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Why We Selected The DIY Urine-Diverting Toilet – AKA Composting Toilet

DIY Urine Diverting Toilet

Of the many parts required of a van build, a toilet decision is just one piece. We purchased the van in June 2019. We then went on a 10,000-mile trip cross-country with just a Lugabaloo bucket for a toilet. While on the road we thought hard about what we would use as a permanent toilet and did not make our final selection of a DIY urine-diverting toilet until a few weeks ago.

To Toilet or Not, That Is The Question.

We built this van in 2 Months. I know that seems like a crazy fast timeline! That wasn’t just actually building the van. It included the initial scratch paper design, CAD (Cardboard Assisted Design) mockups, and the final design on the program Sketchup. We were building just about every single day except Sunday and that was only because the maker space we used was closed. Before that, we had done what many do when considering building a van. Spending hours and hours scouring Pinterest posts and binge-watching YouTube for design ideas and inspiration. It’s like drinking from a firehose. You’re on information overload. Repeat after me…Relax, it will all work out.

Because toilet decisions are among the top concerns when building a van, along with showers and kitchen areas, we asked ourselves these questions. Keep in mind, we’re not 20 years old and bladder function changes with age!

  • Can we survive on just the availability of public restrooms without any toilet at all?
  • What size water tank will we need if installing a typical RV toilet?
  • Do we want to deal with a black tank in a van?
  • Are small portable toilets easy to deal with?
  • We could always use the bucket method again, right?
  • Could we install a cassette toilet and use it for extended periods?
  • Many use a composting toilet, is that too gross?
  • How about that Laveo Dry Toilet?

Well, we ruled out a normal RV toilet as that meant needing a larger freshwater tank and installing a black tank.

You have been voted you off the Island.

Voted Off

RV Toilet

Added cost:

  • Larger Freshwater Tank – About $75.00
  • Black Tank – About $75.00
  • Additional Plumbing and Valves – About $100.00
  • Monitoring System – About $175.00
  • Sewer Hose, gloves, sewer hose storage – About $50.00

We did not want to dump the black tank while using the van. It would involve searching for a dump station more often, and also storing a sewer hose in already limited storage space. We know from our other rig that sewer hoses stink no matter how good you try cleaning them.

Cassette Toilet

Added Cost:

  • Thedford Cassette Toilet – About $650.00
  • Cutting the Van – Yikes, not good for us.

In Europe, cassette toilets in campervans are quite common and we like the basic concept. If we had purchased a factory-built van like a Winnebago or Sportsmobile, we’d learn to deal with it. This type of toilet still has downsides for us. It’s not really that stealth lugging the cassette around here in the US to find a place to dump it. Attitudes in Europe are much more open about these things than they are here.

Getting closer to a decision

We had narrowed it down to 5 types to choose from. Public Bathrooms, Small Portable Toilet, The Bucket, Laveo Dry Flush Toilet, or the “Composting” Urine Diverting Toilet.

5th Place – Public Bathrooms.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the gas station chain, Buc’ees in Texas. They always give you an unbelievable bathroom experience. The problem is that you are probably in for a disappointment in pretty much any other gas station bathroom. We’ve all been there using nasty bathrooms, and with COVID19 still lingering, it’s difficult to find one you can use. So relying on the public bathroom was out.

4th Place – Small Portable Toilets.

These are typical for small boats, tent camping, and hunting. They have the same negatives for us as we had with using a cassette toilet. The portable toilets do get the job done without to much fuss and at a fraction of the cost. We just didn’t want to deal with finding an appropriate site and hauling the container around. You are in proximity to sewage, and no one likes that. The small portable toilet was out.

3rd Place – The Bucket.

This is a 5-gallon bucket with a seat. It’s as simple as an orange Home Depot bucket with a pool noodle around the rim, to the branded Luggable Loo, which you can find in many outdoor stores. Add a bag and some sawdust chips, or solidifying gel and you’re done. We used this method for a year, simple to use, and great for that emergency! This wasn’t going to be our long term solution. The big downside is you need to empty the bag after almost every use. Once you mix pee and poop and the longer it sits the worse it smells. The bucket, though it got us through a couple of trips, was out.

2nd Place – Laveo Dry Flush

We loved this system, and we almost purchased one. It’s number 2 in our book. It’s like the Diaper Genie system, but in this form, it’s more of a pee and poop sausage. After each use, it twists and seals the waste and gets ready for the next use. You get about 15-17 flushes/twists per consumable assembly which winds up being about  $1.00 – $1.25 per flush/twist. The system runs on a 12V rechargeable battery which lasts for months. The cost of the system was not the concern, but the consumables are not eco friendly and kinda costly. Disposal is no different than a diaper and promptly heads to the landfill with all the other trash.

The Winner – The “Composting” or Urine-Diverting Toilet.

Most of you have heard of this device and its common use for years has been in off-grid homes. There are many commercially available toilets from names like Natures Head, Separett, Sun-Mar, and more. They’re popular and work fine, but don’t fit our needs. While many homesteaders and off-grid homes have composting facilities, I’d guess 95% of people in vehicles do not truly compost. They simply divide and dispose of waste. That’s why a DIY urine-diverting toilet is a more appropriate nomenclature. We chose to have one built for us as our woodshop was closed due to COVID 19.

Now to pick which one to choose

Natures Head

This is the most popular choice for vans, trailers, and motorhomes. We like the overall design but there were a few big items that turned us off.

Pros:

  • Common availability.
  • Mixing mechanism!
  • Fan already provided and installed.
  • You don’t need the lift a lid to empty the pee bottle.

Cons:

  • Smaller hole to poop in. You need the aim of a marksman to get this right.
  • Stomach flu or Whiskey aftermath. . . . .Nuff said.
  • Blow mold plastic (think Kayak) we have seen the plastic stained on friends units, plastic is somewhat porous, No Bueno.
  • You need to remove the entire unit to change composting material.
  • $ 1,000.00 is very pricy.

Separett

This is also very popular in off-grid homes, tiny houses, etc.

Pros:

  • Higher quality plastics than the Natures Head.
  • Easier to clean
  • Looks more like a traditional toilet.
  • Many toilet options including a Pee Only toilet

Cons:

  • limited distribution, HQ in Las Vegas
  • Some ventilation may be difficult in a vehicle

DIY Urine-Diverting Toilet

Pros:

  • No Smell.
  • Less costly.
  • Custom made for your space.
  • Use the materials you like.
  • Replacement parts available everywhere

Cons:

  • You’ll need to make your own circulation fan setup
  • Turning the coco coir, most have a mechanism for folding the material.
  • You’ll most likely want to paint or seal the wood surfaces for longevity.

Final Thoughts

We spent a lot of time thinking and discussing all the options so we hope this helps you with your sanitation decisions. As we know it drives a lot of the final design, whether it’s in a van, overlander, RV, or even a tiny home. Getting this decision nailed down from the beginning would have saved us a tremendous amount of time. Hopefully, you can do it faster than we did and wind up with a great solution!

As always, we welcome comments, suggestions, locations of great breweries and unique things to see and experience.

Put someday in your rearview mirror! Do it now, and enjoy.

Paul and Nancy

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