View Full Version : "Composting" head user's report
12-28-2012, 04:13 PM
Just for the halibut, I thought I'd tell y'all about the so-far very satisfactory experience with our C-Head composting head- or moldering head, as the manufacturer prefers to call it. This is a fine example of what happens when an engineer with a good practical bent considers a problem from scratch, rather than starting with preconceptions.
The C-Head box arrived within a couple of days of our $500 order, most expertly packed. The installation and use instructions were outstanding, and it was ready for use in about 15 minutes. Of course, to rig up the fan and ventilation hoses, tie-downs, etc, will take a very little bit longer, but for right now, it's been just fine for 6 months of light use. We spent every night this past week aboard with two small boys, and it all worked just fine.
1. This thing works by separating liquid waste from solid waste. This assumes that ALL users will sit to pee. The design of the bowl, with its funnel to the front and a ~5" open chute to the rear, directs urine forward into an ordinary disposable gallon plastic jug, and feces to a bucket containing peat, sawdust, or, best, coconut fiber (coir), and a crank-turned paddle, which churns the contribution, to coat it with fiber and dry it out. We empty the urine once every day or two, rinse out the jug, and put it back in place, or toss it and put in another clean -and free- empty gallon jug. Every week or two, with regular use, we'll dump the peat/poop mix into another container until time to dump the odorless dried lumpy stuff either into a plastic bag for the nearest marina dumpster, or add it to our dedicated-to-ornamentals compost pile.
2. There is no plastic hose to permeate with sewage-smell. There is no big sloshing tank of waste and chemicals to pump out. There is no complicated/delicate mascerating apparatus. We do ask that nothing but small amounts of TP - and, of course, human waste, go into the toilet, but it's not a huge clog-up maintenance disaster when a guest doesn't listen. It just all gets dumped in due course, along with the coco-fiber-etc. The head has no odor, except, perhaps, a bit of peaty-mustiness. No stink at all.
3. Some composters are huge and ungainly, but the C-Head is reasonably small, about the same height we are used to at home, with a narrow footprint. In our houseboat, it fits snugly against an exterior bulkhead. Its capacity is less than some other composting head, but that just means we may have less trouble with wee insect-beasties than some composting heads apparently can, as it is dumped more often, before they can hatch. (That is a reason for going with Coir rather than the sometimes troublesome peat. Plus, coir, unlike peat, is a renewable resource, and comes in very compact bricks, and a whole season's worth will fit in a shoebox.)
4. The manufacturer offers a number of exterior decor options. We went with plain-old white, but if you have a hankering for burnished teak, mahogany, or glossy black, that can be done. I ordered an elongated seat, but shouldn't have. The round seat we replaced it with is just as comfortable, takes up less space, and fits better. It's also a bit less expensive.
5. The whole thing is simplicity itself to keep clean. The milk jug, and the poop-bucket each lift out and reinstall very easily in one easy motion, without dismantling anything. For cleaning, all is necessary is a damp rag for the exterior, and if necessary (we haven't found it so, yet), a good rinse-out of the waterproof interior and the poop-bucket.
So far, we are exceedingly pleased, especially after hearing all the stinky horror stories of conventional marine heads and holding tanks. This gadget is cheap, durable-looking, easy to deal with, and entirely stench-free. What more could we ask?
12-29-2012, 05:12 PM
A Very good review on your head Amelia. :) Sounds as if it's really making natures movements a lot less stressful, which is a good thing..
01-12-2013, 04:50 AM
Has your system been in use when you had guests aboard for a few days?
I haven't measured my average urination yet so this is asking out of complete ignorance.......If you have a total of 6 people on board for the day, will the urine jug make it through the day or will it have to be emptied several times throughout the day?
I understand that compost piles have to be turned every so often as does your system, so my question here is......What if you have to unexpected leave the boat for several weeks and there is no one to stir the pile? Will it matt down and stop composting and smell or will the composting process continue?
I would really like to try a composting system but hesitant because we live aboard and so the system will normally be used 24/7 with many 2 or 3 week vacations off the boat.
I have been reading most of your posts on various topics and value your opinion.
Thanks in advance.
