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Photo of an incinerating toilet - the Incinolet incinerting toilet from Incinolet.com Buyer's Guide to Incinerating Toilets as Components of Alternative Septic Systems for Difficult Sites

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Incinerating toilets:

What are the brands, types, features & usefulness of incinerating toilets: electric or propane gas operated?

This article series describes the brands, properties, installation, and maintenance of incinerating toilets - a waterless system for onsite waste disposal where a septic system cannot be installed. Incinerating toilets use electricity or gas to produce heat which literally incinerates the waste. Here we list suppliers of incinerating toilets and compare models, features, and prices.

We add advice on choosing among incinerating toilets and on how to use incinerating toilets. The photo above shows an Eco John Sr - "A highly efficient, waterless toilet that incinerates the waste with propane." [The photograph above is of one of our favorite incinerating toilets, an Incinolet, from that company's product literature.]



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Guide to Incinerating Toilets: where to buy, how to install, how to use, how to maintain incinerating toilets

Photo of the EcoJohn waterless incinerating toilet

Article Series Contents

What are Incinerating Toilets?

Incinerator Toilet Septic Systems: incinerator toilets use electricity or gas to burn the waste placed into these systems. Like chemical toilets and holding tanks they have limited capacity, are used where water is not available or must be conserved, and they do not address the handling of remaining graywater from sinks and showers.

Incinerating toilet models include waterless-versions of incinerating toilets which produce a small amount of ash, and low-water toilet systems that are combined with an incinerator that can reduce gray water as well as sewage.

Typically no plumbing, no water, no digging, no drains, are required, though an energy source is necessary, such as electricity, natural gas, or LP gas. A vent is also required for incinerating toilets, either out through a side wall or up through the building roof.

Incinerating toilets can be used in un-heated buildings, though if LP gas is used as the energy source, it should be protected from very cold conditions. My favorite product name among toilets of this type was the "Destroylet" incinerating toilet which was electric/propane fueled and which is no longer on the market in its original form. Each flush resulted in a more than 10-minute burn cycle which produced a pretty smelly exhaust.

I'd consider installing an incinerating toilet but I'd be sure to review all of its specifications first, including energy use, overall size and installation costs, storage capacity, incinerating frequency, and the length of the incinerating cycle.

I expect that properly installed, odors, noise, and explosions are not an issue. Some models require that the incinerating cycle be run after each use. As this can take some time the toilet may be unavailable during that interval. I'm not sure this is the whole story but some sources (NSF) argue that because the process consumes all of the nutrients in the waste, the ash cannot be used for fertilizer. As long as the ash can be disposed of conveniently in a suitable location, it is sanitary and may not be an issue. Some manufacturers (Incinolet) recommend disposing of the ash in the household garbage.

According to the US EPA "Anti-foam agents, catalysts or other additives are typically required for use" though at least for some products such as the Incinolet the manufacturer notes that no additives are needed.

Incinerator Toilets [Gas, Electric Toilets] Regulations and Sanitary Codes

These units accept human waste into a chamber where the wastes are burned. They have a very limited capacity and require a source of electricity or gas. The ash remains must be periodically removed. They must be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The previous quote is from: New York State Appendix 75-A.10 Other systems. In sum, other than stating that the product must be installed according to the manufacturer's recommendations, many codes and jurisdictions are silent on this topic.

Sources for Incinerating Toilets and Model Comparisons

The Eco John Incinerating Toilet

Photo of the EcoJohn waterless incinerating toilet

Question: reader's troubles with the Eco John incinerating toilet

Dear editor,

I have been trying to find information and reviews concerning the EcoJohn SR-5 propane incinerating toilet, but other than a few "sanitized' reviews on the website itself, I have had no luck.

We have a cottage up in Maine, off the grid, with no ability (nor desire) to install septic system.
Last year we used a Sun-Mar composting toilet, with the composting unit outside the house. It stank, did not work properly, and could not work in cold conditions (the plastic crank handle will freeze, rendering the unit inoperable).
This year, after researching all winter on-line, I thought I had solved the problem with the Ecojohn.

It has been nothing but a nightmare, and I have had little to no support from the rep or the company. I think it is unsafe from a heat standpoint (the vent stack gets very hot - using a thermal gun it was 130 degrees even as high as 15 feet up), and it cycled erratically.

Initially, I noticed that the cycle never ended- it went on for over 2 hours. I lifted the lid, which is supposed to halt the burn- and it did not. When I called the company they doubted my veracity!
I figured out that the lever attached to the lid was not adjusted properly and did not depress the kill switch- and subsequently that safety feature works, but I was most unhappy that the initial response from the person at EcoJohn was to doubt that it had actually happened.

Next- the endless cycling- the recommendation was to turn down the temperature a notch. I did. That did seem to make the cycles turn on and off at the appropriate lengths of time (about 13 minutes for a urine cycle and 35 minutes for a waste cycle). I know this because I have been keeping careful notes.

WHat still troubled me was the heat of the vent stack- it was much too hot to touch at the base, and although I had been assured that it was cooler as it got past the 4-foot level, unfortunately that was not the case. I measured it as it was exiting the roof (through the second story) and it was just as hot. Thinking I may just be over sensitive, I borrowed a thermal heat sensor from a local stove shop and tested it repeatedly, and it was getting up to 130 degrees both at base level and also at a height of over 15 feet. I could find no reference to the heat issue anywhere online

But it got even worse- as I went to vacuum out the "clean, sterile ash" I discovered that there was no ash to clean out. Instead, there was gobs of you- know- what and an unbelievable stench. Not even the toilet paper had incinerated.

