Return of the Incinerating Toilet

By | September 14, 2003

If you loved part 1 of my incinerating toilet story, you might not hate part 2. Part 1 provided a “quick overview of the Incinolet brand incinerator toilet and the fine people that bring this advanced technology to a grateful world.” Part 2 follows up with an in depth look at the actual incinerating toilet installed at my cabin. Highlights include what happens when metal objects with low melting points somehow make their way into the toilet.

35 thoughts on “Return of the Incinerating Toilet

  1. Karen

    Thanks for the frame by frame demonstration. We are considering getting one. Is there offensive odor involved? Do you know of any cheap alternative? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  2. Robert

    I just returned from a week long vacation where I had no internet access, so my apologies for the long delay in replying.

    There is definitely an odor, though I don’t think it is particularly offensive. It definitely smells better than the odor from a composting toilet. I think it smells like french fries cooked in rancid cooking oil. A friend described it as smelling like singed hair. Not exactly pleasant (I don’t expect Glade to come out with a Singed Hair Scented Air Freshener anytime soon), but not awful either.

    Wind patterns are key. If it’s not too windy, the odor seems to be not as bad. The warm air exiting from the vent appears to make the odor rise and vanish quickly on a still day. If it’s windy, though, close-by neighbors will definitely smell it. Also, someone posted on one of my other blog entries that marine layers seem to trap the odor, so it’s not a great choice if you live right on a lake.

    I’m afraid I don’t know of any cheap alternatives, but I have seen Incinolets for sale on Ebay before.

    Reply
  3. Ann

    Re Incinolet toilets: We, too, are looking to install one in our cabin. Regarding the “singed hair” smell, does your model have a catalytic converter? The brochure said it was added to eliminate smells… is that more wishful thinking than reality, or does this feature only appear on new models?
    Thanks for the info.

    Reply
  4. Michael

    We just installed one this summer in our cabin. We were not happy with the smell or fumes. Wondered if anyone had any suggestions about piping it?

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Could i achieve the same net effect by taking a shit in my wood stove, perhaps re-using the heating energy to cook with?

    Reply
  6. alaskaboy

    Anonymous – i assume you were being facetious. If you are at all serious, you should consider the water content of feces. Before it will burn, your stove will have to boil the water out of it. Depending on the volume, this can seriously lower the efficiency of your stove. Also, all that water goes up your stovepipe and increases the corosion rate.

    I don’t think the elecrtic units get hot enough to completely handle the more interesting stink sources. Same with the solar ones.

    I have a remote cabin in Alaska with a propane fired incinerating toilet. It took some tinkering to get it right but it essentially is a welded snorkel stove with a homemade ring inside that acts as a burner. Very low tech, you turn on the gas valve, light the burner, place a heavy fitted piece of steel over the opening, clamp it down so it is more or less air tight, and let er rip. I stole the basic design from storburn in Canada. There’s is a lot safer, prettier, and idiot proof while mine is far simpler.

    I estimate it burns between 40 and 60k btu based on fuel usage. It holds 4 gallons but i usually burn it around 3 (don’t want to risk a boil over). When you first fire it up there is a pretty distinctive burning/boiling poo odor. Then it’s gone when it gets up to temperature. Other than the first minute or so, there is no odor out the stack. The key is how hot it gets. You boil off the pee fairly quickly and then it incinerates the solids.

    It is absolute hell on the exhaust stacks and i replace them every other year. I suspect the ammonia compounds are doing it but it may just be the water volume.

    You have to remember it when burning (i use a kitchen timer) or you step into a 140 degree bathroom 3 hours later. The biggest real danger is that, for about 30-45 minutes after burn, it will brand anyone who sits on it.

    Reply
  7. Robert Post author

    Wow, that’s awesome. I would be totally willing to try it, but Alaska is pretty far away. Not to mention remote Alaska.

    I think you’re right about your design being less safe. I can’t imagine a company getting approval to distribute a product that could easily give users a large horseshoe shaped brand. Good on you for your DIY ethic, though. I should try to build more stuff.

