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composting toilet

How To Not Install a Composting Toilet in an RV

Before we dive in, first things first, if you don’t know what a composting toilet is, or why we wanted one, read our post titled Composting Toilet: What is it and Why you Need One.

Ok, now we can get down to business!  Our Nature’s Head composting toilet arrived pre-assembled with “everything” needed for installation.  I read over the instruction and installation manual several times and thought “hey this toilet is crazy simple to install”:  4 screws, one exhaust vent and a simple splice into 12v power.  I could explain the pains of installation in detail, but I’ll let this how to NOT install a composting toilet video sum it up and save me the repeated embarrassment.

This is the longest video we’ve ever produced (I’m sorry) but it gives you an idea of what the process is like for installing a composting toilet in an RV.  When you break it down the install is super simple…it’s mainly the user (read “Jason“) errors and the unfamiliarity of working on the RV that cause the issues.  So what did I learn that might help you with your install?

Toilet does(n’t) come with everything you need – The toilet has everything needed for install, it just comes up a little short for most RV installations.  You’ll need to purchase a lot more wire, a longer exhaust vent tube, silicone, electrical tape, wire nuts, battery terminal connectors, multi-meter, rotary tool and so on.  Also you’ll need to secure some peat moss or coconut coir in advance because you don’t want to remove the standard toilet before you have the composting toilet ready to use.

Use wood – If you’re not sure how long you’re planning to keep your RV, or if you don’t want to damage the floor, installing the toilet on a piece of water resistant plywood is the best way for the non-committal type.  This allows you to remove the composting toilet and reinstall the flush toilet without replacing the floor.

Direct connect to the battery – Don’t waste your time looking for a power source, just run the wire directly from the toilet fan to the house battery.  This will make the process go much more smoothly and will be easier to troubleshoot if there are issues with the fan losing power.  This simple item would have saved me a minimum of 6 hours.

Pulling the exhaust tube – I wish I had the correct tool to remove the white plastic piece in the wet bay.  Remove those few screws and pulling the exhaust tube would have been a 5 minute process instead of a 3 hour process!

The Unknown Plug – I cannot tell you how many people are looking for the red plug I used to seal the drain pipe. Here is the link on Amazon for the 3″ I used http://amzn.to/24EvbSN (BTW now it’s a yellow plug, & make sure you measure and buy the correct size)

A Major Water Upgrade – What to do with the empty black tank?  We’ve considered 2 options, but we’re still on the fence on which will be best for our needs:

  • Remove the black tank and add another fresh water tank!  This would allow us pack an extra 30 gallons of fresh water for those long stints of Wild Camping we love to do.  30 gallons is like adding 3 more days to our vacation from civilization.
  • Convert the black to a second grey!  Install a simple pipe that will allow the black tank to fill up with grey water.  This comes in handy when staying at a campground that has a water connection but not a sewer at the site (for example most state parks, national parks, and many Thousand Trails parks).

The best piece of advice I can give:  Find a big RV resort that has a woodshop or workshop on location.  Talk to the shop foreman and tell them what you’re doing, they will have the tools and expertise to help make your life much easier during the install.  I can’t tell you how many times I thought of all those resorts we visited in Arizona with the giant workshops, and all those fancy tools….Why didn’t I think of this before?!?

If you’re interested in buying our same composting toilet, the best place to purchase is directly from Nature’s Head.

Larry, the owner of Nature’s Head, has offered up a special discount to everyone that reads our site. If you click the link below he’ll beat the Amazon Price:

Buy From Nature's Head Directly

The main advantage of ordering direct, vs Amazon, is to make sure you get the options you need for your specific installation (i.e. do you need the spider handle? Do you need a solar fan? Do you need spare parts?) Click the link above, select your configuration (we have the Spider handle with extra Liquids Bottle) and at checkout the discount will be automatically added.
If you’re still in research mode you’ll want to visit our site just before you purchase to click the link above, otherwise the discount may not be automatically applied. If you have questions, the customer support team is extremely helpful and can be reached by email or phone which you’ll find on the Nature’s Head contact page.

 
The discount code will change every quarter, so if you’re still in research mode you’ll want to visit our site just before you purchase to get the latest code. If you have questions, Larry is extremely helpful and can be reached by email or phone which you’ll find on the Nature’s Head contact page.

Have you ever installed anything in your RV?  Think the install should have been easier?  Planning on installing your own toilet?  Think Jason should keep his day job?  Share your two cents with us in the comments below!

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (111)

  • is that a bengal kitty cat???!!!!

