When people visit our off-grid homestead, one of the questions we often get asked (after they’ve finished admiring the chickens!) is what we do about a toilet!
Having the right off-grid toilet system is essential to the harmonious functioning of your homestead. Overflowing toilets, undesirable odors, and swarms of flies can soon turn an off-grid paradise into a living nightmare.
But there is no reason why your off-grid toilet system shouldn’t be easy and hassle-free to install and use.
There are many benefits to the different off-grid toilet options too!
If you pick an off-grid toilet system that is waterless and produces compost, then you’re helping to protect the planet as well as your pocket!
What to Consider When Choosing an Off Grid Toilet System
With such a wide range of off-grid toilet systems available, it can help narrow down your choices if you can figure out your requirements and limitations.
From a simple bucket to a fully integrated composting system, these are the factors you need to take into consideration.
Ease of Installation
Are you an experienced DIY-er, or do you prefer your gadgets to come fully assembled?
Do you have a place in mind for your off-grid toilet system? Or, are you going to need to get some building work done?
If you’re looking for a quick and easy installation, then ready-assembled compost toilet systems might be the best toilet option for you – all you need is a suitable place to put it!
Experienced builders might prefer the challenge of constructing their off-grid toilet system. With many individual components available to purchase, this can be a fun and intriguing way to create a low-cost bespoke off-grid toilet.
Frequency of Use
Think about how many of you will be using the toilet, and also how often.
Your off-grid paradise may be a weekend retreat, in which case a small capacity toilet should work fine for you.
Larger families or full-time homesteaders will need something more substantial. Otherwise, arguments over whose turn it is to empty the toilet soon start occurring.
(I know this from real-life experience, so don’t skimp on the size of your off-grid toilet!).
Every off-grid toilet system differs in maintenance requirements. Basic toilet systems may need emptying frequently, others need stirring daily, and the high-spec options require little maintenance at all.
Think about what you’re ready to do and how often.
If carrying a bucket of urine and/or feces to a disposal point doesn’t bother you to start with, the novelty may soon wear off after a few months.
An outhouse toilet needs very little daily maintenance, but periodically a new pit will need to be dug, which involves heavy manual labor.
Living in a climate with extremes of temperature makes your choice of an off-grid toilet system even more crucial.
Warm climates can make even the most well-maintained toilet system turn smelly and putrid, and flies and maggots can be a huge problem.
On the other extreme, can you imagine wanting to go outside to an outhouse toilet in freezing temperatures? Or in the middle of the night?
In extreme temperatures, choosing where to put your off-grid toilet is as important as picking the ideal toilet system to use in the first place.
It might not be the most glamorous part of off-grid homesteading, but you need to think about where and how you will dispose of your toilet waste.
If you already have a septic tank or other sewerage system, you may be able to integrate your off-grid toilet option into this.
What about if you’re starting from scratch?
Humans (unfortunately) produce an astonishingly large amount of urine and feces! Then there’s the used toilet paper to dispose of as well.
A little bit of research will go a long way here – it is possible to have a waterless toilet system with on-site waste disposal, but it is critical to figure out the logistics of this right from the start!
If your off-grid property is a full-time home, then local regulations may mean that a flushable toilet and some form of sewerage system are compulsory.
There may also be rules relating to the disposal of waste that you must comply with and consider.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use an off-grid toilet.
Many systems are now compliant with local regulations. You should be able to find something which your local planning department will allow.
The good news is that as climate change concerns push more and more local authorities to adopt eco-friendly policies, it is becoming harder for them to turn down greener options such as waterless toilets.
Did you know?
In 1911, the USDA published a Farmers Bulletin issue number 463 – The Sanitary Privy. The purpose of the document was to help farmers and rural homesteaders maintain pristine health.
As James Wilson (Secretary of Agriculture at the time) wrote – “Nothing is more important to the farmer than good health.” – Fascinating history to read!
What Kind of Toilet Do I Need for Off Grid Living?
Off grid toilets range from a simple bucket up to fully integrated composting systems, with many other options in between.
Here is our handy guide to the most popular off-grid toilet systems to help you choose the right one for you.
1. Regular Toilet for Off Grid
You might be living off-grid, but modern-day technology means that it is possible to have a traditional flushing toilet in your house!
It is possible to use a regular toilet even if you’re not connected to a mains sewerage system – many people in remote places use a septic tank instead.
These generally only need emptying every three to five years, or even less if your water usage is low.
I’d suggest that if you’re using a regular flushing toilet, that you opt for a low-flush option to save water and reduce your waste output.
