I know it sounds self serving for me to tell people that they shouldn’t build their own toilets but hear me out. Live aboard boaters and RV owners are usually very handy. You basically have to be. You’re out in the middle of no-where and something goes wrong and there is nobody you can hire to fix it and no place to go to get parts, at least proprietary parts. When I built the C-Head I kept this in mind and made it so that parts could be easily found at local hardware stores. Having lived aboard two sailboats for a total of nine years, I knew that that would be a valuable consideration for my product by people who would use it. I also knew that because of that, people would try to imitate the design, thinking they were saving money and getting the satisfaction of being creative all in one deal. I mean it’s just a bucket and a jug and a box and a toilet seat, right? But let’s look at that.
Before I go into the actual nuts and bolts of the cost effectiveness, we need to look at the results of DIY compost-ing toilets. Americans in particular live in absolute horror of their poop and pee, except for people who trade in it daily like nurses, paramedics, plumbers, sewage treatment plant personnel, etc. Jenkins astutely named it “fecaphobia.” Because of our social fear of feces, it is easy for law enforcement to cite anybody that they think is even vaguely breaking the law and the odds are good that the court will agree with them. The Marine Patrol, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement, Dept. of Natural Resources, local Police and Sheriff’s Office (on the water) are all in the business of enforcing what they think the law is and also they are in the business of raising money for their agencies through fines. If you are boarded and inspected by one of the law enforcement officers, they basically have the freedom to use their discretion at determining if you are afoul of the law. If your homemade toilet doesn’t look quite right or is of an unfamiliar type you can expect to get cited. They want to see something that looks professional, is familiar and has labeling. You can argue your case to the officer if you want to but deciding if you are legal is not his job. It is the judge’s job. It is a headache you can do without and the odds of getting off are anybody’s guess unless you have a brother-in-law who is a lawyer and doesn’t mind solving your problems on his dime.
But even more problematic is the fact that if DIY composting toilets become a problem, sooner or later the government will start creating laws and “certifications” to address what it sees as the problem and simultaneously create a revenue stream into the tax coffers. This oversight will add to the cost of all manufactured toilets for them to remain in compliance with the laws. Already most code enforcement agencies defer to NSF 41 compliance for “composting” toilets to be certified for installation in residences. It is the easy way out for them because they don’t have to examine if non-certified toilets are a better fit. Nevermind that NSF 41 eliminates a host of very good designs that are cheaper and work better in most applications.
Now let’s look at the supposed cost savings. If you think you can build a composting toilet of similar quality for less, you are in for a rude awakening. While the “contents” of the C-Head are basic and inexpensive, that is where it ends. The design is complex, and material is not cheap and assembly matters to within a 1/16″ of an inch to get things to work smoothly and to come out looking like something a person would want to use. The idea of pooping in a bucket and peeing in a jug is repulsive to many people, especially women. Yes you can make a simple bucket and a jug in a box with a toilet seat and it will probably work fine but the costs go beyond just cobbling something cheap together.
There are lots and lots of projects (an endless amount really) that you can dream up for your boat or RV. You can make a docking cabinet or a urine diffuser, a solar dehydrater, just to mention a few associated projects. Building your own toilet is inviting problems with the law, especially if living on the water where locals don’t want you anchored out in their backyard to start out with and on the road where locking out boondockers from public lands is becoming epidemic. Do yourself a favor and buy a $100 plastic cassette porta-potty if you can’t afford more and use it as intended. Sadly, nothing pollutes more but it is an accepted design. Go figure. If you really want to take advantage of using a composting toilet, buy one and then you can stop worrying about the law and brag about your toilet. Just saying.
Please feel free to make constructive comments or ask questions.
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