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Old 26-03-2013, 20:19   #1
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Propane or Diesel Heater

We are looking to install a heater on our 42' sailboat that we plan to live aboard year round in Canada. ( I know, I know, we will need it 10 months of the year, just kidding) We have propane and diesel aboard already and do not pay for hydro. What can you suggest or advise against?
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Old 26-03-2013, 20:51   #2
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

I would suggest a vented diesel heater (or kerosene might be better with the change in diesel fuel) unless you can set up a very large tank of propane on the dock.

Electric heat is a good supplement but it does not ventilate the boat the way a vented heater does.

You will need fans to spread the heat around from a diesel/kerosene heater unless you go with a hot air heater such as the Eberspacher or Espar heaters. A hydronic heater would be nice but again you need to work out ventilation issues and installation could be difficult.

Edit, Add: Insulation is what will make your boat comfortable. Without good insulation it will only be livable.
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Old 26-03-2013, 20:52   #3
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

I have always used diesel, but then I have always had a large amount of diesel aboard. I would think it would depend on the tankage ya have!! We kept a 42 ft steel boat warm in Alaska warm enough to wear normal street clothing, or warm PJs, with a diesel standard heater, with water coils for heating water to heat the rest of the boat beyond the saloon. If your tankage is large, or your close to fill up with diesel, it would be my first choice, I have never used propane because of the venting problems that can occur.
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Old 26-03-2013, 21:05   #4
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

Having been there and done that for many years I'd go with diesel especially because your talking about liveaboard. propane is OK for a weekend warrior.
Making the choice on which diesel can be harder. A forced air system is nice but its much more complex than a simple dripping style bulhead heater. The simple diesel heater is cheaper to buy, not that hard to install but it is central heat and you will need fans to move the air around and you will tend to get a few more cold spots where the circulation isn't as good. The forced air is a more balanced heat and is easy to operate because it runs off a thermostat just like your home but you'll lose quite a bit of storage space running hot air ducts throughout your boat. Another system to consider if you like writing cheques is the diesel hot water heating system. This gives you a boiler that can also give you hot water for domestic use and you plumb the boat with small diameter pipes running to radiators in each room and these can have their individual fans so you can get a more balanced system. It allows you to have more storage. All the systems work fine but the simple one is cheapest and as the complexity grows so does the price and the maintenance. The other thing is that if your not at a dock and using shorepower the forced air and boiler systems use quite a bit of power. Good luck
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Old 26-03-2013, 21:05   #5
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

In your particular case I'd go with diesel, since you'll want a fairly constant source of heat for all those winter months on the lakes. For people sailing south for the winter who only need occasional heat, propane would be the better choice since you would avoid the need to purge the heating system.
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Old 26-03-2013, 21:20   #6
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

Thanks, It looks like Diesel is a winner.
p.s. I drive through Oromocto every year on the way to Newfoundland. What a great area.
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Old 26-03-2013, 21:52   #7
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We use diesel. See the link in my signature for a full description including photos of our installation.
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Old 26-03-2013, 22:10   #8
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

Propane is much easier to use and not susceptible to down drafts sending carbon clouds through the boat. The downdraft problem can be largely eliminated by adding a second pressure equalization flue to the deck. Still more tinkering involved with diesel heater. The big advantage of diesel is it's available at every fuel dock. If you are venturing out, way easier to renew your supply of diesel than to schlep propane tanks from god knows where. If you are going to be Marina based with a car, it's no big thing. If you are out cruising and relying on shanks mare, getting to and from a source of propane can be a big deal. Also, it's real easy to keep a huge supply of diesel aboard either in internal tanks or Gerry Jugs. Not so easy to have a bunch of propane tanks. Since Propane has a lower BTU content, you'll need to refill more often as well.
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Old 26-03-2013, 22:59   #9
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

Diesel for fuel cost, volume and availability.
Drip feed for simplicity and reliability. Espar and Wallas are efficient and convenient, but breakdowns can take significant time, 1week or more, since they are a much more complex product with electronics and blowers that must run for the heater to work. If it weren't a liveaboard situation this issue wouldn't be so important.
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Old 27-03-2013, 05:49   #10
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

