Everyone goes to the bathroom. The choice to live in a tiny house doesn’t change that. However, it does alter the equation a bit. There are quite a few elements to tiny houses that make a conventional toilet an impossible option, from space limitations to the availability of water and sewer connections. There’s also the environmental impact to consider. Don’t worry, though. Living in a tiny home doesn’t mean that you’ll have to build an outhouse (unless you want to, of course). There are plenty of toilet options out there. The big question really boils down to, what are the best tiny house toilets, incinerating, composting or water-flushed? Let’s compare the options.
Incinerating toilets are exactly what they sound like – they use fire to burn away solid waste (urine is handled differently with most incinerating toilets). They’re fast, require less hassle and maintenance than composting toilets, and they have a very small environmental impact (at least from the end user’s point of view).
Incinerating toilets are available in two flavors – electric and propane. Both will require energy. If you’re using an electric model, you’ll be burning about 20 amps of power, which is a considerable amount if you’re living in a tiny house powered by solar energy. If you’re in a grid-tied house, this won’t be as much of a problem, but you’ll also probably have ready access to water and sewer/septic systems, so an incinerating toilet might not be part of the equation. If you’re using a propane version, you’ll need propane to power the system (that’s an additional cost, plus there’s the question of accessibility when you run out if you’re living in a remote area).
While these toilets do turn your solid waste into ashes (which are dumped out of the metal catch bowl once or twice a week), they’re not without their drawbacks. First, they’re costly, far more expensive than composting toilets. A new lower-end model might cost you as much as $1,900. There’s also the complexity involved in using it (it’s more than a simple flush). Finally, they’re smelly. While most of the smell is vented to the outdoors, it’s impossible not to smell it indoors. Burning poo isn’t the best odor.
So, incinerating toilets are environmentally sound, but they’re complicated and costly. They’re also not particularly good choices for those trying to eliminate their ties to the power grid.
Composting toilets have become something of the go-to solution for poo disposal in the tiny house world for a number of reasons. They’re very environmentally friendly, require no water, electricity or propane, and can be built very small to fit in any size tiny home. You’ll also find two varieties here – low-tech and high-tech composting toilets.
Low-tech composting toilets are exactly what you think they are. Essentially, this is a box with a toilet seat installed on the top. A liner is placed inside the box (a simple plastic bag can suffice), and waste goes in through the opening under the toilet seat. Composting material is added over the top of each “deposit”, creating layers (layers of alternating dry/wet material are vital for composting, as most gardeners can tell you). A wide range of composting materials can be used, including sawdust, peat moss, and soil.
Among the benefits of these toilets are the fact that they’re extremely affordable (you can build your own for under $100 in most instances), and they have no need of water or sewer systems. They also allow you to create your own compost for use in gardening (if you’re in a position to have a garden, which is not true for all tiny house owners).
Hi-tech composting toilets are a different story. There are plenty of different models on the market, including Nature’s Head, Biolet and more. If you’ve followed the story of Guillame and Jenna with their tiny house (TINY HOUSE giant journey), you know the couple opted for a Nature’s Head model, which cost $925 (far more than a low-tech composting toilet, but only half the cost of an incinerating model). Different models handle solid and liquid waste differently. The Nature’s Head model stores urine in a special holding tank (which must be emptied). Solid waste is turned into compost using crank aeration and composting materials.
While these are certainly less likely to smell than their low-tech counterparts, there are a few considerations here. The cost is definitely a factor. You’ll also need to consider the size of the model you prefer, the ventilation method, the composting method and other factors.
Note: All composting toilets create compost. However, it cannot be used on gardens for some time – solid human waste-based compost must cure for an entire year before it can be added to the garden as fertilizer. This means you need outdoor curing areas for your composting waste during that time.
Many tiny homes rely on RV-style low-flush toilets. These operate just the same as a conventional toilet in a stick-built home, but they’re very low in terms of water consumption. If you have water and sewer connections available to you, this is the simplest solution to your needs. However, those who want to minimize or eliminate their ties to the grid and their impact on the environment will find composting toilets the better solution.
So, which are the best tiny house toilets? There’s no clear answer, as all three varieties have their own drawbacks and benefits. While composting toilets have become the most common solution thanks to their wide availability and relative low cost, that doesn’t mean they’ll be the right solution for your specific needs. Consider each of the three types, and then compare your options based on price, operation complexity, the potential for odors, and where you’ll be living. Your connection to sewer and water sources, no plans to be in one place long enough for composting and other factors will inform your ultimate decision regarding waste disposal.