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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance
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  #1  
Old 11-09-2007
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Diesel heater options?

I have just purchased a Bristol 45.5 for a liveaboard and want to install a diesel heater and have some questions for those with experience with such systems.

1) I am getting totally different recommendations. The Espar distributor (Ocean Options in Rhode Island) very much recommends a forced air unit - says it is simpler and will also keep the interior of the boat dry. A Webasto dealer in Minnesota says that the only way to go for liveaboard is to use a hydronic heater. Both companies make both types of heaters so it is not that they are trying to push what they sell.

2) I have heard that Webasto may be better, experience with this?

3) Is the install beyond the capabilities of someone who does most of his own boat work? Seems like there is quite a bit to the install but mainly a bunch of small jobs each of which is doable. I imagine the water systems may be easier to install since you have small hoses to install rather than larger air ducts, but there may other factors I am not aware of.

Thanks for your comments
Bruce
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Old 11-09-2007
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Congratulations on your new boat killarney sailor and a nice choice.

Most liveaboard sailors I know in Rhode Island have forced air systems installed - although I have heard similar comparisons which you have made between Webaso hydronic & Espar's Airtronic systems.

I purchased a boat that was originally commissioned in Finland with an Espar 3DL diesel fired, forced warm air system. It worked fine during the survey but locked up on us during the first Fall season. After doing research like you have done, I located the northeast Espar distributor, Ocean Options, which was conveniently located just a couple miles from our marina.

We're not liveaboards, and probably never will be. But we made a decision to at least repair the unit for resale value and for having such a nice onboard luxury. Ed Hamilton, sales manager for Ocean Options, came over to my boat, checked out the existing system and convinced me to buy Espar's new Airtronic 4D furnace and digital controls.

The 3DL was phased out and it would cost $850. for the needed, new control box. We negotiated a package price on the new 4D furnace (curiously, removed from another recent installation, after the owner decided she wanted hydronic - due to allergies), a new thermostat, control electronics, wiring harness, some extension ducts, outlet expanders & grilles, new metering pump and an exhaust hose insulating sock. The total material cost came to just slightly more than the cost of repairing the old unit . . . and there were no guarantees it would work again.

The installation went without any issues, by reusing all 6 of the existing outlets and most of the ductwork. I installed it all myself - which was pretty simple due to existing ducts, diesel lines and with Ed's excellent directions and installation manuals. Great guy to work with and gave me some good design installation tips for preventing some common failures, due to incorrect installations.

I love the clean heat and quick air delivery - the boat warms up on the coldest days and nights without failure and maintains a constant temperature to whatever temp we set. I cannot say how easy it would be to do this from scratch though - not knowing your boat's layout.

Expect a lot of hole cutting through bulkheads and casework, snaking of flex duct under floorboards and through tight cavities, much drilling for electrical wires and considerable thought to where the fresh air intake, exhaust hose outlet and duct registers will go. This is not a simple project to do right - but well worth it for a liveaboard situation.
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Last edited by TrueBlue; 11-09-2007 at 04:18 PM. Reason: typos
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Old 11-09-2007
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I am currently looking at this problem and believe the Webasto AT 3500 unit seems to be the correct one for us. I am choosing forced air because I already have duct work for the Mermaid Marine Air system (which can itself provide forced air heat down to a water temperature of 40 F and access to shore power). What I want is the ability to generate "temperate zone" heat at anchor as at least part of our trip may be in higher latitudes or involve over-wintering in the water.

Our issue, therefore, is finding a system that can send hot air through the existing duct work. This may involve some sort of diverter valve or flue control, but I don't foresee a huge issue as there is plenty of locker space just forward of the existing A/C-heat pump.

As I already have an Atlantic T6 hot-water tank that can work from the inverter or from heat exchange with the engine, I'm not concerned with making it via a diesel heater. You may be.

I am thinking Webasto because they feature spark-ignition, whereas Espar has a glow plug. Both units are widespread and are well-regarded. The only other comparable name I know of in these types of tiny diesel furnaces is Wallas, a name I've read in cruiser accounts, but I don't know much about them.
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Old 11-09-2007
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We had one of those forced air diesel heaters in a previous boat. It had a thermostat mounted inside (just like a real house) and it would kick on and off to maintain the temperature, blowing warm air through the duct works. I thought it was pretty cool when we first got the boat.

HOWEVER, we found that as the battery voltage dropped, the furnace became less reliable firing up and we would get false starts now and then. The furnace would shut off, wait and bit and then try again. It also sounded a bit like a jet engine each time if fired up and we would get diesel exhaust smell now and then.

Our current boat has an old fashion diesel stove, one of those round freestanding ones with the glass in the door and a flat top. Lighting it can be a bit of a pain and there's some maintenance to keep the firebox clean. But after using it for two years, I think we like it better than the fancy furnace type. It can run 24/7, using very little energy. We put a tea pot on top all the time to heat up water for dishes. Might be able to cook on it too. It also has a heating coil in it that heats up the water in our hot water tank. The glow of the fire and the back ground noise of the flames is very nice. It doesn't heat up the interior very fast, but it does get it toasty warm and maintains a more even temperature instead of cold/hot/cold/hot with the old forced air furnace type. It's simple and proven too. It's another alternative you might consider.

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Old 11-10-2007
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I considered this, but the layout of our boat means that only the saloon would be heated with the "firebox" type. I agree that it's nicer by far to have that sort of installation, but if we are overwintering at a dock, we wouldn't have the power problems, and if we are underway, we would be making power via wind/panels/alternator, and getting the 3 amps necessary to spark the ignition shouldn't be an issue, nor would running fans.
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Old 11-10-2007
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My very old Webasto HL32 is back at the Webasto shop again for another (very slow expensive) service. Usual problem, fails to start. New problem, smoke generator. I think if I replace it, I'll go for a water heating system rather than hot air. Yes its more effort to install, but it provides both hot water at the tap as well as heating the cabins.
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Old 11-10-2007
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Idiens, you say it's very old, but would you recommend a new model based on its service when it wasn't so old? I ask because as I indicated above, a forced air model ties in to the existing (and extensive) vent system, whereas "hydronics" would entail tearing apart half the boat.
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The 26 year old Espar in my current 34' boat is very satisfactory (touch wood). It is able to quickly warm the entire boat with only one air outlet, under the quarterberth. (1981 C&C 34, pretty standard layout - saloon, v-berth, quarterberth.)

You can certainly hear it kick on but it is not distracting. The heater unit is in the pretty well-insulated engine compartment. Fuel use is almost undetectable.

The glow plug does take about 20 amps for about 1 minute to start up. The fan, which runs anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, takes about 2 amps. I haven't experienced any low voltage problems but I try not to let the batteries get down too far.

My understanding from the original owner, who installed the unit himself, was that it took about 8 hours to install. The single outlet is about 3' from the heater unit and is a very easy and direct run.
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The new Espar Airtronic units, particularly the 4D model I installed, uses .6 to 3.3 amps, a huge advantage of course when away from shore power.
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Good info. The Espar and Webasto systems seem on a par (no pun intended), but the Webastos are cheaper. On general principles, I prefer a low-amp ignition if I can get it. Glow plugs can be a drain... I have them on the diesel and cold starts in the spring can take a lot of current.

(Sorry to highjack the thread...but I have my nose in spec sheets prior to the January boat show).
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