The Composting Toilet
Very few things generate such volume of discussions as the boat toilet. Like most of you I’ve read all the blogs, forums and websites looking for any information that would help me decide which way to go.
I have to admit that up until now I’ve never had a boat big enough to have a head. When I was given Ava hers was very broken. I had visited other boats that had that underlying stink of a holding tank, and I’ve been on boats with holding tanks that had no smell at all.
The great debate between a normal marine head (holding tank) and a composting toilet would have been daunting if I hadn’t already needed to replace nearly every component in the system. The valves were bad and corroded, no overboard valve (disconnected due to imminent failure) and even the banjo clamps were rusting. I had a haul out scheduled so I could replace or remove the valves and do whatever I needed regardless of the direction I took.
I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of why I chose to go with a composting head, but the idea of getting rid of all that crap (pardon the pun) and plugging three thru hulls really appealed to me. The simplicity alone made me smile (No joker valve). So when she was on the hard I took lots of stinky stuff to the dumpster and cleaned and plugged everything up.
Yes, I felt like I was taking a risk. I hadn’t actually met anyone with a composting head. If I didn’t like the thing I was stuck with it for a while, and these babies aren’t exactly cheep. The other advantage I had was time. I wasn't yet living on board so I didn’t need to pick a manufacturer right away. I had some time to study, and I needed to save up the boat bucks.
Those who have studied the issue will recognize the three names most commonly batted around, C-Head, Nature’s Head and Air Head. I don't remember reading any reputable review where any of them failed to work. The simplicity of design sort of guarantees performance and lack of failure. In fact the only breakdowns were with the fans that come with two of them. Not a deal killer as they are running all the time and still lasted a year or more.
After throughly over analyzing all the information I could stomach I went ahead and ordered the C-Head. There were several differences that seemed important to me, but keep in mind I haven’t tried nor even seen the other units.
The top difference by far is the price. To be completely honest this was the biggest deciding factor for me. I ordered the more expensive cut-away base C-Head for $650. The other two makes will run you $1000/$1200. Did I mention the $650 included shipping?
Other differences that made sense to me (but may not make much difference) include the containment ability of the C-Head. If there is an overflow or seam failure of the waste containers the mess is held in the C-Head till you can fix the problem. Next is the type of agitation for the solids chamber. The more expensive units use horizontal mixers that directly stir the waste and medium. The C-Head uses a vertical stirring device that has paddles on the bottom of the container. The best analogy to describe the difference is mixing an egg into flour. One way uses a fork to mix them, the other method shakes the container, agitating the flour and thus coating the egg. Next item is emptying. Without a doubt the C-Head is simpler to empty. Just watch the videos on the manufacturer’s respective web sites and you will see what I mean.
Last but not least is that with the Nature Head and Air Head, vent fans come with the unit and are a required installation (per the manufacturer). The C-Head comes with everything needed to install a vent fan (hoses, ect but without the fan) and it’s installation is optional. Optional vent fan? Am I crazy? Really, it is optional. Now we are going to mix poop with a drying medium like coconut coir and not vent the thing? Here is where I had serious doubts about the manufacture’s claims. I’m a guy and I drink so trust me when I say my poop stinks with the best of them. But, again, the unit comes with parts and instructions to install one so what was there to loose?
Six Weeks Later…….
Ok, so I’m sure all three makes are easy to install and the C-Head didn’t disappoint. It dropped right in my Cal 29 without any modification. It’s built like a tank and holds my 230 lbs just fine. Some reviews make mention of plywood but the manufacture must have upgraded the process. Thick walls, sound mounting, great instructions. I figured I’d give it a try with no fan and true to C-Heads claims, it doesn’t need one. The thing just doesn’t smell. I’ve been living aboard for the six weeks and just now need to empty it. I have not been using it every day, so the time between emptying would be shorter if it was your only option. Very nice is the ability to transfer the waste to a vented bucket four or five times before that container needs to go away. C-Head even supplies the special vented lid for that.
So to sum it up. I find the C-Head to be perfectly acceptable replacement for a traditional unit with only a touch of healthy earth smell when you open it. No pump out, no valves or thru hulls, legal and attractive.