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Building a Jenkins-style Lovable Loo for the Tinyhouse

August 17, 2012 | Humanure | 40 comments | Author:

The lovable loo humanure toilet was designed by Joseph Jenkins. This design is, for my money, simply the best domestic-scale compost toilet ever. It’s so, so simple. It’s easy to build and easy to maintain, results in awesome compost, and means that we don’t have to poo in drinking water. What’s not to love?

It’s also incredibly cheap and quick. Nick built ours in a morning, from scrap material and a bought toilet seat, the day before we moved into the Tinyhouse. We’ve been using variations of this toilet design since we moved to Milkwood, but this is the first one we’ve built in a really truly bathroom. And it works a treat.

For the sake of brevity, i will not (again) wax lyrical about why humanure is an amazing resource on any small farm if stewarded safely (we use ours only on tree plantings) and with due process. After a year of composting, it is free, nutrient-dense compost, incidentally containing 80% of all the nutrients we need to sustain us.

If you need more backstory (or want to see Nick’s TEDx talk on the subject), check out our humanure thread…

But back to our lovable loo. Move-in day was tomorrow. Time to build that toilet.

Nick’s ‘I have a gazillion things to do today, we’re moving in tomorrow, please stop photographing me’ face. And lovable loo under construction.

And the end result. So simple, so bloody effective. Love it. Make sure you use a standard bucket size, so that you can have multiple refills available!

Every deposit gets 1/2 a scoop of sawdust sprinkled over it to completely cover said deposit. It doesn’t smell, leak or attract flies. For our little family of 3, one bucket lasts just under a week. Then we swap it out, put a lid on it, put a clean one in and start again.

When it’s time to empty the bucket, we take it up the hill to the humanure hacienda (also a Jenkins design) that we’ve been using for various bucket-system compost toilets around the farm since we built the hacienda back in 2009.

Up the back steps
Through the forest garden
To the humanure hacienda

This hacienda is designed with our family in mind, to a scale where to fill one ‘bay’ will take us about one year. The idea is we fill up one side and then leave it to compost while we use the other bay. in a year, last year’s compost is ready, we shovel it out to be used for planting trees, and start filling up that bay again while the other composts for a year. Pretty simple.

The middle undercover area is where we keep the carbon material we use to cover each bucketload. We’re currently working through our inlaws’ supply of lavender stalks (they used to grow lavender commercially), but once that runs out we’ll fill this area with straw to be used for the same purpose.

A central feature of this design is that you make a donut of carbon around the pile of humanure in the bay – there’s no poo leaking out the sides here. It’s a central pile of compost, swaddled on all sides (and on top) with a deep layer of dry carbon material.

After pulling back the carbon covering the central pile, Nick empties the full bucket
Then washes the bucket straight away, tipping the rinse water onto the same pile
Adding carbon onto the central pile
Dragging the edges of the carbon pile back over the humanure
All covered over. No flies, no smell.

And a year later, it looks like this…

A couple of chicken bones still visible, but mostly just earthworm-rich compost
Thanks, worms!

This humanure hacienda is also where we dispose of nutrient-rich organic matter that have no other logical place, but that we want to make the most of… sheep guts, dead lambs (sad, but we get a few per year), other dead animals with no better place to be (chooks that die of old age etc) and chicken bones from dinner. It all turns into black gold, over time.

The kicker for this system, for me, is this: it’s so much easier to deal with if it’s your own family’s poo. Really. We’ve used this system with other people’s poo (from an early toilet over at our classroom) in the past, and that’s a whole other level. Stranger’s poo. It’s just different.

Hence why we built our wheelie-bin compost toilet system for our more public toilets over at our classroom. Same principle, but less immediate contact with the humanure. For everyone’s peace of mind.

Any mum or dad who’s done the cloth nappies thing knows what I’m saying here. Your family’s poo is just part of life, though you try not to get it on you. But if you do get some on you, you go and you wash it off. No need to run about screaming.

I’d just like to add that, all things considered, I’ve got far less poo on me in our 5 years of compost toilet maintenance than i did in 2.5 years of nappies. I’m fine with it. It’s ok. And it’s an output that we need to take responsibility for, so let’s just get on with it, and make the most of the situation.

Plans for the lovable loo and the humanure hacienda can all be downladed from Joseph Jenkins entirely kick-ass website Humanure.net. Read the handbook while you’re at it.

