Indoor Plumbing with a Twist

By Margy Lutz

Several years ago I wrote posts about living off the grid in our float cabin on Powell Lake in Coastal BC. You can read them here on the Tiny House Blog at “Our Little Cabin Up the Lake” and “Living on the Water.” Our float cabin, at the time, was 420 square feet downstairs with a 200 square foot sleeping loft under the peak of the roof. That is more than ample living space, but what it didn’t have was “indoor plumbing.” This fall we decided to trade in our trusty outhouse for a 60 square foot (6X10) bathroom with a composting toilet. The view won’t be as great, but the convenience will be appreciated. And instead of climbing four flights of stairs, we just have to go into another room. No rain, no wind – how civilized.

Our good friend John, who built our cabin, took a design I created and made it a reality. The bathroom addition is downstairs off our guest bedroom. He framed the walls, tied the roof into our existing one, made the old window into a doorway, added a window to the bedroom, and even gave us a side porch extension. He is a jack of all trades and was able to handle most of the work single handedly. Wayne and I worked on finishing touches like painting and furnishing.

We chose a Sunmar Excel NE for our composting toilet. The NE stands for non-electric. While it isn’t hooked up to our cabin’s solar powered electrical system, it does have its own panel to run a small fan within the air circulation pipe. That helps eliminate odour, and keeps the air moving around the compost as it processes. Six twists of the built in handle after each use keeps the contents in the holding drum mixed and working. The air circulation pipe rises above the roof line and has a built-in rain deflector. There’s also an overflow tube just to make sure there are no accidents indoors. With just two of us using the toilet, the capacity is excellent. We’ve had in operation for two months now, and are very pleased.

Our bathtub has been in our downstairs storage room for several years. Now it’s part of a real bathroom. The tub, however, isn’t connected for hot or cold water. Our bathtub is a cold weather luxury. In the summer, our natural swimming pool is all we need for a cooling swim or wash. We’ll continue to heat our water on the wood stove. I can fit four large pots on the surface at the same time, and a hot winter fire will get them almost boiling. Add an equal amount of cold water, and you have enough for a nice soak or soaping down. And there’s nothing like bathing with a friend to save water.

The bathroom also gives us some additional space for storage. A shelf built by John holds towels and toilet supplies, a recycled $1 end table holds toiletries, and a commercial pantry kit on sale for $49 provides space to store my canning in a cool place away from the sunlight. What a difference a little extra space makes when it is used wisely.

You can find more information about float cabin and off the grid living at http://PowellRiverBooks.blogspot.com. For information about Wayne’s Coastal BC Stories, come to www.PowellRiverBooks.com. Up the Lake and Farther Up the Lake have lots of information about our cabin life on Powell Lake.

John frames the 6 X1 0 bathroom addition and new side porch.

The new roof ties into our old peaked roof.

The new covered side porch is a bonus. The ceiling is insulated just in case we want to enclose it in the future.

Our Sunmar Excel NE installed in the new bathroom. The pull out drum handle is under the seat. The compost removal tray is behind and under the removable step. The exhaust fan has an on/off switch we use when the cabin is not in use.

The roof mounted air circulation pipe with rain deflector.

My new (bargain) storage is a wonderful addition. We opted for no sink because our hand pump is in the kitchen.

Our bathtub in it’s new bathroom position (out of the storage room) and John’s handmade shelf.

Our hot water heating system, simple but effective.

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Margy - December 2, 2011 Reply

Thanks Kent for including my article on float cabin living. If any of your readers have questions they can leave them here or come on over to the blog. I would love to give more details if needed. – Margy

Moontreeranch - December 2, 2011 Reply

tub grey water goes ?

Margy - December 2, 2011 Reply

For now we are allowed to have gray water go into the lake. We only use the tub in the winter when there’s lots of rain and water movement. Plus, we use the tub infrequently. But when we’ve been working hard, it’s a nice luxury. Because we drink the lake water from under our cabin (after boiling) we are very careful what goes down our drains. We use only biodegradable soap and clean everything with paper towels before they are rinsed or washed. – Margy

    Verplanck - December 3, 2011 Reply

    Not very impressed at the rationale here. Green living shouldn’t include direct discharge of greywater to a lake or stream, no matter what the quantity.