    Reply
  8. Alaskaboy

    Update

    I actually talked with an engineer and we changed the design to something much more robust. The stove is still the same (just a thick steel snorkel stove) but the burner has changed. I now have an “L” shaped piece of 4 inch stainless exhaust pipe that goes through the toilet and exits just above “water” line. The pipe is one piece, bent on a mandrel at a shop. No welds or joints in the burner. It is welded to the wall and the weld is pressure gas tight. It took a welding shop to do that as I don’t have those skills.

    The burner is just a commercial weed burner in the open part of the L. It is based on a “Rocket Stove” design and burns very very hot. The gasses are mostly what evaporate and incinerate the product. The exit temperature is around 1100 degrees (nice to have engineers and their electronic measuring toys). The liquid burns off really fast and the solids smoke then the smoke ignites and the solids turn to dust.

    Advantages, makes a very cool jet engine sound and there is no smell at all. Vitrually no visible exahust at all. As long as there is material in the chamber, external temps are ok. The stove and pipe are red hot. Stove pipe tops out at 600 degrees just above the stove. Burn time for a full stove is about 10 minutes to ash.

    In theory you could use sticks of wood but it would take a lot longer and not burn as hot. I also don’t like ash and any liquid close to each other as the mixture can eat metal.

    Disadvantage – you have to monitor it close – when empty (or even low) it gets real hot and i think i could easily melt the stove or burn through a stove pipe. I usually shut it off and let the residual gas and heat take care of the last of it.

    You can’t sit on the toilet for about 45 minutes after a burn.

    This may be more than anyone should know about incinerating human waste. I have tried traditional privys, composters, and other methods but this is by far the best. Remember I’m way off the gridso i don’t think this would work in any place that has codes. It does require some carbon input but I’m not going to save the world at the expense of basic sanitation.

    Reply
  9. Robert Post author

    Now, that’s freaking awesome! I love that the first advantage you list is the very cool jet engine sound. I should hack some sound effects with a microcontroller board and speaker for my Toto dual flush – motorcycle for the half flush, jet engine for the full. Not as good as a device that produces the sound itself, but living in a major urban area requires some compromises. Thanks for the update.

    Reply
  10. Djena

    I’m an Alaskan and would like to offer my experience with the Storburn incinerating toilet. When it works, it works, but when it doesn’t – which is often – prepare to freeze your arse off while troubleshooting, and not eating any solid foods until you get it fixed. Dave (Storburn Intl owner) has always been helpful, but has never been able to explain the routine issues I encounter. I’ve had it since 2003, it gets little use (one person, work out of town a lot), yet one out of 5 times I run it, it fails. The pilot comes on but teh main burner won’t light, or in one case, the whole unit caught fire due to a corroded pilot line. I’m not HVAC expert, but I have had to learn how to take this thing apart all way down to the skeleton and trouble-shoot piece by piece. A few things I have learned. 1) When it’s cold (below freezing), this unit does not like to operate. Light the pilot first – which may take hitting the piezo in rapid succession 30-50 times – and just leave the pilot lit for 30-40 minutes. This seems to heat the lines and help transfer propane to the main burner. If you don’t wait, and you turn on the main burner, it will delay for 5-30 seconds and then WHUMPF! And blow itself out (and scare the crap out of you, but now you have no where to crap….
    2) This unit requires way more time & propane than advertised, and doesn’t reduce the volume nearly as much as promised. A friend who operated several of these for the military had the same results. For example, last week I burned a full load (-5F outside), and it took 10 hours, 15 lbs of propane, and still the burn wasn’t complete. This is extreme, but I have so far had to use about 5-10 pounds of propane per load, have never had it burn in fewer than 6 hours, and typically have about 5 liters or more of ash.
    In summary, I regret relying on this unit as my sole toilet facility. I’ve had to deny visitors before BC the toilet was broken and I couldn’t accommodate their needs. Gr. This summer, I plan to build a humanure system, which my neighbor reports success with, even in this climate.

    Reply
  11. dana

    I am comtemplating propane toilet in my cabin in Northern Maine. It is often below freezing in the winter. Is this a problem ? We often fart on a duraflame but do not dare to go to the next level.advice ? I have an existing septic system but I think the leechfield is going bad.

