Sun-Mar Composting Toilets

I can’t speak to all makes and models of Sun-mar’s full range of products, but I can comment on one in particular; the ‘Excel’ that retails in mainstream places like Home Depot.  I LOVE that composting toilets are making their way into the big chains because if the ‘Depot’ is carrying it, it can’t be all that weird.  No sir-ee-bob, it ain’t just for radicals anymore. (hee hee hee)

So fellow Canadians, Earthshippers Extraordinaire, Thomas and Manda Porter of Eco Arc Saskatchewan were kind enough to outfit their property with a Sun-mar in the outhouse before putting on the big week long workshop pounding tires in May 2009.
Over all I liked this unit immensely despite  it’s one tragic flaw.  Did you catch that foreshadowing? We’ll get to that later to keep the suspense up since I know, I just know you needed that lure to keep you rooted to your screen. (grin)

The Excel is brilliant in its simplicity. Simple usually means less things can go wrong. Usually.  The toilet comes with a bio drum that you give a crank to after each (ahem) ‘deposit’ to keep the compost well aerated. The drum is turned from the ‘open’ position during deposits and then rotated using a crank handle to the ‘closed’ position after usage, because after all, who wants to look at that stuff.  It requires no water (brilliant), just a handful of hemp/peat moss mixture to keep the smell down and to aid the process along.  A separate chamber for the overflow of liquids evaporates with the aid of a fan and a heating pan underneath.  Any odors are carried away up the stack with the aid of the fan which can run off a small solar panel, so no problem if you are living off the grid. In fact it doesn’t require electricity at all if you don’t have a source, it’ll just take a little longer to dry out the compost. When the compost is ‘finished’ off you simply pull out the drawer located conveniently in front of the unit underneath the little step. I swear an oath it was clean, it didn’t smell at all, and overall I was impressed at how well it worked …until it didn’t.

Now I drop the bomb shell.

Sun-mar has one fatal flaw that accompanies this unit.  You must never, never, NEVER turn the bio drum chamber counter clockwise.  All hell breaks loose if you turn the handle to the left for a full rotation.  Why they didn’t idiot proof their design so that it was impossible to turn the handle the wrong way I don’t know.  I can only tell you that if there is a way to break something, give it to me and I will find it.  I am the idiot that all manufacturers need fear.
I’m still not sure if this was my doing or the foolishness of one of the other ‘volunteers’ at Eco Arc’s very first workshop, but I’m still apologizing for it just in case it was me.

Eco Ark Saskatchewan's Sun-mar Excel Composting Toilet repairEco Ark Saskatchewan's Sun-Mar metal over broken plastic bar repair

After Thomas completely disassembled the entire unit to get to the part that broke (ewwww, by the way), we discovered the part was made of plastic.  Thomas ‘rigged’ a metal portion onto the plastic bit and reinstalled it (much to my horror standing 10 feet upwind from the entire scene).  All this grossness because one foolish woman turned the damn handle the wrong way!

So to Thomas again I say, “Man, I am soooo sorry.”

And to Sun-mar I say, “You have a very cool product with one huge design flaw.  Make it so silly noodles like me can’t turn the crank handle the wrong way even if we try to.”

And to you I say, “If you put up signs that say Don’t turn the handle to the left, and trust that the people in your life always read and obey signs without exception…then it should all be good!”

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