Alan’s DIY “Cat Jet” litter box ventilation system

catvent.jpg

Our friend Alan Graham wrote up this great project for venting cat litter box fumes out of his house. It’s called the “Cat Jet”, which implies much more hilarity than the actual project affords.

As any cat owner knows, no matter how many cats you have or what type of litter you use, the cat box smell is something that you never quite get used to. My wife and I keep our litter box in the garage with access via a pet door. This summer the high heat made walking into the garage to do the laundry or even reach the car an exercise in chemical warfare. Once we made the mistake of leaving the car window open.

I recently saw a post on Apartment Therapy showing a homemade “Cat Jet” ventilation solution (http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ny/at-email/tools-for-pet-living-the-cat-jet-and-the-roomba-email-from-9108-062199) using a bathroom fan to vent the noxious fumes of a litter box from the inside of the house to the outside. As a home automation geek I immediately was inspired to take it up a notch by combining similar hardware to a series of timers. 

Behold: Alan’s Automated Cat Jet! Total Cost? $80.

Consisting of one bathroom fan, one bathroom vent kit, one Smarthome Appliance module, and my home automation system, Alan’s Automated Cat Jet shows once again that with technology, anything is possible.

Now you don’t actually need to have as advanced a home automation system as I do to put this together, so I’ve given you an alternative solution using a special timer.

Before you build my solution, I recommend checking out Chris’ Cat Jet system first. It will give you an idea of how to mount a bathroom fan to an enclosed litter box and vent it out a window. For my solution, I just vented the litter box out the side of the house, as you would vent a dryer. Sorry neighbors!

Parts list and more howto info after the jump.Parts Required:

1 TimerLinc Insteon Plug-in Timer from Smarthome http://www.smarthome.com/2456s3t.html
1 Bathroom Vent
1 Bathroom Vent kit
1 Extension Cord
———–
Total Cost $80

Most hardware stores will carry your average bathroom fans. You don’t want anything too expensive. I bought a Broan 4″ duct fan for $16 at Lowe’s and a vent kit for $12. The bathroom fan should already come wired with a standard plug, so you can easily plug it directly into an outlet. I’d double check it before you purchase. 

Basically you are going to somehow mount the bathroom fan to a covered litter box. Since there are dozens of designs out there I’ll leave that for you to figure out. However, once you’ve accomplished the fan mount and the vent, what you want to do is plug the fan into an extension cord and then into the Insteon timer which plugs into the wall. The timer will allow you to set a number of intervals for the fan to vent throughout the day and even has some randomizing features. If you so desired, you could combine this timer with a Smarthome motion detector as well.

How Mine Works

I already have a home automation system running off of a Mac Mini. This system allows me a little more control over how the fan works. In front of the litter box sits a motion detector. When the detector “sees” the cat, it tells the computer to start a timer. After 5 minutes (hopefully enough time for the cat, unless he’s reading), the fan kicks on and vents the box for 15 minutes. That’s just about enough time to take care of any major business that occurred. However, cat pee has that ammonia smell, so it doesn’t take long for that to build up and overpower anything else. Because it releases over time during the day, it isn’t enough to just vent when the cat uses the box. I wanted to keep the box venting. My system turns the cat fan on every hour for 5-10 minutes. This keeps the scent from building up, and since I run it only a short time, it really shouldn’t affect the neighbors. However, as a safety precaution I placed a dryer sheet over the outside of the vent to perfume it up a bit. I do think a charcoal filter might work best in the near future.      

Thanks again Chris for the inspiration, I hope my take on it helps you as well!

You can follow Alan’s continued development of his Cat Jet over on the Treehugger forums.

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28 Responses to Alan’s DIY “Cat Jet” litter box ventilation system

  1. Dillenger69 says:

    I’ve thought about doing this but a few things have kept me from it.

    1. The fan scares the cat … the cat won’t go near the box.
    2. The only vent hole I have available would need to be shared with the dryer and my wife is afraid it will make the dryer smell.
    3. the biggest one … our cats won’t go near covered boxes even without fans. yea, it sucks but they go in front of the box until we take off the cover.

    Our solution … two big uncovered boxes in the normal place we empty as time permits and one small box in the bathroom we empty and clean out daily. That and Feline Pine. I never thought litter would make that much of a difference until we stopped using the clay stuff. Hamster cage catbox smell beats plain old catbox any day of the week.

  2. techdeviant says:

    In the past I have used computer fans and batteries, but it always seemed to bother my cat when it turned on. I have also used this method to cool my hamster tanks since my house doesn’t have A/C and they looked like they were roasting :)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wouldn’t it take a lot less time and money to just clean the litter box more often?

