I’m wary of being definitive about anything with regard to the tiny house, but if I was pressed to say what the biggest challenge for this type of project is, I would probably say the plumbing. I really wish my grandfather was still around to help me out since that was his primary trade.
At least with electrical, if something goes wrong or something needs fixing, you can get by without it. If the power goes, you don a few more layers, enjoy actual conversation (gasp!) instead of watching movies. Make your own music instead of playing someone else’s. The picture on the left shows how we boiled up some bottled moose during #darknl last winter, the week long power outage with rolling blackouts. This was really a crisis for the province (much to Kathy Dunderdale’s chagrin, bless her), and a lot of people did not have the gear or preparation to deal with having no electricity in -15ºC or colder weather. Our camping gear is good for -13ºC, and fortunately, our basement apartment is well insulated so it never got colder than 14 ºC. We were actually very ok with the opportunity to try living without electricity, and learned a lot of neat tricks!
But you can’t live without water, it just isn’t possible.
With that said, I believe it’s possible to be comfortable using a lot less water than people conventionally use nowadays. The fact that we use clean drinkable water to dispose of human waste is really very crazy when you stop to think about it, given its severe shortage in a lot of places around the world. Newfoundland is extraordinarily blessed with abundant clean water, which makes it a non-issue for people living here. However, I think that it is fundamentally wrong to exploit a resource beyond your direct needs. It’s easy to forget about the impact a shortage would have on people’s lives when something is so abundant and comes from a seemingly never-ending supply (think: the cod fishery, or the current bottoming-out of the oil industry…). But it isn’t necessarily going to be that way forever, which is why it’s a good idea to foster the practice of minimalism and awareness of resource use and sustainability. The other side of that coin is that learning conservation practices in places where it isn’t required (i.e., here on the Rock) sets you up for flexibility and easy transition into other places in the world where these practices are most definitely required.
Instead of children learning to flush things they don’t want down a drain, with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, I think it would be better to create a home environment where children are acutely aware of what happens to the things they get rid of, and the effect that waste has on its end destination. To be able to learn these lessons by choice rather than requirement, as people in many arid countries must, is truly a gift. (Disclaimer: I’m not planning on having kids in the immediate future, I’m just sayin’, lol)
There are a lot of cool things going on right now related to the purification of waste water, particularly black water. According to Bill Gates, over 2.5 billion people in the world have no access to sanitation (i.e. sewage treatment plants). He has teamed up with some engineers to come up with a system that separates the water from sewage, and then harnesses steam power to drive a turbine, which generates electricity to run the whole system itself and feed the excess back to the grid. Check out THIS VIDEO to watch Bill Gates drink clean water that used to be human waste, five minutes prior to him drinking it. This is really awesome.
However, for the scale of a single dwelling, the best thing to do with the stuff that goes in your toilet is to compost it! We’re going to be getting a Nature’s Head composting toilet, which is listed online as coming in at about $925.00. This is pricing listed in the states, and it says to contact them by phone for shipment to Canada, so I imagine it’ll be a bit more than this when it’s all said and done. Compare this to a regular toilet (which you can pick up at Kent for like 90 bucks), it seems like a crazy amount of money. I think that the freedom it will allow us by not having to hook into a sewer main in order to live in the tiny house will be more than worth the extra coin. I don’t want to go too much into detail about how the Nature’s Head works because I know not everyone is as psyched about composting toilets as I am (as my lunch-room work colleagues know), but you can read all about it here: Nature’s Head Composting Toilets. I will say though that it requires no chemicals (just peat moss), and it does not smell. You’ve got a vent and a little 12V fan, and away you go.
Inevitably, there will be people saying things to me like:
- It’s going to smell
- It’s too much hassle to be emptying it out all the time
- It isn’t sanitary
- You’ll regret this
I am trying to stay on the positive side of things, and I want to believe in this idea as well as the logic and science behind it. But of course, there is a possibility that I’m not going to like it because of how accustomed I am to how things have worked in the bathroom my entire life. With any lifestyle change, there is of course an adjustment period, and I fully expect to go through that period, which may not be the most enjoyable. But I’m confident that Tim and I can make new habits and get by just fine with this method. Every video I’ve seen about other Tiny Housers going with a composting toilet has added to my confidence, and a lot of them don’t even have ones as nice as the Nature’s Head- often times people will just use a platform with a hole in it above a 5-gallon bucket, with a toilet seat attached to the platform over the hole. Basically like a contained outhouse style thing. They follow the Loveable Loo, Humanure Method. This means when you’re all done, you cover what’s in the bucket with sawdust or mulch, cutting off any contact with the air, which I would assume leads to anaerobic break down of the waste. You can read more about it using the link, if you choose.
Here’s a video of our favourite tiny house, totally completed, and they spend some time discussing their bathroom situation. Funny enough, they also have one of the ceramic wall-mounted panel space heaters that I spoke about last post as well!
This sums up the black water side of plumbing for us. In the next post I’ll talk about grey water side of plumbing.