Wood, Diesel or propane bulkhead heating stove?
I like the look of the bulkhead stoves I've been seeing at West Marine and around the internet. I think one would be a great addition to the cabin. I would be interested to hear how people have fared with different types of stoves, particularly different fuel types. Also am looking for feedback from a fire hazard perspective.
Wood seems the lowest tech - pro: could picture rounding up firewood on a beach at an anchorage for fuel. con: How much space would a woodpile take up compared to a jerry can of diesel or propane? Then again a woodpile might be safer then propane. Also what about the smoke will it discolour sails and deposit soot about the decks?
I like the window on the propane models I've seen that simulate a fireplace - won't have quite the good smell and charm of real wood and costs more then wood.
The diesels seem the least charming of the lot aesthetically but could be quite practical as the jerry can of diesel would already be aboard as reserve fuel. Might be kind of smelly and same question about soot?
Thanks in advance for all input...
Voyages of the Fibonacci
personally propane is nice for instant pretty safe heat, but it gets used pretty quick. its some where around 20k btu per pound.
i like the idea of wood a lot because its free, and i love a real wood fire.
diesel i like because it is safe, easy to store has decent btu per pound.
if i had a boat that had storage space wood would be a no brainer for me, but it will probably be diesel if i ever need heat
edit wood has around 9k btu per pound, diesel is around 25k. so diesel will give the most heat per pound. a 20 lb propane bottle is around 4 gallons, and it will cost 13 to 20 per fill. the same heat from diesel will take about 3 gallons, and cost around 10. i can get would for 5 bucks per 20 lbs or so if i buy the bundles, or free from the woods. if i needed to heat my boat a lot and had the space i can put a 100 lbs of wood for free, vrs 80 bucks or so for propane and 60 for diesel. all about the same heat value
My boat came with a Webasto diesel heater (cold Swedish summers, I guess). It burns the fuel pretty thoroughly - so there is no smoke, or soot and only the slightest smell of diesel at the exhaust port. Having it connected to the engine fuel tank spares us from having to carry separate fuel, or for that matter monitor a heater tank level. Most all diesel heaters eventually foul their fuel nozzle from the particulates in diesel. Once a year it is a good idea to run it on kerosene to clean the fuel nozzle (according to the Webasto rep.)
I have no reason to think that this solution is any better than the other heating choices you list, but if you do go this way, there is no reason to worry soot or the stench of diesel. Ours got a pretty good workout on the Bay of Fundy in August!
Wood burning stoves are the worst from a fuel perspective. The fuel takes up a lot of space and provides relatively little heat for the amount stored. It has the lowest energy density, and is also the messiest to clean up. Have you ever emptied the ashes out of a fire pit...now imagine trying to do that on a boat without getting ash all over the interior.
Diesel is nice, since it poses the least risk from an explosion/fuel leak point of view. However, it does have the strong potential to coat the sails and rigging with soot. It is probably the safest of the three fuels to use in some ways. It is probably the least expensive of the fuels as well.
Propane is probably the most convenient of the three fuels. A propane powered heater generally doesn't require the coddling and maintenance of a diesel powered one nor the clean up of wood burning one. However, propane has the highest potential for an explosion. Given modern safety systems, like a fume detector and cutoff solenoid—these concerns can be handled and a properly installed system is going to be fairly safe. The exhaust from a propane powered appliance is going to be the cleanest of the three.
You will really want to get a vented heater or fireplace, since propane or diesel will add a lot of moisture to the cabin otherwise. If you get an unvented heater, mold and mildew will become more problematic due to condensation from the exhaust.
A vented heater is also less likely to exhaust carbon monoxide into the cabin. However, it would be a good idea to have and use a CO detector.
I have a wood stove that came with my boat, nothing beter than a wood fire on a cold rainy day at anker. Wood buring has many down sides; its messy, storeage is a pain, keeping an even temp means tending the fire offen, it's nice and worm when you go to bed and in the morning the fire is out and its 50F. I'm changing to diesel this spring....
I have used all three although I haven't used propane much. For me, it comes down to how you use the boat. If you are sailing around the world, it would be diesel for me. If you went out on weekends, it would be wood. I can't see any scenario that I would prefer a propane heater over one of the other options.
It should be noted that most "wood" stoves actually burn wood pellets or charcoal. There are some stoves that are made to burn good old wood. The problem with collecting driftwood is that the shape is really weird and it is very hard to store. Storing nicely chopped wood or pellets isn't too bad if you are going out for a few days at a time. It should be noted that wood takes a lot more human input. It is harder to light (your fuel can get wet), you need to stoke it, and you need to dump the ashes. If you want something that you can leave on overnight, diesel is probably better.
I have a lot of experience with the Refleks heaters which are essentially diesel pan heaters. They will stink a tiny bit when lighting and shutting down but once you get good at it, it is hardly noticeable. I have actually never had to fix anything on one of these stoves. The schooner that I used to work on had one that also ran 3 radiators throughout the boat and that was really nice.
I don't really like propane because it is harder to refuel, you can't get the fuel anywhere, you need more safety devices and I like to have as many things be diesel as possible(one fuel is great).
Bulkhead heaters are easiest to install but you have to cut a hole in the deck and have a stack on deck, yet something else to trip over or get a line caught on.
I think wood is actually the cheapest, at least in the Pacific Northwest. Just go ashore and collect it for free. But wood stinks.
