Monday, January 25, 2016

A helping hand, more flood damage and thoughts on wet logs and compost…

There was a chap moored below Field Locks, on his own apart from a pair of cats, who wanted to be up the locks but was a little apprehensive of tackling a three-rise staircase on his own. So yesterday morning at 10 I was back at the locks, setting them up again for an ascent.
An hour later Phil, his boat and his cats were up, cruising past us and mooring a little further on. Although I told him I didn’t want any recompense, later in the day he turned up with a strap of cans of Stella, and insisted I kept them. Thanks Phil, it’s nice to be appreciated. I wonder if he wants to go back down any time soon…???

In the afternoon the towpath was pretty busy with pedestrians and cyclists enjoying the fine weather. One particular group, consisting of one woman and several children from maybe five to early teenage, was spotted poking around in the canal with a stick. Always interested in knowing what’s going on (nosey), I went to investigate. It turned out that that the youngest boy had decided to see how far he could throw a wellington boot. Unfortunately it was his own right boot, and his target was the cut! It’s surprisingly deep along here…
Luckily, with no traffic along here for a while (apart from Phil) the water was fairly clear by canal standards, and we could could just spot it lurking in the depths about four feet out. The boy has got to work on his wrist action…
I went back for Meg’s ball net and recovered the water-filled footwear, much to the delight of the woman who would otherwise have had to carry the miscreant home! Copious quantities of kitchen towel made it wearable again and off they toddled.

A bit further up the canal, at Buck Hill swing bridge, a path takes you down to the river and across a footbridge. From the bridge you can get an idea of how high the recent flood water reached, and what it carried with it...

Rubbish adorns the trees, and that's a shipping container washed up on the left.

The remains of a twin-axle caravan lie up against the bridge support...

...and part of the shell is further downstream, along with oil drums and general detritus.


Now then, for a while now we’ve been burning logs for fuel, only using a handful of smokeless ovals to keep the stove in overnight. This means that a 25kg bag of Excel is lasting for a fortnight instead of three days!
But there is a downside. Apart from the lugging and slicing and dicing that wood entails, it is of course unseasoned. In the morning and last thing at night I stack several split logs around the stove to dry them, they burn so much better dry. But of course the moisture has to go somewhere.
To gauge the extent of the problem I weighed a representative lump of wood that had been cut down and left in the open for around a month before I claimed it, then sawn and split a couple of days before.
After 24 hours near the stove it had lost 75 grams, that’s from an initial weight of 1150g. That’s 6% or 75 ml of water!
A good three fingers in a whisky tumbler!
So if I dry maybe a dozen logs per day, I’m dumping almost a litre of water into the boat’s atmosphere. At least we shouldn’t suffer from dry skin…
The problem is that, much as I’d like, I just haven’t the room to leave the wood longer to allow it to dry outside in the cratch. So I guess we’ll just have to keep the window open.


After our enforced stay at Granary Wharf in Leeds, and the consequent need to carry a 40lb tank of poo to the sanitary station a mile away twice a week, I started thinking of alternatives to our cassette loo system. A pump-out from a holding tank is a no-no, in the same situation we’d be worse off! But the third choice for boat loos, and becoming more popular, is a composting toilet.
If you’re of a delicate disposition you may want to skip this…
This type of arrangement separates the solids and the liquids (more accurately YOU separate the solids and the liquids by depositing in the appropriate places in the unit), storing the pee in a removable tank for disposal, and drying the solid material in a container by means of a passage of air over it, vented to the outside. This allows it to break down under bacterial action, leaving a dry compost material that is environmentally friendly and which can be disposed of more easily. And shouldn’t need emptying more than once a month! I’m told there’s no smell either… unlike the harsh chemical smell of the blue fluid used in “bucket and chuck it” units. The only external additive is a some sort of dry medium to help out the process, which can be cocoa husks, or even fine sawdust. Of course a loo in daily use will still have a couple of days of the most recent deposits as yet unchanged, which means that spreading it across an adjacent field is not an option! But bagging in a compostable bag and putting in general waste is. By the time the bag decomposes the contents will be a fine, rich compost. Or so I’m told.
Right, that’s the theory, now on to the hardware (rather than the software…).

