A Tale of 3 Toilets

Let’s get it right out there: Everyone poops. OK, I said it and now I can move on and explain how toilets became such a part of my life (beyond the obvious).

I can attest that not all toilets are created equal. There have been three distinctly diverse toilet systems in my life. This is mainly about my “different” middle toilet. The first one was kind of boring and the last one is really spectacular.

When I met my husband in the early 80s, he lived in a house named, “The Ecology House.” This house was forward-thinking for its time. It was designed and built by a local man as an experiment. We called the house the A-Frame.

Living in the A-Frame was like living in a park full-time. My husband, his cat and I lived in this special house in the pre-kids years. We swam in the roaring creek that gushed over rocks just footsteps from our back door. Mountains in the near distance were the view that we peered at out the windows and hiking trails zigzagged through the woods. These were just some of the amazing attributes that embraced the land surrounding the A-Frame.

There were a number of innovative energy efficient properties that made the A-Frame a truly groundbreaking example of home efficiency. The passive solar house was built entirely on bedrock. No septic and no basement. This house was magnificent in its smallness and simplicity. It was featured in the book 20 Energy Efficient Homes You Can Build by Alex Wade.

The toilet in the A-Frame was something I had never encountered. It was called a Clivus Multrum Composting Toilet System. It wasn’t one of those “hold your nose and go as fast as you can” toilets that you might find in an outhouse or porta-toilet. It worked very simply once you got used to not flushing. The one thing my husband stressed to everyone that visited our bathroom was that you had to leave the seat closed for it to do its composting magic.

Clivus Multrum toilets are still an option for homeowners and businesses today. The company recently exhibited at the Green Building Expo in Boston, and was awarded one of the Top 10 Green Building Products of 2007 by the editors of Sustainable Industries.

The Clivus Multrum site explains, “Composting is the breakdown of organic matter in the presence of aerobic organisms. This is the same process that happens wherever organic matter is exposed to oxygen and moisture: In forests, garden compost piles, lawns, etc. The composting toilet system allows human waste to break down into simple, stable compounds that have value as plant nutrients.”

These toilets have so many components of green living. They are low maintenance, conserve water and convert waste to reusable fertilizer. Most importantly for homeowners, they have no odor. Our Clivus, which we affectionately called it, was upstairs in a second story bathroom. Its tank was discreetly hidden downstairs behind the kitchen wall where the fertilizer was produced.

We lived harmoniously with our Clivus, until the day that we brought a new puppy into our home. In our excitement over our cuddly new family member, we had forgotten about the cat. We couldn’t find him. Frantically, we searched and found the cat perched over the Clivus with the concentration of an Olympic diver going for the gold. He was so petrified of the dog that he was about to take the plunge. Someone had forgotten to close the seat!

We moved from the A-Frame to accommodate our growing family, and for many years had traditional flush handle toilets. Like the toilets that I grew up with, these utilized the boring water and energy zapping system.

After the greening renovation of our bathrooms, my third toilet system was installed. I can attest that our dual-flush toilet is truly a beauty. It meets our family’s needs and makes the environmental nod our planet appreciates by saving nearly 2,000 gallons of water per month. This toilet appeals to my design sense because its stature is elegant. Did I mention there is also no possibility of losing a beloved pet?

Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.


Ruth R.
Ruth R4 years ago

Thank you for posting the article on care2.
Composting toilets need to go mainstream, and turn out only clean (free of the harmful kind of -- germ and parisite and bacteria) to be put on only certian trees -- like for growing trees for paper or for lumber -- organica and sustainable tree farms.

Debra Griffin
Missy G5 years ago

Eco living. I'm very interested. Where would I go to learn of eco home building & a mire green lifestyle in general.

Carol Cowbrough
Carol C7 years ago

Interesting. Thanks.

Sylv C.
Sylv C7 years ago

That compost toilet sounds like a brilliant idea! Thanks for the article!

Tamara A.
Tamara A9 years ago

You do not NEED to put in a new toilet, if you have an old house...as someone interested in preservation, please think about how much embedded energy's in your windows and toilets and how much you save and keep from the landfills by keeping/improving what you have--Try THIS: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/08/twoflush.php Also, look 1/2 2way down the page here: http://www.buildinggreen.com/press/topten2005/top-10-list.cfm for the Sloan Uppercut dual-flush retrofit for commercial buildings.

Creek I.

Love this story! The dual flush sounds interesting, but the Clivus sounds like the true path for all non-cat owners. How sad that, while in some countries families put beautiful, decorated privvies in their yard to attract visitors in need, so as to get more of that miraculous humanure, in my area composting toilets are illegal.

Pamylle G.
Pamylle G9 years ago

I applaud this effort on the part of you homeowners who care about our enviroment ! I'm a renter, so I cannot do anything about the wasteful system in place. I do, however, like you, Lia, have a "grey water" practice. I have a bucket in the bathroom so I can reuse bath water for flushing the toliet. I also water plants, handwash clothes, and mop the floor with bath water.

Lia De Ruiter
Lia De Ruiter9 years ago

In the Netherlands all new homes, restaurants, hotels, etc. have a dual flush toilet. I have a toilet that allows to interrupt the flush.
I also have a bucket in my shower to catch the water I "spill", waiting for the water to become warm enough, which I use to flush the toilet, clean the balcony, etc.

Dan B.
Dan Bickley9 years ago

Here is an interesting home - http://www.greengroove.org/unite/archives/8-Solar-Umbrella-House.html