But What About the Toilet?

Picture the following scenario. It might sound vaguely familiar. You’re a city slicker who stumbles across an online blog detailing the benefits of off-grid living. You’re reticent to read on, but the idea appeals to you. You open a new tab on your browser and find yourself Googling ‘off-grid living’. The options are mind-boggling. You didn’t even know this was possible! Your excitement begins to mount—a life powered by solar panels and rainwater collection systems that support a series of self-contained greenhouses that produce healthy, organic food for you to enjoy year-round! You imagine yourself quitting your job and escaping somewhere deep into the forest, nestled in the perfect tiny home, far away from the evils of the big city where no one but the birds can disturb your environmentally-sustainable dream life! Free at last!

Then the proverbial ball drops. What about the toilet? In the tiny home world, we call this ‘flush toilet anxiety’. Rarely does anyone have a problem with off-grid equipment like solar panels or rainwater systems, but when it comes to off-grid toilets, anxiety ensues.

I am here to reassure that there is nothing to fear. Off-grid toilet technology has come a long way since it was first invented. There are several excellent, odour-free, easy-to-use options available on the market. In hopes of easing your anxiety, here is a tiny home guide to all things toilet related.

Before we talk about off-grid toilet options, let’s review the pros and cons of regular flush toilets. If you have access to a sewer system or septic tank and plan to live in a set location, flush toilets are a feasible option for tiny homes. They are much less expensive than off-grid toilets and relatively simple to install. They come in different shapes, colours and sizes, which gives you more choice when it comes to design. The biggest issue with flush toilets is that they limit where you can take your tiny home. As I already mentioned, flush toilets require a sewer or septic hookup so they’re not particularly useful on the road or for off-grid living. They also waste a lot of water, which costs money and adds to your ecological footprint.

Another option is an RV-style toilet with a holding tank, which is arguably a similar experience to using a flush toilet. However, holding tanks require chemicals, and create blackwater, (as opposed to greywater) which needs to be disposed of safely and regularly. They can be quite smelly, and add substantial weight to your home. Because of this, RV toilets and holding tanks are not usually a great solution for tiny living—on or off grid.

When it comes to off-grid options, there are two main choices: composting toilets and incinerating toilets. Neither require water to operate, and both are suitable for an off-grid living. Composting toilets are more common than incinerating toilets, mostly because they are less expensive and use less power. A composting toilet can cost anywhere between $1000-2000CAD, whereas an incinerating toilet will can cost upward of $6000CAD. Compared to a regular flush toilet, (which you can get on sale for as little as $50), both composting and incinerating toilets are considerable investments. However, over time they can save you money on your water bill, they do not require chemicals or professional maintenance (like a septic or holding tank) and they produce a byproduct that is easily disposed of or composted.

But how do they work? Like really.

There are several functional differences between models and manufacturers, but in general, composting toilets work by separating solid and liquid waste. We’ve had a lot of success with Separett toilets, as they are easy to install, built to last and our clients love them. A Separett toilet bowl is ‘separett-ed’ into two parts, one that funnels away urine and one that captures solid waste. Because urine is mostly water, and considered sterile, it can be disposed of via a french drain, a tank or diverted to a greywater reuse system. The solid waste drops into a lower chamber, lined with a compostable bag where the waste dehydrates rapidly with the aid of a fan. Because there is virtually no odour, the toilet can be vented through the wall or ceiling. Depending on the amount of people living in your tiny home, the waste chamber only needs to be emptied (taken to the compost) about once a month. One thing to note about composting toilets is that because they use a fan, they do require a small amount of power to run. Separett makes a model called The Villa 9210 which can accept 12V DC power from a battery or solar source, or standard AC power, so that you can live either on or off-grid with your composting toilet.

At the push of a button, incinerating toilets literally incinerate solid and liquid waste into sterile ash. They traditionally run on electricity, but more recently, companies like EnviroToilets have engineered models that use natural gas, propane, diesel and even rechargeable solar power. Incinerating toilets draw a lot of power, so if you did opt for solar, you would want to make sure your system was sized to keep your toilet running year-round. We receive a lot of inquiries about both the EcoJohn series by EnviroToilets and Cinderella Motion by Cinderella Eco Group. Ringing in at $4300 CAD, the TinyJohn by EcoJohn is definitely more affordable than the Cinderella Motion, which costs a whopping $6490 CAD. According to Cinderella Eco Group’s website the Cinderella Motion is not yet available in Canada and the USA. Although incinerating toilets offer the potential of mess-free, off-grid living, their lofty price point can be a serious obstacle for the average consumer.

