Saturday, March 7, 2015

Gratitude Post: The Sun-Mar Toilet

Well, my water line started to thaw out, then froze again. It's been frozen for most of two weeks. How do people use the bathroom in such situations?

One solution is of course to use someone else's bathroom. This can work very well as part of a barter arrangement; people who trust one to do odd jobs in their home are likely to be delighted to pay less cash and share their bathroom, and look disappointed when one's own bathroom is operational again.

But where does that leave one when nature calls outside of one's working hours?

At the Cat Sanctuary, it leaves one in exactly the same situation one has occupied, with regard to calls of nature, since about 1990. I wasn't living here when my parents installed the Sun-Mar dry toilet.

The company web site shows that much research and development has gone on since the Cat Sanctuary was equipped with a truly modern toilet. Newer models make ours look downright clunky. It's a clunky thing, too, being longer, wider, and higher than a traditional water-flush toilet. In its day our toilet was such an innovative gadget that somebody offered grants to people living in the vicinity of mountain springs to get them to test Sun-Mar toilets, which was probably the only way my parents would have tried to buy one. In its day our old clunker cost $1800. Now they're advertising sleek new models that look hardly any bigger than a water-flusher and cost less than $300 (not counting shipping, installation, and maintenance).

However...the old clunker clunks on. Whatever else freezes, my toilet will not only work, but will actually do its little bit to keep the bathroom warm. Even during a power outage...it uses heat to dry out all things organic and yucky (it likes weeds, banana peels, and junkmail), and it does keep working, not at peak efficiency of course, on the greenhouse heat it gets by being near a south window.

Our toilet had to be shipped from Canada, although the grant covered trained laborers to help Dad install it. And back then you needed trained laborers, because the separate pieces of "The Unit" are too big for one person to carry easily, and the vent system is complicated. Now the ads show dry toilets that look as if college girls lugged them in from stores like this one (near a D.C. Metro station) and set them up in one afternoon--which I believe is technologically possible. Bigger toilets are for bigger families. If there are four of you plus pets, and you often entertain, get a big one. If you're renting a basement all to yourself, a small one should work fine.

Besides being reliable during water or power outages, other advantages to a dry toilet include that you're not polluting (you can even get a solar-powered model for an off-the-grid cabin in the woods), you're not breeding roaches in a sewer, and you never have to worry about water seeping out, rotting your bathroom floor, and fostering black mold (Stachybotrys atra grows slowly on almost any organic material, but grows fast wherever it finds a trace of urea). Dry toilets kill mold and roaches, even in urban areas that are already infested.

Also, your contribution to the local landfill is drastically reduced by the Sun-Mar toilet. It runs most efficiently when plenty of dry organic material is added to what tends to be moist contents. That means it positively eats food scraps, pet litter, weeds, and waste paper. You can flush paper towels and some kinds of diapers. If you do end up throwing away garbage, the Sun-Mar at least reduces the volume and nastiness of the garbage. What comes out looks like potting soil, is good for roses...and will burn if you need emergency fuel, too.

Can I hear the Sun-Mar toilet? Yes, sometimes. Smell it? Yes, sometimes. About the same as a water-flush toilet, except when the water-flush toilet clogs or backs up and smells worse.

The main reason why people do stick with old water-flush toilets is cost, which is becoming an increasingly shortsighted reason. Conversion will probably require at least one day's work for at least two professionals. On the other hand, once a dry toilet is bought and installed, the electricity it takes to run probably costs less than the city water bill for a water-flush toilet.

The main reason why some people should stick with an old water-flush toilet, at least for now, is ease of use. Someone does have to get down on the floor and remove the peaty stuff from the bottom of the Sun-Mar toilet, every day or two. It's not especially heavy labor but it could be hard for people with hip, knee, or back problems. Well, if you have the opportunity to live near a mountain spring, why let that stop you? You should be able to hire somebody to do that, and a few other chores to fill up an hour a day. But if you live in town, anyway, the physical work of using a dry toilet might be a valid reason not to switch.

A reason why some people could not use my Sun-Mar toilet would be any mobility impairment. Mine is not wheelchair-friendly at all, and it even seems cavalier about brittle old bones. The newer models look as if this issue has been addressed. There's always the question of height, since some wheelchair users need a high toilet seat and others need one that's not so high, but the company's web page looks as if somebody's been designing dry toilets with the family that needs one of each in mind.

Years ago, Grandma Bonnie Peters published an article titled "I Love My Sun-Mar Toilet." I love mine, too. Even when subzero temperatures cause pipes that are insulated only with those cheap little sleeves of foam to freeze solid, and ice to form in the bathtub, the Sun-Mar toilet works.

Thank you, Mother. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Sun-Mar.

(Fair disclosure: Neither GBP nor I ever received any payment for singing the praises of the dry toilet. This is one of the few inventions that people will honestly advertise free of charge, because it's that good an idea.)