It was one year ago in October that we installed the Airhead marine composting loo in NB Valerie. Since we weren't cruising recently, we thought it time to provide a loo update for the curious and concerned. This will be a frank and open discussion of the use of this loo system so change blogs now if you are sensitive about bodily functions.
Basically as we said in the first post about this (October 20, 2012, What Every woman Wants For Her Birthday), if this loo is being used daily the contents will only be half composted when the toilet requires emptying. The very bottom and middle layers will have begun the composting process but the newer layers will not be broken down completely. Nevertheless, there is no rank smell, and with a bit of planning and a well constructed Army spade, Les and I managed as a team to clean the new loo once every six weeks. It took a total of thirty minutes and while not a pleasant chore (who can really call any toilet cleaning exercise pleasant?), the semi-monthly loo cleaning aboard NB Valerie was not awful. The scent of a peat bog or a cooking compost heap was the main odor--one Les never found offensive in any way and that was only when the toilet was apart for cleaning. Otherwise--no odor. We've never once smelled anything unpleasant wafting out of the toilet roof vent when we've been cruising, moored up, or when either of us have been up on the roof.
FIELD TESTED UNDER DIFFICULT CONDITIONS
When Les' colon literally went south this past summer as cancer took hold of him, very nearly blocking his rectum with a massive tumor, Les had to take Dulcolax stool softeners throughout every day in order to pass anything at all--and everything came out liquid with trips to the loo necessary as many as twenty times a night as his health worsened and months passed while we waited for the surgeon to book the operation.
The Airhead tried valiantly to keep up with this. As anyone knows who has really reviewed this composting marine loo, it works so well because the liquids and solids are separated. From July until October when Les underwent surgery to remove the mass, we went from cleaning out the loo once every six weeks to cleaning it out every three weeks, then every two weeks, and finally once a week. The unpleasant whiff of soured chocolate (cocoa shells remember) that occurred then was only very obvious to me--Supernose. We had visitors aboard during this time who never had a clue what was happening or not happening under the toilet pan.
We cleaned the loo together the last time on October 14th--the day we locked up the boat and spent the first of two nights at the Watford Travel Lodge so Les could undergo the experience of a total bowel cleanse before surgery on October 16th. At this point it was only me using the loo so I cleaned it all by myself for the first time.
Now I empty it once every four weeks because that is what I am most comfortable with doing, but the Airhead loo could easily accommodate another two weeks. It still only takes thirty minutes. The process goes as follows: because we have a teeny, tiny postage stamp sized bathroom, I remove all towels, pajamas, robes, rugs, and anything else which could get in my way.
I set out a package of nappy wipes (diaper wipes), and a spray bottle of Flash cleaner with bleach. I get a large, thick black plastic bag and close one side of the opening in the two doors underneath the bathroom sink. This holds the large bag open and in place. I don a pair of plastic gloves and loosen the four wing nuts holding the top to the bottom, remove the top which is essentially the toilet seat compartment and set it upside down in the bathtub.
|Folding 25" Army spade|
I strip off the plastic gloves, fill the bottom of the loo with fresh cocoa shells and a Tablespoon of compost starter. Then I don another pair of plastic gloves and using the spray cleaner with bleach, I turn my attention to the top toilet compartment resting in the bathtub. Once that has all been wiped down clean, I set the top part back on the bottom section and remove my plastic gloves to screw the wing nuts back in place and re-attach the fan hose. The urine bottle is cleaned out every two days when we empty it. Job almost done!
I tie up the black plastic bag and set it out on the bow for disposal. Then I clean out the bath tub, wipe down the sink and cabinets, sweep and mop the floor, hang all the towels, robes, and pajamas back in the bathroom and call it good. Thirty minutes from start to finish which equals six hours a year.
The point of all this narrative is to say that while not pleasant, it is easy enough to do, offers me a chance to really scrub up the entire bathroom once a month and I only have to do this twelve times a year--not every two and a half days of faffing about with awkward shaped, fifty plus pounds of loo cassettes which have to be negotiated from awkward places aboard the boat, and which sit literally stewing into a nasty, bacteria breeding, stinking stew which then must be disposed of when we find a service point with an Elsan.
Not only could I not lug the cassettes we used to have, but I couldn't maneuver them off and on their tracks while rooting around in a large, deep cupboard underneath our bed, and I certainly could not go anywhere near an Elsan, popping the lid on a cassette to empty it.
If we had still had the cassette toilet system in place when Les went into hospital we would have been screwed to put a not too fine point on things. I would have had to find some poor bloke who was willing to come aboard, get on their knees, pull the full cassette out, put the empty cassette in place, and take the full unit down to the service point to empty--every two days!!