    Reply
  12. Richard Sweeton

    I wonder if Alaskaboy considered collecting his wastes in a combustible bag (such as the paper liners for an Incinolet) and then burning the loaded bag in a separate stove, with maybe a timer on it.

    Our cabin is for weekends; we heat it with a wood stove; it gets well below freezing inside for days in the winter. We don’t object to bagging poop (we have dogs). Our old Incinlet is great for bagging wastes, but it smells outside, and sometimes inside, when it’s incinerating.

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    We have and EcoJohn propane toilet that we put in a little over a year ago in our cabin in the Montana Rockies. It is outstanding but not without some problems. However, their phone tech help is just great.

    Before that we tried to get a Usenburn propane toilet (the company is also known as Storburn). They required full payment up front and they never delivered in spite of multiple attempts to get them to do so. We were truly scammed.

    Beware!!!

    Reply
  14. Alaskaboy

    Richard, I’m just not that crazy about handling my waste that much. Burning it in a conventional woodstove still has the problem of corrosive products of conbustion going into the pipe. Sorry – nothing but wood should ever go into a woodstove. I can just use the outhouse if i want or a honeybucket and dump it down the outhouse hole. The “jetstove” is something that I use for only really low temps (-30 to -60’s) when even the blue foam outhouse seat is an option but an inconvenient option.

    Djena – your comments confirmed what i suspected looking at the Storburn. If you can safely replace the fuel lines with less restricted lines you might get some help. Below -35 though propane isn’t very cooperative. I agree that it takes way more propane than you would think but i think that is because the liquid content takes considerable energy to vaporize.

    I have made one small improvement since i last posted. I extended the burn pipe up the stack about 24″and wrapped a copper water coil around it. I can now use the excess heat that comes off the stack to heat my water. Considering i have a fire going all winter in at least one of the woodstoves, this is more of just a way to scavenge BTU’s then a necessity but i always make sure that I haul water on “burn days” so i can take a shower.

    Reply
  15. Carl

    Hi Guys:

    I lived in a school bus for five years, the last three years we used a composting toilet I built from an electric fry pan. We did have electricity and only ran the fry pan on 40 Volts. It was a great toilet, due the exhaust fan you never smelled anything inside. Out side you had to be down wind to smell anything, which was just a mild urine smell. It only needed cleaning out every three months, just a few minutes with a garden trowel. Then I would double bag and box it to put in the trash. If I built another one I would skip the fry pan and stainless shell hopper and use a large PVC mop sink. I would put hot water pipes in the bottom to keep things warm, not hot. Just enough to drive the water off. The exhaust fan is a must, I used a computer “muffin” fan that drew 12 watts. Without power I would put a candle inside the flue to induce a draft. Also I did run it on full 110 Volts and it did catch fire, it didn’t get out of the box and was easy to put out. Carl.

    Reply
  16. David

    I am looking at different incinerating toilets for my cabin. The cabin has an Envirolet which we hate. It is messy and does not work well. I would not recommend it to anyone. What are the votes for and against and Incinolet — our use is usually only two people for a few weeks each year.

    Reply
  17. Robert

    If well-vented, the smell in the cabin from the Incinolet wasn’t too bad. The smell outside can be pretty noticeable, though it doesn’t smell like a latrine. The best I can describe it as is singed hair.

    Ours was also a bit messy. The ashpan at the bottom didn’t come out very smoothly. If it caught on something and you jerked on it, ash often spilled onto the floor. We kept around a whisk broom for cleanup.

    Our average use was four people for a long weekend about once a month. It worked well for that.

    Reply
  18. DD

    I have a brand new incinolet for sale. I bought it for a project that did not happen. It is for sale for $1200. Any one interested?

    Reply
  19. Robert Post author

    jm ak, in case you didn’t see comments 11 and 13, I definitely recommend reviewing them for info on Storburn. I don’t have any experience or knowledge of their toilets.

    Reply
  20. Bill

    Have used Storburn since 1993, two units successively. When they work, they’re great but have had problems with both units after about 2 years. Very frustrating and have changed out parts including main burners, piezo, pilot, timers and base plates. Some problems just niggle you to death. Primarily, waste does not burn completely leaving a carbon layer on the pot which serves to insulate heat from further burning unless you manually scrape it out. Airborne salts will corrode everything eventually. The unit must be serviced at least bi-annually and then there is no guarantee it will work when needed. Just not sure these units will be my ongoing solution to remote johns.