I am at my wit's end with this, and the rep is offering no help at all. I want to return the thing. My children are all afraid to use it, and now so am I.

The only thing I have not yet tried is to raise the temperature again and see if it starts to cycle properly, and to also borrow that gauge again and see if the temperature of the vent gets hotter if the temp is raised. It is a double walled pipe and seems to be a proprietary design.

But I am back in my own (conventional) home again, which is far away from the cottage, and a little reluctant to go back just to poop-test. Luckily the cottage has an outhouse, which compared to my high-priced paperweight is the pinnacle of freshness.

Have you had any people review this product? I have searched and searched and there is no info or reviews out there that I can find. - Anonymous by private email, 2016/10/06

Reply:

Good job summarizing the very disappointing issues. If you can send photos and details of your installation that will help.

The problems you describe are indeed very worrisome. It sounds as if the advice to lower the temperature setting to amend the cycling time changed the cycle time but at the cost of adequate incineration. That's an unacceptable outcome.

The issue of stack vent temperature is more manageable.
First, take a look at PYROLYSIS EXPLAINED. You'll see that temperatures around 200 degf. and higher cause the pyrolysis effect that could eventually lead to a building fire if combustible materials are too-near to a vent or chimney operating in that temperature range.

Down at 130 degF the vent temperatures would probably be safe. But before deciding that I'd look more carefully at where and how temperatures are being measured. For example, using an IR scanner to measure surface temperature is inaccurate except to compare relative temperatures between two similarly-colored and textured surfaces. Only flat black surfaces can be measured accurately.

Options where a vent is considered too hot are to increase clearance to combustibles, add approved heat shielding, or to go to an insulated, metalbestos type flue.

If you're willing to have me publish your comments, including photos of the toilet and its components, any evidence of malfunction, along with model number and age, that may prompt helpful suggestions from other users and perhaps from the company, benefiting both Eco John users and also the company itself. To protect all parties from bias and also to maintain reader credibility, we need take care to be accurate and unbiased and to distinguish between fact an opinion - something that should be easy for the problems you describe.

About the other installation and operating problems, my opinion is that some of these incinerating toilets are probably rather good designs but were designed and are mostly installed in other countries where there are more people with experience and expertise in installation and set-up. When support for such a product in the U.S. depends on what looks like a mom and pop operation, it's hit or miss what level of expertise and support we'll find. I hope that by posting these problems the companies and distributors will be more responsive. After all, besides you as the end consumer, they have a tremendous stake in the safe and successful use of their product.

Incinerating toilets can, it appears, be made to work, but their installation, set-up, and operation require some care. Incinerating toilets, either electric or propane powered, are used for example in Arctic stations where conventional sewage disposal systems either cannot work or are impractical. They're also discussed in NASA research, EPA research, various water saving technology research, in works on railroad systems and for other circumstances where conventional waste treatment is not available such as areas of South Africa.

Research on incinerating toilet designs, effectiveness, success, problems, repairs:

The Incinolet Electric Incinerating Toilet

Photo of an incinerating toilet - the Incinolet incinerting toilet from Incinolet.com

[Click to enlarge any image]

Discussion of the Incinolet electyric incinerating toilet has moved to INCINOLET TOILET.

The Destroilet Incinerating Toilet from LaMere Industries

Destroilet incinerating toilet, Popular Mechanics December 1968

The Destroilet was invented by Frank J. La Mere and was the first commercially successful incinerating toilet that saw widespread use as according to its inventor, Frank La Mere, earlier efforts were costly or otherwise difficult to keep working.

Details about the Destroilet from LaMere are now found at DESTROILET INCINERATING TOILETS

The Scanlet Incinerating Toilet - propane fueled from Storburn

Photo of the Storburn waterless incinerating toilet

Note: in North America Storburn International distributes this incinerating toilet.
Quoting from the company's website:

STORBURN introduced the "store and burn" incinerator in 1976. The new model 60K builds upon that concept with a completely new control system that is simpler to operate and a new burner designed for increased combustion efficiency.

Under ideal operating conditions a full 100 lb. propane cylinder will burn 16 maximum capacity loads (approximately 960 uses). Because of ambient temperatures, ratio of solids to liquid and other variable factors that affect fuel consumption, it is more reasonable to expect 100 lbs. of propane to burn approximately 600 uses. lt is also more efficient to burn full loads rather than partial loads since it takes virtually the same amount of fuel to preheat the combustion chamber under all load conditions.

The STORBURN toilet can be installed in virtually any heated or unheated building or enclosure. Installation is similar to a vented free-standing space heater.

Storburn International, 1227 Colborne Street W, RR4 Brantford, Ontario, Canada N3T 5L7, Tel: 1-800-876-2286, Email: info@storburn.ca Website: http://www.storburn.ca/

The Sunbio Electric Toilet from Eco Toilets in New Zealand

General Comments about Incinerating Toilets

Watch out: besides the Stewart review of the Incinolet, a scan of product comments across a number of websites made between 2001 and 2014 found the following types of consumer complaints or concerns about incinerating toilets:

* marks units that looked good to me on first review of their specifications, or which have received positive reviews from other sources I respect such as Real Goods.

...


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Or see ALTERNATIVE & WATERLESS TOILETS and also WATERLESS URINALS and also MARINE TOILETS

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