One of the main things that a lot of people who want to live off the grid tend to forget about is what kind of off grid toilet they will use. While some people choose the old fashioned and reliable septic system, but today there are a lot of options for off grid toilets. As a general rule, choosing the right kind of toilet system setup will either make your everyday off grid life a lot easier or a living nightmare.
The off grid toilet options are, self-sustained composting toilets, centralized composting toilets, incinerator toilets, outhouses, septic systems, and the honey bucket. Composting toilets tend to be the cheapest option although they do need a lot of maintenance, incinerator toilets do have a higher price but they do not need a lot of maintenance. Ideally, you should set up an off grid septic system as these have to be maintained only once every 2-3 years.
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Although there are a lot of options for off grid toilets but that doesn’t mean that all of them will work in your area. As people are living off the grid in different environments you also have to take the local environment into consideration. Areas with mild winters will have no problem using any kind of off grid toilet, but in areas where the winters are cold some toilets might malfunction or totally break down.
How frequently you have to maintain or to drain out the off grid toilet also should play a big part in your decision when purchasing one. This of course also depends on the size of your family, the bigger the size of your family the more frequently you will have to maintain or empty the toilet. There are some off grid toilets which also require electricity, like the incinerating toilets, so you will need some source of generating power like solar panels.
On the other hand, if you go the more eco-friendly way then you can use a composting toilet. The best part about composting toilets is that they do not need a septic tank, although for some reason a lot of people think that they do. In addition to not needing a septic tank, composting toilets do not even need running water, as they are designed from the ground up to function without them.
Before deciding what kind of off grid toilet you want to use make sure to check the local laws and regulations, some counties do not allow composting toilets while others have strict regulations for septic tanks and so on. If you want to build an off grid house then check out my recent article Building a house off the grid ( In 10 Steps ).
|Self-sustained composting toilets||No||No||2-3 Weeks||$700-$1400|
|Centralized composting toilets||No||No||6-12 Months||$1500-$3000|
|Incinerating toilets||No||Yes/Or Propane||1-6 Weeks||$2000-$3500|
|Septic system||Yes||No||3-5 Years||$2000-$7000|
* Depending on the type and size of the toilet
Off grid self-sustained composting toilets
A self-sustained composting toilet is probably one of your best options for living off the grid. These are being used all over the world where there is no access to plumbing, and they do come in different sizes, some have a small container for one person while others tend to have larger containers fit for larger families. How often you have to maintain a composting toilet will depend on the size of it, although all commercial composting toilets do come with a user’s manual where you will find everything about how and when you have to maintain them.
As a general rule for composting toilets, you will have to drain the liquids out fairly often, around a couple of times per week and even more frequently if you have a larger family. Generally speaking, a well-maintained composting toilet shouldn’t smell, but if the composting toilet is not maintained properly then it will definitely smell. The best part about using a composting toilet off the grid is that it doesn’t need electricity, water, or a septic tank.
Generally speaking, there is a composting toilet for every budget, the starting price for a high quality composting toilet is at $700 and higher-end ones can cost several thousand. If you want to live off the grid or homestead in California then check out my recent article Best places for Off Grid Living and Homesteading in California ( Top 5 ).
Off grid centralized composting toilets
Centralized composting toilets work the same way as self-contained composting toilets but with one difference, the waste is not deposited in the actual toilet but in a separate and centralized container where the actual process of composting happens. These centralized composting toilets are excellent for large families as the composting tank is located outside the bathroom and this means that they are a lot larger.
The maintenance of a centralized composting toilet is more or less the same as with self-sustained composting toilets, although you will have to empty the tank less often due to its large size. On the other hand, a centralized composting toilet can be a lot more expensive than a self-sustained one. Generally speaking, the price of a centralized composting toilet starts at around $1500, and it can go significantly higher depending on the brand. If you want to take a look at how is living off the grid in Canada then check out my recent article Off grid living in Yukon ( The Land of the Midnight Sun ).
