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Posted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 2:58pm

Post Subject: Gas or Diesel Heating?

Which type of narrowboat heating system is best? We are hoping to 'liveaboard' next year and checking out our options. We are trying to go all electric and therefore would have diesel heating however on recent visit to brokerage, 'in-house' engineer suggested diesels can be problematic at the best of times. Any comments please would be most helpful.


Posted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 10:21pm

Post Subject: Gas or Diesel Heating?

Dear Geraldine, there are about as many different answers to this one as there are boaters with the said equipment. The first thing to ask is "why are you ignoring the probable most common form of heating for narrowboats in general and livaboards in particular - solid fuel". OK I know you get dust but stoves must have a major advantage as so many boats use them. If you simply asked me about the best form of heating I think I would have said a stove with back boiler and radiators PROVIDING you can supply the current for the pump, but as you are looking at diesel heating and "all electric" you must be planning for significant generating and battery capacity so this should not be a problem. With the likely electrical capacity you should look at a Kabola diesel central heating boiler that is much like a domestic boiler. You can also get diesel fired, drip feed stoves with a back boiler (look at Bubble Stoves). These need a good chimney height to obtain maximum output and the burner pot often needs cleaning regularly. You must consider the safety of leaving this type burning whilst you are away from the boat. There are three makes of "forced air" diesel heaters that are also used on trucks etc. They are available in either warm air of hot water outputs but although they are reliable on vehicles they seem less so on boats. I suspect these are the ones the broker was talking about and I would not fit one myself. These heaters seem far more reliable if run at full output for most of the time. Lastly there is a diesel water boiler known as a Hurricane Heater that is a fairly new introduction and seems to be well received. I must stress that all the diesel heaters save the Bubble Stove require a good electrical supply. As far as gas is concerned I will stick with central heating and not cabin heaters. The major supplier is Alde who have recently introduced a more economic new low profile model that must not be used with any copper in the water system. Their older, upright model is not best known for economy. The old model needs a modest electrical supply for the circulating pump whilst the new one also uses electric ignition. I recently saw gas oil (diesel) for sale at 98p per litre so if you choose diesel do your running cost sums very carefully. My gas boiler will go through a £30 gas cylinder in 3 or 4 days in deep winter, again take care over the running costs. Solid fuel stoves and Bubble Stoves can be piped to circulate the water by gravity so will work without an electricity supply (as will a very old gas boiler known as an Ellis). What really concerns me is joining of the word broker and the phrase all electric. If you are buying secondhand take great care over the reliability of all electric boats unless you will always be on a shoreline. If you intend to cruise my experience is "all electric" should really read "battery destroyer". It is vital that you get the generating capacity and battery capacity well matched to the load and I am afraid many are not. As long as you do not fit a gas fridge I just do not understand what the problem is with gas cooking. Anyway, back to your question. After much research I have fitted a gas boiler for fast warm ups when we get to the boat and for a short time in the morning and late evening during the spring & autumn plus a solid fuel stove for use during the winter. I wish I had fitted a back boiler into the stove though. Tony Brooks

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