01-22-2013, 08:12 PM
Yes, in addition to a number of day-cruises with guests, the C-Head system was in use over Christmas for a week with grandkids. I emptied the 1-gallon jug- urine collection container daily, and after all, our dock is only 40 feet from shore-based plumbing, so there was no worry about a middle of the night overflow. If we hadn't been docked, I might have simply screwed the caps on the full ones, and set them aside to be emptied at the next opportunity. But since the jug is a simple gallon milk/water/juice jug, and disposable, there's no reason not to have several spares. The level of liquid waste is easy to gauge from a glance at the slot in the front. Also, some people keep a bigger jug (like the ones kitty litter comes in) on hand as a urinal for male guests who really can hardly countenance the idea of sitting to pee :rolleyes:. That should help with the capacity. (Or you can simply direct the appropriately plumbed guests to the lee rail if you are worried. )
There's a bit of a misnomer, to call these heads 'composting heads.' Real composting takes quite a lot longer than that. What they really seem to do, more than anything else, is stir the s(tuff) in a crumbly medium, coating contributions with coconut fiber, peat, sawdust, or whatever is being used, and let the lumps dry out. Although we can only claim light use, we have gone weeks and weeks without stirring, and have had no problem with odor or compacting. What apparently causes the stench common to holding tanks and outhouses is the mixture of urine and feces. When the pee is funneled away from the poop-container, there's no lingering odor.
I hope to have a more complete report by the end of the summer!
01-23-2013, 05:42 AM
I dunno, seems like a lot of work. I think I'll stick with the holding tank, it holds 100 gallons and I pump it out a few times a year.
01-23-2013, 06:51 AM
Not my thing either. But, it seems to have its advantages. And, we have a real life story on how it works.
01-23-2013, 07:05 AM
Whatever works, Willie! I couldn't be bothered with maintaining the state-mandated pump out log, dealing with the stink and mechanical problems, keeping spare parts on hand for inevitable worst-possible-timing foul-up, or schlepping around up to 1000 pounds of raw sewage, desperately hoping the next pump out station isn't padlocked. or replacing foul-smelling hoses in inaccessible places, or trying a succession of odor-killers. The best part of this C-Head is its utter simplicity, of design and of maintenance. There is nothing to jam or break or even leak. And it doesn't stink. I may have to eat my words and humbly retract every word of this after a proper test, high summer with guests who can't read the big sign saying Sit Down. This Means YOU!!! But it doesn't seem very burdensome so far.
01-23-2013, 07:38 AM
Total investment in complete waste handling system so far: C-Head $500, coir bricks $23. That's it, and at this rate we shouldn't need more fiber for a year. And it is surprisingly inoffensive to maintain. No nooks and crannies to scrub. When we eventually decide it is time to dump the head's poop container, here is how it will go: Open the lid, lift the seat and its base, lift out bucket, dump dry lumpy stuff into plastic trash bag, leaving only a light dusting of peat behind. Replace bucket and close lid. All done. Total time, two minutes. No stink. No spill. Nothing to hose off or mop up. Bag goes to dumpster with the Pampers. Or we may start a compost pile behind the azaleas. Not sure yet. One last thought: All of our fresh water will go for higher purposes, like a hot shower or washing dishes. For lake boaters this is hardly a concern, but we do hope to spend more than a day or two at a time away from shore-based amenities, and will want to use our water carefully.
01-23-2013, 03:44 PM
But I DO thank you for the info Amelia... I've wondered about those composting heads and wondered if they might be a better choice. But both systems require that you eventually dispose of the "results". Now if we could use Star Trek's transporter to beam it straight to hell for incineration.....
01-24-2013, 05:34 AM
What will you did when, not if, someone pees in the wrong place? It is inevitable.
01-24-2013, 09:51 AM
;) ahem.... WE don't throw those sorts of parties... sniff.... ;) But, if we were to accidentally host a boorish and careless guest, I would deal thusly: Very small amounts aren't apparently a problem, but a real beer-emptying would be. Step one: Scold the offender. Strongly suggest that the offender go clean that mess up very much sooner rather than later. Step two would mean dumping sodden material in garbage bag. Step three would be hosing the bucket and housing out or attaching a line and dropping the bucket on a line overboard to rinse it. Sort of like what happens when the pumpout station is done with its job- drops the hose in the water to rinse it, right? Step four, take a couple of paper towels, dry the bucket, put back in toilet housing. I gather this faux pas would take a good ten minutes rather than two, and a waste of three bucks worth of coir. I take comfort: At least I don't have to know what a flapper valve looks like or how to re-install one, right? Again, I hasten to add, "SO FAR!" We have a lot to learn yet.
