Wednesday, February 14, 2018

DIY Urine Diverter for Composting Toilet

For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you'll know that, all the way back nearly 5 years ago when we built the original Floating Empire, we opted for a simple bucket composter instead of a blackwater system for the boat.  I had originally designed a urine diverter for the system, but . . .um . . .it didn't. . . .well. . .work.  The bucket system, using compostable bag liners and largely wood stove pellets for compost mass, served us well for nearly four years.
The original composting head going in Floating Empire.  Note fitting for our original, failed diverter.....ah well.

This winter, though, on moving to our new boat Tesla's Revenge, we began to get increasingly, not unhappy, but tired of dealing with the bucket composter.  This isn't to say we don't like using composting toilets.  We do. They're simple, inexpensive, and unlike every blackwater system I've ever seen, they don't smell and there's nothing to break.  I can't imagine using anything else.  Unlike Floating Empire, though, the new boat was a traditional sailboat hull (a former CAL 29) and dumping the bucket meant taking it out of the head, climbing up into the cockpit with it, then up onto the dock, then. . . .you get the idea.  This winter's weather has been unpleasant here.  Unpredictable, wet, and windy, and that's meant spending a lot more time on the boat, which means we've been filling up the john far more quickly and having to empty it. . .well. . .a lot.

But dealing with that led me to revisiting the idea of a urine separator.  Here's the thing:  MOST of the waste coming out of people is pee.  Pee is what smells, and it's heavy (over 8 lbs per gallon) and takes up a lot of room.  Separating the urine into a different, watertight container meant that we could empty the toilet far less often, which, since I'm the one that gets to drag five gallons of the stuff up and out of the boat, is something I kinda wanted to see happen.

There are a lot of diverter toilet parts available on the market, and, like all good Americans, I went immediately to the web to look at them again.  Immediately I encountered two issues:  First, most of them made the toilet a lot longer front to back, designed as they were to accommodate a traditional toilet seat.  We use a snap-on toilet seat intended for use with 5 gallon buckets and really don't have that kind of room, and I wasn't anxious to totally rebuild our current toilet housing (for instructions on how to build the basic bucket composter, btw, click here). Second, the things were damned expensive, and, IMHO, weirdly so.  I did, however, stumble across a few sites that had some nice gonzo diverters made from the same 5 gallon buckets we were using for the toilet.  Now if I could just figure out how to make them fit into our existing bucket composter housing.

So, dear reader, below is the instructions on how to do what I came up with.  It fits inside the basic bucket composter, you can still use your existing snap on lid, and it's monstrously inexpensive.  We are currently testing it out and it seems to be working beautifully.  You will need:

(In addition to your bucket composter set up, as detailed here)

A 5 gallon bucket (preferably one identical to the one use used for the composter)
A few feet of 3/8" ID (1/2" OD) tubing
A screw fitting for the tubing
A container (Milk jug, cat litter jug, water bottle, soda bottle, whatever) for the pee.
Three stainless steel (trust me) screws, about 1/2"
Some plumbers caulk

That's it.
You're gonna be cutting a wedge out of the bucket bottom, and, yes, these were once the same color. Amazing, hunh?
Here's a little better shot of the piece with the drain fitting in place.  I left the little "wings" on either side in case I needed some extra plastic to screw it in place.  I wound up not needing it and trimmed them off.

First, measure off a distance on your bucket from the bottom and up the side which is about equal to half the opening of your bucket composter.  You're going to be cutting a wedge shaped piece out of the bottom and side, using about half of the bucket bottom.  Cutting this polyethylene can be a bit of a challenge.  The material is sticky, and can both flex AND shatter, an unfortunate combo.  We used a jigsaw to do the cut, moving slowly and trying not to overstress the material.
here's the wedge piece with the hose fitting in place.

Drill a hole for your fitting in the bottom and screw it directly into the plastic.  I recommend using plumbers caulk on the threading.  We tried using a silicone caulk on the bottom around the fitting and it didn't stay. Hardly surprising.  Virtually nothing will stick to polyethylene plastic, including paint, barnacles, glue, even permanent marker has issues.
Snake the tubing trough the outside of the housing and through the side of the upper bucket half (that holds the seat).

