harsh marine environment. However, the company also offers “land” installations that are perfect for cabins, RVs, campers, workshops, barns and yurts. Folks who host big crowds on the weekends may benefit from purchasing an auxiliary composting toilet. Cost: $875. For more info: (251) 295-3043, www.natureshead.net
Sun-Mar’s toilets are certified by the National Sanitation Foundation for residential and cottage use, though they are also perfect for pools, cabanas, boats and camps. The company even offers solar models, which require very little power, making them a good fit for remote cabins. “Our non-electric models can be used with a 12-volt fan to boost the efficiency of the composting toilet for individuals using solar power,” says Joe Locicero, a sales manager for Sun-Mar. Cost: $1,595-2,560. For more info: (888) 341-0782, www.sun-mar.com
The Low-flow Way
Perhaps you’re looking for a water-driven toilet, not a composting or incinerating model. The good news is that with today’s low-flow technology, you can save water and put less stress on your septic system. Toilets made before 1970 use about five gallons per flush (gpf). Today, we’re down to 1.6 gpf, thanks to the Federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1992. But it doesn’t end there.
Commodes from companies like Saniflo
(and Envirolet by Sancor further up the page) are rewriting the rules by offering models operating with only one gpf and using about 38 percent less water than a standard 1.6 gpf toilet. That means a potential household savings of nearly 30 gallons of water per day, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Saniflo
offers a range of products that meet unique demands. Maybe you want to put an additional bathroom in a space where conventional plumbing is difficult, like in a basement. Saniflo’s macerating system allows you to install the toilet on top of finished flooring, eliminating the need to dig up a floor. And if you’re short on space, there are compact, tankless models ideal for tight spaces like lofts or under stairways. For more info: Saniflo, (800) 571-8191, www.saniflo.com
- Composting toilets are smelly and dirty like pit toilets. Not true. All of the manufacturers listed here claim their models are odor-free.
- Battery models do not work as well as electric models. Though electric models accommodate the most people and offer the greatest performance, Scott Smith from Sancor says the battery system in his company’s Envirolet unit can accommodate eight people for vacation use or six people for full-time use.
- Incinerating toilets attract bugs. Wrong. Because there is no odor, insects are not attracted to the unit.
- Compost from composting toilets is unusable. False. It can be used as landscaping fertilizer for ornamental plants, flowers, shrubs and trees.
- Composting toilets require special toilet paper. Nope. You can still use your favorite brand of toilet tissue.
Contributor Christy Heitger-Ewing thinks she may have camped more often as a teenager had she had access to one of these nifty little toilets.