7/8/2012 – Clearing the Air(head)

Stirred things up a bit with my last blog.  Unfortunately, it got some folks who had previously been sold on composters to have second thoughts.  I say unfortunately because I am now pretty darn sure that all of our problems were self-induced and not a basic problem with composting head design.

I read a few internet accounts ( this one, this one, and this one) of compost toilet installation and operations and was reminded of a practice that we quit doing awhile ago and was probably the source of our problems.  Namely, we were supposed to moisten the coir when we first put it in the tank following a dump out.  We had done that in the past and, amazingly, the toilet worked as advertised.  However, we ended up with things getting a bit soupy once and we decided to skip that part figuring the fiber would get plenty of moisture from the poo.  Apparently not.

So, by not wetting down the coconut fiber, we were not allowing the composting to get started properly resulting in anaerobic, smelly conditions which apparently attract gnats and flies.  So, it looks like the fault was ours and not the AirHead’s.

So, are we going to give it another shot?  Well, no, and here’s why.  When we installed the AirHead, we had to make a larger floor for it to sit on since its footprint was larger than the Wilcox-Crittenden Headmate that came on the boat.

AirHead on the mock-up floor extension. We lost the space from the wood grate back to about where the front of the toilet is.

We probably could have used the old pedestal but we wouldn’t really have anyplace to put our feet and the pee bucket would have been left hanging out in space mostly.  Of course, in the end I didn’t use that block of wood in the photo.  No, I built a nice floor with legs on each side and an opening so we could use the lost floor space as storage space although nothing much got stored there.  I looked through my archives and can’t find a photo of the original toilet setup but, suffice it to say that we gain a little more standing room by going back to the original design.

So, reason 1 as to why we’re giving up the AirHead is floor space.  Why does floorspace matter so much? Well, that leads to reason 2.

We want to make it feasible to shower in the head when it’s the convenient thing to do.  One of the things Lulu misses most is the ability to take a shower inside whenever she feels like it.  Our head had been set up with hooks for a shower curtain and even had pressure water and a shower head. Of course, we yanked the pressure water system since we hated the sound and wastefulness of the pump.  But that part is easy to fix.  The problem is that, with so little footspace you can hardly turn around.  It was literally tight enough in the head with the composter installed that, if you dropped something on the floor, you couldn’t bend over and pick it up.  Had to use your toes to pick it up.  What I wouldn’t give for opposing thumbs on my feet sometimes.  So that’s reason 2: showering onboard.

Reason 3 (actually 3a and 3b) is much more emotional.  First, since we had a couple of pretty disgusting episodes with the AirHead (granted, they were probably our own fault), there will forever be the fear that it will happen again tainting the unit.  Secondly, you know how once you get your mind set on something, nothing else will do?  Well that’s where we’re at with this head change.  No doubt you’ll get to read my rants during installation and a year from now I’ll probably be lamenting the passing of the AirHead but such is life.

So, please, please, please, please, PLEASE don’t let our experience alone discourage you from getting a composting toilet.  I’d really feel bad if that happened.


About sryoder

Steve & Lulu... retired. Had enough of the cold wet dreary fall/winter/spring in the Pacific Northwest. Bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our home and sailed to Mexico in November, 2010. Been here ever since except for occasional forays to the States (summer only, thank you) to visit the kids, parents and siblings. If you're looking for a sailing blog, this is the wrong place. This is a traveling, hunkering in, eating blog. Sailing is just how we get from place to place when we can't walk.
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9 Responses to 7/8/2012 – Clearing the Air(head)

  1. Joan/Raymond Yoder says:

    What works for one does not always work for others. Love, Mom

  2. Joan/Raymond Yoder says:

    Wow, finally able to post. That little box that should come up for me to send a post would not come would not come up. Today it does. I guess “Hal” has the final say on how this darn computer works. Love, Mom

  3. Joan/Raymond Yoder says:

    Do you all remember “Hal” ? He was the stubborn computer in 2001 movie I think. anyway, I can control to a certain extent. I can unplug. Love, mom

    • sryoder says:

      Oh, I remember HAL alright. And have you noticed that if you jump one letter ahead in the alphabet, HAL becomes IBM? Unplug? I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Dave.

  4. bud elkin says:

    All I have to say is “3 years plus with my electric head and Purasan!” And yes, to your mom, I do remember Hal. That movie, and especially that computer character, encouraged me to go on and own three software companies. I wrote artificial intelligence for different customers including the CIA! But, all that fun doesn’t compare to cruising in paradise!

  5. Dani says:

    Don’t worry, we weren’t discouraged! I totally understand your need for floorspace.

  6. Rick Bailey says:

    Sorry to hear your airhead didn’t work out for you. This is a very personal choice – I’ve considered installing one any number of times, but I just couldn’t get past a few personal objections (enough said).

    Taking a cue form Don Casey, I plumbed our toilet to draw fresh flush-water from the head’s sink drain. So, after using the head, and hands are washed, we use the hand washing water (gray water) to flush. The result is no smell – dying marine critters are so stinky – but there aren’t any in fresh/gray water! Another benefit is there is no hard deposit build-up in the “exhaust” hoses, as there is not nearly so much calcium to react with in fresh water.

    Good luck on your plumbing.


    • sryoder says:

      I’ve read of this approach before. Peggy Hall, the Head Mistress, recommends it. My thought is that we would have to use a lot more water to wash our hands than we normally do. The Lavac, for instance, uses about 3 pints of water per flush. There’s no way it takes us 3 pints to wash our hands. Is the hand-washing water on your boat enough to ensure the waste is transported all the way to the holding tank, when the holding tank is in use? About how much water do you figure that is?

      • Rick Bailey says:

        You’re right – it would take a fair amount of fresh water to pump solid waste all the way through. This is acceptable for us, as we are coastal cruisers, and it is not hard to fill up our tanks with free water. For liquid waste, hand-washing water works out okay. But you are correct – we don’t use enough fresh water washing hands to clear solid waste, but we can afford to squander some.

        If and when we go off for longer periods, we will open our sea cock for flushing supply water when necessary.

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