Vault Toilets- A step up from the pit

by Mike Usry January 25, 2013

The common backcountry solution for sites with drivable road access, but without running water is what is called a "vault toilet." Waste is held in an underground vault or tank, usually between 750 and 1000 gallons in size, although larger ones up to 13,000 gallons are in use. These vaults are pumped out periodically, and the waste is hauled out to municipal wastewater treatment plants.
Vaults are made of concrete or plastic material. The most popular type of vault is made of reinforced cross-linked polyethylene. This material will not crack or leak, so it meets all environmental standards.

A typical vault toilet installation has the vault buried in the ground with a concrete slab poured in place directly over it. The building is installed on the slab with connections to the vault for the toilet and vent pipe. This type of system provides a permanent, odor-free and accessible toilet at a fraction of the cost of site-built structures.

Prefabricated vault toilet choices range from buildings made of cross linked polyethylene (same material as the vault), to wood frame construction, to reinforced concrete structures. Both single, "unisex," and double vault toilet systems are available. The concrete designs are often chosen for their superior durability in vandal-prone areas.

"Odor free?" Yes, they've even figured out how to keep vault toilet buildings from smelling so bad. Thanks to research by the U.S. Forest Service, vault toilets do not have quite the “odoriferous emanations” they could have. The buildings are designed with a vent system so fresh air naturally flows through the building and out of the vault and vent pipe. The Forest Service calls this design the "sweet smelling toilet". The problem is that they do not always work as advertised. A total lack of wind for instance can cause even a perfectly ventilated vault to have a “green cloud” settle around it that may then slowly drift into nearby picnic areas, making the picnickers burgers seem not quite so tasty. The design also depends on the sun warming a vent stack in the roof. That warmth then causes rising air in the pipe to pull the smelly air out of the building. The drawback is that this does not work as well in heavily forested locations or perpetually cloudy locations.

Here again PORT from Southland Organics can come to the rescue. By encapsulating the Hydrogen Sulfides and Ammonias that cause most of the odor, and adding biology that “muscles out” the odor causing bacteria, OP Port can eliminate odor in even the most horrendous smelling vault. It also helps accelerate the decomposition process, breaking down solids and making the vault easier to pump.

Check out the product and purchase here:

So if your campground has a modern vault toilet…use it. These facilities are nothing to turn your nose up at!

Mike Usry
Mike Usry


Mike is the founder of Southland Organics. He is an avid gardner and leads his family in a sustainable lifestyle. Mike holds his degree from the University of Georgia and his MBA from the University of South Florida.

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