Sunday, 26 November 2017

Thoughts on a Narrowboat Part 4–Bathroom

Space on a narrowboat is always a critical criteria.  We’d already decided, insofar as possible, we would have a central corridor and as few compartment walls as possible.  Moreover, wherever possible the corridor would be multipurpose.  We’d already achieved that in the bedroom.

When we’d hired boats the bathroom was in a separate compartment off the corridor.  The hand basin was usually small and the shower tiny.  You almost had to exhale to enter the shower cubicle.  Our final bathroom layout resulted in a 850 x 1100mm shower with a glass swivel door.  The toilet was in it’s own cubicle.  All the walls in the bathroom and toilet were formica lined.  The formica is lighter than tiles and easier to clean.  I also discovered that construction adhesive (eg Siklflex) was a better option than silicon for sealing joins.  Silicon breaks down over time whereas construction adhesive doesn’t.  Don’t use silicon as a sealer unless you think you might want to remove it at some future date.  The toilet door was dual purpose acting as both the toilet door when closed and the door between the bathroom and saloon when open.  The ceiling throughout the boat was made of formica laminated plywood.  This made it waterproof and easy to clean.

Narrowboat toilet types tend to be either holding tank, cassette or composting.  Each has advantages and disadvantages.

  • Pumpout.  Advantage – just like a residential toilet. Disadvantages - capacity, availability of facilities to empty
  • Cassette.  Advantages – small storage requirement, ease of emptying.  Disadvantages – capacity (2-3 days) frequency and weight when emptying.
  • Composting.  Advantages.  Capacity, minimal cost when emptying.  Disadvantages – Most desiccate rather than decompose.

I then read a blog post where a couple of market gardeners had removed their boat composting toilet because they couldn’t get it to produce compost.  Then when we were planning our fit out at Aldermaston a local boater mentioned they had a composting toilet (an Envirolet) which was large and they couldn’t get it to compost.  This was caused by the contents always being wet from the urine.  In the end they resorted to using the Envirolet for solids and a cassette for urine.  The design of composting toilets has progressed since then but I still suspect they desiccate rather than decompose.  We opted for a pump out system and as we planned to continuously cruise I wanted a very large holding tank.  This was achieved by raising the floor of the back cabin by 8 inches and constructing the tank under the floor.  The tank easily has an 8 week holding capacity.  Actually we rarely filled it above half full.

What would I do differently?

I probably failed to give sufficient attention to the fore and aft trim.  In the stern we had two diesel tanks, a large battery bank, engine and toilet tank.   I probably could have moved the diesel and toilet tanks.  Boats historically have a bilge where water accumulates.  In a narrowboat this probably originates from condensation on the inside of the steel shell which then migrates down to the baseplate.  There can also be leaking water pipe joints.   However throughout the year Waiouru always had a dry bilge.   I would check the bilge twice annually disturbing Cyril the Spider who had made his home under the inspection hatch. 

My belief is we had taken so much effort with the insulation that no condensation was entering the bilge.   This was an unforeseen consequence of the effort we’d taken with the insulation.  I wasn’t satisfied with the thickness of the initial spray foam insulation and had a second layer applied.  This meant the foam actually extended beyond the line of the timber battens and I had to cut it back flush with a 26” cross cut hand saw.  Consequentially the insulation was 3-4 inches thick   We also placed insulated panels under the floor.  After the plywood floor was laid I went around with aerosol spray foam cans  and sealed between the wall spray foam and floor panels.  The same was done around the portholes and Houdini hatches.  This resulted in Waiouru being a tight cocoon, warm in winter and cool in summer.

The first boat builder had fixed 4x2 timber bearers on top of the lateral steel floor beams installed by the shell builder.  These were removed and replaced with longitudinal 6x1” planks with 6x1” cross pieces fitted on top of the steel floor beams.  This increase the head height inside the cabin by 3 inches.  Actually we had plenty of internal headroom and I think we could have reduced it.

If I were to do this all again I think I’d seriously consider placing the engine diesel tank, water tank and toilet tank under the floor with a 6-8” wide bilge either side.  I’d fit a water alarm in the bilge along with a bilge pump.  Obviously the tanks would require internal baffles to avoid the contents rapidly moving from side to side.  The toilet could then be mounted directly above the tank significantly reducing the length of connecting hose.  Weight would be removed from the bow and stern and we would also be eliminating much of the wasted space under the floor.

Back to the Bed

The drawer fronts were given two coats of varnish and then I fitted the handles.  Once that was completed I masked over the handles before apply the 3rd and final coat of varnish.


Masked and then the outline was cut with a razor knife to remove the excess paper.

I was trying to think of a way to align and hold the drawer fronts whilst they were secured with wood screws from inside the drawer.

In the end I adopted the following method.

Two 5 cent coins were placed on top of the bottom bed rail to act as spacers.  I applied a small dab of PVA glue to the reverse side of each drawer back.  The idea is the glue will secure the Jarrah front to the plywood drawer body.  Once the glue has set I’ll be able to pull the drawer out and permanently secure it with screws.  It will be interesting to see if the method is successful.  Once the bottom drawers have been installed I’ll repeat the process for the top drawers.


A Failure

Not the drawers (yet).  My brother kindly came to assist me pull two additional cables through the plastic conduit I’d installed under the 4x4.  I didn’t have the cable for the electric trailer brakes when I fitted the conduit so I installed a steel draw wire in anticipation.  Unfortunately there must be too many bends and twists in the conduit because the steel wire started to stretch when we attempted to use it to pull the other cables through.   Damn damn damn….

Now I’ll have that horrible job of wriggling under the vehicle and removing the conduit so I can install the additional cables.  Then I’ll have to go back under and reinstall the conduit.  Not a happy lad!

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