Drill a hole in the upper bucket piece for your hose to exit.  Note that it needs to be up high enough that the lower composter bucket won't pinch it when you stack the two.  it's okay if there's a bit of a downward bow to the tube before it exits the bucket(s).  That will just provide a way for any leaking urine to drip into the composter bucket and not run down the tube.  Run the tubing from outside your composter housing, through the upper bucket side, and force it onto the fitting for your diverter.  Then put the diverter in place and screw it to the bucket. Pilot holes are recommended.  Note that you'll be screwing the piece in canted, so it forms a sort of "V" with the drain fitting at the bottom.  Use stainless screws if at all possible as urine is really corrosive.
Here's the diverter screwed into place with the tubing press fit in place.  Note that it doesn't interfere with snapping on the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

It took a bit of tweaking to the system, moving the diverter down a bit so your bum didn't hit it and fiddling with the tubing so it didn't kink on it's way out of the bucket, but once we got those few bugs out, the system works spectacularly.  We initially ran the tubing into a half-gallon milk jug just as a test and wound up emptying it on a daily basis.  We've substituted a 2 1/2 gallon container for that one, which is much more convenient.  The big surprise has been just how seldom we've had to dump the solid waste part of the toilet (it's looking like 5-7 days at least), and how little biomass we're now using to keep it covered and odor free.  We use a small squirt bottle of bleach water to keep the diverter and tube flushed after most uses so there's not even a whiff of urine odor.

In general, I'm wishing we'd done this a lot sooner.  It would've saved me a lot of hauling.

Let me know if you try this.  it's a simple fix.

More shortly


A lot of folks have asked us to put all the blog articles on composting toilet construction and care and feeding in one place, so we've consolidated all those pages along with some additional material and created a little Ebook.  The thing is available by the below link on Amazon for Kindle.  It's free if you have Kindle Unlimited, otherwise it will set you back a massive .$.99.  It was the easiest way to put the thing together and distribute the information, and if you do download, you'll be giving us grand total of $.35 to help us further the stuff we're doing here.  If you're interested, just click the picture or link below:

Monday, February 5, 2018

A little Wheelhouse update

Several of you folks have expressed an interest in how the FlexOGlass was going to hold up, along with our use of Gorilla Tape as edging, so I thought I'd give you a bit of an update.

4Mil FlexOGlass with Gorilla tape edging and snaps set therein.
We started this project a bit before Thanksgiving 2017 and have now taken the enclosure though two of the worst months of the winter, high winds, snow, sleet, rain, and sub-freezing temperatures.  The only thing we haven't had was massive waves crashing over the bow into it (and if we have that, I'll have a lot more problems than "will the snaps hold" ).  On the whole, we've been very pleased.  The enclosure runs 20+ degrees above the outside temperature on sunny days, and running lanterns or cooking in he cockpit heats it up pretty quickly as well.  None of the screws or snaps has pulled away due to wind and the material remains crystal clear.

We managed to poke one small hole in the FlexOGlass when a rolled up matchstick screen fell over into the membrane (it was easily fixed with a bit of clear tape).  We've had two of the snaps fail, both on the doorway cover that we go in and out many times a day.  One came apart because I failed to seat the snap properly on installation.  In the other case, the Gorilla Tape tore slightly due to an unfortunate tendency I have in pulling on one edge of the glazing to unsnap a whole side of it rather than to unsnap each of the closures individually.  I suspect we'd have the same problem were they set in canvas.  As it is, the snap was easily repaired, the tape easily patched, and I won't do that again.

Would I do this again?  Yes, I would.  The membrane will clearly make it through winter with minimal problems and it has made our lives aboard much more pleasant.  I'll do an update in the spring when we reopen the wheelhouse and make ready to set sail, but for now, I would happily use this product again, and our simple method of attachment seems just fine.

More shortly.  We're in process of ordering a new bank of 100AH batteries and making ready for the motor install.  Stay tuned.