Gabriel - December 2, 2011 Reply

I’ve followed your progress since your previous post and I see how well the house is maintained and taken care of. The idea of adding a garden dock is the idyllic way of life I’ve been longing for. (Have the money but have nowhere to put such a thing). While maintenance is like with any other cabin, seeing the wooden raft (in your previous post) in the water and another with garden soil on it as well, would make me think how often and how hard you have to work to maintain it. Would a concrete pontoon be better?

    Margy - December 2, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the question Gabriel. Concrete floats are used, especially when it comes to salt water. There are also metal floats that I have seen. However, you would need someone local that produces such items. On our lake, cedar logs are available (even though they are getting harder to purchase from logging companies) and the historical preference. – Margy

alice - December 2, 2011 Reply

Nice setup! Very functional yet comfy and luxurious too. It’s still a bit of a nuisance having to lug pots of water around, did that myself for years with the old ‘bucket and chuck it’ system but there’s nothing like a hot bath when you come in all chilled from working in the great outdoors.

    Margy - December 2, 2011 Reply

    Some people on the lake have installed on-demand hot water heaters. Since we don’t use our tub that much, we like to keep it simple. We always have two pots going on the wood stove in the winter to increase the humidity indoors. They also give us all we need for dish washing and spit baths. – Margy

      alice - December 5, 2011 Reply

      In my northern days we always had big pots of snow melting on the stove all winter for washing and whatnot. Seems like there was always a bucket or pot of something heading inside or outside. Filling the pots was a regular chore for the kids but they didn’t mind too much. Of course you often had to go see what they were up to, it was more fun using the pot to mold up some snow blocks for fort making.

Diana - December 2, 2011 Reply

What are you heating the rocks for?

Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural - December 4, 2011 Reply

I love how it looks! It is so beautiful. I really like your place. I always have. I remember reading the two previous posts and falling in love with your ideal life then. So nice to get an update from you. I can relate to boiling water on the woodstove. It would suit me as a lifestyle too.

    Margy - December 5, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the comments Victoria. It isn’t for everyone, but is a perfect match for what we want. It was just luck we discovered float cabins. Goes to show, you just have to be open to opportunities when the arise. – Margy

Tiny House Living – December 5, 2011 | Tiny House Living - December 5, 2011 Reply

[…] Indoor Plumbing with a Twist tinyhouseblog.com This fall we decided to trade in our trusty outhouse for a 60 square foot (6X10) bathroom with a composting toilet. […]

rachel - December 6, 2011 Reply

I am interested in knowing how your toilet is working out as it gets more use. I’m thinking about purchasing a cabin that is off the grid… and the groundwater is too high for a proper septic. An outhouse in Alaska… isn’t very conducive to potty training a small child in the winter time… but I would hate to spend the money on a composter that made the house smell like an outhouse.

    Margy - December 11, 2011 Reply

    Our compost toilet was installed in late September. We purchased a model with more than enough capacity for two people with almost full-time use. We haven’t had any hot summer months yet, but in the cooler fall and now into the colder winter we haven’t had any odour at all. My husband has taken responsibility for taking care of the toilet. He got it started according to the instructions and has added extra microbes as indicated. We’ve only used the products that go with the toilet. I am sure they cost a bit more than sawdust or wood shavings, but we use so little, a $25 bag seems to last forever. Each time we use the toilet a small scoop of compost mix is added. We have a fan installed and run it 24/7 using a solar panel and battery. That keeps the odour moving up and out the roof exhaust pipe, plus it helps dry any liquid waste. We are adults, so I have to be honest, we don’t use the toilet for urine only visits. We the equivalent of an outdoor chamber pot (Mr. Pee Bucket) that gets carried up the hill for disposal. While the compost needs some moisture to process properly, we don’t want any excess urine to drain out of the system into the lake water. The height of the toilet might be daunting for a very young child. Even my husband needs the built in stool to get up on the throne. But if you do the lifting, that should work out OK. Let me know if you have any questions I didn’t answer. – Margy

dawn - December 17, 2013 Reply

i have got to check out your blog! what a great story! i lived in victoria, BC for 3 years before coming back to U.S. i would love to live there when i retire!! i would love to ask whats the rule on building a cabin float??? whats the dos and donts???

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