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Old 03-31-2010, 11:52 PM   #1
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Propane vs Diesel Furnace

This is my first post! I know there are threads about propane heat and other threads about diesel heat, but I could not find something on pros and cons of each. Since I have a diesel E350 cargo van ready for conversion, I initially thought, hey, it's diesel, so let's go with diesel for hot water and furnace. It seems that a whole lot of folks go that route. But I am not sure anymore. While it might seem convenient to have a one-fuel RV, I started thinking that whatever propane you use, especially for heating, you don't use diesel, and therefore you have greater range. You also don't have to worry about not having enough diesel to get back to civilization after than nice cozy evening over wine and chocolates.

A rough calculation based on SMB website for their 12,000 BTU heater (57 hrs per the 7.9 gal tank) and the Espar D4 manual at the same heat output burns 0.116 gal/hr giving 68 hrs. Thus to get the same power level for 57 hrs. cost 6.6 gal or about 100 mi. of range. This calculation implies the propane furnace is more efficient that the Espar since the energy content in propane (91,500 BTU/gal) is only 66% of that for diesel (139,200 BTU/gal), which should have resulted in the Espar going for 86 hrs. instead of 68 hrs. on 7.9 gal if both furnaces were equal efficiency.

Now consider the economics of the initial investment. You can get the propane tank, furnace and stove (which gets you hot water) for over $1000 less than just the Espar Airtonic D4 heater. It gets even more dramatic if you compare the propane path with the Espar path that includes the flat plate water heater; this combo is over $1000 more. If you don't want to run the engine to get how water (at about 2 gal/hr idling the diesel) by getting the Espar Hydronic the total difference between the propane route and the diesel route is around $3500! And it appears the diesel appliances would take more maintenance to keep working well.

So what is the deal? Maybe it's weight, but that difference is probably only the weight of the propane tank. And that 8 gal. tank does nicely squeeze under the vehicle without compromising clearance.

Maybe it's space in the van. Although I do not know yet where the propane furnace usually goes or how big it is (some help here would be appreciated), I have done a bit of research on the Propex heater, that I has seen mentioned somewhere on this forum. It is only a little larger than the Espar Airtronics D4, and it should install very similarly in that it has ducting for combustion through the floor and uses a flexible duct to deliver hot air to the living space. It's output is about 10,000 BTU/hr, which is the same as the Espar at its high setting (although the latter also has a "boost" setting of 13,650 BTU/hr). The Propex also draws about the same current of 1.9 amps. For details on the Propex see
http://www.westyventures.com/propex.html.

So unless there are compelling arguments that I have not considered, I cannot see why one would go with diesel devices for air and water heat. Please help me straighten out any twisted logic.

I should mention that the 110v electric water heater option (apparently an Insinkerator W152, that can easily be used in preparation for stopping to camp while you are driving if you have an inverter does not seem like a bad option either (the 2.5 gal tank typically goes under the sink). With it if you get decadent and camp with a 110v hookup you have continuous hot water. Add a little ceramic space heater and hot plate, and your good to go for as long as you like---can't do that so easily with a diesel furnace. Comments?
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Old 04-01-2010, 12:12 AM   #2
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

Forced Air Heater is the metal box, Styrofoam is the water heater.

There is also a pig sized propane tank that you get to fill.

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Old 04-01-2010, 08:47 AM   #3
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

We have a V10 with both propane hot water heater and the propane furnace. (Diesel appliances were not available when we purchased and we didn't want diesel anyway.) I suspect the major reason owners go with the diesel appliances is space. We would have bought an RB except that there isn't room with an -50 layout in an RB if you want the hot water heater and furnace. Our furnace is under the sofa and storage cabinet on the drivers side of the van and takes up about 1/4 of the storage space under the sofa. (Add the fresh water tank and inverter and we don't have space under the sofa for much more than extra rolls of TP and a few other items. The hot water heater is on the passenger side at the rear corner and also sucks up some valuable storage space.

But we are very glad we choose both appliances. We backpacked for decades and spent enough time and fuel warming up pots of water to have a sponge bath every few days...turning on the hot water when we stop for the day and having "instant" hot water for cleaning up, doing the dishes, etc. is a very nice luxury. It is also easy to have hot water in the morning to clean up and wash hair every couple of days. It is also VERY nice to program the thermostat so that the furnace comes on in the morning and warms up the van before we get out of bed.