    Reply
  21. Doc

    Storburn ripped us off for $10,000 for units prepaid and never delivered.

    Reply
  22. Sparky

    We ordered a Storburn for $4000 and never received one after several months. Fought and fought with the owner of the company. Once he cashed your check, he will not answer your calls. STAY AWAY. DO NOT SEND ANY MONEY.

    Reply
  23. Mike

    In response to Doc and Sparky, I’ll offer an initial post of my experience, thus far, with Storburn. The SumMar composting toilet that came w/ the off-grid Adirondack cabin I bought 3 years ago was never a pleasant experience, despite only being used by two of us about one weekend a month. The first emptying was foul, with only partial composting having taken place, and last year the liquid drain, which is very small in diameter, clogged, about the same time the drum cracked, so the seeped out and liquid accumulated, leaving a mess inside, and leaving me looking for alternatives. I’m off-grid, w/ a small solar array but hefty generator (Kohler 15KW), and probably not going to battle the APA for trying to install a septic system, and thought the Incinolet might be a good option, but a 1-2 hour “burn cycle” requiring the generator to be running makes little sense, so I decided on a propane Stoburn. I reached out to them on pricing and delivery charges. I got a prompt reply from Dave the owner, w/ price/shipping/tax details, and asking for $2K down and the balance on shipment. Reflecting on the recent posts by Doc and Sparky (and the anonymous 2009 post), I asked for comments about the fire i had read about in their factory, and the non-shipment after collecting payment. Dave, again, responded quickly, and I’ll summarize his reply:

    -They did have a fire back in 1994, wiping them out, but they have recovered in the two decades since.

    • He acknowledge that they do owe a few folks a refund (@Sparky/Doc — if you get a refund, perhaps you’ll let us know).

    • The recession really hurt them, since $4,000 toilets might seem a luxury

    • They had some health issues affect them, as they are reportedly a small family business.

    Dave said he’s working to clear things up, acknowledged that it’s difficult, but he’s making progress.

    In order to gain my trust, and hopefully rebuild his reputation, he offered to send the toilet to me, and allow me to can send a cheque when received. While posts like Do’s and Sparky’s certainly give reason to be cautious, Dave made a very compelling offer, and today I took him up on it. He said he will notify me when it ships, with the bill of lading info so I can track it.

    I’ll follow up w/ posts about the actual delivery, as well as the installation and eventually the performance of the unit (I ordered a 60KPV which will have a dedicated 100Gal LP supply). Stay tuned.

    Reply
  24. billy b

    i had an incinolet for the past 3 years. i hated it. ugly, uncomfortable, problematic, etc. at the time it was affordable and worked fine when we got it. it was only for two of us. we probably should have just gotten a composting toilet. anyways, it just couldn’t handle 4-5 people over the course of a weekend. and when it’s not working, that’s a huge problem. i ended up getting an ecojohn waterless incinerating toilet. took some getting used to and they are pricey, $3,995 plus shipping. but it’s one of those things where you get what you pay for. just a heads up for anyone buying an ecojohn- get the toilet liners! ecojohn said they are optional, which technically is accurate but the liner catches everything and there is no trace of anything left. i wouldn’t want to use it without the liners. but overall i am very happy with it and i love that i can have it off the grid with batteries and solar panels. another thing that wasn’t cheap but it will be better long term.

    Reply
  25. mainer

    DO NOT SEND ANY MONEY TO STORBURN. We had a propane incinerating toilet for many years and sold it in favor of a composting model. The composting toilet was AWFUL, so we decided to buy a new Storburn. Dave said that it was a small family business and needed the money up front. I sent a check for $4,000 and never received anything. He would not return calls or e-mails. After a few months, and a Canadian lawyer, I got the money back. BEWARE OF THIS COMPANY. Unfortunately medical issues and financial problems have taken their toll on them.

    Reply
  26. Mike

    Update to my post of May 5th.