Why Bill Gates didn’t go with this system in his quest for the ultiamte lo-fi compost toilet is beyond me. Though as Jenkins said on that subject:

“We applied for this, but were turned down. Our input was that toilets don’t need reinvented, our attitude toward organic material needs to be reinvented. We need to see organic material as resource, not waste, and recycle it accordingly. Toilets would then be redesigned to achieve that purpose. NOT INTERESTED said the Gates people.

Looks like they’re going to spend a lot of money on microwave systems, solar powered, high-tech machines and poor people all over the world who don’t have two nickels to rub together are going to continue crapping on the ground.”

Here’s to treating organic material as a resource, recycling it properly, and being thankful for what we’ve got.

A happy man is one with a simple and effective humanure toilet…

>> More posts about humanure toilet systems at Milkwood Farm and beyond…


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  • http://twitter.com/idrogod Amo a Colombia (@idrogod)

    Simple ideas are always the best.

  • Maree McCarthy

    Awesome! Thankyou so much for keeping it simple! Love it!

  • Kelsey

    Looks great! Saves money, recycles resources. Such a no brainer. Too many people are too lazy to make a long term investment that really isnt all that much work!

  • http://gravatar.com/gflora Nada

    This is and looks great. Love it! Could you tell me what that pipe on the left hand wall of your loo is for?

    Thanks.

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Nada the pipe is there in case we want, in the future, to add an external vent to this system (we probably won’t but it was much easier to put it in while building, just in case). Currently that pipe ends in the ceiling cavity and basically goes nowhere, but the joy of owner building is that you can put in little ‘just in case’ additions all over the shop…

  • Captain Lance

    “simplify, simplify” Henry David Throeau……thanks for sharing…

  • http://www.facebook.com/geoff.capper.9 Geoff Capper

    Great post! Glad you clarified on the chicken bones, I was afraid you weren’t chewing your food properly lol!!

  • eremophila

    Reblogged this on Eremophila’s Musings and commented:
    Sometimes we can’t avoid a shitty subject :-)
    Point is, we all DO it! Here’s how to take responsibility for it…..

  • http://www.pearlandelspeth.blogspot.com annie

    uuugh I wish you’d posted this a year ago! We wasted heaps of money on an excel sun mar, which sin’t working. Wish I’d just built one of these…

  • http://twitter.com/lillianjuliaD Lillian Davenport (@lillianjuliaD)

    this is fabulous, and that man certainly does look happy! I just read this article through a link and now I am very interested in the rest of your blog.

  • http://gullygrove.blogspot.com Chris

    Lovely system. Simple. I do have a question though. By enclosing the bucket in a sealed wooden unit, doesn’t it create moisture inside?

  • cheryle Grundy

    We had a similar system while we were living in our shed waiting for our house to be built… We used cheap potting mix as we couldn’t find anything else…. We were a family of 6 and a bucket the same size as yours would last us a week… We found that if the boys (4) would wee against a tree and the girls (2) wee’d in a bucket overnight that was then diluted with water and then used to water trees, it would extend the length of time between bucket changes… Taking most of the wee out of the equation really helped…

  • http://apecstudios.wordpress.com Patrick Donohoe

    Can you wee in it as well?

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Yes you can. Boys tend to chose a tree instead, but I use the lovable loo… there’s plenty of sawdust in there to absorb it…

  • http://tameesh.wordpress.com tameesh

    Reblogged this on tameesh.

  • Jono

    I love you guys!!!
    Who votes we all hand in our air conditioned gym memberships and start hauling humanure buckets instead?
    Me!

  • Karla Hooper

    Just wondering what you do with your urine?? Do you use a separator or do you have a different system? Thanks

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      This system is designed to be an all-in-one system for simplicity’s sake (and space, as well). Weeing on a tree is encouraged (cause it means the bucket doesnt fill as quickly) but anyone is welcome to wee in this system – there’s a lot of sawdust in there and it absorbs readily.

      While some urine separating systems look really ace, it was a time and cost decision to go with this design. The simplicity of this design also ensures there’s very little that can go wrong, leak, smell etc, unlike more complex systems.

      Over at our classroom we have a urinal, which makes use of all the boys liquid gold: http://milkwood.net/2012/06/20/urine-peak-phosphorous-and-on-farm-nutrient-cycling/ which is great during the months we have a high volume of folks around.