We just received our c-head yesterday. It has not been put to use but it looks really good, professional even. Your thread here helped me to make up my mind about this. I hope you have continued to have good luck yours. I will stop now before I make a corny joke about toilets. This is probably the first time in Internet history someone didn't make a crappy joke about... I really tried :)
10-23-2013, 01:03 PM
I have had mine for about three weeks. i have been amazed how well it works. Spent a whole week on the boat ,no smell, no mess and no worries. If it continues I will add another one.
01-18-2014, 12:30 PM
Update: I finally noticed a couple of people have asked for more C-Head information. Sorry for the delay!
We are still pleased with our C-Head, almost two years into it.
Longer version:Although we admittedly still haven't yet given it a month-long midsummer wild-party-cruise trial-by-fire, the way we use it- for afternoons, grandchild overnights in our floating backyard guesthouse, and romantic weekends away for two, it is perfect for our needs. We never have to worry about maintenance, (don't have any idea what a flapper valve looks like or costs, no idea how to unstop a clogged line when somebody didn't read the instructions, don't care where the nearest pumpout facility is. Nothing leaks, makes startling noise in the middle of the night, uses precious fresh water or grows obnoxious slime from the lake. No worries about whether we are out of chemicals. Love it, love it, love it! We have passively vented it through the secondary composting bucket to the aft wall immediately behind it, sort of like U====U=|= , which creates a barely-detectable draft for effective ventilation and drying, but I'm not convinced it was necessary. We haven't felt the need for a fan. In fact, I confess, we haven't even used the secondary composting bucket yet.
This C-Head has NO odor. None. I find the frequent emptying- every day or two, of the urine container, which, by the way, is a simple gallon water jug, to be reassuring. That's what eventually stinks, honestly. And a quick trip ashore to the restroom with the jug in a bag is easy, quick, and discrete. The flora deep in the woods ashore by a pretty mountain lake might appreciate the free fertilizer, for that matter. If I were an unrepentent scofflaw, I might even be tempted to dump the jug of sterile urine overboard into our vast Albemarle Sound some dark night underway. Perish that thought, natch. And it would be really, truly tacky to dump the jug in the marina right next to your neighbor. If that gallon jug gets discolored and smelly, out it goes with the trash, to be replaced with a well-rinsed gallon milk jug. I like that it isn't a proprietary and expensive and heavy special container like the fancier marine composters have. We always have an extra -and free- disposable screw-cap gallon jug handy for a quick swap-out.
The C-Head has held up very well, remains quite sturdy and new-looking. Every inch of this thing is super-easy to clean with a damp rag from time to time, as necessary. Except to wipe off the sawdust (we are still building this boat) it is just as clean as when we unpacked it. If anything were to overflow, (but hasn't ever) it would leak into the totally-waterproof base, again, easily cleaned, no mess on the floor. Again, the only thing we insist on is that EVERYbody sits to pee. This is standard protocol among real sailors, of course, and this head's shallow bowl is not designed for inattentive guys who stand and whistle, gaze off into the distance, and splash off the back wall. Ick! The one thing maintenance thing WE do, is eventually, not very often, scoop the dried solid lumps and paper out of the peat/coir/sawdust like a kitty litter box, into a plastic grocery bag, and flush it inside. That's what happens if we're having a bunch of people over for the afternoon, and that is just us. Others will dump the whole bucket into a kitchen trash bag and heave it into the nearest dumpster, takes about the same amount of time and energy as taking out the galley trash. Still others will, as C-Head recommends, tamp a permanent 5-gallon bucket lid onto the secondary bucket when it's full, store it in the bilge until time permits taking it to the nearest recycle center, thence to the landfill to compost itself for a millennium. This wouldn't be necessary but every month or two of constant use, I think.
Sandy's customer service is most excellent, response is prompt and thorough. Advice is free and frank. I am still gratified by how well what I feared would be a risky venture has turned out, and am a little smug about how smart I was to make this decision.
02-16-2014, 07:42 AM
I M the first to re invent the wheel on here, your system is working for you congrats, its the challenges we fix or fine tune, that makes HB ing such a passion.
keep us tuned as you sit there an ponder the next MOVE
04-08-2014, 03:33 PM
Thank you so very much for posting all the information on your C-Head. I personally HATE having to pull up to a marina to pump out...and the worry of not getting it pumped out in time!
04-19-2014, 08:09 AM
Just spent a wonderful day on a gorgeous trawler with a traditional head.
