Do Composting Toilets Need Water and Electricity?


For many of us who go off grid, there is always a question on how to deal with your bathroom waste.  Septic or cesspool?  Eventually people come across composting toilets and begin to wonder, “is this a viable option for me on my off grid homestead?  I don’t have much water storage or electrical capacity.”

The majority of NSF certified compost toilets come in either electric or non-electric models, with most of them being 100% waterless.  If your off grid homestead is not yet equipped with power or water, there is a compost toilet that will fit your needs.

Now, you’ll want to read on to learn more about these compost toilets to find out which one may suit your needs best.  You may find out that a homemade version that costs $100’s less than the commercial toilets may be all you really need.


Related: If I had to buy another compost toilet, I would choose the NSF certified Nature’s Head Compost Toilet. I like how it separates the solid from the liquids, cutting down on smell. It also breaks down waste faster than any of the other toilets. I’m Sold!

NATURE’S HEAD COMPOST TOILET


3 Types of Composting Toilets

Not all compost toilets are created equal.  In fact there are 3 different types of compost toilets that you can be faced with when it comes to deciding which to purchase.  Let’s break down each type.

  1. Slow Composting Toilets, AKA Moldering Toilets

A Slow Composting Toilet is effectively a toilet in which the waste is removed at a regular basis and placed into what is known as a slow compost pile.  A slow compost pile is also known as a cold compost pile.

Slow Composting Toilets require no electricity or water.  All that is needed is a scoop of saw dust or peat moss spread over your waste after each use.  When the system fills it is added to the compost pile.

The toilet waste is mixed with brown material layer upon layer without turning.  It is allowed to slowly cook at 140 degrees for about 6 months to a year.  Compost worms can be added to speed up this process.

It is said that this compost is not 100% free from pathogens.  It is as important what you put into your body as that which comes out of it.  If you only feed yourself high quality whole foods, your waste will be high quality waste that is practically pathogen free.  

It is the waste from a person with a poor diet that tends to experience pathogen issues and even with that, allowing your compost to sit at least a year will kill off almost everything.

My favorite type of Slow Composting Toilet is the 5 gallon bucket method that many humanure aficionados tend to use.  A system like this can be made at home in 2 hrs for less than $30.  There are not too many commercially available toilets that use this method of composting.

2. Active Composting Toilets – “Self-Contained”

An Active Composting Toilet is what you’ll find most commercial compost toilets to be.  They are a little larger than a conventional toilet, but take up the same footprint.  The toilet seat is a little higher than normal to accommodate a chamber below that stores the waste deposits.

These toilets are very easy to install, needing only an electrical outlet in some cases and an exhaust pipe to air out any smells.  For the toilets that do use electricity, it is to operate a fan for aeration.  They do not require water.

An electric fan is a great option since it reduces unpleasant smells and moisture that comes from urine and feces, as well as any other materials that end up in the toilet unit.

After making your deposit, it is covered with sawdust, peat moss or coco coir to absorb liquid, smother vapors and aid in the composting process.  Sometimes a microbial starter will be used to kick start the compost as well.

This type of toilet was my first compost toilet.  It got the job done, but had to be emptied twice a month. Eventually I moved over to a Slow Compost Toilet instead.

3. Vermifilter Toilet

These types of toilets usually work with composting worms. They use and digest feces and get rid of solid waste very quickly and efficiently. It is a whole world in itself: a colony of worms living, wriggling and eating in the vermifilter toilet. 

You don’t need to care for it much since they can sustain themselves and live for as long as the conditions do not change.  If the environment remains the same, they thrive in it.

You still need to flush the toilet, but it only uses a fraction of the water that a normal toilet would use.

As you flush, the ammonia that your urine naturally produces is diluted, so you also need a fan or some other system for ventilation so that the water you are flushing can go away into the drain.

