Off Grid Toilets: What You Need To Know
The first thing people ask me when they learn I live off grid is where do you go to the bathroom. My answer: in the toilet, duh. But seriously, people are fascinated with off grid toilets. So here’s my definitive guide on every type of off grid toilet.
This article will walk you through all the different types of off grid toilets (with some personal recommendations). I’m talking about composting toilets, classic flush toilets, dry/waterless toilets, and even the infamous pit toilet. So, sit back, relax (hopefully not on the toilet), and let’s get to learning about off grid toilets!
Types of Off Grid Toilets
When you think about off grid toilets, most people think of the outhouse. The outhouse is the classic off grid toilet. This privy is the simplest and one you could easily set up yourself. While it’s the most primitive, there’s something to be said about simplicity and simply getting down to business (pun intended).
Commonly called the pit toilet, an outhouse is usually just a hole in the ground. Typically this hole is covered with a small shack with a comfortable wooden seat. If you’re interested in building your own outhouse, I recommend checking out Dwell or this straightforward video on YouTube.
Here are some handy tips to get you started on your outhouse:
- Ensure the outhouse is built above the water table. If not, I would stop drinking that well water…
- Dig your hole at least 5 feet deep. I recommended deeper. The more shallow it is, the sooner you’ll have to dig a new one…
- Build your outhouse FAR away from any water source.
- Make sure the outhouse has a door and sealed windows. If not, say hello to flies, rats, and any other nasty critters.
Outhouses are best for those that are used to roughing it. Some people will just have a hard time using an outhouse 24/7. There’s definitely always a bit of a smell, and it never feels 100% clean… To deal with the smell, throw some wood chips in the toilet after you use it.
Unfortunately, most outhouses are built by carpenters or DIY. You can find a ton of plans for outhouses online! I recommend checking out this book for a great guide on building small sheds that are perfect for a luxury outhouse!
The Classic Flushing Toilet
The classic flush toilet is what almost every house has in its residence. This toilet works best for off gridders who have a septic system and strong water system. A water system isn’t necessary. However, get used to filling up that toilet if you don’t (trust me, it gets old quick).
The flushing toilet will need to run into an above-ground septic tank, in-ground septic tank, or septic field. In my experience, most off gridders find the above-ground septic tank the easiest option (it’s what I have).
When I moved into my cabin, I had a classic flush toilet. However, I didn’t have a working power or water system. Therefore, I had to fill my toilet up every time I used it in order to make it flush. Honestly, it wasn’t that great of an experience. If you’re losing power only occasionally, then this would be fine. However, if you’re losing power all the time, I would NOT recommend this. It’s just a lot of work AND water!
Something else to consider is your plumbing for this toilet. If you live somewhere cold, the pipes may freeze during the winter. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to combat the frozen pipes and a not working toilet. Check out our full guide on off grid winter water systems to learn more!
This toilet is the Swiss Madison Well Made Forever SM-1T254 St. Tropez Toilet (seriously, a mouthful… This toilet is a modern-looking, easy-to-install, classic flushing toilet. It’s a great choice for any off grid home with a healthy electric system and running water.
It’s easy to clean and has a soft close seat for any toilet slammers!
The Bucket Toilet
The bucket toilet will be familiar to any van dwellers out there! It’s just what it sounds like… Honestly, this is by far the cheapest and easiest option out there. It’s not ideal for the long-term, but if you don’t have a toilet, the bucket toilet works great until you figure something out!
To set up the bucket toilet, all you really need is a few things. The first is a bucket lined with a plastic trash bag. Most people use some kind of toilet seat over the bucket, but if you’re really tough, it’s not necessary. I recommend throwing some wood shavings in the bucket, too (it’ll help get rid of that stank).
The toughest part of a bucket toilet is how to dispose of the waste. Sure, you can dig a hole in the woods and bury it… but that’s kind of gross and not 100% legal everywhere. I recommend taking the waste to a waste facility dump (most towns should have one). Typically you can leave your waste there for free.