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Originally Posted by paulandharm View Post
Thanks, It looks like Diesel is a winner.
p.s. I drive through Oromocto every year on the way to Newfoundland. What a great area.
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Old 27-03-2013, 06:17   #11
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

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Originally Posted by roverhi View Post
Propane is much easier to use and not susceptible to down drafts sending carbon clouds through the boat. The downdraft problem can be largely eliminated by adding a second pressure equalization flue to the deck. Still more tinkering involved with diesel heater. The big advantage of diesel is it's available at every fuel dock. If you are venturing out, way easier to renew your supply of diesel than to schlep propane tanks from god knows where. If you are going to be Marina based with a car, it's no big thing. If you are out cruising and relying on shanks mare, getting to and from a source of propane can be a big deal. Also, it's real easy to keep a huge supply of diesel aboard either in internal tanks or Gerry Jugs. Not so easy to have a bunch of propane tanks. Since Propane has a lower BTU content, you'll need to refill more often as well.
The down draft issue doesn't exist for all diesel heaters. I am looking into the Hydronic and Airtronic. Neither would have the issue of down drafts and carbon clouds.

I plan to go diesel based on this logic: during the winter we will be largely stationary, which means that almost 100% of the diesel in the tank can be used for heat. The D4 Airtronic unit appears to average 0.07 gal/hr. with my 27 gal. tank I can run my heat for a month, assuming the heater runs 50% of the time, before I have to refuel. I don't think I would have that length between refueling with the propane system due to the smaller size of the reserve tank. Plus, any use for cooking would decrease my fuel for heat.
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Old 27-03-2013, 06:55   #12
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

We are CFA's, but we bought a house 6 years ago in Harbour Breton on the south coast. We have been for a month every summer since. We love it there and it will be home base in 6 years when our son is off on his own. When we went to St. John's we took on a side tour to show him MUN telling him how cool he would be to go there. We have also been up to Twillinggate, Trinity and around the Irish loop. We have been to a lot of the outports on the south coast. We are process of buying a sailboat right now to live aboard and I think our first year or two out of Hamilton will be spent touring Newfoundland.
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Old 28-03-2013, 15:16   #13
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

If you have not been go up to Lewisporte to see the marina.

There is a fellow over in Stephenville that is sells and supports Espar, he helped me out last year.

ACPL Heating Systems - Dealers for Espar Heaters, Serving Newfoundland & Atlantic Canada

Sounds like a great plan.

Me Mum was from Bonavista way, Plate Cove. We have a boat in Lewisporte.

I have Espars on the boats, and a Dickenson stove in a cabin. I like the Espar for a number of reasons but not dealing with such a bloody big chimney is one.

I also have a Taylor kero heater in each boat.

On the small boat the D4 is sufficient. On the big boat it is a bit small. But that's a center cockpit, and we can close off the aft cabin. The Taylor is back there and can keep that warm. We've been onboard over weekends with 25F nights and been OK with that set up.

The Espar thermostats a a bit funny. If you use the cheap setup it measures air at the intake. But he big boats heater is in the engine compartment and if the engine is running it shuts down the heater. But the remote thermostat shuts down after 10 hours.

Lots of little thigs to think of. But I think people over think the air distribution. I would go real simple, then add if you find you need more.
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Old 28-03-2013, 15:22   #14
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

You may want to read this earlier thread on various diesel heater issues. I have lived aboard in New England through various winters, and electric heat is the way to go if you are at a dock.
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:02   #15
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Re: Propane or Diesel Heater

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>>If you have not been go up to Lewisporte to see the marina.

Are you going to be around up there this summer? Try for Greenland? I am leaving the dock this Sunday to very slowly work my way north. Probably get to the bras D'Ore and look at the ice and weather like last year, except I don't have a rally to squeeze into the schedule this year.

>>. I would go real simple, then add if you find you need more.

Almost always sage advice.

We have had good success with reflek heaters.
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