A fairly high wind today makes outdoor work more challenging than it needs to be, so I’ll cover what turned out to be one of the easier mods. Standard fare for a Four Wheel truck camper tends to be Thetford’s 260B, a 2-1/2 gallon Porta-Pottie. At about a hundred bucks, it’s the preferred way to go for camping use, as it can go several days before needing a dump station or a vault toilet where emptying is not prohibited. A very few folks enjoy skulking into gas station restrooms with their Porta-Potties to void their treasure hold. Thanks to the Defiant, I have extensive experience in the vagaries of locating dump stations and dealing with them. In the new rig, I’d like to see if it’s practical to avoid that process, and the adjustments to travel plans that it requires. I’d also like to avoid the limited service life that conventional portable toilets seem to have. I’ve used a Luggable Loo – nothing but a toilet seat on top of a bagged 5-gallon bucket – and liked the simplicity, but keeping one inside a tightly closed truck camper instead of a horse trailer would be a challenge.
For my needs du toilette, I finally settled on ordering a C-Head product called the BoonJon Shorty. The standard C-Head product is a form of composting toilet. If you keep a home or cabin where a compost pile is kept, the C-Head has a churn handle that is turned after every use. When churning becomes difficult, the chamber needs to be emptied. The C-Head diverts urine to a common 1-gallon plastic milk or water bottle, which avoids most of the odor creation process. Toss a little absorptive media in after each use, and odor is reputed to be very low. Some models can divert urine to a hose leading outside, or to a holding tank. C-Head toilets are also used in marine applications, since they can simplify dealing with human waste.
What I opted for is a version that does not aim for eventual addition to a compost pile. Thus, it is a “churnless” variant. My goal is to avoid dump stations, their logistic demands, and their expense. The price for my version, at well over $600, was really intimidating – until I figured out the annual cost to use a larger 5-gallon Porta-Pottie. I found that, once back on the road, I literally could not afford to not be using a solution that avoided dump stations. The practical payback time was less than a year, and the effect on potential camping routes, sites and timing was palpable. Yet the BoonJon is little but an upgraded $18 Luggable Loo. But I can’t stow or use a Luggable Loo inside the Granby, both from a space and odor standpoint. Many full-timers are able to get around the odor problem by urinating into a separate container, and saving the more precious goods for the Loo. Won’t work for me reliably. I opted for the C-Head.
The opening to my cabinet is 18-1/2 inches wide and just 16-1/4 inches high, and I’m exceedingly reluctant to start carving it up. That opening size knocks out a lot of toilet options. Once past the opening, the cabinet is 23 inches wide and 18-1/4 inches deep. The BoonJon Shorty is 18 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 15 inches tall, which is just small enough to fit. It contains a modified bucket lined with a plastic bag that can be lifted out and sealed, come disposal time. A funnel at the front of the seat area captures urine automatically and drains it to a urine container.
The standard BoonJon is 3 inches taller than the Shorty, which allows the use of cheap 1-gallon milk jugs to catch urine, and there’s a window on the front of the unit to conveniently keep tabs on how full the bottle is. No such luck for the Shorty. That requires a special urine collection container (UCC), a smaller-capacity fabricated trapezoid that sleeves into the main body right in front of the bucket. Built into it is a float ball, plug for the fill hole, pivoting spout for emptying, and a carry handle. I don’t yet know what its capacity is – it should be less than a gallon, but it is much more space-efficient than a taller jug within the space allowed. As far as gauging how full it is, about the only option is to lift the hinged deck and see where the float ball is. The fill funnel built into the deck can push the float ball down for another use or two, but it obviously pays to keep tabs on levels. In case of a mishap, the body of the unit also serves as a containment tray that is easily cleaned out. Because the UCC is fabricated rather than molded, I ordered a spare to store away, in order to ensure no mishaps during my 7-month forays. Since the UCC is designed for marine use, the float ball and capped pivoting spout should handle rough country use without many surprises. These UCCs are new, so I am effectively the test pilot for this design. Who says I don’t lead an adventurous life, huh? Who says?
Generally speaking, urine can be disposed of on the ground when camping in the boonies. Where this doesn’t make sense, the contents can instead be transferred to a sealable container for later disposal. Without composting, the legal way to dispose of solid waste is to treat each bag with some bleach and toss them into a sealable bucket, which can then be discarded. Also generally, a landfill will apparently not have a problem with treated individual bags in the waste stream. Thus any dumpster or public trash can is fair game, practically speaking. True biodegradable bags are necessary wherever waste is composted. The BoonJon Shorty can go quite awhile before the bag needs to be removed and discarded. There are other systems out there that use small metalized bags with special crystals, which are officially approved for use by the BLM and USFS, but their cost for a full-timer would be crippling. The BoonJon is not the “best” solution nor a universal one, but given my constraints, it is the most practical approach I could find.
