Re­fit­ting a heater

Fit­ting a diesel-fired air heater is some­thing you only want to do once – but how and where it’s in­stalled can prove vi­tal to its long-term con­di­tion, as David Parker found out

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

How and where a diesel-fired air heater is in­stalled can prove vi­tal

When you have been for­tu­nate enough to have had a de­cent boat heater on board, it is a lux­ury you are loath to part with. As some­one who is more than happy to do ‘ba­sic’ for most of the time, I must also ad­mit that when I bought a boat with a heater I was look­ing for­ward to things be­ing a bit more com­fort­able, par­tic­u­larly over the win­ter months.

How­ever, there was a snag. When I bought the boat, the sur­veyor im­me­di­ately pointed out that he thought the Eber­spächer D1LC heater had been put in a bad place. Also, it only had one out­put duct which was in the cock­pit, leav­ing the cabin un­heated. Nev­er­the­less, the unit itself seemed to work ef­fi­ciently when we briefly tried out on a sea trial one sunny day.

Fast-for­ward to after we be­came the own­ers and tried the heater out one chilly day in the So­lent. After about 10 min­utes a pe­cu­liar and rather un­pleas­ant light smog seemed to en­velop the cock­pit. Ini­tially as we mo­tored along this wasn’t too bad, but the white fug thick­ened when we moored up. I turned the heater off, the cov­ers went up and the fresh, chilly air was wel­comed. Just as well, I sup­pose, that there was no out­put in the cabin, be­cause that would have been fugged up as well. (It still al­ways con­fused me that there was a heater in­stalled which would heat the semiopen cock­pit of the boat but not the cabin!)

A flawed in­stal­la­tion

After a bit of re­search, I thought the smok­i­ness could be due to con­den­sa­tion ab­sorbed by the ex­haust lag­ging, or old dust in the air ducts which was burn­ing off; hope­fully this would clear after sev­eral uses of the heater. Things marginally im­proved as I used the heater a few more times; but still, after 10 min­utes with the heater on, the lo­calised smelly grey fog ap­peared, and felt like it was do­ing you no good at all. You could still use it, of course – if you had the wheel­house win­dows and the cover open – but that rather de­feats the point of hav­ing a heater in the first place. The re­sult? The heater has lain dor­mant, and it has nagged at me ever since to do some­thing about it.

The rea­son I was re­luc­tant to tackle the job was the thought of the work in­volved. One look at the heater wiring was enough to make you come over light-headed without even in­gest­ing the fumes. It looked like a tan­gle of multi-coloured plas­tic spaghetti that shouted ‘back off’ every time you opened the locker. The other thing was the po­si­tion of the locker con­tain­ing the heater – bang in the centre of the cock­pit sole above the bilge, where cor­ro­sion could thrive like mush­rooms in the dark. True, the drain holes in the ac­cess frame had been blocked with sealant so wa­ter couldn’t get in… but aren’t drain holes sup­posed to, well, drain?

I can see why the owner had then cho­sen to put the heater in the locker un­der the cock­pit sole, be­cause it of­fered the sim­plest in­stal­la­tion – al­beit one in the wrong place. The lessons learned from a flawed in­stal­la­tion are also def­i­nitely worth bear­ing in mind when it comes to in­stalling a new heater. This isn’t like putting a heater in a ve­hi­cle or car­a­van. On a boat, the location will be crit­i­cal if you want to pre­vent long-term cor­ro­sion af­fect­ing vul­ner­a­ble parts of the sys­tem. Also, how you plan the in­stal­la­tion will af­fect both the ef­fi­ciency and main­te­nance of the unit.

Be­fore start­ing the job I had been along to the Eber­spächer stand at the Southamp­ton Boat Show to do a bit of home­work on heaters, and Peter Col­lard from the com­pany was very help­ful. When I con­tacted him after the show, in ad­di­tion to the ad­vice he of­fered he also kindly looked up the records and told me that the heater had been fit­ted by the boat owner in 1995.

Me­thod­i­cal ap­proach

With an old in­stal­la­tion, my con­cern was get­ting it out 20 years after it had been fit­ted un­der that cock­pit sole locker without dam­ag­ing it. Also, if I had a choice I would al­ways far rather in­stall new equip­ment from scratch. (For fit­ting a new heater, see PBO Septem­ber 2016 for the in­stal­la­tion of an Eber­spächer D2 on editor David Pugh’s co-owned Contessa 26, Red Dragon.) In my ex­pe­ri­ence, try­ing to up­grade or move an ex­ist­ing piece of kit some­one else has fit­ted in­evitably re­sults in some hid­den sur­prises along the way, so a me­thod­i­cal (in­deed, al­most sur­gi­cal) ap­proach is re­quired.

De­spite be­ing in the wrong place, the Eber­spächer heater was still an ex­pen­sive piece of kit – and it worked. In an ideal world, if I could get it to produce the heat without the smoke it would be a big im­prove­ment to the boat. Time to get stuck in. One way or another it was com­ing out of there, and we would find it a new home. Much of what fol­lows will also hope­fully be of use to any­one with sim­i­lar is­sues or, in­deed, fit­ting a new unit. Here’s what I did.

The ex­haust and out­let duct­ing

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