For more information on Separett toilets, click here.

For more off-grid toilet options head to Tiny Life Supply.





Why is Building Off-Grid More Expensive?

Lately I have noticed that we’re receiving an increasing number of emails inquiring about living off grid. How exciting! One of our goals at Rewild is to inspire people to embrace self-sufficiency and to live more sustainable lifestyles. The fact that our clients are routinely asking for solar panels, compostable toilets and rainwater collection systems is a sign that we’re doing something right. Or, rather, that you’re doing something right!

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Unfortunately, there is an abundance of inaccurate information about off grid living floating around the internet—particularly regarding how much it costs to build and run an off grid home. So, I took it upon myself to write this blog post in hopes of shedding some light on the true cost of off grid living.

First, it is important to consider your definition of ‘off grid’. The term generally refers to living without access to public utilities such as power, water and sewer connections. Living without these amenities is absolutely possible. (Lest we forget, human civilization was surviving just fine before the invention of the light bulb). However, when most people talk about living off grid today, what they mean is living off grid with the same comforts as living on grid. What they’re talking about is not just living remotely, but living remotely with working electricity, running and potable water, adequate bathroom and shower facilities, and the ability to cook and refrigerate food. So, if by ‘off grid’ you mean reading by candle light and peeing in a chamberpot, then yes, building an off grid home is less expensive than building an on grid one. But if you’re looking to live off grid with all the creature comforts, it’s going to cost you more than a couple of candles and an old bucket.

At Rewild, we design homes that function at varying levels of autonomy, or, for lack of a better term, ‘off-gridness’ depending on your budget and needs. Off grid additions can range from a supplementary solar system that powers your kitchen lighting and a small potable water tank, to a house powered fully by solar accompanied by a rainwater collection system with storage cisterns, filtration systems, and pumps that pressurize your water. Over time, (re)using these systems will save you money, as they are a renewable resource. However, the initial investment in off grid systems in unavoidably expensive. Think about it. It takes a lot of highly specialized technology to harness energy from a sphere of flaming plasma 150,000,000 kms away from us, store it, and then convert it to something that can power your Netflix account. To give you an idea of the price of these systems, check out the ‘Off Grid Gear’ page on Tiny Life Supply’s webpage. We source a lot of our off grid equipment and logic directly from them, and they are an excellent resource when it comes to researching the cost of living comfortably off grid.

Off grid systems also take up a significant amount of space and add a lot weight to your home. Because of this, off-grid homes are usually better suited for either permanent homes that can house some of their systems externally or bigger homes on larger trailers with a greater number of axles that can bear the additional weight—all of which add cost in materials and labour. Off-grid homes also require a lot more planning—both from a lifestyle and a design standpoint. If you’re serious about living off grid, we take special care to customize a system that suits your individual needs, based on your usage habits, appliances/electronics, and your intended parking location (i.e. how much sun and rain you can capture).

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Even relatively simple off grid additions can drive up the cost of your home. For example, the difference in price between a standard flush toilet and a Separett compostable toilet can be well over $1000CAD. Another good example to consider is your heat source. An average electric heater will cost anywhere between $50-100CAD, whereas a good quality propane heater or pellet stove can cost upwards of $1500CAD, with some of the industry's leading wood stoves costing up to $5000CAD, such as the Kimberly & Katydid stoves from Unforgettable Fire LLC which are frequently featured in tiny homes for their sleek design, super minimal clearances, and unparalleled efficiency (also available through Tiny Life Supply).

In the long run, being off grid has a lot of benefits, both for the environment and for your personal sense of independence and self-sufficiency. The initial investment to build an off grid home is high, but it has the potential to pay for itself over time. Ultimately, building an off grid home ain’t cheap—but in our opinion, the ability to live wherever you want, without reliance on anyone else, is priceless.