Actually, for all that money, what you get is almost a work of art, of sorts. It’s basically marine grade in materials and workmanship. Kinda like the Grandby camper itself, it is seamlessly drawn together with the most suitable materials, with every edge smoothed and every corner well sealed. There are no lapses or defects, and it’s well thought out in every detail. Since there is no toilet bowl per se, there is nothing to have to battle with keeping clean. The urine funnel would best get a quick spray of something to cleanse it after use, like a shot of diluted white vinegar or bleach in a small spray bottle. The body appears to be ABS, and the thick deck HPDE or probably UHMW HDPE. It will outlast me. Its only liability is that it weighs just over twenty pounds dry, and picking it up can be challenging because of the general lack of handholds toward the nose. Space is tight enough inside it that any added handles would have to be carefully located as to mounting hardware on the other side of the wall.
Most so-called composting toilets assume that fan venting will be necessary in order to minimize odor. You add a hose from the toilet to outside, and install a pancake fan to push air outside. The advice for C-Head products is: vent only when shown necessary. Because installation situations are different, the builder advises to try the unit without venting. After all, as long as urine is kept separated from solids, and media such as coir, peat moss or sawdust is used adequately, odor tends to be relegated to a slight mustiness. The lack of a churn may complicate that. The C-Head is not airtight, but is reasonably well sealed, both at the deck and at the plate that fills the seat hole. It’s worth a try. C-Head advises use of a urine deodorizer like CampaChem for the UCC, and occasional rinsing out with vinegar to reduce scaling. If venting proves to be needed, a flex hose supplied with the unit can be used to vent to an exterior surface. In the case of the Intrepid, that is the propane canister bin just over the toilet’s storage cabinet, which is vented to the passenger side exterior. Passive venting there depends entirely on parking position relative to wind direction. Failing that, a 12VDC pancake cooling fan can be added to the inside of the BoonJon’s case to positively vent any odors outside.
But no mod is complete without a major fail, and mine was not realizing that the BoonJon’s toilet seat projected a couple of inches farther forward than the body below it. Imagine my surprise when I received the shipment, popped the seat on, and tried to fit it into the assigned cabinet. No soap: the cabinet doors could not close. Not good. The BoonJon uses a residential seat and lid that has a neat cam lock to allow instant removal and cleaning. With the seat assembly removed, the unit just fit, and the assembly could stow beside it. Not optimal as far as convenient usage goes, or the lid hammering around in there during travel, but at least it is usable.
Builder Sandy Graves encouraged me to cut off the offending areas of the seat and lid, then paint the raw edges with white epoxy paint. Oh, my kingdom for a bandsaw or a tablesaw! Maybe even a decent coping saw. After thinkin’ on it for awhile, I eventually took my only real option, a hacksaw with a fine-toothed blade. A hacksaw has only so much reach, so I had to make two cuts that met in the middle. The so-called “molded wood” material is a hard resin that cuts and sands well. I do happen to have a type of sanding pad wheel for my high-speed grinder, 120 grit, and that quickly smoothed over my errors and chamfered the edges. Then I added painter’s tape and some kraft paper to prevent overspray, and hit it with the white appliance paint. After twenty four hours to thoroughly dry, the end result was a bit wobbly, but good enough for me. Color matching is spot-on. And the doors of the cabinet just fit around it and snap closed. If the Shorty were much taller or more squat, there would be interference from internal cabinet space trim or catch hardware. As it is, it cannot bail out of the cabinet, nor is there vertical height enough to allow it to tip over.
I added a layer of thin self-adhesive cork to the wall to slightly ease the effects of travel vibration on the nose, and until I have time to come up with something better, some open cell foam discourages it from moving fore and aft. A stack of cut shipping cardboard underneath it serves as a platform to raise it just clear of the cabinet lower lip. It’s a bit grippy, which is not all bad, but the rubber feet on the BoonJon will eventually clog, and the cardboard will wear through. So I ordered, cut, and laid on a top layer of smooth black HDPE sheet. That makes handling the BoonJon much easier, and provides a cleanable surface that will last forever. The trade-off is that the unit easily slides fore and aft in the cabinet too, which should be remedied. C-Head offers a rubber hold-down kit similar to Jeep hood latches, but I will likely take a less aggressive approach, as long as the cabinet door latches hold out.
UPDATE: Maximum capacity of the UCC is 7.5 pints or 120 fluid ounces, which is 0.9375 gallon. That is enough to close the float. Working capacity is somewhat less, and could be considered to be around 0.9 gallon, or 115 fluid ounces. Considering the big chop in height, retaining that much of the 1-gallon standard capacity is quite an accomplishment!
UPDATED UPDATE after two years of use: I’ve stopped whining about the expense long ago. Actual field use reveals the genius of this model of C-Head. It’s presented no problems. In most climates, the waste bag is best changed once a week when using coir as a medium, and I recommend coir if you have limited storage space, as I do. Note that the BoonJon Shorty is only required for in-cabinet storage in the Front Dinette floor plan of the Four Wheel Grandby truck camper. Other floor plans (and other campers) will probably not require the special Shorty model nor butchery of any toilet seats. Other articles I’ve written about the C-Head in use are here and here. If it’s wrong to love a toilet, then I don’t want to be right. 🙂