The Best Tiny House Toilets: Incinerating vs. Composting vs. Water-Flushed

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

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

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.

Flush Toilets

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.

In Conclusion

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.

Best Tiny House Documentaries

Get the Big Picture

Documentaries have exploded in popularity in recent years thanks to the advance of modern technology. YouTube alone has empowered documentary makers. Netflix has also helped give these filmmakers better access to viewers. The world of tiny houses has not been exempted from this trend, and you’ll actually find a wide range of films out there dedicated to exploring the world of tiny houses, small living, microgreen housing and more. What are the best tiny house documentaries, though? While you could certainly filter through the options on your own, let us give you a hand by pointing you to some of the better options out there.

Tiny: A Story about Living Small

tiny a story about living small

Tiny was filmed and produced by Christopher Smith, the builder who is the focus of the documentary. While the film is certainly about tiny houses and their wide range of permutations, it’s about something more. As Smith says, it’s “about home and how we find it”. Tiny follows Christopher Smith’s journey in building his tiny house from the very beginning. The opening scene is of Smith and his girlfriend Merete on the road to pick up the trailer that will eventually become the foundation of his home.

It chronicles his struggles and triumphs throughout the building process, from his somewhat naïve belief that he could complete the build largely unassisted over the course of a single summer to his eventual success and the move of the house to his land in extreme rural Colorado (where he lives completely off the grid, relying on solar power to run the house). It’s a very good look at what a DIY tiny house build is like, but it also goes deeper.

Interspersed throughout the documentary are interviews with other tiny house owners from around the country. They share their stories, their inspirations and their reasons for choosing to live in a tiny house. You’ll even find two of the industry’s most notable personalities here – Jay Shafer, founder of both Tumbleweed Tiny Homes and Four Lights, as well as Derek Diedricksen (Deek) of RelaxShacks.com (a designer, builder and all around tiny living enthusiast).

There are also interviews with Christopher’s family, giving viewers a look into his childhood and adolescence, as well as the views of those family members on his desire to live in a tiny house. The documentary’s powerful, positive message, personal focus and wide range of topics makes this a “must watch” for anyone considering living tiny. It can be purchased via the website or viewed on Netflix.

We the Tiny House People: Small Homes, Tiny Flats & Wee Shelters

If you’re looking for tiny house documentaries that don’t require a DVD player or a subscription to Netflix, this is right up your alley. We the Tiny House People: Small Homes, Tiny Flats & Wee Shelters is a film by Kirsten Dirksen, produced in 2012, that spans far more than what you might think of when imaging tiny houses. If your idea of a tiny house is a Tumbleweed or Four Lights model, this documentary will open your eyes to the immense possibilities inherent with living small.

Kirsten takes viewers on a wide-ranging tour of the tiny house world, including homes built in caves, riverboats, garage apartments, conventional trailer-based tiny homes and more (even a converted pigeon coop). However, the homes highlighted here are only a small part of what this documentary is really all about. The real gem is the wide range of individuals Kirsten interviews, who are happy to share their inspirations, drives, goals, triumphs and failures in living more sustainably.

In terms of locations alone, this documentary has a very broad focus. Kirsten travels across the US, hitting homes in California, New York and even Hawaii. She also takes viewers across the Atlantic to tour homes in a number of French cities, and then south into Spain. Viewers will find a wide range of individuals featured here, including Jay Shafer (one of the most influential individuals in the entire tiny house movement), Jenine Alexander of Forge Ahead Construction and Suchin Pak of MTV.

The documentary has received quite a bit of good press from sources like TreeHugger, The Blaze and Weekly World News, and it’s also available to view in its entirety on YouTube (it runs 1:21:47).

Small Is Beautiful: A Film by Jeremy Beasley

Scheduled for release in 2015, Small Is Beautiful promises to be one of the best tiny house documentaries. Directed by Jeremy Beasley, the film “follows a couple, a young guy and a 50-year-old herbalist through their own tiny house journey to see what it’s really like to build and live in a tiny house.” It will be a feature length documentary and is set for a worldwide debut.

While the film is not yet available for audiences, those champing at the bit to learn more can access a number of resources on the website (SmallBeautifulMovie.com). You can sign up for email notifications so you’re one of the first to know when it is released, but you can also access the blog, where you’ll find information not only about the movie, but about partnerships formed with other creators (including Melissa Rachel Black, who helped Jeremey produce a lovely illustrated notebook). Those notebooks can be purchased through the site’s store (a 3-pack is $16.95, and there is also an available mixed design 3-pack on offer). You can also preorder the movie here for $12.95.