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  • Claire schuler

    Well that stinks . ..we watched your videos and bought the nature’s head direct, but this offer wasn’t made on the other video. ? we would have loved to have the discount . …we also were looking into buying the go pro portable solar panels . ..should I be looking for another video so that I don’t miss out!? We love the toilet but we can’t figure out how to clean out the scale in the urine jug. I tried vinegar but don’t have a lot of time to let it set

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  • Scott

    A good alternative to the rocks you suggest as an abrasive is a mix of ice cubes and water. Also works for scrubbing gray / black tanks. Just fill partway and take a drive.

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  • Arleen Wallace

    Loved your video. It taught us that we want someone to do the installation for us?.

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    • Curious Minion

      If you can’t be a good example, at least you can serve as a warning!

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  • Oh wow what a great video. Your adventures are about like mine whenever I have decided to do something brilliant. Like the time I was chasing electric ghosts in my RV after replacing the main inverter/converter. If anything can go wrong it will. Anyway it was a great bunch of laughs but at $1000 I think we’ll make due with the old fashioned system for now.

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  • Chaz

    Not a single F bomb dropped! Woo Hoo! (At least in the edited version. lol.)
    Great video. The thing I like most about it is that you folks are relaxed and natural in your videos.
    Do you have info on what camera you use for your vids? Which wireless mic?
    Thanks!

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  • Randy

    Looks like some of my projects. Always looks so easy, but for some reason, I seem to make it much more difficult! LOL Now let’s see how you’re converting the throne in your boat! We’ll see just how much you learned during this experience. You guys are awesome!

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  • Tom Tui

    Hi, what’s the difference between standard handle and spider handle? Thanks! 🙂

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    • The shape (how far it sticks out) and how you turn them. We think the spider handle is great as it takes up a tiny bit less space and seems easier to turn.

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  • Nikki P.

    Possibly one of your best videos ever. Thank you for sharing! The peanut gallery screen comments are hysterical. Thanks for showing us once again that you can do it if you put your mind to it…and can laugh at yourself along the way. 🙂

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  • Brian

    Just a quick question….

    What to use in plugging up the old water line from the old toilet?

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  • Kevin Y

    Hey Wynn team….your videos are awesome, and as someone who wants to RV someday but has not had the experience, you are helping me to get my mind ready for take no the leap!

    A question on the compost toilet video though: it was not clear (to me at least) why you needed to carve out the hole in the plywood base as you were no longer using the original opening in the floor, were you? I assume for any subsequent owner the original toilet would be re-installed and the plywood pried up from the clear silicon bead which would then be scraped off the floor? Or did I miss something? It looked like a major PITA to carve that hole and I would like to know what the deal was…..many thanks and keep up the great work!

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  • Rob

    OK, this may be a bit more personal of a question, but it seems the “magic” of the composting toilet is that it keeps the solids separate from the liquids. However, in my own experience of using a toilet, oftentimes (most of the time) when I am going #2, I will also go #1. Do I just have to keep switching from #1 to #2, while opening & closing the trap door? What if some #1 goes down the #2 trap door, will the composting still occur? Will there be the sewage smell?

    TIA,
    Rob

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  • Diego McCormick

    Great video guys, i am converting a short school bus and the idea of having to empty the black tank scares me. I was planning on using a conventional toilet until i saw your videos. I plan on having a toilet shower combo, can the composting toilet get wet at all?

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    • It can be installed in a wet bath! Give Larry at Natures Head a call as they have helped lots of people with different wet bath installs and can give you tips.

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  • Oh gosh that looks so confusing!! I’m not very good at stuff like this so it’s nice to have a visual of what not to do! Lol

    Find me at: RedheadedOwl.com

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  • Debi W.

    I really enjoyed your video it will, hopefully, save me time when I eventually get an RV/Trailer/Tiny House I’ve been dreaming of to travel North America. I have a pretty important question that may have been covered in the comments, which I admit I didn’t read past page 1. What do you do with your humanure since you’re on the road and don’t have a garden?

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    • It can be added to a campground compost pile or placed in any trash bin and will continue to decompose.

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  • Tom

    Looks like you have to unconnect the toilet base from your wood base in order to dump it. Did you test one of the bucket type toilets? Where you just remove the collecting bucket to dump. Seems like that might be a little easier to dump. However, there may be other problems with these units. I’m deferring to your expertise and recommendation on these.

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  • Marjorie

    “I’ve read the instruction manual over 30 times.” hahahaha you guys are hilarious! I would have read it only maybe 15-20.

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  • Jo

    I just want to add that compost accelerators are available to get the process started. Also suggest vermiculture (red worms in a soil filled box in your kitchen) as a way to compost food scraps and produce valuable worm castings.

