This post began with a trio of discussion topics, but I quickly realized the shitter was the necessity we needed to dial in before all others. Honestly, this topic will easily fill an entire blog post, and likely be referenced for the rest of our off-grid days, regularly.
We purchased a magical piece of land in the dead of winter. The first thing I did every time we arrived to explore Sovereign Lode, was drop my pants and pee in the snow. We didn’t spend the night in January of 2021, so there wasn’t much need for a place to ‘do a number two.’ We’d quickly have to sort that out when the seasons changed and we started spending multiple days at the Lode.
We had designs to construct this charming outhouse. And, we actually DID end up building almost this exact structure, but it isn’t an official outhouse, or maybe it is? You be the judge.
When you start building an outhouse, you need to dig a gigantic hole. Six Feet Under.
Bad News: We (I did no digging) hit the water table at four feet. Water table + poop = no bueno. We couldn’t have a pit toilet. This not only threw a wrench in the works for the toilet, but also for the foundation of our future yurt. We had more research to do.
Do you see what I did there? We filled in the deep hole, but thankfully we had Mike and his magical excavator on site. Mike worked on the second plan for the yurt foundation, so in moments he scooped earth back into the hole that took hours to dig.
And, we continued the physical build of our outhouse. We still needed a private place to use the loo. Why not build the simple structure we had plans for?
Our friends own Heritage Timber and we were fortunate to secure all of our reclaimed lumber from them to complete this project. I had the honor of being at one of their births years ago when I started my doula work. I knew there would come a day that we would be able to utilize their services. It makes our yurt build even more special. The history behind much of the wood from their lumber yard lives in the walls, loft and outhouse we pieced together. Their lumberyard is in the Potomac, on the opposite side of the mountain from Sovereign Lode. Visits and tours to learn what they do, and how important it is for the earth can be scheduled with them.
Whatever we didn’t get from Heritage Timber we found at another local sustainably-minded gem, Home Resource. This place is full of things you never even knew you needed. I’m happy to say that aside from some screws, brackets and our countertop we sourced mostly reused materials. We even found paint for the outhouse in the Home Resource Paint Store.
The Build in Progress
We hit a small snafu one afternoon. We found a cocoon built in an inconvenient place.
That last photo has the strategic placement of the cocoon and you can see our SIPs covered by a tarp (one of our next off-grid blog posts).
We learned a lot in a year about so many off-grid amenities. There are incinerating toilets, there are portable toilets, there are septic tanks, and there are composting toilets!
We read about all of these options and tapped into our hive mind for suggestions and composting ended up being the winner. We could get a composting toilet for around $1000. I was skeptical about this option, all options really.
As Americans, I think we don’t have to deal enough with our own poop. Getting rid of waste is one of the easiest things to do, without actually taking into consideration where that waste is going. We discard pieces of furniture, tires, clothing, and literal human poop without giving any of it a second thought. Most Americans buy disposable diapers and start throwing poop away from day one. We don’t have to stare any of these things in the face after we discard them. All of our waste deserves more consideration.
We have a much more intimate relationship with human feces as a result of our toilet research. And, I cannot rave enough about the toilet selection we made.
Our Magical Composting Toilet
I had no idea it would be as simple as it is. We bought a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet. The day that baby arrived was a big day for us.
We settled on this model because it is a urine diverting composting toilet. Did you know that often when an outhouse smells it is because the urine mixes with the solid waste and the solid waste isn’t able to break down as effectively? A urine diverter fixes that.
On our toilet, you sit down to pee. There are two small holes in the front of the toilet and pee falls into a separate collection receptacle.
The chamber that catches the solid waste is filled with peat moss, that’s it, peat moss. You flip a lever to open this bigger chamber to do your business. After you’re done, you close the chamber and turn the crank a few times to mix the waste with peat. It doesn’t even smell.
We empty the urine frequently, but the other part of the toilet can accept up to 70 visits.
Finishing Outhouse Touches
We had so many helpers, we have the best framily! We’re forever grateful and LOVE sharing the Lode with all of you. We were able to put the final touches on the outhouse before the first snow fall.
The tiny details are all from yard sales. It’s pretty delightful in the new bathroom. This is currently where our composting toilet lives (one of them – we love it so much we got two).
The Toilet Travels
One of our jobs when we visit the yurt, during the cold months, is to bring our toilet to and fro. We load it up in the trunk, just like the cooler. I can easily lift it myself. The temperatures need to stay warm enough for the toilet to break down waste. Before we transport her, we always empty the urine, but the poop goes back and forth with us. I know that sounds disgusting, but it actually isn’t, it is all contained and doesn’t smell. When we are home, we keep the toilet in our garage. In the summertime, we leave both toilets at the yurt.
I figured emptying the toilet was going to be one of our dirtier jobs, but it wasn’t. A tumbling composter lives on the property, and we decided we’d use that to break everything down a bit more. According to the instructions, the toilet composts the waste enough that it can be added directly to the dirt, but we wanted our bamboo toilet paper to have more time to break down. Shane and I just dumped the ‘visits’ directly into the compost barrel and added new peat to the toilet. The waste in the toilet was already broken down, it didn’t smell, we could only really identify the toilet paper. By the way, we use bamboo toilet paper because it has an easier time breaking down. I currently order our toilet tissue from Who Gives a Crap. Psst: that link is a referral link.
We hosted a graduation party for our big kid in June of 2022, about a year after we’d ‘broken in’ our first toilet. Since we hosted so many people we needed a second toilet. Plus, during the yurt construction we decided to frame in a bathroom. That was one of the better decisions we made. I couldn’t be more stoked on the second toilet being inside the yurt. I’m a frequent night peeer, and it is a treat to not have to go outside and sink into 10 feet of snow.
The walls of the bathroom are affixed to the loft we constructed, which is for another post, but the lumber is all from Heritage Timber, reclaimed from the Missoula Fairgrounds. It was filthy! It took me a long time to clean it and remove all of the staples, but think of the history.
I added rockwool to the walls (like Minecraft) to make it more sound proof. And, I’m certain you’re wondering about that last image above. We like to leave a small token or totem in the structures we build, and this was really the only place that would be enclosed. Those are trinkets representing each person in our family. Yes, that is a tooth.
Bonus, I got to operate a nail gun, but it kept freezing because the temps were so low.
The water closet door was scored at Home Resource and some of the creepy art was from a distant great aunt that I’d been hanging onto, for this, I suppose.
This journey into toilet use may bring up some toilet questions for you. Please ask.
One question I had, after living this life for a spell, was what if someone needs to throw up? Best to have a bucket handy, or step outside.
A final question: How do you clean that toilet sans water? I use our upcycled wipes and a vinegar and water spray bottle.