Other Sources

While the three films listed above are (or promise to be) some of the best tiny house documentaries, there are many other video-related resources for those either contemplating a smaller lifestyle or already living the life. A couple of the better options can be found below:

RelaxShacks.com – If you’re looking for lots of video inspiration, look no further. Led by Deek Diedricksen, this YouTube channel delivers short, medium and long videos highlighting everything from new models manufactured by some of today’s top companies to plans dreamed up by the team.

Tumbleweed – Love tiny houses? Looking for inspiration or a possible model to purchase? Tumbleweed Tiny Homes has their own YouTube channel where they do model walk-throughs, demonstrations and more.

As the tiny house movement continues to gain steam, look for even more documentaries and video offerings to come out.

Tiny House HVAC

tiny house hvac

I recently wrote an article on the best tiny house heaters. I noticed that many visitors landed on that page while searching for tiny house HVAC. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Mini splits and window units are two main ways people usually heat and cool a tiny house.

 

Mini Splits

Mini splits are my favorite way to heat and cool a tiny house. They are less obtrusive than window units, while being more energy efficient to operate. Since they are ductless, installation is easier and efficiency is increased. Ducting can account for up to 30% energy loss with a central unit. This is a point of contention since some people say proper ducting would not have loss. That same guy also claims a central a/c unit would cost 1/3 the cost of a mini split to operate for a 2000 square foot house. Fortunately, we aren’t interested in such a large space.

The zone nature of mini splits makes it easy to only heat or cool the area of the house being used. The biggest downsides of mini splits are a high initial cost and the fact you are supposed to have a certified HVAC technician do the installation. With a mini split system, you are likely to spend at least $600. Window units with heat can be found on sale for less than $200. If your budget is tight, that might be the main deciding factor for you.

Pros

Energy efficient (SEER 13 to low 20s)

Less obnoxious looking than window units. The outdoor unit can be located up to fifty feet away from the indoor evaporator, increasing the ability to locate in an inconspicuous location. You typically only need a 3 inch hole in the wall to connect the indoor and outdoor components.

Up to 4 zones with unique thermostats. This factor isn’t critical to most tiny houses, but it is still need an adds to the overall efficiency of operation. Many tiny houses would benefit from at least a dual zone system.

Cons

– Installation requires an HVAC technician. Even if you have the electrical know how, you are supposed to have a refrigerant license if the unit does not come pre-charged. Having to hire other people can be one of the biggest costs in realizing your tiny house dreams. The best advice here is to shop around if you need someone to help. Some techs won’t want to install equipment you bought online, while others will be fine with it. They might give you grief about warranty issues, but that shouldn’t be a big factor as long as you bought a good unit in the first place.

The initial cost is higher than a window unit.

Recommended Mini Split Systems

1. Pioneer 12,000 BTU – the cost is right at less than $700 shipped. The reviews are also outstanding. Amazon marks this unit as the number 1 best seller for single room mini splits. The biggest downside is the 13 SEER rating. This is certainly better than a window unit, but much more efficient mini splits exists.

pioneer 12000 btu mini split

 

2. Klimaire 12,000 BTU – this unit costs about $250 more than the Pioneer. It is slightly more efficient at 15 SEER. Inverter technology allows for heating in temperatures down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. While that isn’t a big selling point to me in Texas, I know many of you live in much colder climates.

klimaire mini split

3. LG 12,000 BTU LS120HYV – this unit is expensive at right around $2,000. The plus side is a whopping 26 SEER along with the renowned quality of the LG brand. It is a lot of money no doubt, but you are likely to be happy with this purchase for years.

lg 12000 btu mini split

 

Window Units

Window and through the wall units are cheap, reliable, and easy to install. Any slightly handy person can install a window unit without too much grief. All you need is a buddy to help since they tend to weigh too much for one person to handle well. You always want to make sure you find a unit with the right amount of BTU’s for your space. This is not a purchase where more is always better. More is frequently just far less efficient. Always check whether you are looking at a 115 or 230 volt unit. You do not want to have to pay to ship back a 90 pound plus window unit and be stuck in the heat or cold for another week or two.

Pros

Cheap. Good units can be purchased for just a couple hundred dollars.

Easy to install

Cons

Not energy efficient. Window units are a damn site better than a portable a/c or heater, but they are not good when compared to mini splits or central air.

– They look trashy. I fully realize this is a subjective claim. I mean several million dollar apartments in Manhattan frequently have window / through the wall units. I still think they look like ass (not the pretty ones).

