The blessings of a composting toilet

March 11, 2010 – 6:51 pm


After four years living on our half-acre block and over eight years in total including time visiting on weekends, we have a toilet.


We christened it a few weeks ago with great delight and considerable relief (pun not intended).


Neighbours and friends wonder why this basic amenity has taken so long.


I sometimes wonder, too.


But with the wettest two years since European settlement delaying construction of our large roof, we had to work quickly on other projects when we finally did get the roof on.


That required several alterations (dismantling, cutting and re-welding) to the massive box gutter which was splashing all over the interior house timbers.


Now it’s all working.


We have a roof and insulated exterior walls and a box gutter that handles great floods of water.


So we could finally turn out minds – and our resources – to the toilet.


A Farallones Institute Composting Privy


I was surprised to find out what the design for a composting toilet which the local Council approves was first published by the world-famous Farallones Insitute in Berkeley, California in 1976.


I was living in Berkeley in the late seventies and much admired the Farallones Institute and the Integral Urban House (see:


The Farallones Institute was an independent association of scientists, designers, horticulturists and technicians which served for several decades as a pioneering centre for teaching and research in appropriate technology and sustainable design. Integrating architecture, agriculture, waste recycling, water conservation, and renewable energy, the Institute has been widely recognized as a model for ecological design. The Farallones’ resource conserving systems, solar dwellings, and organic gardens have been used extensively as a teaching tool.


That famous place. And now I was about to have one of their two-chamber composting toilets.


The toilet turned out to be much more work that I expected (though I did not build it.) Because it does not get direct sunlight, it has two chambers. After six or nine months, one is decommissioned and the other one is used for a similar period of time. The compost is put on the fruit trees.


Seems fine to me, though having two separate toilets in the bathroom is a rather quaint touch. We did not have toilets like that in North Vancouver.


So now we do not have to trudge 50 metres in the rain down to the community toilet. That was sometimes challenging when we were sick, it was raining heavily or the grass on the slope to the community building had not been cut. More than once I’ve slid down the hill to the community toilet on my bottom.


Gratitude to the Jarlanbah community and goodbye community toilet


Karl’s so happy not to have (in his words) to “push s**t uphill” any longer, as it was his job to clean out the community toilet while we (and many others) were using it. He had to haul the compost in a wheelbarrow up the hill 50 metres to bury it on our lot. That was a hard job, which he did uncomplainingly. But as he says, it’s good to know that it’s your stuff if you’re carting it.


He has great tales about what he found buried in the Jarlanbah community composting toilet! And it certainly wasn’t “our stuff”!


Good riddance to the Jarlanbah community toilet



Toilet Heaven

But now, rain or shine, we are in “toilet heaven”.



The kitchen is next.


Then we can benefit from Karl’s bountiful kitchen garden, currently fallow, but ready for reviving once he has a break from the seemingly endless task of house building. (I know he’d gladlygive up the ladder and welder for a spade and trowel!)


We’ve been at this house-building job for three years now. And now that my three books are published, I have more time to help.


We’re hoping to christen our new home before the end of this year. In the meantime, when we think of people who are so much less fortunate than we are, we’re reminded that we’re blessed with two huge tanks full of water, a cozy, dry place to sleep and a spacious deck for entertaining.


The world ice hockey champions


On which deck, to the great delight of our dear Canadian friend, Marnee and her Irish (but pro-Canadian) husband, Ollie, we watched the Olympic television coverage last month for sixteen exhausting nights.


A passionate, newly demonstrative nationalistic Canada reminded us that Canadians are (and must always be) the world ice hockey champions!


Right on!