There seem to be three suppliers to choose from, two US producers and one from Scandinavia.

Looking at several boaters blogs it appears that the Air Head is the most popular, and Nature’s Head is another, but less common unit. These are both from the States and seem to be robust and well-engineered.    
Nature's HeadAir Head   

Either will fit in the space currently occupied by our Thetford loo, the Air Head retails in the UK for around £800, Nature’s Head about £100 less. But they’re so bloody ugly! OK, does that matter in the smallest room? Probably not a lot, But I can’t help thinking of 1950’s budget Sci-Fi movies… “Take me to your leader”…

The Scandinavian option, the Separett Villa, is a far sleeker design.
Separett It achieves this because the urine is diverted away from the unit to a separate tank, or plumbed into the waste system. So there’s no pee-bottle attached to the front. They’re also cheaper, at around £600. But what do you do with the pee? It would need to be piped to a portable tank off to the side, I guess. A drawback is that the outlet for the urine is only 173 mm from the floor, necessitating a low, flat tank. In it’s favour it’s 2 inches lower than the American models, important for those of us who are vertically challenged. But it’s quite a bit deeper from front to back.

All these units require venting, usually vertically through a pipe and a roof vent, and need a 12 volt supply for the fan.

There is an alternative to these units. A company in the UK supplies DIY kits so you can build your own. All the individual bits and pieces are available from The Little House Company near Solihull.
Things to ponder…

Hi Chas, Magpies, crows, rooks, they're all the same family. Good enough for me!



Tom and Jan said...

You raised the subject so......

Has it really been composted or just somewhat dried out?
How do you manage to removed the dried out contents when you only just put in a fresh stool (ortwo) yesterday?
I can see there won't be much mess if you can produce one solid stool, but how is the bowl cleaned if that situation doesn't occur?

I think I should have been a plumber!

Steve and Angela said...

As a happy Airhead owner I just wanted to mention a couple of points.
Cocoa husks are getting very hard to get hold of as there have been cases of dogs eating them and it poisoning them. As I'm sure you know dogs and chocolates don't mix. We have started using wood shavings which are normally used for hamsters and the like, which we get from pet stores . the last bag we got was about £8 and will last us for several months. Its properly dried which is important.
The venting fan uses just 3 amps a day, but we opted for a solar fan with a backup battery for the night so no need for any wiring. The solar vent might not be enough to charge the battery for all of the night in winter but we have not found it a problem. When our first one packed in we had no fan for 3 days and still had no smell.
Height wise, well Angela is 5'5" and the toilet is on an existing plinth raised about an inch and she has no problems.
OK, the toilet may be ugly but so what. Who ever said come and look at my beautiful toilet !
No big heavy cassette to carry, no chemicals to buy, no worry about finding a pump out or an elsan point. The pee tank lasts us about 2 days and when it comes to emptying it we can carry it with one hand. You can also buy spare cassettes for about £50.
They even recommend using the cheapest loo paper as it breaks down easier.
The only thing to get used to for men, is sitting down to pee.
Go for it, I doubt you will regret it.


SimonG said...

Hi Geoff, you may like to try a search on farcebook for a group called 'Compost Toilets for Boats and Off-Grid Living'. Think you'll find plenty of 'fascinating' reading for these long winters nights whilst you're unable to travel far!
Love to Mags and Meg x

Judith Emery said...

Funny you should post about the subject of composting toilets as we have been thinking along similar lines due to age creaping up on us. Still can't decide yet.
Judith and John
Nb Serena.

Boatwif said...

Geof, Mags,
We installed an Airhead in 2010! No problems, no smell and the best boating solution to the "necessary" ever. Simple and very easy to install, liquid container lasts two of us 2 days and the solids 14 days.
Ken nb Cleddau
(I do not have shares in the company!)

Jennie said...

Hi Geoff, We have an airhead and are more than happy with it. It was fitted when the boat was built and we never have to worry about not being near an elsan point. We double bag the solids and it can, if necessary, be stored in the cratch/bow locker until a suitable disposal point is found. I would say never try to get rid of it down an elsan - it is too dry and blocks everything! I will watch with interest to see what you decide. Jennie, nb Tentatrice.