Vault toilets are waterless, non-flush toilets that store excreta in a large airtight underground container (vault). This type of toilet is different from the standard flushing toilets and installed in areas where water is not readily accessible, like parks and recreational spots, campgrounds, and other public spots.
Sometimes, vault toilets are called camping toilets because they are often used on campgrounds. Pit toilets, composting toilets, and bag toilets also fall in the class of waterless toilets.
The most significant advantages of these toilets are the reduction in water expenses and environmental pollution. These toilets consume the barest energy and are they make for great compact toilet for small spaces.
The toilets meet all ADA regulations for toilets and user comfort. They are odorless except when a strong wind is unavailable. You can literally hang around it without worrying about inhaling polluted air.
The U.S Forest service invented this odorless and cost effective toilet that is different from the American standard toilets. The U.S Forest service would later call vault toilets as a “sweet-smelling toilet” because of its ability to maintain a stench-free facility.
Vault toilets are made as single or double vault systems and unisex toilets. They can be made from wooden frames, reinforced concrete, plastic, or cross-linked polyethylene.
Concrete vault toilets are highly durable, and the cross-linked polyethylene-type vaults are most widely used.
This is because the material will not crack or leak into the floor, so there’s no risk of pollution. Plastic vaults make a nice choice because they are portable, unlike other types of vault toilets.
How Do Vault Toilets Work?
I know the word “vault” sounds serious, but vault toilets are quite easy to understand. Like I mentioned earlier, toilet vaults have an external container. This container or tank can store up to a thousand-gallon size of excreta. Some can store as high as 13,000-gallon size of wastes depending on the design and intended use.
The container is buried underground with a concrete slab laid on top of it to keep it stable. The vault is positioned along a slope so that the waste can flow smoothly. A structure that connects to the vent pipe is eventually placed on the concrete slab.
The waste held in the vault remains there till it is pumped by the municipal council. The vaults don’t need to be pumped frequently if the appropriate size is installed. Generally, it is pumped once in a week or two weeks.
Vault toilets are odorless for the most part, but this isn’t always the case. For it to be odorless, the wind is necessary to carry away the stench. If there’s no wind, the stench clouds around the toilet, and it might spread to nearby structures. When there is a strong wind, it forces the odor to settle in remote places. Wind creates pressure. When air is allowed into a building, it increases the air pressure which creates a forced pathway for the air to exit into a less pressurized environment, thereby relieving the vault of odor.
The other factor is how well heat from the sun reaches the vent on its roof. When the vent is heated, the stench is quickly forced out of the pipe, and since hot air rises, you won’t smell it. If there’s no sun, if there’s a crowd, or if it the sun’s rays are obstructed by trees, the air stays in the pipe, and if you’re in the building, your nose will signal you to leave.
Vault Toilets Pros
The benefits of using a vault toilet include;
Vault toilets are in single units and are self-contained, which means only one person is allowed to use it at a time. This ensures the user’s privacy.
Easy Maintenance and Affordable
Vault toilets are easier to maintain than most other toilet systems. They are comfortable and cheap to construct, as well. All you need to do is to ensure it is regularly cleaned.
Vault toilets are always available on-demand, especially in parks and recreational centers. You shouldn’t have to go back to your home to use the toilet and you won’t.
Vault toilets made from plastic are moveable, which means they can be used in multiple locations at different times. They are portable toilets that can serve you at various events.
Some vault toilets have battery-powered lights attached to them in case you find yourself in the dark. They also come with dispensers for disinfecting the toilet after use.
Vault toilets do not require water, and because of that, there is no need to flush. It is economical and saves you the cost of installing running water since there is limited or no water supply in those areas.
Vault Toilets Cons
Despite the unique advantages of using vault toilets, it still poses some issues that are of concern. They include;
Since the toilets require heat from the sun to prevent odor, sun rays may not be readily available if the toilet is built in a crowded location or in an area full of trees which may enhance odor.
Difficulty in Handling Wastes
Garbages and other undecomposable wastes can cause vault blockages. It can be expensive and difficult to remove. A stern warning should be provided to avoid such an occurrence. The riser can also reveal the waste when you look down at it, which is unappealing.
Faulty Ventilation Systems
If the vault ventilation system isn’t working at an optimal level, it often leads to odors, which will cause the user all manner of inconveniences.
The freedom to transfer a vault toilet from one place to another is limited. It is only the plastic vault toilets that allow such freedom.
Since vault toilets are waterless, they need consistent cleaning, which may be unavailable at parks, recreation spots, or festivals. Water is not readily available in these areas and may hamper cleanliness.
Alternative Ways to Reduce Odors
The sun and the wind are common natural factors that reduce the emanation of odors to the barest minimum. As explained earlier, they work together to remove the air from the pipe and away. However, in terms of the unavailability of both factors, the odor can still be reduced.
You can remove the stench from vault toilets by;
- Adding organic filler that will convert Hydrogen Sulphide and Ammonia (the stench in the waste) to odorless nitrogen gas.
- Placing a burning flame around the vent to incinerate the smell out of the gas.
- Using activated carbon to deodorize the gas
- Using long underground pipes to transport the odor to faraway places, usually to forest zones.
Vault Toilets vs. Pit Toilets
Vault toilets and pit toilets share the same underlying working principle and are often confused for each other. They are commonly found at campgrounds and remote residential areas because they do not require water to flush.
Pit toilets or pit latrines involve digging a trench beneath the ground, and the user only needs to squat on the toilet to use it. Some modern pit latrines are designed with roofs, while others are built with benches that have holes.
Unlike vault toilets that amass waste in a container or tanks, pit latrines accumulate the waste directly beneath the soil. They are easy to use, require little upkeep, and cheap to construct. However, they are not as sanitary as using vault toilets. Large pits hardly fill up, but when it does finally, it becomes unsafe to use because of the odor emanating from beneath.
Accumulation of waste and lack of proper ventilation system will also attract flies to the pit, making the user susceptible to contracting germs and diseases. Vault toilets are modern outhouses and more comfortable than pit toilets in all ramifications. If you had a choice, you should choose a vault toilet.
How to Care For Vault Toilets
Vault toilets like every other type of toilets are prone to bacterial and disease-causing organisms. If it is not regularly sanitized and emptied periodically, it can become a breeding ground for microbes to multiply and cause germs.
The first step to ensuring your vault toilet is well-taken care of is by emptying it periodically. Also, you can use septic treatment products like RTB 760 to disinfect the area after use.
Although most people still think vault toilets are the same as the old outhouses, they are former is more sanitary. Vault toilets are economically advantageous and provide an exceptional choice for use to those seeking for waterless toilets because of its design. Since they abide by ADA regulations, vault toilets are considered safe for use.
They are durable, easy to maintain, and have a well-constructed ventilated system. You will have no regrets installing this system in your home if need be, provided they are sanitized, and the tank is emptied periodically.
Have you used a vault toilet before, what do you think about them? Let us know in the comments section below.