Untangling Tiny: Exploring the Questionable Elements of Tiny Houses

5 November 2015

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Innovative and minimalistic or tedious and granola? Some say living in a house averaging 90 square feet is life-changing others simply scoff and write it off as an excessive way to save resources. Tiny houses are gaining popularity, so I say it’s time to untangle this eco-friendly mess.

Do composting toilets really “not have any smell”? Why is it better to have heated flooring? And what’s the deal with fold-up porches? In an attempt to answer these questions we’re going to explore the elements of tiny houses that claim to be inexpensive, eco-friendly, and low-maintenance. In the end, we’ll decide for ourselves…

Never seen a tiny house? You probably missed it parked in that weird triangle-shaped lot in the historical district or tucked in the very back of that quaint dairy farm on the main highway. Tiny houses are an alternative way of living that eliminate mortgages and soften one’s ecological footprint. They can be built on top of a trailer and parked pretty much anywhere. The idea is to strip a house down to only its most necessary components. No guest room, no extravagant pantry, and no walk-in closet. Think minimalistic.


When I first came across the idea of a tiny house on wheels I immediately thought of one of those horrendous family campers. I then became stuck to one issue that has haunted me for weeks. It’s the, what I like to call, “sewage situation”. We’ve all seen it in movies, the happy family full up to the RV dump station and (I’ll spare you the details) something doesn’t go quite right. The answer in bypassing all notions of hose, clamp, and valve? A composting toilette.

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Composting toilets aren’t just buckets with dirt anymore. They are sanitary, have a general aesthetic, and my favorite, “don’t have any smell”. The most popular composting toilette, it seems, is one made by Nature’s Head (http://store.natureshead.net/p/27-Nature-s-Head-Composting-Toilet-with-Spider-Handle.aspx) for $925 with a 5-year warranty. It looks similar to the type of a toilet you might find on recreational boat. There is a large compartment underneath where all the composting action takes place, a “liquids jug” near the front, and a handy spider handle on the side to mix up your personal vat of fertilizer. Nature’s Head composting toilets are easy to install with one vent hose and one 12V power hook-up. The maintenance is pretty simple too, just lift the top section off and transfer the solid material to your compost twice a week. All you need to get started is peat moss, so there’s no need for added chemicals.

Now for the smell. Apparently there isn’t one. It does make some sense after looking at pictures online. There is a trap door in the bowl that closes in-between uses, and the composting compartment is designed to be air-tight. I recently watched a YouTube video that has really convinced me. They do a blind sniff test, and the guy can’t decipher the dirt from the compost. You really should watch it for yourself.

The price is a bit of a downer. I say it’s worth it though. No sewage, no smell, and no plumbing? Count me in. Composting is usually reserved for the severely environmentally conscious, and one usually thinks of composting as just one more separation you have to do when throwing away your garbage. But in this case, a composting toilet is actually much easier to handle than a traditional toilet and would be a great addition to your tiny house.

Composting toilet: untangled.







5 thoughts on “Untangling Tiny: Exploring the Questionable Elements of Tiny Houses

  1. I was excited when I saw a post about tiny homes, as I have watched several documentaries about them and have considered maybe living in one in the future! I have family friends who live in a tiny home and they absolutely love it, I’m not sure if they have a composting toilet or not, but I agree with you that it seems like a good investment. The steep price of the toilet is easily cancelled out by how much a family can save by just living in a small home. Do you know what the average price of a small home is, and how did you become interested in the concept of tiny housing?

  2. Mary Scott, very well done! I feel enlightened after getting into the nitty gritty of tiny housing and compostable toilets. Here’s a couple recent NYT posts about the movement:



    And this is the one I told you about at our meeting:


  3. I have never heard of tiny houses before; they seem very interesting. I like how you gave an brief introduction to what tiny houses are at the beginning for those like me who have never really studied the tiny house before. It was concise but informative. The composting toilet seems like a very probable solution to the, as you put it ” sewage problem”. Do you know about how many people there are living in tiny houses these days? It would be interesting to know to get a feel for how popular these really are becoming.

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