Good surprise: It didn't stink, but then, the boat had just come out of storage, had been thoroughly cleaned, and hadn't been used all winter. Interesting things I learned: It pumps seawater, or in its case, brown swamp water, and has a 300 gallon holding tank. Wow. That is a TON (and a half!) of stuff to haul! To use it, you flip a switch, pump, pump, pump, pump, pump. Use. Ahhhhh!...then flip switch, pump, pump, pump, pump until the brown water plus whatever disappears... more or less. Hope you weren't in a hurry! And be very careful what goes into it. And have spare parts on hand for the near-inevitable equipment failure. The pumpout costs at least ten bucks, plus time waiting for your turn, plus time to do the pumping, if you find a convenient municipal subsidized one, and don't mind doing all the details yourself.
So now I have seen three sides of this what-to-do-about-waste question, and there are doubtless more. My dear friend's portapotty in the companionway of his wee sailboat doesn't even make the list of reasonable possibilies. Reading threads posing plumbing puzzles, stink solutions, chemical questions, I am so happy we didn't go that route. It was a near thing.
11-08-2014, 10:18 AM
Anyone else jumped on this wagon? These things seem to be pretty popular in the sailing community. I can't seem to find any complaints or negative comments which is a bit hard to believe...
I have to replace my holding tank and plumbing, so the price would just about be a wash. The only thing I hear is that putting toilet paper in the unit is not recommended. This is kind of a deal killer for me; we currently flush all our single ply into the holding tank and I am dead set against putting toilet paper in a waste basket.
To give you an idea of what kind of usage it would get.... We are a family of 4. Kids are young. We spend 3 nights per week cruising in the summer. I really hate planning our weekends around the pumpout dock hours, and having to wait in line at times. It's also $15 + tip per pumpout. A composting toilet seems like it could be a good alternative for us.
11-10-2014, 09:38 AM
OK, fair enough. Nothing is perfect. Poop happens. The question is how to deal with it, as deal with it we must, one way or another. Ours, a C-Head, cost us $500, and we are entirely content with it.
Drawbacks to a composting head?
1. Some people have had problems with little flies or gnats. We haven't, but that doesn't mean we won't. We use our own homemade cypress sawdust and shavings, left over from the interior paneling project, and it works fine, doesn't have the bug eggs commercial peat may have. Coir is also well regarded, comes in compact little bricks which one reconstitutes in a plastic bag with a little hot water until it forms a crumbly peat-like consistency. The fiber/sawdust dries out and shrinks the solid waste so stinky bacteria don't thrive.
2. As previously emphasized, EVERYBODY sits to pee. Some men find this an affront to their very special abilities. The bowl is quite shallow, though, and splattering would be a problem, even if the aim were perfect toward the front-facing funnel into the liquids bottle. Offshore sailors are accustomed to sitting to pee, anyway, so they don't seem to find this a problem.
3. TP-- we try not to use much of it, as it does tend to 'float' on top of the peat/etc. mixture. Please don't find this odd or repulsive, but after three or four days of use, we come home, and eventually get around to scooping the solid-waste bucket, as if we were scooping a kitty litter box, and flush the lumps and used dried paper in our indoor toilet. We don't find that there's any odor to speak of, as it's all dried out, and there's no ammonia or stale urine smell. It's that mucky combination that causes the typical head stink. That's what WE do, so far, but it's easy to lift the lids with one hand, pull the bucket out with the other hand, dump it. Some people dump fiber, poop, paper, everything, into a sturdy plastic kitchen trash bag and, shhhh, chuck it in the dumpster when they stop at a marina for fuel, pointing out all the soiled diapers and doggy bags also therein. The recommended procedure, especially for distance cruisers who are out of pocket for extended periods, is to dump that primary bucket into the exterior-vented 5-gallon secondary composting bucket that came with the head we bought. We haven't found that necessary, but if we were a whole family traveling together, we might well. The secondary composting bucket, also odorless, can, every few months, be dumped in the garden in its own compost pile, and used for fertilizing ornamental plants as it breaks down. Or, as the manufacturer suggests, add some chlorine bleach, tamp a permanent lid on that full 5-gallon bucket, and chuck it in the garbage can without feeling guilty. Replace the secondary 5-gallon bucket with another from the big-box home-center.