Off grid incinerating toilets
Incinerator toilets are extremely good if you generate your own power and you want a more hands-off approach when it comes to maintenance. Incinerator toilets will turn your waste into ash, which is then deposited in a special container beneath the toilet. Once your solids are turned into ash by incinerating it, they will lose a lot of weight and size as a big part of solid waste is just water.
Once you have done your business in the toilet, you press a lever that drops the waste onto the incinerating part of the toilet. Then you press the flush button which starts the incinerating process, once this is complete the ash will be dropped down into the ash container below. In addition to this, all incinerator toilets do have a vent system, which simply vents out all the smells usually through a pipe in the roof.
From there on you can simply throw out the deposited ash once the container is filled. This makes maintaining an incinerator toilet extremely easy, and you do not have to worry about draining the liquids as it does incinerate them as well. With that being said you will have to empty the incinerator ashtray once every couple of days.
There are a couple of downsides of using an incinerator process, mainly that it needs power or propane to function. Generally speaking, it takes around 10-15 minutes for the incinerator toilet to turn your solids into ash, and during this process, the toilet uses around 2000 watts of power. So if you are generating your own power then you have to make sure that you have enough power for the incinerating toilet as well.
In addition to this incinerator toilets also need some kind of wax paper, as this will aid the toilet in the incineration process. Most incinerator toilet manufacturers do sell these wax papers although they tend to be fairly expensive. On the other hand, you can go to any crafts and hobby shop and get some wax paper. Incinerator toilets tend to be fairly expensive, they cost around $2000-$3000 although the actual costs depend on the size and the brand.
Off grid outhouses
For some people, the most viable option will be to make an outhouse, although this tends to be one of the cheapest options when it comes to off grid toilets but it does need a lot of work. I am not going to do in-depth on how you can make an outhouse as there are plenty of online tutorials for that. Generally speaking, most people who make their own outhouse do most of the work themselves or ask a couple of friends to help them out, and for the most part, only the wood for building the outhouse will cost them any money.
The best part about an outhouse is that once you have dug the hole and built the outhouse you will not have to worry about maintenance for a while. Now, this doesn’t mean that you do not have to maintain the outhouse, as sooner or later it will be filled, and at that point, you will have to remove the waste or in some cases relocate the outhouse. Outhouses tend to smell, especially once they start to get full, although this mostly depends on the local climate and how fast can the ground absorb the liquids.
Off grid septic system
Septic systems are fairly common in rural areas or in areas where there is no access to plumbing. Septic systems have two main components, the septic tank, and the leaching bed, both of them are underground. Septic tanks work by accumulating all the waste from the house, including from the toilet and drain go into the septic tank, where they are broken down by billions of microorganisms, from there the broken down waste particles are pumped into the leaching bed and from there they will go directly into the ground.
Septic systems do not need any electricity to function, as they are gravity fed, meaning that gravity will do all of the work. Septic systems are also often used for off grid homes, although setting up a septic system can be fairly costly. Generally speaking, setting up a septic system starts at around $2000, and depending on who sets it up, what size, and what kind of septic system you will use the price can go significantly higher.
On the other hand, septic systems need fairly little maintenance, on average you will have to empty the septic tank out once every 2-3 years, although this also depends on the size of your family.
Off grid honey bucket
The honey bucket is probably the cheapest toilet that you can set up. A honey bucket is basically a bucket with a lid on top of it, although not the most hygienic toilets but it does its job. Usually, honey buckets are used temporarily until a proper toilet system is set up. Honey buckets tend to be extremely cheap, although your main problem with such a toilet is not where you do your business but what do you do with your waste.
Most honey buckets are fairly small and you should empty the contents out every time you use them. Some people place a trash bag inside the honey bucket as this way it is a lot easier to remove the waste. Overall a honey bucket is not meant for long term use if you live off the grid then you should use it as a backup toilet until you install a proper toilet system.
As you can see you have a couple of options when it comes to off grid toilets, but most importantly you should check with the local authorities what are the regulations regarding toilet systems in your area. The last thing you want is to set up the off grid toilet system and then get a massive fine because the county doesn’t like the type of toilet system which you have set up.