    I beg to differ with you, Mainer, but I’ve had a very different experience with Dave at Storburn. I had seen earlier posts, similar to yours, stating money had been sent, product not shipped, etc., and when I reached out to get pricing/shipping rates Dave initially asked for $2000 up front, and the balance on delivery. I inquired about the allegations I had seen on this site, Dave explained that there were some past issues, and that he had been trying to clean up his reputation, offering to send my toilet and vent kit on his dime, with a check to be sent by me afterward. He was a good communicator, keeping me in the loop about delays in receiving insulation, etc., and by late June the unit was ready to ship. I’m posting this in late July, as the trucking company got the unit to VT, but didn’t serve NY regularly, and finally attempted delivery the day I was closing on a house in VT. A couple of weeks went by trying to coordinate schedules before I decided to take delivery in VT. Last week it arrived, I’ll be sending Dave a check, and, once I get around to installation, will add additional posts about the installation process and (eventually) about the actual performance of the unit. I don’t know that Storburn would make to same offer to all buyers, but to the extent Dave’s trying to improve his reputation, he made good on his word in my case.

    Reply
  27. Nancy Crowden

    I was fortunate enough to find an EcoJohn SR at a yard sale, brand new in the box with everything i needed to get going. I live in rural Alaska and a septic would have been way too costly and difficult for me to get in. I am a single lady and depend on myself. I didn’t plan well when building and clearing my land. I have been thinking about getting an incinerating toilet with my next PFD check.
    I got it hooked up and loved not having a “honey bucket” in my cabin any longer. The Ecojohn is attractive, quiet, no odors inside, and easy to use. I had some problems with the unit and was amazed at the one on one help I got from Tech Support at Globqal Inventive Industries, even though I didn’t purchase it from them.
    Stefan walked me through troubleshooting, patiently. When we figured out the problem they were quick to get the part to me I needed. So many places charge extra to ship to Alaska, when it costs them nothing more than to ship to Iowa. Shipping was fast and they charged me what it cost them, no added “handling” charges.
    Now that it’s running the way it’s supposed to the toilet is a dream. After not having any indoor “plumbing” for almost 15 years, the EcoJohn SR is a dream come true for me.

    Reply
  28. MacGyversDottir

    TL:DR

    So, I just wanted to say that by the sounds of all of your troubles in trying to burn your poop with metal ventilation pipes…. Have you tried having ceramic piping? You can make it yourself from natural clay found local and pit firing it, or ask local artisans or students… Or what about separating your urine? Men can stand, women can use a she-wee. Go outside to pee….

    Or use sawdust mixed with peat moss and diatomaceous earth to cover your poop and red worms in your heated outhouse. It’ll turn into compost if you stop adding to it after three months and then leave it for a year. I’m sure a local farmer or alternative gardener would be happy to bury it on a corner of a fallow field as an experiment. It should be integrated into the regular soil well enough by planting season that everyone wins. :3

    Reply
  29. Mike

    Following up to my posts from May 2014….

    By the time I got delivery of my Storburn toiet, I was busy settling into my home in VT, and had no time last year to install the unit at my cabin in the Adirondacks, two hours away. I paid Dave @ Storburn in full upon delivery, but sat on the unit (not literally!) for a year. This spring/summer, I spent a few days here and there re-building the outhouse (the previous owner had buried a 30-gal plastic drum under the outhouse to catch the excess liquid from the composting toilet, and 15 years of constant moisture under the plywood floor took it’s toll). Once I had the floor rebuilt, I put down linoleum, paneled the walls and installed a new 12V light, then put the new toilet in place. Had to enlarge the hole in the metal roof for the larger vent pipe, but installation was a breeze. Had the propane company out last week to place a 200 gal tank near the outhouse and run the gas line. Put a shut-off valve inside and a 4′ flex line for ease of maintenance down the road. We could not get the pilot to stay lit, so I emailed Dave – the gas technician thought it might be the gas valve, based on his troubleshooting. Dave replied promptly — turns out you need the cover in place even to get the pilot lit. With that advice, I was able to get the pilot lit, and the unit fired up. It might be a while before I can re-post on the effectiveness of the unit in actual operation, but thus far I’m very pleased. Given the lack of options in the ADKs, from the APA disallowing septic systems, to the cold winters preventing composting to work, this should be a great solution for us.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *