Stuart Aylett left his job in the building trade over ten years ago and headed west to find a simpler life. After landing in Somerset, he bought a half acre of land at Stonage Lane in 2009 and attempted to rejuvenate his newly acquired monoculture of rye grass into a yield-producing paradise.
In March 2012 he moved into a second-hand caravan on the plot, now known as Stonage Organics, and began work on the new compost toilet system that is the focus of this article.
Step one: Building the Humanure compost toilet and hand washing facility
Having decided to use the humanure system of composting human waste, Stuart built a compost toilet structure, which also incorporates a ladies urinal and hand-wash facility. The structural timber and cladding utilises milled wood from a local sustainable woodland project, while pallets and water butts were recycled from a local farm.
The construction process was dictated by materials available at the time. Two by four inch (50 x 100mm) Scot’s pine was used for the main structural timbers, with simple joints fastened by 3.5 inch (89mm) wood screws. Scraps of leftover roofing felt were then fastened to the walls with off-cuts from the milling process as cladding.
Rainwater catchment from the roof is used for hand-washing with the resulting grey-water channelled to nearby herb and willow beds. A PV solar panel takes pride of place on the roof and is connected to a battery bank, which provides the compost toilet and urinal with lighting.
Step two: The solar shower
The solar heater is made from an old radiator, painted black and covered with a sheet of glass. Black painted copper piping is used to raise hot water to a storage tank and allow colder water to flow back into the radiator. The compost toilet structure provides the elevation needed for a gravity feed of hot water from the tank to the shower, and also provides a site for the new solar water heater. The existing PV power system is fitted with a recycled 12v pump to bring the rainwater catchment from nearby sheds up into the water tanks on top the compost toilet structure.
The showerhead and piping come from an old caravan, while the cubicle is a pallet wood construction. For added stability, the cubicle is attached to the adjoining chicken enclosure. The chicken fence posts are also used to provide support for the gravity fed supply pipe from the heated water tank.
An energy flow diagram (fig. below) shows the multiple functions that the compost toilet structure now serves, as well as showing the systems for catchment, storage and use of human waste, rainwater and solar energy.
Having had a few months to observe the function of the compost loo, Stuart was able to identify certain necessary changes. The first upgrade will be a hot water feed connecting the new solar heated water tanks to the existing hand-wash facility as rgis should be fairly simple to do.
The next upgrade is the planned addition of a wood fired heater as a back up heating system. The poor amount of sunlight received during the summer month that the solar shower has been up and running, suggests that a secondary heat source is needed in the event that the solar panels prove inefficient. In true permaculture fashion, Stuart also envisions using the heater for other activities such as bread baking and smoking food as a preservation method.
Using the building and plumbing skills he already possesses, Stuarts now aims to reproduce this blueprint and his own experience to teach others to build compost toilets, solar showers and poly-tunnel rainwater catchment systems from recycled materials, for organic small-holdings and other sustainable projects in the region.
If you live in the South West and wish to contact Stuart for advice or to employ his plumbing and building skills on your project, telephone 07837 853521.
About the author
Larf read Permaculture in a Nutshell (e-book edition also available) on Twyford Down, during the Land Protests of the early 90’s, and spent years travelling via hand-cart and donkey and cart with the now legendary Donga Tribe. An accomplished song-writer and author of “Bender Heaven” by Wooden Books, he recently completed a permaculture design course and for the last few years has helped to host skill-sharing events throughout the summer months at the Stonage Lane Lifeboat.
Photo credits: Bran Pick