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Life in 120 Square Feet: Our Off Grid Bathroom

You knew I’d end up here eventually. I am finally going to share some information about our tiny house bathroom.

Just like every other aspect of tiny spaces, bathroom layouts can vary wildly.

I wanted to share some of the decisions we made about our teeny bathroom so you might get an idea of what we’ve done.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

I encourage you to see and learn how we designed and built the bathroom in our off grid tiny house:

To take you on a “tour” of the bathroom would be almost impossible. It is a tiny room to the left of the kitchen with two out-swing doors. We constructed the doors this way to save space so if they were open while someone was in the kitchen they wouldn’t be in the way like a single door would be. Inside is a composting toilet, a container for sawdust, built in shelves for our toiletries, a window, and a small shower. Our shower is a 30 inch fiberglass model that we assembled in place while we built the interior walls.

We made a decision not to plumb our house. The only “plumbing” we have at all is a sealed drain in the shower. Below the house is a bucket that hangs on hooks beneath this drain. We use this to dispose of all of our household water including anything we have from the kitchen (which is all cycled through our artificial wetland which will have to be part of another post).

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

We could plumb the house but we decided not to because of our off the grid water plan. Since we use water from our spring we try to conserve and only use about 3-5 gallons a day. Eventually we want to construct a rainwater catchment system, at which time we will re-evaluate our plumbing needs.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

For now we use a two gallon air pressurized shower sprayer. We built ours out of parts from the home improvement store but it turns out you can already buy them on the internet. We fill up the shower with a gallon of room temperature water. Then we boil a kettle full of water, about a half-gallon, and pour it in. The water temperature is perfect. Then, just pump and shower. We use it like a typical boat shower where you have to turn it on, get wet, turn it off, soap up, turn it on again and rinse. We have a suction cup holder for the sprayer which can provide a hands-off shower experience.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

The bathroom does not have a dedicated sink. We use the Berkey on the kitchen counter to wash our hands when necessary. It isn’t any further away than a sink in a conventional bathroom.

Finally, we have a composting toilet. I am by no means an expert so I would prefer to refer readers to the quintessential book on the subject the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. It can give you all the information you need about how to build a toilet, how to compost, and why you need to have a urine diverter. At the risk of being crude, I also live on 15 acres of secluded mountain forest; I’ll admit that I’ve perfected the art of peeing in the woods. Your mileage may vary.

photo by Laura M. LaVoie

photo by Laura M. LaVoie

What kind of tiny house bathroom would you build?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Cahow
    June 28, 2013, 2:02 pm

    I love your articles, Laura! I learn so much about a different lifestyle than mine. Great photos and great explanation of how your bathroom works: very Scandinavian/Sauna-like. LOVE the bamboo-themed shower curtain, btw. 🙂

  • alice h
    June 28, 2013, 3:35 pm

    My current part-time tiny setup has a gravity shower with washtub catch basin in a separate 4×6 wash house but when I build the 8×20 I’ll upgrade to an inside shower similar to yours. I like being able to catch and reuse the grey water. When I lived off-grid in the Yukon we used to call it a “bucket and chuck it” water system where you had a bucket under the sink and washed just standing in the washtub (or went to town for a shower on laundromat day). It was not a good thing when you let it get too full then came home to a frozen house and had to thaw the bucket and dump it before you could use the sink.

  • MotherLodeBeth
    June 28, 2013, 5:06 pm

    Some people do not like the idea of a bathroom so close to the kitchen where food is prepared.

    Would love to see set ups where the bathroom is in a different area or even in an out house set up in a wee room next to the small house with access via a door off the living area.

    Since we wash our hands after using the bathroom, coming in from working outside or handling food I also would recommend a quality grey water set up that diverts the used water to the outside where it can be used in the garden.

    • MotherLodeBeth
      June 28, 2013, 5:10 pm

      Also wanted to add that from now (June) until late fall here in the Sierras we use a small horse water trough outside that is black and holds the heat well, for bathing. And four REI black camp shower bag set ups for our hot water for dishes, showers.

      • Cahow
        June 28, 2013, 5:15 pm

        That’s what I grew up bathing in, but we used the troughs for cattle. Had a big boiler on the back of the wood stove to heat the water. “One Tub to Wash Them All” is how we bathed at our off grid farm.

        • 2BarA
          June 28, 2013, 6:43 pm

          Over 30 years ago I lived in an unplumbed farmhouse with a basement which contained a wood-burning stove.
          I filled up a copper strayer with cold water, placed it on the lit stove and by the time the basement was warm so
          was the water. I pumped up the pressure, stood beside
          the sump and showered away. Guess I was a pioneer of this method. I like your bathroom set-up and method of
          dealing with grey water.