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    • We have been told that compost accelerators can be used in compost piles but not while the toilet is in current use. So I would verify with natures head before trying anything in the toilet.

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  • Hey Jason and Nikki
    I’d like to thank both of you for sharing your adventures!
    Just a thought/question. Can or do you composed vegetables, fruit and other scraps from the kitchen in the same way?
    🙂

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    • You sure could but not in the toilet, that is for business only 🙂 . Lots of people have a small bin in their kitchen for composting scraps. They can all be combined later in a composting pile, just not while the toilet is in use.

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  • Sara

    I am planning on going out on the road in a little over a year. My son is going with me and I will be homeschooling him and doing freelance work to support us (on top of savings.) I keep googling questions that I have and your site comes up a lot. 🙂 I hope to be installing a composting toilet, as well as solar panels, in a travel trailer. Living on the road is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, and I am so excited about finally doing it! (I’m 42 now.) I love your site, and just wanted to let you know how encouraging it is.

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    • Thanks so much for taking the time to say hello and super glad you are finding some helpful info! Roadschooling is awesome and if you have not checked out fulltimefamilies.com yet, you may want to. See ya on the road!

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  • Steve Hayne

    Jason,
    As a fumbling DIYer myself (my wife says “Steve can fix anything, it just takes him two or three tries and four times the money”) I laughed out loud over your marathon toilet install. Your videos are terrific and truly inspirational. Keep up the good work.
    Sincerely,
    Steve Hayne

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  • Jason and Nikki, we are just starting our full time RV life and are installing our composting toilet. the easiest way for me to route the vent is through the sidewall under our awning … where we sit… can you tell me if there is much smell coming from your vent hose?

    Thanks!

    Scott

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    • We get very, very little smell and on our last RV ours was mounted right under a bay next to where we sit and we never noticed it. I don’t think that high up you will ever have a problem.

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  • Lauri L

    You guys are amazing! As I consider the move to using a class C for my full time residence, any question I have you two have already covered. I can’t tell you how valuable your insight and information is- a lifesaver! I am absolutely going to put in a composting toilet, and thanks to your video plan to rope my brother (an Airforce electrician who wires planes) to help 🙂

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    • Awesome! Thanks so much for taking the time to say hello and let us know the info you’ve found is helpful! Good luck with the install, it should be a breeze for your brother.

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  • Jeffrey yingling

    I enjoyed your compost towlet video .i think it’s great.thanks for sharing all your videos,you guys are the best keep .

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  • Hey Jason and Nikki 🙂
    We purchased a Nature’s Head for our RV and will be installing it within the next couple weeks. I ran up to Lowe’s to look for a plug for the sewer drain underneath the toilet like the red one you used. I wasn’t able to find them. What are they called, where did you get yours and what are the typical sizes? Thanks so much! We learn so much from you two.

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  • Just purchased a used Class C. Friends asked when I was going to take it out? Reply “just waiting till water won’t freeze”.
    With your videos on the Nature’s Head, water will not be an issue!
    Thanks for the videos! Keep them coming.
    P.S. ordering after I post this comment!

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  • Chris Langston

    Just wanted to leave a quick comment thanking you both for all your help and information — both do’s and dont’s!

    I installed my Nature’s Head today, and while I would say that my level of handyman skills are about on par with Jason’s, watching him make all the mistakes and work through the process was incredibly helpful to me! As was the video about hydrating the coco coir, since I made about 3 times too much on my first attempt, and wasn’t sure why the spindle wouldn’t turn.

    Anyways, keep up the great work you two, and happy holidays! I’m gonna go eat some prunes and look forward to my first #2! 😀

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    • Ha ha! Thanks Chris, each time we get a comment like this, it is an absolute reminder we are actually helping people. So thanks so much for taking the time to watch, read and leave a TMI comment. 🙂 Enjoy those prunes!

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  • Owen Sullivan

    Where did you buy your toilet. And what would be a reasonable price.

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  • This reminds me of something I learned when working on plumbing in a 1920s California bungalo – never do anything unless Orchard Supply Hardware is open…

    The main thing I notice is that the macerator option for the LTV Unity costs almost as much as the Nature’s head composting toilet. I’d rather have the composting toilet.

    We like the LTV Unity from its pictures and floor plan, but it’s tough finding one to look at here in Albuquerque. We’d never have known about this RV without your post about finding smaller options to Windy.

    We’re looking for a small, comfortable coach for the two of us, our Berner Daisy, and our big Sheltie Buzz. We expect to do a fair amount of wild camping – tracking the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon, to Chacoan outliers at Pierre’s, Halfway House and Twin Angels, then into National Forest land in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana… for now.

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  • Taya

    Wow! Thanks for the link to this. And now I’m totally fearful! Jason is a real trooper for sure! Thanks for sharing the advice!

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  • lex

    What did you do with the water line to the original toilet, did you plug it or is there a shut off valve for the fresh water to the toilet. We are installing ours but not sure what to do with the water line to the original flushing toilet.

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  • Mike Laudenslager

    I loved this video! It made me laugh more than anything I have seen in a long time… even more than the faucet replacement in the Roy’s bathroom! This is EXACTLY how projects go for me. Jason I loved your enthusiasm even when I could feel your desire to “burn it down” toward somewhere halfway thru! I also loved how Nikki was helping thru the whole process. My wife tends to leave me to my own devices and simply tisks at me when I use a lot of bad female names as I break knuckles and bang my head. As a fellow video guy, I much appreciate the creativity that goes into these. I think your videos are not only very engaging, but teach a lot more about what really happens on projects to a “regular” guy. Thanks for that! Keep up the good work.

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  • Lex

    how did you vent yours?

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  • Jay T.

    I’m seriously considering installing the Nature’s Head Composting toilet and removing the black water tank. I will have to replumb the bathroom basin to the grey tank. I am then considering putting two 40 lbs. propane tanks where the black tank was as we can carry 66 gallons of water which is enough for two weeks. Or maybe another fresh water tank, I dunno. Thanks for the update and we look forward to update video. J

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  • Warren

    You’ve had your composting toilet for a while now, any updates? I’m guessing that it is working out really well for you but thought I’d get the latest from you before we took the plunge for our RV.

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      • "...nice man from Germany"

        I wish you hadn’t done that… 😉 At least the wires still seem to be in place. I’ll give it a shot. I admire your patience with the install!! Bernard

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  • Gail K.

    Hi there, I’m getting ready to tackle my own installation. I’m just wondering where you got the plug for the toilet drain.

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    • The brand is Oatey and we picked it up from Home Depot. Good luck and at least you now know what not to do!

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      • Thanks. I did find it at Lowes. I finally gave up on hoping the Nature’s Head would somehow magically fit if I measured it enough times and ordered a C-Head. It should be here soon but since we had cool temps for a day or two I yanked the old toilet yesterday. The video did help, otherwise I know I would have been prying away at the toilet flange with a screwdriver for sure. 🙂 The C-Head doesn’t require venting or power so it should be easier to install. Can’t wait for it to get here!

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  • Hi Jason & Nikki!
    I love reading all your posts and watching the videos, my family and I are gearing up to start our 12 month full-time rv adventure in July 2014 and your site has been amazing in educating us on full-time rv life.
    Sorry to ask such a question, but my husband and I were wondering – where do you “dump” (:)) you’re compost once it’s full?

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  • Shirlene

    Hi Jason,

    So how long do you keep the compost in there and when you do exchange the compost or dump the compost, what are you going to do with it?

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  • Tim K.

    We enjoyed your video on the composting toilet installation. Not something that we are likely to do with our Vesta but the subject did generate a question for you.

    As you know our Vestas come equipped with a Black Tank Flush feature. If you search the manual you will find a very subtle entry that instructs you to use the tank flush “each drain cycle”. It goes on to say that failure to do so may result in a “clogged spray nozzle”. Well, guess what? The manual is right! And if you connect a water hose to the tank flush when it is clogged, you will flood the bathroom floor!

    The manual, however, doesn’t say how to remedy the clogged spray nozzle or even how to get to it. So, we’re wondering if perhaps you came across this sprayer when you removed your toilet, and if perhaps the way to access and unclog the nozzle is by removing the toilet? Hope you can advise us.

    We continue to enjoy all your reporting. We have followed your lead and replaced all our interior lights with LEDs. We have also installed organizers in cupboards and the closet.

    We had a weird problem with the engine intermittently not starting when it was hot from driving, like after stopping for fuel or to eat lunch. We took it to two International shops on the road. Both claimed to fix the problem, but neither did. Finally, our local tech in Worcester, MA tracked down to problem to a faulty ECM (engine control module). We had the ECM replaced, under warranty, and all has been well since. Hope you have not experienced this, but if you do, I can give you more details.

    Thanks for your help,
    Tim & Dena

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      • Tim K.

        I still don’t have the solution. Our black tanks have built-in sprayer units that spray the inside of the black tank when you connect a hose to the tank flush connection and turn on the water. I’ve read in blogs that the holes in the sprayer head are too small and easily clog. One person recommended drilling out the holes in the sprayer to make them a larger diameter. What I haven’t figured out is where this sprayer head is located and what is the easiest way to get access to it. I was hoping that you had seen it when you removed your toilet, because that would be easier access than from the outside. I watched you struggle working in the confined spaces around the black tank in your video.
        Tim

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          • Tim K.

