Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Humanure: An Exercise in Fecal Phobia or...Shit Happens

So why is it that we can see other animals' fecal matter as a useful and desireable product (for goodness' sake, some of us even pay $6.99 for somebody to put it in a plastic bag, plaster graphics on it-MooPoo of all things!) but the thought of packaging up our own waste and putting it to good use, turns on the "gross" factor?
Conditioning is what's done it and it's mostly societal.

A sustainable house ideally should support itself. This means the traditional flushing toilets presents some problems, primarily that our shit has to go SOMEWHERE. The first solution to this in an earthship design was a blackwater wetland and this system is still being used successfully with Earthship construction. Essentially it's a catchment area that dealt with all of the nasty stuff in a way that was kind to the environment and did not require invasive septic systems that needed to be pumped occassionally, necessitating further transport of our...crap.

Then came the popular view of composting toilets, which are now used in many many federal parks in the US. We've all heard of composting toilets...visions of chunky toilets with a large tray underneath and a little fan come to mind. And earthship builders started to install these systems...

We had originally planned to use composting toilets. It did kind of irk us, though, that our toilets had to be hooked up to the septic system with an overflow pipe. I had to think this one through for a minute and figure out who the building authority (and by extension our national building code) really thought they were protecting...Would anyone, I thought, be stupid enough to use a composting toilet to the point where it would overflow?  I mean, really, it's not like a person wouldn't have ample warning that it needed to be emptied!!!!

Regardless, this is just another of the weird rules in a world where common sense is a scarce commodity. And it's a weird world where we try to fit the natural order of things in a sustainable house into the constraints of an unsustainable building environment...I am constantly amazed, but as Dumbledore said to Harry, "We must not sink beneath our anguish, but soldier on!" Or something like that; I'm too lazy to look it up.

But I digress. Again.

So last summer the Canadian Family Robinson pulled in our yard with their 5th wheel. They had been giving themselves and their four children an amazing perspective on the world by travelling around North America for the better part of a year. If our friends and family think we are adventurous in our sustainable endeavors, Curt and Kim have embraced it without reservation. While Chris and I take time to really pick apart our decisions, Curt and Kim just seem to know when something is right.

They had retrofitted their 5th wheel with solar panels and a composting toilet...but not any kind of composting toilet; a humanure system. In a nutshell: a comfy toilet seat and lid on a wooden bench (closed in, of course) and a high tech waste receptacle below (5 gallon pail). Next to the toilet in a quite lovely wooden box, was a pile of fragrant pine shavings and a scoop. When I heard this (I never actually got a look at it last summer, but describe it here from our last visit with them), I must confess the "ick" factor kicked in when I was told how it all worked...

But I learned more. Monica and Nikki sent me some info on the Humanure Handbook (which you can read online for free here.) I used Robinson's humanure toilet when we visited them on their land near Duncan in November-they are still living in the 5th wheel while they are in the process of building a cob house. Later that same trip, we visited Ann and Gord Baird's cob home near Victoria and they have TWO of them. You know what? Nothing icky about it. Really. I got over myself.

And if you see pictures of the Baird's home, you will be stunned by how beautiful this sustainable house is. And it's all the more beautiful because of how it takes care of the waste in it.

It all makes sense. When the pail is comfortably full (but not too heavy), it gets emptied on to its own compost pile which runs at a whopping 120 degrees F. This kills anything iffy in the waste and allows it all to break down into what Chris terms "black gold". Then it can be used on gardens and in other growing areas. Hey, we're animals, it only makes sense to use our waste to our advantage. And the best part is that because a bucket does not have a pipe going in or out of it, it is not considered a plumbing fixture and does NOT have to be hooked up to the septic system. Cool. This has really given Chris and I something to think about.

So that's the poop on humanure. Check out the links and tell me what YOU think!

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