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C-Head Composting Head

April 15, 2013

After posting about our Air Head Composting Toilet, many fans of the Nature's Head wrote to share their experiences. Then, after comparing the Air Head to Nature's Head, I was contacted by several people about the C-Head. At the risk of spending too much time talking about poop, I feel I need to do yet one more post on the subject, since it affects everyone.

Here's what a reader sent us:

While I applaud your approval of composting heads, I have a small quibble. What you say is, no doubt, borne of your own experience, but may I point out that it is a little biased and limited? Specifically, I wonder if you have ever seen a C-Head, to which you give such short shrift? Have you ever used one? Have you even spoken first-hand with a C-Head owner, or bothered to talk with the manufacturer? My guess is no, no, and no.

I, too, did the due diligence when we were in the market for a waste treatment system for our new homemade houseboat, and came to a different conclusion, and here's why:
1. The C-Head's common-sense simplicity was tremendously appealing. A plain old (free) gallon jug as a liquid waste receptacle? Hurray! Got lots of those. Plain, straight-sided, easy-to-wipe-down cabinet? Hurray! A waterproof inside, again, so easy to clean, if need be. Hurray!
2. Off-the-hardware-store-shelf components. I changed my mind early on about the elongated seat, decided the standard round seat would be as comfortable, and fit better. The switch cost $12 from my local Ace Hdw, and five minutes with a 1" drill.
3. I don't particularly WANT to keep a pot-ful of waste, especially urine, around for days or weeks, thanks. Emptying a simple gallon jug is light, unobtrusive, and fast, Emptying the primary solid waste bucket requires no disassembly or need to figure out where to put the top half, just lifting both lids, lift out, dump, replace. Voila. Done. The second five-gallon solid waste composting bucket is easy to access, store, ventilate, and empty, lasts for months, is readily accessible. The head itself doesn't have time to grow obnoxious beasties, at least in theory. In truth, I have emptied head only once, though, in most of a year of light use, and have neither odor nor bugs.
4.I can't speak to the moral or esthetic superiority of rotomolded yada-yada construction, but my C-Head seems entirely sturdy and well-made, was beautifully packaged and promptly delivered, ridiculously easy to assemble and install,, and offered the same comfortable footprint and height as a home toilet. Not every boater can spare the considerable headroom and side-to-side space required by the leading competitors, and not every boater wants to bother with custom platforms and complex installation. Not every boater has an extra $400+ to blow.


Dark mahogany

You, surely, considered the options and decided the extra cost and complication of an Air Head was well worth it to you, and you are satisfied. Swell! I decided the other way, and I am delighted. Best of all, neither of us must deal with holding tanks, stinky hoses, or delicate components, or silly pump-out costs and logs, We both win. So how about a little more even-handedness when considering the alternatives?

Ouch. I got called on that one. The truth is, both posts were written from a completely personal point of view. Yes, I did discount the C-Head without ever contacting the manufacturer or talking to an owner of one. We decided it was not for us. However, that does not mean that it won't be the perfect solution for some readers. So, when the owner of C-Head offered to send me his opinion, I eagerly agreed. Here's to even-handedness.

Composting toilets are relatively new to the boating market. Over the past ten years, they have made slow but steady inroads as an acceptable means of managing our waste onboard, and there are a couple of reasons why that is so. These reasons stem from not only their positive attributes but also from the evolution and direction of the law on the water with respect to pollution. When a new product comes along in the boating world, it can take some time for it to be appreciated or understood and such is the case with the composting toilet in general and the C-Head specifically. Add to that the limitations of getting information out to potential users. Boating magazines pay lip service to products while at the same time avoiding in-depth analysis and trying not to offend advertisers. This definitely limits the degree to which products are compared. Forums have some very good information, but unfortunately just as much bad information and even disinformation, much of it put out by ostensible experts, many of whom have clearly never used or even seen what they are talking about.


Wormy chestnut

The truth is that we boaters, especially cruisers, spend much of our waking hours thinking about how to outfit our boats so as to get the most bang for our buck. It is not an easy thing to do. And once we have made a decision, we tend to commit to it and defend it even though it may not have been the best choice. Once we commit to a brand, the burden of proof falls on all others to make the case that we didn't choose wisely, and we become entrenched in our thinking. Since much of our time is spent sitting around and comparing notes with other cruisers, this exchange of information is a way of life.

My name is Sandy Graves and I am the designer and builder of the C-Head portable composting toilet. I was a US Army Special Forces medic way back in the day and, as such, I was in charge of the health and well being of the team and the sanitation facilities of the base camp. Currently, I am a retired firefighter/paramedic from the great geriatric state of Florida. I mention this to let you know that I am no stranger to "poop." I've been pooped at, pooped on, stepped in it, slipped in it and crawled through it in order to help people and make a living. Had my career path been otherwise or my stomach more queasy, I probably would have never gotten into the crapper business. It certainly wasn't my childhood dream.