  4. oldtaku says:

    Okay, so maybe it’s not as high tech cool, but it seems to me that a low-rpm, low-noise fan running constantly would be less prone to breaking for various reasons and would still be acceptable to most cats. Mine don’t have any problem with the bathroom fans (which is where the litterbox is) being on when they need to go. I may actually try that, now that I know it works so well for you.

    But not as neat as controlling it with a Mac Mini, yup.

  5. agraham999 says:

    I was worried about upsetting the cat…that’s why I built in a delay on the motion detector. I’m also putting in a command on my automation system that essentially says:

    “If you detect motion, turn the fan off if it is currently on”

    That should cater to his sensibilities.

  6. strider_mt2k says:

    Gotta agree.
    I empty the box regularly and smell isn’t an issue.

    I DO have a broken vacuum I’m not doing anything with however…

    I guess the key is getting the noisy part remotely mounted.

  7. strider_mt2k says:

    Forgot to mention we have that litter box and it’s awesome.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been curious about self-cleaning boxes (4 cats here, only 1 human) and I’ve even thought of a few ideas I could put together with stuff from Bunnings, but I have a question – all of the automatic systems I’ve seen on-line seem to ignore wet waste (ie pee). Anyone who cleans litter boxes knows that you get litter sludge at the bottom of the box after a week (and yes, I scoop daily and change the litter every Caturd . . um, Saturday). Can anyone with an automatic box enlighten me?

  9. agraham999 says:

    Cat Box + Broken Vacuum = YouTube Video

  10. dderidex says:

    “Wouldn’t it take a lot less time and money to just clean the litter box more often?”

    ‘struth

    We have 5 cats in our condo, and we are obsessive-compulsive cleaners. No dirt, no dust, nothing on any counter surface, and no cat smell (heck, no carpet, either – it’s terrible for trapping dust). We just have to clean the little box 2-3 times a day, use one of the ‘clumping’/odor eliminating litter types, and vacuum regularly.

  11. celynnen says:

    seconded, Anon 3. I have 3 cats and there is not even a whiff of odor from the litter box because I clean it daily. Cost? $0. Imagine!

    sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but this just seems like a waste of money and electricity to me.

  12. agraham999 says:

    Yeah…I uh…don’t clean it 2-3 times a day. I clean it every other day. But even when I cleaned it daily it smelled.

    I don’t use a odor eliminating litter…I use a biodegradable litter that simply clumps but is all natural.

    I’m sure there are lots of people who clean it daily and it still smells the house up. I’ve even been in houses where they can’t actually smell it anymore…but a visitor sure can.

  13. Lady Katey says:

    Arm & Hammer Super Scoop scented litter is the best for multi-cat households. Since I’ve moved from a 3-cat house to a 1-cat house, I’ve switched to the unscented Super Scoop.

    With three cats we had to scoop every single day, without fail, to prevent oder even with the fancy litter. We used an open box because a closed box is TOO discrete- we would forget to clean it. And it was a hassle to take the lid off to clean it. So it would end up stinky. I could only imagine how long a closed box with an elaborate vent system stuck to it’s top would go between cleanings.

    The point? Neuter your male cats. Use good quality clumping litter. Use an open box. Put it somewhere that is not TOO discrete, so you remember to scoop it daily. There will be no oder.

  14. Enochrewt says:

    #12: I thought about this post in the shower the other day (ugh), and remembered that someone said the fan scared the cat. Why not put the fan on the other side of the lengh of duct/tube/whatever, so it’s away from the cat??

  15. NaturalAir says:

    Why go through all the trouble of labor and expenses to create something that can’t even move…? Natural Air manufactures a great Litter Box with built in Odor Purifying Technology

    Check it out http://www.naturalairdirect.com

    Its called the OdorBox!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Another trick that helps with nasty cat-box odors: to simplify cleaning, place several sections of newspaper down before adding litter. This will prevent litter sticking to the box, while soaking up urine, and lessening dust when dumping used litter into a garbage bag.

    We buy one enormous bag of El Cheapo generic clay litter, one canister of those awesome (but overpriced) odor & liquid absorbing crystals, and a sack of pine pellets. By leavening the dirt-cheap clay litter with several handfuls of each high-tech cat litter, we’re able to minimize odor without throwing ridiculous amounts of money at the problem.

    Soaking the cat box in bleach water once a week helps a lot, too, and minimizes the disease vector presented by having a box full of cat feces in one’s dwelling.

  17. sonipitts says:

    With our newest addition (kitten), you would have had to scoop every time she went (which was many, many times a day) to keep the odor down. I know what we *fed* her, but I have no idea how it was transmogrified into what came out the other end.

    OMG, it smelled like she’d been eating dead demons that had sat out too long on the roadkill side of the Dantean highway. With a side of eggs and broccoli. I tell you, this was weaponized cat pooh.