Oh yes. The Camco Portable Toilet! This off grid toilet is just a bucket, but it comes with a seat and cover. It’s great for anyone living in an RV, van, or off grid home without a toilet! I don’t recommend this for long term, but it’s a great short-term solution!
The Camco toilet is made of durable and lightweight UV-resistant polypropylene making it super easy to clean. It’s also very easy to move around (seeing that it’s just a bucket)! Seriously, nothing beats this bucket. That’s why it has over 5,000 5-star reviews.
Propane Incinerator Toilet
The incinerator toilet is a unique one. This also is just what it sounds like. This off grid toilet burns your waste with organic materials and produces no toxic waste.
In my experience, most incinerator toilets use propane, but some can be plugged in. I recommend using propane because if you plug it in, it will use a ton of electricity. When you’re off grid, all the electricity matters!
I will say that these toilets are pretty expensive. Currently, they’re going for $1,500+ in the US. This is probably not the best option for everyone, but if you have a strong power system or no septic tank, this works great!
The composting toilet (also known as the waterless toilet) is a classic in the off grid world. These toilets use the composting process to address the issue of liquid waste. The water in human waste is simply evaporated, and the remaining solid human waste (as well as toilet paper) is subsequently securely and odorless transformed into compost or fertilizer in the holding tank or composting chamber. The aerobic bacteria aid in the composting process, just like in ordinary composting.
Sure, this is a bit of an odd solution, but honestly, it’s a great environmentally friendly option. For those with a vegetable garden, I highly recommend using a composting toilet! The best part is that the composting toilet can be as fancy or as simple as you want. You can use a 5-gallon bucket or a premade composting toilet (like my recommendation).
However, there are some cons to using a composting toilet. Most composting toilets can not be peed into (unless you install a divider). They’re also not completely legal everywhere. In New Jersey, you can only install a composting toilet if you’re connected to the sewer. However, what you do on your property is your own business…
The Nature’s Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet is the best composting toilet on the market. Seriously, this thing is easy to install, completely odorless, and comes with a 5-year warranty.
Furthermore, the toilet only needs to be emptied every 4-6 weeks (if used normally by two people). It also takes only about 5 minutes to empty. I highly recommend this toilet! If you don’t believe check out the 700 5-star reviews!
What Else To Consider When Buying An Off Grid Toilet?
Is It A Long-Term Option?
Some toilets (I’m looking at you, bucket toilet) are not great for the long term. Sure, it might be great for some people, but it’s just not for everyone. Make sure that you’re comfortable using your toilet before installing it. You don’t want to spend months building an outhouse before you find out that you HATE using an outhouse in winter.
However, if you hate the outhouse in winter, do what the Amish do: bring your own toilet seat inside and hang in near the fire. When you’re ready to go to the bathroom, bring the seat outside with you. It’ll keep you nice and warm, and your bathroom experience will be much better!
Is It Legal?
I know…. It’s your land. You should be able to do whatever you want on it. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. Composting toilets (and even outhouses) aren’t legal everywhere. If you want an update on the legality of your off grid toilet, check your county’s website. You should be able to find what’s legal and what’s not in your area!
Should I Build It Myself?
This can be a tricky answer. If you have previous experience building, then I highly recommend making your own toilet. You’ll save money, learn a ton, and be able to fix anything that breaks!
However, sometimes it can be tricky to get everything just right. For example, indoor composting toilets need the right air vents and pee dividers to be used correctly. If not, your whole house will smell especially ripe… and nobody wants that. So, I recommend doing your research before you start building an off grid toilet.
What is the best composting toilet?
The best composting toilet is the Nature’s Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet. This toilet is easy-to-install and has a high holding capacity. The Nature’s Head Composting Toilet only needs to be changed once every 4 to 6 weeks. It only takes 5-minutes to clean too! It’s made from high-quality products and has a 5-year warranty!
What are off grid toilets?
Off grid toilets can be anything from an outhouse, composting toilet, or a bucket. There a ton of different solutions to use the bathroom off grid. The most popular solution, however, is the composting toilet.
Want to learn more about off grid living? Then we’ve got a ton of resources for you!