Even now I make sure we go to the service point for water very early in the day before folks are using the Elsan services. The last time we got up there late in the day, some poor boater was in the process of emptying his loo cassettes as I rounded the corner to throw some rubbish away. The smell hit me like a punch to my gut. I dropped to my knees and puked up lunch while the bloke at the Elsan--oblivious to the odor of his ordure--stuck his head out the doorway to inquire if I was all right.
We still love our Airhead loo and me even more so now that I am the one who cleans it out from start to finish. For Les, it means he no longer has to tackle the toilet chores on his own. For me it means independence. I can do it myself and we are not tied to Elsan points at least once a week to empty cassettes. Finally, we are no longer using our precious water supply to flush poo. We are also not contributing to the sewage plants of this country. Left to its own devices, the solids in the black plastic bag will compost and return to nature something that is useful and harmless requiring no sewage plants and chemicals.
PROBLEMS AND TIPS FOR USE:
Different strokes for different folks. I do realize this system is not the choice for everyone. Recently in a surf through boater's blogs I came across one on which the boaters described their trials with the same toilet system we have. They quickly found themselves disenchanted with their Airhead loo. After several months use they found their loo smelled; unpleasant smells came from the roof vent and wafted back to the stern, and cleaning out the loo was a onerous task for them. We were quite surprised and sad to read of the problems these folks experienced because, honestly we haven't had any problems at all.
We tried to think of why they might have encountered problems and we decided to share the following:
We've only had problems twice in just over one year. One month after we installed our Airhead, the fan for it suddenly quit working. Almost immediately I could smell the toilet. Now Les didn't smell it unless the bottom flap was opened but I could smell it out in the hallway when the flap was closed. A quick word with the UK distributor at Hillmorton and a new fan was dispatched without charge. In the meantime Les discovered that small, round computer fans will also work and we have an extra on hand in case this occurs again. To date the second fan is still working fine.
About three weeks ago our toilet quickly developed an unpleasant smell like an over full cat box when someone came aboard and disregarded our instructions for the use of the loo. They urinated into the toilet with the solids flap open, saturating the solids compartment with liquid. Within 24 hours I could smell it and the loo had to be prematurely cleaned out and reset with cocoa shell and compost starter.
So here are some tips we've found which ensure our composting loo functions perfectly:
1. Be absolutely religious about keeping urine and solids separated. For women this means after urinating, throw your toilet wipe away in a rubbish bin. This keeps the solids receptacle from filling up with soggy wads of toilet paper.
2. Again mainly for women, since men have a longer urethra and a built in short term storage system, one must develop strong sphincter and pelvic floor muscles. If you are making a solid deposit and need to wee, you have to do one first and then follow up with the other. In other words, either go wee first so it all goes in the urine bottle and then open the bottom flap and get on with your solids business, or vice versa.
3. When we purchased our Airhead, all the literature that accompanied the toilet recommended the use of crenelated paper coffee filters set in the toilet pan whenever one had to make a solid deposit. Lower the lever, the flap opens and the filled filter drops into the solids compartment; however Richard, who
sold us our unit, said after awhile one gets comfortable enough using this toilet to do away with the filters. Just sit, open the flap and go. The solids drop down and the bottom compartment fills less quickly and without the paper filters filling it up. This works fine for us but we keep the paper filters on hand for guests to use. If children visit the boat it is essential an adult accompanies them to the loo and explains how it works. Children are easily distracted and can forget one must "be here in the moment" and pay attention when using a composting loo.
4. Churn it up! It is essential for the composting action and airflow on this loo to crank the handle on the bottom solids compartment at least once a day. After every solid deposit is best.
5. Every Saturday I add about one cup full of cocoa shells to the solids compartment. Even though there is no liquid going into the solids container,
human solid waste is still a bit wet. Adding in cocoa shells once a week keeps a very good balance between truly dry ingredients and slightly wet stuff, which is essential to any compost be it in one's heap in the back yard or in the composting loo. A 70 litre bag of Arthur J. Bowers Cocoa Shell lasts us one year and costs on average £12.99.
If you have just found this post and would like to read more about our installation of the Airhead with pictures, then please click on the bold title below and it will take you to the post titled, "What Every Woman Wants for Her Birthday."
You can also read an interesting article on composting loos in which ours was one of those featured, in Canal Boat magazine, September 2013. The link is available up on the right hand side of this blog. Just click the picture of the magazine cover.