Propane is the cleanest but most expensive to operate. I would get one for weekend use or light heating needs.
Did I mention about the hole in the deck? I don't like that.
So I went with a hydronic system, diesel. The exhaust is out the side, or in my case the stern. No hole in the deck, I like that.
But a proper stack has advantages. A proper stack does not care which way the wind is blowing it will always exhaust properly. With the exhaust out the side you have to pay more attention to wind direction. CO kills and the exhaust is much cleaner than the engine, you may not smell it if gets in the boat which it can do if you are tied to the dock and the wind is just right.
Nothing a couple CO detectors and paranoia can't take care of but still something to be aware of. Can be a problem with a stack as well but less so I would think.
So the answer to which heater is best is, like boats, different for each person. Which one is right for you I don't know but wouldn't recommend a hydronic system unless you have lots of money for the project or are planning to do lots of cold sailing or really do not want to put a hole in the deck.
When I was considering the various fuel sources for the Dickinson Newport bulkhead heaters, I contacted them directly and discussed options with one of their techs. I was intrigued by the solid fuel (wood, briquets, pellets, etc) heater. However, I was advised by Dickinson that this version is not recommended for serious heating of a cabin. It's intended more to take a slight chill off, and for ambiance.
For true heating purposes they recommended the diesel or propane version.
We went with propane, for a variety of reasons. Be advised that the diesel installation can be trickier, since the flue length needs to be greater to achieve proper draft. In most installations on mid-size boats, this effectively means the flue will protrude higher above the deck.
Some discussions of heaters here:
I'll try to find some more links of earlier discussions, too.
Like others have said, I think it depends ...
If you're one of those "just do it" types then I think diesel is your answer, you just install the thing right, get your diesel fuel which you probably already have for the motor anyway, and you're in business. Do some maintenance on occasion, install safety devices like CO detector, etc.
For me I see heating and cooling in a few more shades of gray than some ...
Some conditions just call for warmer clothing, extra blankets at night. Especially in September, but also through October and even some days in November, all you really need is to get bundled up in some cloth, I kind of think too much warmth on a cool September morning almost ruins it. Come late March, April, into May again you can be content with clothing and blankets, cup of hot chocolate or coffee to get going.
Some conditions call for Sarahfinadh's oil lamp approach. Having used oil lamps quite a bit this year I can say that if all you need to do is take the edge off, oil lamps are a very good option. They are warm, use simple easy to find fuel (and not much of it), and I think a good solution for preparing the space for going to sleep, just warm it up, blow out the flame, and get in under the blankets. Relighting the oil lamps in the morning along with cooking a bit of breakfast warms the place right back up, don't forget your slippers!
The above two things and a few other tricks can take you most of the way, but of course then from about late December through February you get real winter, actual cold (at this latitude, YMMV). When it gets really cold I prefer wood heat.
I think choosing wood heat really depends a lot on how you live. If you don't live on the boat all the time it probably doesn't matter much, but if you are on the boat all the time I think it matters much more. There are downsides, some written about above, others less obvious such as having to stay on the boat if you want to keep it from freezing because the fire has to be tended. Choosing wood is kind of like choosing to be without a watermaker, or a refrigerator, it is committing to a little extra effort every day or every week. With wood you really will have to clean it out sometimes, and you'll have to go ashore for wood, and store the wood, and all the rest. Without a watermaker you have similar kinds of chores, you'll have to get water. Without refrigeration you'll have to break out the pressure canner sometimes and can some meat, etc. All of those things are a bit of trouble, but if you're on the boat all the time, living on it, retired, isn't that part of the charm of it all ?
I just went through this decision process and decided on the propane bulkhead heater in my case, but I can certainly understand why other choices would make sense in other cases; there's some pretty decent products out there for each of the different fuel types.
A few factors that swayed me . . .
1) I have a propane locker in the back of a canoe stern boat and since it's advised to vent a diesel exhaust where there's no risk of it being below the waterline when heeled over, such as on the stern centerline, I couldn't run a hot exhaust pipe through the propane locker, so this was problematic.
2) For long range crusing, I didn't want to draw off the my diesel supply in case it's needed for running the engine. I can use 2 20lb propane tanks on my boat so I can use the LPG for heating / stove and reserve diesel for the engine.
3) I like propane for the reasons stated by others above, but also agree that the precautions mentioned are really important, such as having a fume detector and a CO detector, and also performing the leak checks frequently.
4) The cost of the propane bulkhead heater is significantly less than forced air diesel heaters.
5) The forced air diesel heaters use a bit more battery to run the blower.
6) The simulated fireplace is a nice touch.
These were some of my reasons, but I agree there's some offsetting benefits for some of the other options that can make another choice better depending on the boat, user requirements, and budget.
I agree the duel intake / exhaust pipe is a real plus for the bulkhead heaters, so there's little risk of consuming all the oxygen in the boat and/or having the exhaust become a problem inside.
I share the concern about the 3" hole required in the deck. I'm considering installing a larger deck place first, and installing the intake/exhaust pipe into that, so if I were ever in really dangerous seas, I'd have the option to remove the pipe and substitue the deck plate lid. I haven't thought this one all the way through yet though, so I'd be interested in any feedback anyone might have on a better approach. The concern about getting lines tangled around it can often be mitigated by a guard the vendor offers.
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