Loud. Window units are getting better and some are downright quiet compared to other units. You are still likely to clearly hear when these units operate. It is kind of like living next to a train. You are likely to not hear it after a little while or be driven completely mad.

Security Vulnerability. You can secure a window unit well enough that no one is going to kick it out without some extreme effort, but most are not installed that well. It is not uncommon to see stories where robbers gained access to the domicile by pushing out the window unit.

Recommended Window Units

1. Frigidaire FFRH1222Q2 12,000 BTU cool with 11,000 BTU heat – This unit isn’t terribly cheap at more than $500. It will get the job down though. When it comes to window units, I personally would only buy Frigidaire, LG, or Frigidaire. The FFRH1222Q2 is made for areas up to 550 square feet.

frigidaire window unit with heat

2. Friedrich EP08G11 with 8,000 BTU’s cool and 3,500 heat. You can purchase this model for less than $500. Friedrich is a highly respected name in window air, so you shouldn’t worry about the quality.

friedrich window unit

Avoid Portable A/C Units

My final note is to avoid portable a/c heater units like the plague. They are incredibly inefficient. They can be a tempting option because of how easy they are to operate and cost, but don’t do it. You deserve better.

Best Tiny House YouTube Channels

tiny house youtube

Learning how to transition to a tiny house lifestyle can be a daunting task. We recently published an article where we suggested several of the best tiny house books. For this article, I want to delve into the Youtube medium. Demonstrations are one of the best ways to learn, and the fact that the service is free means the price is right.

Top 10 Tiny House Youtube Channels

1, Tiny House Talk – If you have done much research on tiny houses, I am sure you have run across the Tiny House Talk website. It is a tremendous resource by itself. Alex Pino, out of Florida, operates the site. Alex also makes fun and helpful Youtube videos that have millions of views.

 

 

2. Living Big In A Tiny House – This channel has a wealth of what I lovingly refer to as tiny house porn. Those videos are essentially tours of impressive looking tiny houses. They also cover education DIY topics, such as constructing a tiny house trailer. The people who run this channel our based in New Zealand. The beautiful landscapes add to the value of these videos.

 

 

3. Tiny House Listings – This is one of my favorite websites. On the main site, they highlight tiny houses that are for sale. The Youtube channel is almost exclusively devoted to DIY projects, like installing flooring, counter tops, siding, etc. Most of their videos still have relatively few views, but I expect big things from this channel.

 

4. Kirsten Dirksen – her videos aren’t exclusively about tiny houses, but the ones she has are great. Many of her videos involve the stories of people who chose a minimalist lifestyle along with a tour of their tiny domicile. It is a really neat channel and several of her videos have well over 100,000 views.

 

5. The Do It Yourself World – building a tiny house is a great way to build new skills and discover interests you never knew you had. This channel is all about how to complete projects, like air conditioning and electric, that might otherwise seem terrifying. The videos on this channel are helpful and have been viewed by millions of people. If you are serious about your tiny house journey, I highly recommend checking it out.

 

6. relaxshacks – They have several 500,000+ view videos of beautiful tiny houses. Tips on space saving or salvaging are offered, but for the most part, this channel is about looking at some awesome tiny houses. Since the company offers workshops, you can get a pretty good feel for whether or not it would be worthwhile to buy a ticket. The video quality could be better and the hosts voice oddly gets on my nerves. I won’t dock him for this latter aspect since it is highly subjective.

 

7. Tiny House Design – This channel is by Michael Janzen. He mostly focuses on the tools and strategies needed to design your own tiny house. The information found here is useful for anyone who wants to add more of a unique touch to their tiny house than buying a set of off the shelf plans affords. I’ve highlighted a video where Michael discusses using SketchUp to design the house.

 

8. Tumbleweed – They provide fewer videos than I would expect, but since they are one of my favorite tiny house companies I couldn’t not plug their YouTube channel. They have one video from when Jay was still at the company that has received more than 2 million views! I suspect their content is purposefully scant since they would rather have you attend a workshop and learn how to do it the right way.

 

9. Kevin Coy – He looks like the type of guy who could survive in the woods for years after the zombies attack or nuclear fallout kills most in the big cities. His range of topics are incredibly useful, like framing, building a portable power plant, and using a wood stove. If you want your tiny house to be off the grid, this is the channel for you.

 

10. tiny House Build – They don’t have a wealth of videos, but they do have one of the most watched tiny house videos on Youtube with over 4 million views! It is an amazingly comprehensive tour of a well constructed tiny house. You can watch it below.