The simplest way to turn a traditional toilet system into a low-flush one is the good old-fashioned trick of popping a brick in the cistern!
2. Off Grid Bucket Toilet
The original and simplest form of off-grid toilet system – a bucket with a lid!
Bucket toilet systems could be the perfect solution for you if you are a weekend homesteader.
You can use the bucket system in two ways, depending on how you intend to dispose of the waste:
- Option One – use one bucket for both urine and feces. Don’t put any toilet paper, chemicals, or cover material in the bucket, and dispose of the entire contents at a suitable waste disposal point every two to three days.
- Option Two – use separate buckets for feces and urine. With this method, you can use a cover material for the waste to help reduce flies and smell. You can then empty the feces bucket into a larger composting container when full – and pour the urine away into the undergrowth.
3. Off Grid Portable Toilet
If the bucket idea grosses you out, then a portable camping toilet may be the one for you. These have a simple pump to flush the bowl and a sealed valve to trap odors.
Using a pop-up toilet tent is a great way to provide some privacy for these types of toilets.
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Where Can I Empty My Portable Toilet?
If you are using an off-grid toilet system and it is impossible to compost your waste, browse your local area for waste disposal sites.
Campsites, RV service sites, and boat moorings may offer a waste disposal service for a small fee. These work for toilet systems with chemicals added, but most will not allow cover materials such as sawdust.
Alternatively, if you have not used any chemicals or additives in your toilet system, you can empty it into public toilets.
But, take care to avoid spills or splashes!
Do not put anything down the toilet which may potentially block sewage pipes.
If you use a cover material such as sawdust in your portable or bucket toilet, this may clog up toilet waste disposal systems.
A combination of organic cover material and chemicals in your toilet waste can make it exceedingly difficult to find a disposal point, so try to stick to one or the other!
4. Off Grid Outhouse Toilet
Outhouse toilets are what typically springs to mind when people mention off grid toilet systems.
Close your eyes, and what do you imagine…
A dingy cobweb-filled shed with a hole in a wooden board so you can sit down?
Luckily, things have moved on a bit since then, even if the design hasn’t changed!
An outhouse toilet. Just a big hole in the ground with a building and seat above. Outhouse toilets can hold a large amount of waste, and they are cheap to build.
The joy of this system is that there are no buckets of waste to empty or dispose of – it all soaks and rots into the ground.
To save work in the long run, build a mobile outhouse that can be moved over a new pit when the existing one is full.
If you are clever, then you can make an outhouse toilet that’s effortlessly emptied. Raising the toilet seat on the plinth can give you an accessible space underneath to dig out all that lovely compost.
I love the idea of an outhouse toilet, and it is something we’ll be looking at building at some point.
After all, we spend most of our time outside anyway!
5. Off Grid Composting Toilet
Composting toilets are a popular choice for off-gridders, and it’s easy to see why!
With no water required and the possibility of turning your waste into tremendous compost for your garden, this is the ultimate recycling system.
A composting toilet is a long-term commitment, though – it can take up to two years before human feces are safe to use as compost!
There are many different types of composting toilets available:
# 1 – Separating Composting Toilets
These simple but effective toilets use an integrated diverter in the toilet seat, separating liquids and solids as they get deposited.
Urine goes down the hole at the front, and feces and toilet paper go down the hole at the back!
Separating the urine and feces reduces odors and makes the waste easier to manage.
Important Separator Toilet Tip…
Make sure that everyone sits down when they’re using the toilet. The separator will not work effectively if gentleman visitors attempt to pee standing up!
There are two types of separating toilets.
- The first will have two containers inside, one for feces and one for urine.
- The second type is a diverting system, which takes the urine through a pipe to an external disposal point.
This toilet features a handle to stir the solids bucket, reducing the need to empty the toilet system as frequently.
If you can get hold of a separator, it is straightforward and cheap to make your composting toilet – a great project for any DIY enthusiast!
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# 2 – Humanure & Self-Contained Off Grid Composting Toilets
Self-contained composting toilets have a composter directly below the toilet seat, and everything goes into it – urine, feces, toilet paper, and cover material. When the tank gets full, it is removed and emptied into a secondary composting container.
Many off-gridders will tell you that the humanure system is the only way to go – it certainly gets top marks for simplicity and effectiveness!
The humanure system is an eco-toilet that requires no water, plumbing, pipes, vents, drains, electricity, or urine separation.
Developed by Joseph Jenkins, the humanure self-contained composting toilet system is something even the most novice DIY-er should be able to put together – and he’s even written a handy guide to the entire process!