I have lived aboard two boats in my life. The first was a Hirondelle catamaran that I lived on for four years between marriages. It had a porta-potty and while it served its purpose, it could smell sometimes and, whether it smelled or not, I have yet been able to find a porta-potty that you can empty without slopping it all over the place or having it leak somewhere. My second boat was a brand new Gemini catamaran that my wife and I lived on for five years straight, full time. We used it to cruise the Chesapeake, the ICW, the Keys, the Gulf Coast and the Bahamas during that time. It had a full blown holding tank system with a Y valve and all the things that go with it. Within a year, it stunk. And I don't care whose fault someone may think that was, it stunk and my wife didn't like the smell. Long story short, the holding tank contents ended up in the bilge one day as a result of my trying to fix the smell and I decided then and there that there had to be a better way. I considered composting.


Teak

We were spending a couple of months in Beaufort, SC, at the time, where I was building a dinghy. I took some scraps from the project and Voila, the first C-Head was created. I had had a cabinet shop between the Army and the Fire Department, so I had some skills. The toilet was odd looking but it worked like a charm and I was hooked. I adopted the "Tony Smith" business model (designer and builder of the Gemini catamaran) and decided to produce one thing only and to just continue to improve on that one thing. That was almost three years ago.

I had seen the other composting toilets at the boat show and on a few boats during our travels. There were two brands on the market and it was obvious to me that one of the two had borrowed the other's idea. There wasn't a nickel's difference between the two. And almost to a man, the owners would say, "You'd think they could make something less expensive." The C-Head was built with no preconceived notions of what a composting toilet should look like or how it should work. It was built with a few ideas in mind. It had to be relatively inexpensive, simple in design, attractive and it had to work. I accomplished all four goals. Let's look at each.

Cost
First, let me say that it is a mistake to think that because something is less expensive, it must necessarily be in some way inferior. In the boating market we are brainwashed into believing that if something doesn't cost an arm and a leg, it must be "a low budget," inferior product. This is not always true. A case in point: the space shuttle was not "cheap" and in fact, it didn't work as well as multi-stage rockets did and so consequently, we have gone back to multi-stage rockets. Plastic injection molding may create a very strong product, but the cost of tooling not only adds significantly to the overall cost, but severely limits the ability of the manufacturer to modify the product or make changes for the better. The C-Head is chemically welded sheet plastic that creates a monocoque body plenty strong enough for the job at hand. This construction method allows for customizing and flexibility in design, resulting currently in four different foot prints for different applications.


Original C-Head

Simple in design
The truth is, a toilet doesn't have to look like a machine to do the job. All the nooks and crannies of all the other marine toilets, be they composting or not, make it difficult to keep them clean. The C-Head is deliberately slab-sided, not only for economy but the simple flat surfaces are easy to clean and keep clean and make it possible to create a secondary containment system to control any spills from the collection containers. The gallon water jugs give you incredible storage and waste disposal flexibility at virtually no cost. It also allows the exterior to have custom finishes including colors and wood grains. Which leads us to the next goal.

Attractive
The C-Head can be built to match the interior of a boat. It can be finished in teak or mahogany plastic laminate or even real wood veneer. It can have a white or black lacquer or wood grain toilet seat and lid. These options go a long way to making the business of doing your business more pleasant. A toilet shouldn't look like a place where you store your crap. Guys are for the most part blind to this fact. They are usually content to use a bucket but those who do have probably given up on trying to attract a lady to enjoy their adventure with them.


Macgregor Model

It has to work
The C-Head is primarily a dehydrating toilet with a unique mixing system – a wave action that thoroughly coats and compacts the waste for easy handling. While it can make compost, virtually no one who uses a "composting toilet" on a boat is making "compost" so the term is a misnomer. What they are doing is storing waste conveniently until they can discard it ashore or dump it off shore. Here the C-Head excels in several ways. Because you transfer the waste to a 5-gallon plastic bucket for storage and eventual disposal, you are instructed to treat the waste with chlorine bleach prior to sealing the bucket with the lid, and that means that of all the composting toilets on the market, the C-Head is the only one that has ZERO live coliform bacteria when its waste is discarded ashore.

The fact that you have to empty the primary collection container once a week as opposed to once a month is, in fact, an advantage. People tend to think "the less to do with poo, the better." But this ignores the simplicity with which the C-Head is emptied. No disassembly is required; no inverting heavy containers or dumping sticky material into a saggy, flimsy plastic bag that pretty much guarantees that some will escape. Smaller quantities and the dehydrating process allow you to empty the contents easily and completely without spilling anything. Lift up the lid. Lift out the bucket. Pour it out. Put it back. Thirty seconds if you're slow. You can pour it directly overboard offshore without fear of losing half of your system in the process.

The C-Head is erroneously perceived as something less than its competitors but this simply is not true. I contend it is better in virtually every respect. Pseudo experts on the forums who tout the C-Head as inferior are, pardon the pun, talking out of their asses. The C-Head isn't going to be everybody's solution but give it a look before you count it out.

And I'd like to end this discussion with some words of wisdom from a reader. Amelia said,

But seems to me we have enough public opinion problems to overcome just getting people to consider composting as a valid alternative, without trashing or dismissing anything but "ours."

MONDAY we'll clear up a misconception: Simple doesn't have to mean old-fashioned.

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