Applied Permaculture at Gaia Ashram Thailand “Hot compost shower”

This last month the Gaia Ashram community was gathering around the permaculture project of making Tom’s shower great again applying appropriate technologies.

Gaia Ashram is a community of all beings, following holistic sustainability in all aspects of community life. We apply permaculture, natural farming, ecovillage design, spiritual practices and more. We created a place where we can experience, learn and connect to nature and ourselves.

If you want to experience this great enviroment join us as a volunteer for some time and learn how to apply permaculture in your daily life. For all of you that want to dive deeper into permaculture we have a 17-day Permaculture Design Course starting at March 31 and just before we have the honor to host the 6th Thai Permaculture Convergence from March 28 till 31. Hope to see you at one of the events 🙂

Hot compost shower at Gaia Ashram, Thailand

In August 2018, Gaia Ashram had its first hot shower. Yes, a cold-water system is the easiest way to have an eco-friendly shower. But it was before august 2018! The community had built their first shower heated by a hot compost. This technique is a double win: you have hot shower all along the process and a beautiful fertile soil at the end! However, after 3 to 4 months, the compost got progressively done and some building issues were preventing the water from being warm. Indeed, the bamboo structure was eaten by the compost’s organisms, which led to the progressive fall of the compost itself. And the comfort of having an eco-friendly hot shower is hard to give up on… Gaia community had to be resilient and built another one, a better one!

Permaculture hot compost shower by Jean Pain

Before to deliver all our secrets, a short introduction to the idea of hot compost shower is needed. Have you ever heard about the Pain method?

Yes, Pain method is French but no, unfortunatelyAugust we are not going to talk about the famous baguette. The Pain method is also known as the “Jean Pain” way, named after this brilliant French inventor. Jean Pain’s main prowess was to be able to respond to 100% of his energy needs with a compost based and self-produced bioenergy. In his book Another Kind of Garden, he shares his practical knowledge about the power of composting. We learn within that Pain was able to heat his water to 60°c at a rate of 4L/minute. To do so he gathered brushwood to make a compost out of it, within which the water pipe was buried. With the interactions between all the compost’s organisms, the brushwood pile created heat, warming the pipe and de facto the water flowing inside.

How Gaia Ashram build the hot compost shower in Thailand?

Gaia’s fancy hot shower is directly inspired by the Jean Pain method. Yet, with the observation we made, some challenges had to be taken into account. Our main guideline during the shower’s conception was to strengthen the compost’s structure to make it durable. We also observed by removing the previous hot compost for Tom’s shower that almost all the usable soil was at the bottom of the compost. We wanted therefore to find a way to be able to harvest the compost at the bottom and add new compost material at the top without removing the entire structure. 

After removing the previous compost, our first step was to settle the inner structure. The later consists in 5 PVC pillars maintained on the floor by a concrete base. Between each pillars, we also settled 3 metal sticks, which were made to strengthen the compost but also carry the water pipe. We eventually dig some trench to be able to harvest the soil at the bottom. On the picture, you have to imagine that the inner compost is situated within the inner structure.

The next step was to settle the pipe. The idea was to roll it between the pillars by leaving space at the bottom to allow the soil’s harvest.  This step was not the most challenging but surely the one that took us the bigger amount of time.

Our water pipe finally settled, the last step in building the structure was to settle the outer structure which would surround the outer compost pile. 9 PVC pillars were planted in wholes full of concrete. Between each of them, we gave on the metal sticks and used ruber band made out of metal instead. The later was more flexible, thicker and easier to settle. Between two pillars we created a sliding door made out of some metal sheet and carried by two more pillars. This door would allow us to remove the compost and add a new one without taking off the entire structure. The outer structure was finally wrapped by two nets.

After having built the structure for the compost, the last thing to do was to create the actual compost ! We have chosen to layer this compost and strated with an isolating layer of straw. Then, we just add green layers (banana trees, manure and pee) in between brown layers (sawdust, dry leaves, straw…). The important part in creating this new compost was to water it after each layer !

Tom reconnected the pipe with his water system after we finished the to gather the compost. And after only few hours his shower’s water was already lukewarm. The day after Tom and Om’s family already had to mix the water coming from the hot compost with cold water to be able to have a nice shower! The next step for the community is to design new hot compost showers, using this prototype. However, what this experience has especially highlighted is that the compost is a key point in the green transition and this conclusion deserve to be shared !