If you don’t fancy building your own, the Sun-Mar Excel self-contained composting toilet is an excellent choice for a self-contained composting toilet.
# 3 – Centralized Off Grid Composting Toilets
Centralized off grid composting toilets are the top-of-the-range option, perfect for families living off-grid full time.
A centralized composting system looks just like a regular toilet in any bathroom but has a large holding tank situated in the room below.
This dry toilet system composts the waste within the tank using a very clever mechanism. The contents are continuously dried out using a fan and ventilation system, leaving the perfect conditions for microorganisms to work their magic.
The larger tanks of centralized composting toilets mean the tanks get emptied less often.
When emptying the tank, the waste will already start to resemble compost and requires finishing off in a secondary composting container before it is safe to use.
If you’re in the market for a centralized composting toilet, then you can’t get much better than the Sun-Mar Centrex 3000 Air-flow Composting Toilet System.
Able to cope with the waste from up to 7 adults, this centralized composting toilet is the ultimate in low-maintenance off-grid toilet systems.
Did you know?
I’ve been reading this article from the University of Hawaii about state-of-the-art incineration toilets! The idea is to (hopefully) minimize sewage pollution and manage cesspool systems. The technology is new to me – and it can incinerate solids and liquids. It’s worth a read!
Off Grid Composting Toilets FAQs
Do I Need a Septic Tank If I Have a Composting Toilet?
You do not need a septic tank to dispose of waste from your composting toilet. The composting toilet is separate from your household sewerage system and will empty into a compost bin rather than a septic tank.
You will still need a septic tank or other water waste disposal system for greywater waste from sinks, showers, and bathtubs.
Do Composting Toilets Smell?
I would love to say that composting toilets don’t smell, but the truth is that they do!
However, it isn’t necessarily a bad smell.
If correctly managed, your compost toilet will have a faint odor of humus – similar to the lovely smell of moist compost or a damp forest floor!
Solid waste odors are kept at bay by using a cover material such as sawdust after each use. The cover material creates the perfect conditions for microorganisms to begin the decomposition process.
If you get an unpleasant smell from your compost toilet, the simplest solution is to add more cover material.
A bigger problem can be the smell of the urine bottle in separating toilets.
The best fix for this is to rinse the bottle each time you empty it, then add a splash of vinegar. The vinegar helps to neutralize any unpleasant odors.
How Do You Dispose of Urine Off the Grid?
If you use a compost toilet with a separator and urine collection system, you will need somewhere to empty the full urine containers.
Most people using a composting toilet system will add nothing other than vinegar to the urine bottle, so it is safe to pour the contents into the undergrowth or flushable public toilets.
Never empty your urine bottle directly into storm drains! Ensure that you are at least 200m away from any waterways.
I’d suggest that you don’t just pour your urine away – this golden liquid can be a helpful resource for the homesteader!
Urine can be used as a compost accelerator, turning your garden waste into black gold in just 18 days using the hot composting method. Fruiting plants and trees will also benefit from an occasional feed of diluted urine.
Urine can also be an effective fox deterrent.
If these pesky raiders like to prey on your poultry, try pouring a line of human urine around your boundary fence – or the poultry run.
Can You Throw Away Human Waste?
Where to dispose of human waste depends entirely on your local laws and regulations.
Human waste is classified as a hazardous substance and may pose a risk to solid waste workers. Generally, it is not acceptable to put bagged human waste into general waste bins.
If you are considering disposing of your human waste in a general waste bin, check that you comply with any local regulations first. These biohazard waste bags are a great way to make sure that your waste is clearly labeled.
- High-Density Polyethylene 13 Microns Thick
- 10 Gallon Volume, 24" X 24"
- Spanish And English Labeling
- Twist-Tie Top
- Bright Red With Printed Biohazard Logo
So, to answer our most frequently asked question – what do we do for a toilet on our off grid smallholding?!
We have two compost toilets – a homemade one in our campervan, and a larger purpose-built one in an outbuilding.
No water is required, and we are building up a lovely supply of humanure to use in a couple of years!
Read More Homesteading Guides:
- Our eight favorite homesteading tricks to change your life – for the better.
- Want to add animals to your homestead? Here’s our best advice.
- Check out these 15 must-read books for homesteaders and off-grid enthusiasts.
- Learn these 25 essential skills that all homesteaders should learn!
- Read our epic guide about the seven layers of the food forest.
Thank you so much for reading this article – please have a great day!