If you are longing to get off grid, a DIY composting toilet is simple to construct and use. I built an experimental humanure toilet and used for a year on a trial basis (my bathroom is too small for two toilets!). I was pleased with the results, and will make a second bathroom with it one of these days. Knowing how to properly build a compost toilet is great for potential survival situations.
If you choose to use one, you can save a little on the utility bills, reduce your impact on the environment, and open up new living possibilities such as cheap land, or your own mortgage free tiny house. Even though things such as a homemade composting toilet, handwashing your laundry, or living without a fridge seem extreme to most people, these are valuable skills to have at your disposal.
What is a Composting Toilet?
A composting toilet is NOT an outhouse! It does not smell. It does not create pollution. Building a compost toilet is a good way to take refuse and turn it into a resource. A DIY composting toilet takes human waste, and dry material such as sawdust, crushed leaves, or wood ash and composts it with straw at a high heat to kill potential pathogens. At the end of the process you are left with sweet smelling, clean, and hygenic compost.
How to Build a Homemade Composting Toilet
Building a simple sawdust toilet can be as easy as balancing a toilet seat over the top of a five gallon bucket, or a gorgeous handcrafted wooden work of art. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to build a simple yet sturdy DIY composting toilet.
Assemble your supplies. You will need two five gallon buckets of the same height, four 2x4s the same height as the buckets, a toilet seat plus hardware, a piece of plywood larger than your toilet seat, and eight screws.
Saw a hole that is the same size as the five gallon buckets into your piece of plywood.
Line your toilet seat up centered over the hole you just cut. Mark where to drill holes for the toilet seat hardware. Drill those holes.
Screw a 2×4 at each corner of your plywood to create four legs.
Stand the frame up onto it’s legs. It’s time to start putting it all together!
Attach the toilet seat to the plywood.
Place one bucket so it fits into the large hole in the plywood. Add a few inches of your cover material (such as sawdust) and it’s ready to use!
How to Use Your DIY Composting Toilet
Before using a bucket the first time make sure there is a few inches of cover material in the bucket. Use as you would any toilet. Instead of flushing, cover all the contents with a thick layer of cover material. The cover material is the big key to making this system work. Sawdust is ideal, because it is fine, and absorbent. I know people have used peat moss and crushed dry leaves with good success. I had none of those things available, and had good results using wood ash from our woodburning stove. Completely cover all contents with the cover material.
When the bucket is full, put in an empty bucket and take the full bucket out to your outdoor compost bin. A three bin system works best with compost toilets. That way you have one to fill, one to cure for a year, and one to harvest finished compost. To keep your carbon and nitrogen levels balanced make sure to add lots of dry material such as straw. Use plenty of straw.
When your bin is full, let the compost cure for a year. If you are planning to use the finished compost on edibles make sure that it reaches an internal temperature of 122 degrees for at least one week to destroy all potential pathogens. If it does not reach high temperatures it is safest to let it cure for second year. If you don’t want to wait two years it’s still safe to use on non-food crops or orchards. There are compost thermometers available to check temperatures.
If the idea of composting human waste is new, I suggest reading Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon (affiliate link). It’s entertaining, yet informative. If you want a more in depth look at composting toilets The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins (affiliate link) is the way to go. The Humanure Handbook can also be downloaded for free here.
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