4. As for the collected pee, we do try to dump and rinse the gallon jug of (sterile) urine every day or so, usually in a shoreside restroom when we stop for fuel, but sometimes well into the woods if we're out in the middle of nowhere. Nobody suspects a thing, when you aim for the marina bathroom carrying a recycled grocery tote. Our composter uses a common one-gallon jug, not a proprietary thing. When the jug is full, we screw its cap on, and replace it with an empty jug. The jug, if it begins to look discolored or scaly, goes in the rubbish, to be replaced with another empty milk jug.
So, yes, there is maintenance, of a sort, but it's not a burden for us. We can take care of it at OUR convenience, rather than hoping there's a working pumpout very soon, oh dear, that valve is broken again, do we have a spare, and what's clogged it this time? These aren't problems we have!
5. Consider only the marine composting heads... the ones that require massive electricity or gas to incinerate the sewage are big, heavy, impractical and very expensive. Some of those lock themselves after use and cannot be used again for an hour. If you go with one of the more expensive boat-brands, the Nature's Head or the AirHead, both popular, know that they occupy a bigger, taller footprint than the C-Head. In a houseboat, this won't be much of a problem, probably, but the C-Head is very compact, about the height and width of the ones at home, needed no special carpentry or platform, was ready to use within the hour of its arrival. Hope all that TMI helps... feel free to ask if you have other questions. We may have figured out an answer. Or call the manufacturer of your chosen product. All three I talked to were splendidly knowledgeable and frank.
11-10-2014, 04:19 PM
Thanks Amelia; I was hoping you would chime in.
1. Doesn't concern me.
2. No problem. BUT, have you found you C-Head to be difficult for small children/toddlers to use?
3. How long can you go before filling the solids container? How many people on board? Some user reports suggest folks are going an entire season without emptying. Maybe they're using a different brand with a larger container?
4. I do like that the C-Head uses regular ol' water jugs. I figure I can 'collect' full jugs over the weekend and take them home to dispose of if I have to.
5. I'm only considering the big players in the marine market: C-Head, Nature's Head and Airhead. Our boat has a very small bathroom so footprint is a big concern. There's also a 4" raised platform where the head needs to sit which creates a height issue. C-Head makes a model with a cutaway base which might work but I'm not sure I'm sold on C-Head due to the smaller holding container. I could always use a small stool to deal with the height temporarily, and modify the floor (remove the platform) down the road for a permanent solution.
I have to say that in 7yrs we have had no mechanical issues with our Raritan PH-II head. Had to replace a joker valve but it failed over time, so it was no surprise. What I dislike the most however is planning our weekends around the damn pump out hours. There's been more than one occasion where we had to come in early to pump out, or sleep in the slip just so we could pump out in the morning when we could have been sleeping on the anchor instead.
11-13-2014, 03:38 PM
I can only speak to the brand we decided on, but here goes: We, two to four of us, have gone two whole seasons, all year round, without actually emptying the primary solids container. See also, kitty litter scooping, which we, as servants to several cats over the years, have dealt with. The C-Head cleaning is lots less objectionable, as there is still no odor, except that of the fiber/peat/sawdust. We add more sawdust as we remove the solid waste, or when that solid waste isn't. Most people, I think, go a month or so, then dump the whole shebang into that secondary bucket that comes with the C-Head when the agitator gets hard to crank. By then you're moving a bunch of fist-size balls of mostly fiber/dried poop around. That second five gallon bucket can go several months before running out of space. Eventually it's time to dump it into a doubled kitchen trashbag, maybe with some Clorox, or other legal disposal option, but nothing like the every-weekend pumpout time-gobbler.
We empty and rinse the pee-jug as soon as it's practical to do so, daily, when possible, as that is, frankly, what can get odoriferous after a while. Some people add septic-tank chemicals, sugar, dish soap, etc to their stored jugs, but frequent emptying works fine for us. I wouldn't want larger jugs (heavy and awkward for me when full) or expensive proprietary ones, because eventually the jug gets shabby-looking, I'd just as soon toss it out then.
I understand that Sandy at C-Head has designed larger containers to go below decks, for long journeys. I'm not tempted, but I'm sure others would find it useful.
Our 6 to 9 year-old grandchildren have had no trouble with it. Of course, the little boys can go aim off the lee rail, can't they? Not sure how a 2-y/o would handle it, but probably ok. The fore and aft design seems to work well with the way people are plumbed. The only people I've heard complain are chubby older women who may not produce a very strong stream of urine, and the dribble-back can cause difficulties. A little hands-on :o problem-solving produces good results, they tell me.