            Yes, thanks. That’s exactly what I wanted to know. Will try this when we return.
            Thanks again,
            Tim & Dena

  • Nice job! Most especially, WAY TO GO. I loved our composting toilet, and will have another one.

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  • Jason, Good job and best is you survived without any trip to an ER. That tool you didn’t have which would have saved 6 hours is a “square drive bit”. Available at that hardware store your so familiar with. By all means pick one up for your driver as most of the RV is put together with square drive screws.

    When running wire(s) or flexible hoses, sometimes it helps to use a straightened coat hanger taped to the object you were reaching for. Run the wire from the easy side then carefully pull it from the hard side.

    Good move not to remove the toilet flange on the floor, it is actually glued to the pipe that dropped your waste into the black tank. As for future of the black tank, option #2 is best. You can easily plumb the grey to flow into the old black. In doing so, I recommend a screw together fitting so if a new owner doesn’t want the composting toilet there will be no cross contamination. Hope you flushed the black well and added some enzymes to eliminate any odors from “cling-ons”.

    Careful fixing things or you may end up with a tool box like mine. Excellent score for courage and results !!!

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  • Are you guys using mostly peat moss or coconut? I hear so many stories about peat moss and its negative impact on the environment.

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  • David A

    I’ve been reading with great interest about your composting toilet. Now that it’s been taking crap from you for a month, a thorough review of the toilet and the practical aspects would be very helpful! Thanks in advance.

    David

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    • David, we are working on it. Until then, know we are super impressed with it!

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  • Debbie from Illinois

    Good for you Jason! Looking forward to seeing how you guys like the toilet. Did you save the original potty, just in case you don’t like the composting one?

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  • Well done for not swearing and I must say thanks for making me laugh….Next Christmas ask Santa for a jig saw and a bigger tool kit..;-)

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  • Rick

    They always say it’s a poor workman who blames his tools, but I have always found that having the proper tools in the first place is needed to do a proper job. Your video here really illustrates that. I really like this video, as your enthuisiasm and willingness to learn things the hard way really shows. But this is how most of us learn to do these mechanical chores – trial by fire! (or in this case – trial by toilet).
    Just think how much easier your next job will be . . .

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      • David A

        Go for it! It’s gonna be the sh-t. 🙂

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  • HR-J

    Awesome video, a truthfull install, not like DIY or HGTV.
    I switched out smelly head hoses on our sailboat one day, and gave myself a hernia in the process, 2 nights in a Hampton Inn after surgery, should have paid someone instead!
    Great video to learn from, thanks for sharing. Just wondering, did you get much voltage drop on that 50′ run of wire?
    Keep on keeping on!

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  • Mrsmaitohead

    Too funny! Thanks for the heads up! ( pun intended). We want to install one as well so your mistakes will be used to our advantage. Thanks! Happy composting! ( don’t forget something to read while your in there. Lol)

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  • Jason,

    My heart goes out to you. I remember replacing the head and sewer lines on a sailboat. Like RVs they are not for the faint of heart.

    CB Nash

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  • KC

    Thanks for the laugh!!
    That was classic watching.
    Good Job!

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  • Teeka

    Best video I have watched on your site yet. Jason Wynn you deserve a medal for that installation!

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  • The Gentleman

    Next time you plan on doing “construction” please roll through Dallas so I can play too…

    A few notes:
    1. I’m worried that your electrical wire is going to burn up under the RV from the exhaust system.

    2. I have followed your wife in a restroom, you need a much bigger fan.

    3. I’m shipping you an 18V Dewalt drill, what’s your address today?

    4. I’m very proud of the work that you are doing but still mad that you chose the adventure of the open road over the adventure of the Everett…

    Love you guys,
    E

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  • I’ll be honest. I said “That’s what she said” A LOT during that video.

    Best line: “my head is by the poop hole!”

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  • Gary

    For not being mechanically inclined as you say, You did a fantastic job. Using your creative mind paid off. Great job Jason and to the photography lady.

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  • Clint

    That was a fantastic video. I cant wait to take a dump in it.

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    • I am excited for you to take a dump on my video 🙂 Thanks Clint! ha.

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  • Sarah

    OK, I know this was a lot of hard work, but the video was hilarious! The hubs and I loved it. If I could think of an accounting job to do from the road, we’d be gone!

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  • Redds

    Man that really looked like speaker wire you were using. I have to say it beat the “CRAP” out of you. LOL

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