If you’ve been asking yourself are composting toilets legal in tiny houses, you’re not alone. Our friend Richard Brunt, who we purchased our Separett composting toilet from a few years ago, wrote this article to discuss the legalities. Composting toilets allow many of us tiny housers to have a safe way to manage our waste but there’s often a question of whether they’re legal or not. If you’ve been wondering yourself, read on for a professional perspective on the topic.
Are Composting Toilets Legal in Tiny Houses?
One of the most commonly asked questions I receive on composting toilets is “are they legal?” This is not a simple question to answer. Regulations on composting toilets usually don’t exist in the building codes. And does a tiny home on wheels even fall under the building code? Since the clerk at the county office can’t find anything about it in the books, they might just say no, composting toilets are not legal. Frustrating.
So, what action steps should you take if you’re trying to legalize your composting toilet? First, determine if you need a permit by researching your local building department. If you don’t, you are free to install your composting toilet. If you do, don’t despair – people get permits for composting toilets all the time. However, they sometimes have to go beyond the receptionist, and speak to a department head in engineering, building or plumbing. If you can show people with decision making authority that you are responsibly and intelligently dealing with the output of your toilet, approval might come easily.
In certain situations, especially with new home construction built under the building code, the building inspector may insist on an “approved” composting toilet system. What exactly this means can vary from place to place. Al- in-one composting toilets, that combine solids and liquids in one tank, often need an NSF41 certification. NSF41 does not apply to urine diverting toilets, which might need an ETL certification. The inspector will likely be unaware of this distinction, so you might have to inform him or her of this.
For a composting toilet company, receiving certification can be incredibly expensive. Fees can be $40,000 for initial certification and then very expensive for yearly renewal in order for the certification to remain “active”. As a consequence, some manufacturers are deciding not to obtain certification. They see it as a money grab, or a scam. Ironically, some older toilets, which do not work all that well, have obtained certification, while newer models that work much better do not have certification.
Many jurisdictions don’t care about certifications, because they are (rightfully) far more concerned with what you do with the output of your toilet. No certification will guarantee the user is going to properly dispose of the waste. At the end of the day, that is what everyone wants – proper disposal of waste without pollution or health risk.
Always be prepared to show your building department your waste management plan: what you will do with the urine and solids once they come out of the toilet. If it is a sound plan and clearly illustrates that you won’t be contributing pollution to your lot and surrounding areaa, you may well get approval.
In cities and towns where sewers are available, authorities may require that plumbing for a flush toilet be installed in the house – even if installing a composting toilet. This includes a drain pipe, vent stack and water supply lines. Their rational is, they don’t want to force future home owners to use a composting toilet.
Concern about composting toilets by authorities is completely warranted; sewage waste has been shown to contaminate local water systems and handing over the disposal of this material to the homeowner is something they take very seriously. A careless or lazy person might not deal with the output of their composting toilet appropriately. That said, if you propose your project with a clear, safe, and well thought out disposal plan for the waste from your composting toilet, you have a very good chance of receiving approval from your building department.
Richard Brunt is the owner of Composting Toilets USA. He distributes Nature’s Head and Separett composting toilets. He can be reached toll free at 1 888 361 0014. His customer service is outstanding and there hasn’t been a question we’ve thrown at him that he’s not been able to answer well.
You can read our full review of the Separett and watch a video on how it works by clicking HERE.