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Sheep Dog Hollow: an eco-friendly renovation

Composting toilets: plenty of advances but some problems remain

Many advanced options are now available in composting toilets, but they may not be for everyone because of odor and other problems.

By / February 9, 2010

Sheep Dog Hollow will have three full bathrooms and two half baths when finished.

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor

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In my past few posts about the eco-economical renovation of Sheep Dog Hollow, I’ve written (rather uncomfortably) about the benefits and problems of low flow toilets and disregarded, almost completely, the composting variety.

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Chalk it up to a sign of my still-antediluvian green consciousness, memories of camp outhouses, or maybe fear of what’s perceived as “extreme green.”

But as a result of several people who commented on the most recent post, I realized I was remiss.

One was Marsha who asked simply: “What about waterless toilets?”

Another was Millie, who shared her firsthand experience: “We have used a composting toilet and found it satisfactory. We had one with a heater and a circulating fan. Since we live in the Southwest we had to add water to aid the process. The compost was great on trees and shrubs.”

Being a gardener of sorts, that piqued my interest. It turns out that just as great strides have been made in low-flow toilets, so, too, have advances been made in the composting variety.

But some problems with them are obvious, such as the perception that they're “smelly” and a general societal shying away from the whole idea.

Other problems are more concrete, such as regulatory barriers – some states won’t allow them if a sewer system is available – and the possible impact on the resale value of a home and its potential financing, according to Sustainable Sources.

Since I really hadn’t thought seriously about them before, I had to start from the beginning – attacking my own discomfort while trying to understand how they work.

The site Composting Toilet World was way ahead of me in noting the uncomfortable memories associated with what they call “old pit (outhouse) toilets.”

That still didn’t quite answer my questions about exactly how they worked, so I checked out its FAQ page, which adds:

Actually, there is a range of composting toilets – from simple, self-contained units to centralized systems, complete with roof venting systems, one-pint flush mechanisms, and basement waste collectors.

The costs can also range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, and that doesn’t include installation. The more I researched the topic, the more surprised I was by how technology has taken up the composting challenge and produced many options.

But then there’s the obvious question of whether they smell and how much work they require.

Most of the sites I found insist a properly installed and properly operated composting toilet will not smell. The Composting Toilet Store goes even further. Its motto is “No Septic. No Plumbing. No Odor. No Problem." It also says"

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