Maintenance is needed on this toilet, but only every 8 to 10 years! You will need to remove the worm castings and that is it. Those worm castings can be used in the soil as fertilizer! That way you get a two for one deal. How great is that?

Related: Are Compost Toilets Legal In Hawai’i?

How Much Electricity Does A Composting Toilet Use?

This highly depends on the type of a composting toilet, and even more so on the manufacturer. Some use 4 – 6 kWh per 24-hour period (2). Others have calculated that the annual electrical usage expected to be 400 to 450 kWh (3).

It is not easy to do the math when it comes to electricity, it varies a lot. If you are looking to buy, make sure you contact the seller or a manufacturer to find out the exact answer.  What may be true for some may not be the case for others, so shop around.

How Do Waterless Composting Toilets Work?

This question is best explained by using Ecoflo systems, which you can find out more about here (1). 

The toilets using these systems are completely waterless and do not contaminate the potable water. Instead, they use components such as a small compost chamber specifically designed for this purpose.

This chamber is placed under the pedestal since many composting toilets use one. An electric fan is responsible for air circulation which helps speed up the process. And yes, this gets rid of those unwanted smells as well!

If there is liquid the toilet didn’t need to use, it goes into a special trench made for excess liquid. Remember that water is not the only liquid you can use for your toilet. And potable water is getting so polluted we should do everything to reduce this mass pollution that is currently a big problem.

There are different types of waterless toilets as well. Batch composting toilets use two chambers which you can change such as the Nature Loo brand. You can also get an extra chamber depending on the user so you don’t have to worry about the toilet composting time. You can just have it running at all times.

Continuous composting toilets such as the Clivus Multrum systems, use one bigger chamber and you can remove the composted part since it will sink to the bottom of the chamber.

Hybrid composting toilets such as the Sun-Mar models use both systems explained above. These hybrids promise you not to contaminate humus with fresh waste so that you can use it or dispose of it quickly and without much difficulty.

Are Composting Toilets Worth It?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: Absolutely yes! It doesn’t matter if you want to save water, save money, or minimize your environmental impact – they do make wonderful companions if you are willing to take that road.

They are great for areas without a septic system or your usual toilets are too aggressive on your plumbing system and you want to help it.

Your water usage will be reduced by more than half if you use a composting toilet. You will also help the soil in your garden by returning your waste as nourishing fertilizer. 

If you are interested in buying a commercial compost toilet, prices can run from $1000 on up. If you are handy or know someone who is, you can make one of your own for less than the price of a fancy dinner for 2.

Lastly, this is a huge difference that doesn’t often get discussed when examining the price. Compost toilets are WAY less expensive than a septic system and much better on the environment.

3 Of The Best Commercial Compost Toilet Brands  (SunMar, Natures head, BTS Toilet)

Water?Electricity Required?
BTS COMPOSTING TOILETOpens in a new tab.NoNo
SUN-MAROpens in a new tab.NoYes & No 
NATURE’S HEADNoYes

The Sun-MarOpens in a new tab. composting toilet is one of the top brands in the market. It requires no septic or sewer connection, it doesn’t run on water, it doesn’t involve chemicals, it is pollutant-free, and it is environmentally friendly.

It uses a finishing drawer, a drum, and an evaporation chamber. It actually works quite similarly to the septic system.

Nature’s Head separates the waste into liquid and solid. It uses two containers, one for each material. Toilet paper also goes into the solid waste container, and the liquid waste goes into its own once the latch is closed. 

The BTS composting toiletOpens in a new tab. is waterless. If you use an extra bin, your entire household is able to use it. This specific brand does not require any water or electricity. You can get extra bins for about $100 per piece.

1. https://ecoflo.com.au/blog/how-do-waterless-toilets-workOpens in a new tab.

2. https://www.ecoethic-shop.ca/blogs/news/wondering-about-composting-toiletsOpens in a new tab.

3. https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/owts/techonsite/chapter3.pdfOpens in a new tab.

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Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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