  • http://gayeowen2012.wordpress.com gayeowen

    Reblogged this on Life Aint Simple and commented:
    This I could do and live with if I had the space and the council would not object.

  • http://yandoitcreekbleat.wordpress.com yandoitcreekbleat

    I’ve got a bucket like this one and had all sorts of initial horror/ resentment/ “I’m not coming out to visit you!” from friends, and six months in they’re saving themselves on the trip out until they get to my loo because they know what good stuff I’m going to do with the proceeds! Particularly the toddlers – they love it (once they relax about the fact they’re not going to fall in…)

  • https://marykay.com/beautifulgoodness MK_Duchess

    Great idea. This should work very well in third world countries. Easy to build. Simple to maintain. Good for the environment.

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      It also works fine in first world countries 😉

  • mark jenkin

    Read the Humanure book last year. I found the standard plastic dunny seat & lid sits and works well buy itself without it tipping or wanting to slide off the bucket. The box looks good but is not totally necassary. Mark J. Bellingen nsw.

  • http://www.agoatinthegarden.blogspot.com Sharon

    We use this system in our shed, while we build. Sadly our council would never ever allow something like this in the house, we are having all sorts of difficulty just dealing with the greywater. I LOVE this toilet, it is such an easy system to use, and its pretty much fool proof. Simple and really effective. Pity councils would rather we just put in septic tanks (there is a good reason they are called SEPTIC!)

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  • Joe Buchanan

    I love the elegant simplicity! I got voted down by a loud chorus of retching, and kvetching from my wife and two daughters, so I caved on the loo.I did opt out of pouring my liquid gold into the water system. I use it to fertilize my organic garden, and to generate a ton and 1/2 of great compost.per year. My subdivision puts their lawn clippings and leaves out by the street, and I load hundreds of bags per year into my 7 4x4x4 bins made from free pallets. I never buy fertilizer, and my garden is awesome.BTW, colloidal silver stopped all plant diseases, and bug pests.(kills the eggs).

  • http://www.facebook.com/mluthi69 Matt Luthi

    Kirsten, how was it to get this approved by council? We’re owner building a 10 star home in Beechmont but decided to go with a worm farm. Still love the lovable loo – have read the Jenkins book.

  • Luis

    Very good article. Almost finished the setup for my desert camp. What about fish guts/heads?

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      We’d be putting those in a sealed vat of water and making fish emulsion for the veggie patch!

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  • Katwoman

    Sawdust : not available or affordable in all countries (no joke) Any advice to replace sawdust?

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Anything that is easily available, is high carbon and has a small-ish particle size.. Could be chaffed straw, could be husks, could be… Whatever you can source, that makes sense.

  • Mary

    Someone called it elegant simplicity – I love that. Why not have a spare.loo at home. And it can be a humanure one. Put one in the bathroom and use it instead of the regular one. Save the world one flush at a time ;). Sometimes there’s a queue waiting with anxious rapping on the door – here’s the remedy! Lol

  • Julian

    Fantastic – thank you. Have plans for a composting loo – looks like this one joins the short list!

  • Paul

    Hi Nick and Kirsten,
    How are you both? A quick question on the bucket composting toilet. Is the bucket system too small to rotate the buckets just like in the bigger wheelie bin system? Ie does it scale down? I would like to be use the bucket toilet, for our domestic scale, but rather than utilise a humanure hacienda, we would like to simply leave the buckets for several months and then use them on our rainforest trees. Obviously we would need many more buckets to keep the rotation going. We have access to buckets though. Any thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks,
    Paul

    • http://www.milkwood.net Nick Ritar

      You can do that… Lots of people in really cold climates store their full buckets over winter until it gets warm enough to add to a pile. Just a warning not much composting will happen in the buckets and they may smell pretty bad when opened.

      Also remember that unless you store them for at least 9 months they still potentially contain pathogens that could make people sick. This is why you need to either store them or 9 months or empty them into a dedicated composting system like the humanure hacienda.

      If you want to store them for 9 months you are going to need a LOT of buckets.

  • Greg Colby

    What a great article; one I plan on redistributing among my many avid lovers and followers (ok – I’m just gong to tweet and update). I also fail to understand how the Gates Foundation couldn’t see the pure simplistic genius of this design. One needs to be designed for the suburban house block or apartment block in mind. These are a no brainer for the farm.

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