My understanding of the diesel appliances is that they work when the engine is running. Having hot water when you stop for the day is thus automatic. But to have hot water the next morning will require starting up the engine....correct? Likewise for the furnace?
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Old 04-01-2010, 10:34 AM   #4
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

Another consideration is having to idle the engine. The 6.0 PSD does not like to be idled. Excessive idling can cause EGR problems as well as 'wet stacking'. Wet stacking means the engine does not make enough heat at idle to burn all the fuel, and fuel (soot) collects in the exhaust system. When you then drive off, your EGR's could ignite that fuel and burn up your catalytic convertor or worse. It also can cause turbo problems with the soot not allowing the variable gate arms to move.

If you want to idle your diesel for heat, get an AIC (aux idle control) and idle at 1200rpm to prevent the above issues.

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Old 04-01-2010, 11:41 AM   #5
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

Aw man, there's nothing I hate more than a diesel engine idling in the campground!

Bonus points for unloading your Harley from the trailer and idling that, too :-O

Re: size of the propane furnace, the Propex is much smaller than the Atwood. I have one waiting for me to install it - it's about 13" x 4" x 7". It's probably more basic in some aspect, but I think it'll do the trick.

Cheers,
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Old 04-01-2010, 11:56 AM   #6
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

What is this "camp" "ground" of which you speak?
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Old 04-01-2010, 04:42 PM   #7
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

None of the Espar units require the engine to idle.

I canít speak for others but Iíve had some problems with my Hydronic. On the other hand I havenít had any trouble with my Airtronic yet.

Pros for the Hydronic:
>> Small size.
>> Fast. I could get hot water within a couple of minutes at the tap and then just shut it down.
>>You can pre heat the engine.
>>No need to find a place to fill a propane tank.
>>No worry about DOT restrictions that exist with propane in some states.
>>Works well in cold temps.
>>Fairly low power consumption.
>>Nice timer feature.
Cons:
<<Expensive.
<<Water lines and the heat exchanger are subject to freezing.
<<At this time SMB does not support a diesel cook top when going all diesel.
<<Noisy
<<Makes a diesel smell.
<<Shuts down when the fuel level reaches ľ tank.

The problem Iíve had was (according to the Espar shop) is that dirt got in the unit. Now this is a 4x4 so I really wonder what was wrong. Nobody else, as far as I know, has had this problem. After it came back from the shop, it continued to miss fire and shut down. So then I was told that I needed a circulating pump. Many people skip the Hydronic, but do a flat plate and add the circulating pump which allows you to have hot water via a hot engine. But adding a circulating pump to the Hydronic does a couple of bad things. I no longer have hot water W/I a few minutes and the pump with the Hydronic pulls over 10 amps. Being I have to turn on the pump, the timer has become useless. The pump helps heat the engine quicker but the loss of the timer and power consumption basically sucks. But with the pump, provided the engine is hot I can shower without running the engine or Hydronic for several minutes. So the pump has a place. I want SMB to add a bypass to the pump and repair the original problem. That way I'll have the best of both worlds. According to the manual the failure code F-14 indicates a bad temperature sending unit and is supposed to be an easy fix. Overall the thing has been a pain in the butt yet I donít hear of others complaining so it might be a series of circumstances all stemming from the sensor probe. The units are really simple in design. I think Espar just screwed up.

Pros for the Airtronic:
>>Fairly quiet when running on low.
>>Compact
>>Works at high altitude where propane will not. (This is what Iíve been told by some who have a propane furnace and I donít know if this is correct)
>>Very low power consumption.
>>Again no need to look for or fill up a propane tank or deal with DOT rules.
>>No humidity to deal withÖIím not sure about propane.
>>Nice timer feature.
Cons:
<<Expensive.
<<A little noisy on high.
<<Sometimes you might smell diesel.
<<Fuel pump makes a clicking sound.
<<The same diesel problem if you want a cook top.
<<No degree adjustable temperature control.

One thing about propaneÖitís been around a long time so you know what youíre going to get. But Iíve seen problems with propane as well.
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Old 04-01-2010, 05:12 PM   #8
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

If you go diesel, with the dualtop from webasto, you can have hot air and water in one appliance.


Will install it shortly...
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Old 04-01-2010, 05:45 PM   #9
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

Andrew,

So what's the size of that thing, it looks huge. Of course, no matter what, it's probably smaller that a separate furnace and water heater. It doesn't require the engine idling does it?


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Old 04-01-2010, 06:20 PM   #10
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Re: Propane vs Diesel Furnace

Herb,
No idling required, independent from engine.

Will give the dimensions tomorrow, not under hand, it just fits under the 2nd row bench...
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