What is a Gas or Propane Incinerating Toilet?
Whatever you are picturing right now is probably close. Combine a toilet with a gas fireplace and ‘Le voila’ a toilet that burns your waste into a nice bit of ash that is completely harmless and ready to be dumped in your flower bed. The advantages are that it requires no special plumbing, no water, no septic fields, no holding tanks, and no electricity. The disadvantages are the reliance upon gas or propane, and the requirement of ongoing purchases of Storburn’s anti foam agent which is added before burning to prevent boil over of liquid waste. Doesn’t that sound yummy! On the plus side if you are in the middle of nowhere and have a huge propane tank that fuels everything from your lights to your cook stove it would be a ‘no brainer’ to hook your toilet directly up to the line, otherwise you’ll be treating it like the BBQ and filling the tanks up constantly.
This is how it works:
Visually the commode looks a little like a metal outhouse in appearance where waste gets dropped into a holding chamber below the seat. An aerosol masking foam may be applied after each use to cover over waste deposits presumably for the smell. (Personally I’m not fond of the idea of using aerosol anything to cover my deposits. What’s wrong with saw dust?). When the system is full (40-50 uses approx.) you add a package of anti-foam (MK-1) to the liquid portion of the waste and this will keep it from ‘boiling over’. The toilet seat is lifted and a cover plug inserted over the chamber at this time acting as a firewall.
Now would be a good time to tell you that it takes about 4 hours for a full burn cycle, and NO you may not use the commode during this time no matter how badly you are crossing your legs. The timer is set to the recommended setting according to load capacity.
A gas cook handle is turned to the pilot position and ignited by pressing a button. Once the pilot light is on the main burner can be activated by turning the gas cock handle to the “ON” position. The system is then in the incineration cycle. Depending on the load capacity the system may burn for 1.5 to 4 hours. Both the manufacturer and I agree you may want to burn a load at the end of the day when it’s nighty-night time so you won’t have to suffer the inconvenience. This might work well at a job site where everyone knocks off at 6pm, but could present a few scheduling challenges for your four year old if you know what I mean.
Here’s something worth noting from the review folks at barnstablecountyhealth.org:
“Gas incinerator toilets require more installation considerations than electric toilets. Gas fixtures should be inspected annually for integrity. Venting of gas systems must be observed with the utmost care. An air space must be maintained under the bottom of the unit to assure proper drafting/airflow during an incineration cycle. Rugs and carpets should not be installed under the unit. The unit may not be installed in a airtight room and a provision for “make-up air” must be made. Intake air vents may be necessary if the toilet is to be located in an enclosed room.”
I did a little snooping around online seeing what ‘user’s had to say about their product. I managed to find a study conducted by the USA Environmental Protection Agency on the effectiveness of incinerating toilets in Alaska and South Eastern Kentucky. The data was collected by the University of Alaska in Anchorage in 1994. It performed according to the manufacturer’s claims above zero degrees but propane doesn’t fair too well in -35. Think about mountain climbers trying to boil water for soup up in the Andes and you have an idea of what these people were up against. (For those of you who don’t hike at altitudes you burn a heck of a lot more fuel the colder and higher up you go).
They concluded that under the circumstances the propane would require placement in a warm room to prevent the tanks from getting too cold to function properly. Of course you never burn propane tanks in an ‘enclosed’ space indoors due to the fumes, so this might prove to be a problem relocating the tanks. Safety first! If you’d like to read about the study yourself please be my guest: http//www.docstoc.com/docs/7834293/Incinerating-Toilets/
I also found some folks who weren’t part of a study, but actual honest to goodness customers chewing the fat amongst themselves on the Wombat Nation blog. Here are some outtakes. Sorry, I tried to find some positive responses for balance but found none.
• “Before that we tried to get a Usenburn propane toilet (the company is also known as Storburn). They required full payment up front and they never delivered in spite of multiple attempts to get them to do so. We were truly scammed.”
• “ I’m an Alaskan and would like to offer my experience with the Storburn incinerating toilet. When it works, it works, but when it doesn’t – which is often – prepare to freeze your arse off while troubleshooting, and not eating any solid foods until you get it fixed. Dave (Storburn Intl owner) has always been helpful, but has never been able to explain the routine issues I encounter. I’ve had it since 2003, it gets little use (one person, work out of town a lot), yet one out of 5 times I run it, it fails. The pilot comes on but the main burner won’t light, or in one case, the whole unit caught fire due to a corroded pilot line. I’m not HVAC expert, but I have had to learn how to take this thing apart all way down to the skeleton and trouble-shoot piece by piece. A few things I have learned. 1) When it’s cold (below freezing), this unit does not like to operate. Light the pilot first – which may take hitting the piazza in rapid succession 30-50 times – and just leave the pilot lit for 30-40 minutes. This seems to heat the lines and help transfer propane to the main burner. If you don’t wait, and you turn on the main burner, it will delay for 5-30 seconds and then WHUMPF! And blow itself out (and scare the crap out of you, but now you have no where to crap….
2) This unit requires way more time & propane than advertised, and doesn’t reduce the volume nearly as much as promised. A friend who operated several of these for the military had the same results. For example, last week I burned a full load (-5F outside), and it took 10 hours, 15 lbs of propane, and still the burn wasn’t complete. This is extreme, but I have so far had to use about 5-10 pounds of propane per load, have never had it burn in fewer than 6 hours, and typically have about 5 liters or more of ash.
In summary, I regret relying on this unit as my sole toilet facility. I’ve had to deny visitors before because the toilet was broken and I couldn’t accommodate their needs. This summer, I plan to build a Humanure System, which my neighbor reports success with, even in this climate.”
• “Your comments confirmed what I suspected looking at the Storburn. If you can safely replace the fuel lines with less restricted lines you might get some help. Below -35 though propane isn’t very cooperative. I agree that it takes way more propane than you would think but I think that is because the liquid content takes considerable energy to vaporize.”
Is it just me or does this system look like a couple of metal lockers from my highschool were ripped off and welded to the back of this thing? Bulky, unsightly, pricey (around $4000) and from the sounds of the people who have used them, not living up to their claims. To be fair I can’t give them the official thumbs down until I myself have used one, but kids it ain’t looking too good for them in the review department. If someone has something positive to say I’d sure like to hear about it, ‘cos other then Storburn blowing their own horn, no one else seems to be.
Who is Storburn?
Storburn first came on the scene in 1976 but was later purchased by the Gabriel Family in 1989 so any crap that went on before that wasn’t them (no pun intended). The company operates out of Brantford, Ontario, Canada having rebuilt the facility after a fire (ironically) in 1994. Management includes David, the father, who handles sales and administration, and his two sons, David Jr. and Ian, who are in charge of production and shipping.
To date they have sold over 10,000 units, and successfully shipped to six different countries so we may conclude that someone, somewhere, is pleased with their ‘John’.
Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Image Credits: Storburn