Heaters - diesel v propane?
Hello to all - we are new to the site and have questions regarding cabin heaters. We own (and liveaboard) a Pacific Seacraft 34 (1988). We just moved her from the Gulf Coast to Washington State and will be spending our winter on the Hood Canal. We now have to decide what kind of heater would be best for our boat.
We would love to hear all the pros and cons of diesel v propane. We have both fuel sources on board including 2 - 20lb propane tanks for cooking and grilling.
Any help/suggestions would be greatly appreciated
David & Jo
Hi David & Jo,
I do not have any direct experience with propane fired cabin heaters, although we do have a propane hot water heater and love the on-demand convenience. What we presently have onboard for heat is an Espar D-4 Airtronic diesel heating system. We had the system upgraded from the Espar D-3L unit through Ocean Options over here in New England -
The west coast rep for Espar is located in Seattle -
Our system consists of the furnace unit with integrated electronics module, a bulkhead mounted thermostat and ductwork which delivers forced warm air to five registers located throughout the pilothouse, heads and cabins. This system heats up the spaces almost instantly and only draws 3 amps when away from shorepower.
Since all components are manufactureed and engineered in Germany, the system is expensive. However, I highly recommend it for dependable and efficient heat for any cold climate region. The Espar rep will determine the appropriate system to the size of your boat, but since your boat is similarly sized to mine, the D-4 should be well suited.
David & Jo—
I have a question for you—what kind of inboard do you have on your boat. If you already have a diesel engine, with diesel fuel tanks, it probably makes more sense to go with a diesel heater. They're pretty reliable nowadays, and should be more than capable of heating your boat. One word of warning with diesel heaters. They don't like to just sit around... they tend to have far more maintenance issues if they're just sitting rather than actually being used IIRC, YMMV. BTW, I do like the Espar heaters that TB mentioned above.
IMHO, Propane heaters are generally not externally vented, like the Espar, and will often lead to condensation and moisture build-up problems. I also think that diesel is a safer fuel than propane.
That said, regardless of whether you go diesel or propane, you will want a good CO detector. If you go with a propane unit, get a good propane detector with a connection to the propane solenoid as well.
I would suggest that you go with a hot air diesal furnance such as an Espar. They are thermosatically controlled and you can get the heat everywhere in the boat. You can also provide heat to a wet locker so that your raingear etc can dry quicker. Propane is good for non liveaboards and is cheaper to install however hot air is better. Make sure you check on the electrical requirements for the heater to ensure your existing battery system can handle it.
If they're living aboard, it is likely that they'll have shore power available and the battery system size won't be that critical an issue. :D
I always figured a hydronic heating system would be a first class way to go, but they are very expensive and overkill for my area. I also don't know how well they would work for just heating water and not the whole boat when the weather is nice.
In our last two boats we have had the Dickinson propane fired fireplace cabin heater. While not as efficient as the espar types, it is much more trouble-free. This particular model (P-900 or P-1200 - the number is BTU output) has a dual flue, pulls combustion air from outside and vents flue gases outside as well so there is no condensation issue whatsoever. There is a built in fan that, though noisy at high speed, greatly enhances the effectiveness of the heater.
Another plus is that the flame is visible throught the sealing front door, giving a very pleasant ambience in the cabin as well as the warmth. We have the p-900 on a 34 footer - but might have chosen the 1200 btu model in hindsight.
here's the link to this heater. It's clean, its safe and it's compact and relatively inexpensive.
After looking at dozens of used boats over the last few years, while many had espars installed, most seemed to be out of commission.
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