    • 2BarA
      January 31, 2014, 11:04 am

      I agree with you, MotherLode Beth. I dislike using the kitchen sink for
      matters that are usually done in a bathroom, like combing hair and brushing teeth. The idea of a bathroom opening onto a tiny kitchen is
      not appealing. I am working on a different plan, but it’s not easy.

  • Leon ALLAIS
    June 28, 2013, 11:14 pm

    Hello Laura! I really like your project, how you present it. Each article, each solution shown, reminds us that evidences of our modern everyday life are not. I appreciate your quest of Fundamentals of house and household. It is informative and inspiring. Thank you very much to share it. Leon

  • July 1, 2013, 7:38 pm

    Really nice home and good plumbing job. I think it is so cool to live in a 120 st home. Easy to clean! Nice blog!

  • LaMar
    January 30, 2014, 11:39 am

    You can set your small homes up to use an RV system and have all the modern conveiniences. I uses an RV 25 gallon water tank hid under the sink and filled from a hose outside. Eccotemp propane water heater and shurflo water pump give me hot and cold water for sink and shower.

    I designed a solar composting toilet to avoid a stinky compost pile that freezes in winter. It uses solar to heat the composter and bacterial have to be warm to do their work.

    Here is the video for anyone interested:


    • Holly
      January 31, 2014, 2:40 pm

      Your solar composting toilet is a great solution, thank you for sharing the video. It is very applicable to people who are in one location permanently. I’m looking into doing a sawdust toilet in my trailer tiny home, and I expect to move it around about once a year. I will probably live in areas that freeze during the winter, so I’d like to come up with a solar-heated solution like you have, but more travel friendly. Any thoughts?

      • LaMar
        January 31, 2014, 2:52 pm

        If you can keep the bacteria at about 80 degrees they will work much faster. You can rig a simple greenhouse over your composting pit and that will help and keeps animals and critter from getting in the compost. I would use a pit system and greenhouse and just backfill when you move spots.

        • Holly
          January 31, 2014, 7:54 pm

          That’s a good idea, though I doubt the feds would like it if they found out. I haven’t given up on a more conventional toilet, which would require either an RV system (which I would prefer to not contribute to) or a septic tank. What’s your opinion on burying a 55gal drum and using it as a septic/compost pit? It would act similarly to those who fill a bin and seal it for a year to let it process, though perhaps easier to warm since it would be buried and have a simple greenhouse on top.

          Just got the Humanure Handbook. Perhaps it will give me some guidance.

        • LaMar
          January 31, 2014, 8:01 pm

          Compost pits are legal as described in the humanure book. A barrel would just slow the process and holds moisture inside. Look up how sawdust toilets work. Other option is a commercial compost toilet or an incinerator model.

  • Marsha Cowan
    January 30, 2014, 1:41 pm

    Why have a shower in the first place? I am living in my second tiny house now, and neither of them had a shower. I heat water in a kettle, mix it with cold water in a large wash basin for washing, mix another pot of warm water for rinsing, and take sponge baths using baking soda as a cleanser. I get really clean and never use more than a gallon or gallon and a half of water at a time. I wash my hair first using half my warm water rinsing with half the rinse water, and then bath the rest of me. Once every week or two, I drop by one of my children’s homes and shower, but I feel no cleaner after a shower than I do after a sponge bath, and I use a heck of a lot more water. I am just saying, why a bath “room”? My composting toilet tucks out of site under one end of a counter and is pulled out to use, but doesn’t take a whole room to house, and my large wash basin even tucks under the counter when not in use which leaves me a lot of counter space when not bathing or washing dishes. I’m just saying, space is valuable in a tiny house. The tiny house I live in right now is pictured on Craigslist in Greensboro, NC . It is 6×6 feet inside, but it looks a lot larger, and it has RV water and electric hookups. It has a composting toilet and a way to bath, but no actual bath. I’m just saying…

    • LaMar
      January 31, 2014, 2:56 pm

      My shower head came off a camp shower and the shower uses about a gallon for a 5 minute shower. Sponge baths are OK but a shower is nice when you are very dirty. I also use the shower head for rinsing off dishes after I wash in the dish pans.

  • 2BarA
    January 31, 2014, 12:00 pm

    Wow, Marsha! I looked up your listing and I am amazed at how you have put the essentials of living into 36 sq. ft. It is so charming and attractive. When you said the house was 6′ x 6′ I thought no, impossible, that’s a dog house but you have shown what can be done in a small space. Did you build it yourself?
    What are your plans after you sell this? You can’t go any smaller, or can you?

  • Kelly
    September 8, 2015, 4:43 pm

    Not to mention that urine you divert from your composting toilet is liquid gold nitrogen for a garden! Be sure to dilute it tho’. I used it once on my peppers this year, and I’ve never harvested as many as I did this year!

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