Warning! This post mentions compost toilets!

Warning! This post mentions compost toilets!

…and here I was waiting for an Indian summer. Instead, it’s raining so hard that there are drips coming in through previously impregnable areas, and a man on a boat up the canal just told me that he’d seen a picture of a boat near York that had taken on so much water it had sunk. Sinking in the rain just adds insult to injury.

At least I’m not sitting here and thinking that if only the sun was out my handmade solar panels would be raking in the power. Because I haven’t made them yet. Back in the balmy depths of August, I went down to the wilds of Buckinghamshire and made this:

Me with my solar panel in the sun 

Me with my solar panel in the sun

…which is a mini solar panel made from damaged solar cells. The course was run through the Low Impact Living Initiative, and we were taught how to do it by Norman Phipps, who used to live on a boat. With a lot of solar panels. He also goes off to Africa to take these solar skills to communities who really need them. You can see how he got on in Tanzania by following this link.

Over the weekend of the course, I uncovered an innate talent for soldering, which is what you have to do to link those squares together, and have a grand plan to make some really big ones to go on the roof of the boat and charge my batteries and save on my diesel bill. And save the planet, natch. Unfortunately, the only progress I have made so far towards this goal is to build some big boxes (out of reclaimed timber, I might add) on the roof to keep my wood store in, which will then be the base for the solar panels to sit on. Watch this space.

In the meantime, I am thinking about how to make a DIY compost toilet. Not such a stretch as it seems. Norman was useful in soooo many ways! I mentioned to him that, at some point in the distant future when I had £700 or so to spare, I was going to invest in an economy compost toilet. Note that. An ECONOMY compost toilet costs £700. Unless, that is, you’re up for a spot of DIY…

I’m going to get a bit specific here, on the basis that if you want to know about compost toilets on boats you’ll want to know it all, and if you don’t you’ll stop reading. You know which you are.

Anyway, toilets are a big deal on a boat. They’d be a big deal in a house as well, if you didn’t have the main sewer doing all the dirty work. We started off on our boat with a pumpout and a macerator loo, which means everything gets chewed up and stored in a tank, which you have to go and pump out. Here is a picture of me in front of the very best pumpout ever:

pooh truck

The Pooh Truck in Stone

This was taken on the Trent and Mersey, whilst I was assisting in the Epic Voyage of Tinker from Macclesfield to Wiltshire (see @boatpoet for more). Unfortunately, we have no such service on our bit of the Leeds/Liverpool, and I’d had to take the best part of two days to go up canal to pump out, which is a nasty job. Raw sewage smells a bit like mouldy, pureed cauliflower. The final straw, however, was the freezing in of the boat in the winter, when we couldn’t move the boat at all and so had no means of pumping out anything. I shall leave that to your imaginations. So, after an interim period with a Portaloo, I decided to make a DIY compost toilet.

And here I must add the comment made by @muckyboatlady, who told me hers was, ‘the most basic compost toilet possible i.e. a bucket with sawdust, but still infinitely preferable to fishing other people tampons out of macerator, or dealing with yucky elsan, had it about 6 months def been least bad option for us :)’

Can’t disagree with that…

Sorry about all this. It’s an occupational habit. Get two boaters in a room (or on Twitter) and they’ll be talking about toilets in seconds.

So it was that I ended up reading reports entitled ‘Urine Diversion: One Step Towards Sustainable Sanitation’. Which, if you’re wondering, is ‘the current state of the art of urine-diverting systems, with focus on Swedish experiences of urine diversion.’  They are really into this in Sweden. They have whole apartment blocks where the poo goes down a tube and is stored in vats in the basement for compost, and the wee is collected and sprayed over the communal gardens. It’s the way we’re going to save the world!

Or, for me, the way I get to avoid taking the removable bit of the Portaloo down to the village every week.

You see, if you keep the wet away from the solid, the solid doesn’t smell. And then you can put it in a compost bin every so often, where it will turn into humanure. Don’t worry, my mum didn’t get the concept either. But to do this, you need a urine diverter. Either you can spend £700 and get this:

Compost Toilet

…or, as Norman pointed out, find the separating bit and build your own. Which I am going to do. Rather than go into the (somewhat boring and geeky) details, I’ll just show you some pictures.

My newly acquired (from the rather super Little House Company) separator looks like this:


Add some surround and a bucket, and we’ll be in business.

I would like my new toilet to look like this:


…which, as well as being named the Duchamp du Loo, is on a barge in New York. That’s a cool compost toilet. You can go and read about it yourself here: http://www.appropedia.org/WaterPod_Composting_Toilet#Duchamp_de_Loo. Unfortunately, I don’t really have the space, so will have to make do with a less eye-catching design.

Enough, enough! My tea is ready and I want to sit back and watch some iPlayer. If the rain calms down enough for the broadband signal to get through.

I will post more pictures once my compost toilet is done. THAT’S A PROMISE!  Although I am aware, as my daughters point out on a regular basis, that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Funny, that…

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