    Turns out, she had worms. Once we cleared that up, the massive rift in the time/space/toxic waste continuum closed and now everything’s back to normal. But for a while there, I thought we were going to have to get her her own bubble-boy exhaust isolation unit.

  18. Gary61 says:

    Beware of airborne kitty parts that come flying out that little hole in the side of their house ….

  19. FourMat says:

    I have done the exact same thing!, well, except for the automation bit. I’m on my second generation.

    My problem was that I run a business out of my house. We tried to clean the cat box often, but one day I was in the middle of a business meeting sitting at my kitchen table. The laundry room was where the catbox was, and was right off the kitchen. Well, my cat went in there and dropped a load that could be listed as chemical warfare. At that point, I had had enough. So I built a cat box with a small 4″ 120V fan mounted in the back with a speed control unit attached. I vented directly out through a dryer vent mounted in the side of the house. The speed control allowed me to simply slow the fan down to the point where there was just a hint of air flow, enough to waft the aroma out the side of the house, but not enough to make much noise.

    I knew my design wasn’t exactly the best for the heating and cooling bill, so when I bought another house, I had to make a change.

    This time the litter box would be positioned in the middle of the house inside a closet in one of the bathrooms. I put a pet door in the closet door for access, and I extended one of the shelves all the way out to the door to create a sealed partition to isolate the box from the rest of the closet. Inside the closet I installed an electrical outlet and a speed control for a ceiling fan, and a motion sensor LED night light provide light for kitty. In the back of the closet I cut a hole in the wall and installed a vent grate. While the vent hole was open, I drilled several large holes into the crawl space. In the crawl space, I installed some inexpensive ductwork, and ran some vinyl vent hose to the outside wall, there I installed a salvaged small industrial squirrel cage fan, and wired it up to the speed control in the cat box chamber. To keep the fan from sucking the air from the inside of the house, I drilled a small vent hole in the floor of the closet to allow the crawlspace air to relieve the negative pressure and create a circular flow with the outside air.

    This system works spectacularly well, is 100% silent and really makes it so much nicer to keep a cat in the house.

    All in all, it was about $50 in materials and an afternoon of work. I would recommend a system like this to anyone who has any DIY skills.

  20. historyman68 says:

    Wouldn’t it take a lot less time and money to just clean the litter box more often?

    Then they wouldn’t be geeks :)

  21. FutureNerd says:

    I’ve built about three of these over the years, except:

    1) Computer fan, the kind that’s powered by 115VAC. They are cheap and quiet where bathroom vents are expensive and gratuitously noisy.

    2) On all the time.

    3) Fan at the far end of the vent hose, or in a cardboard box in the middle, not near the cat box!

    4) Don’t share the dryer vent! Two of mine used improvised vents inserted into sliding windows; one was a rebuilt window frame.

    These were attached to the roll- over- to- clean type cat boxes (which the cats were already used to). You have to think through how to attach the hose so that the box can still be rolled. Sears has useful elbow joints for dryer vents.

  22. FunGuyFromYuggoth says:

    The Littermaid is awful. Read the reviews on that piece of junk. Mesmerized by ads, I purchased one earlier this year and it jammed daily and was a terrible mess to clean. I went back to consumer websites and found many other dissatisfied customers. Google it up for yourself. I did notice a pattern that the first generation of Littermaids drew excellent reviews. My guess is that those were either overenthusiastic early adopters or those were actually better made than the recent series of the past several years.

    We have a multi-cat household, but for my money and time, baking soda helps. If you are really interested in getting a good automated cat box, consider the Litter Robot 2. It detects when your cat is in the box and goes into cycle 7 minutes later. If a cat tries to hop in during the cycle mode, it automatically stops. It is awesome (for a cat box). It is also thrifty with the sand, so you spend less money on kitty litter in the long run and you can use existing garbage bags or spare grocery bags or even hose off the litter drawer if you’re feeling green.

  23. winstonsmith85 says:

    I know of cat stink. With eight katten and four boxen, scooping is a time consuming necessity. As a renter, I don’t know if I could rig up a vent, but this sure makes me want to.

  24. elizo says:

    #17 Sonipitts: You are wicked funny! Made me laugh ’til I cried…smile…

  25. agraham999 says:

    I think a lot of people who don’t smell a whiff of odor and have multiple cats…no longer smell it at all. I’ve been in plenty of homes where the owners no longer smell it since they are use to it…but when the guests come over…they may not say anything…but they smell it.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Thank you very much for that article. I shed many a tear in laughter. I question the overall usefulness of the product in question, but the quip made me giggle relentlessly. >:3 (jcial)

  27. Brandon Abell says:

    Why not just get one of those carbon scrubbers pot growers use to de-skunkify their growing areas (closet)? It would cost about the same and you wouldn’t have to worry about getting the flow outside.

  28. Anonymous says:

    http://www.littermaid.com/
    best $100 I ever spent

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