Our plan is to travel to Tasmania next year and even though it will be in the summer months we expect some chilly days and nights. As we want to free camp as much as possible, a way of staying warm will be essential and a diesel heater seemed to be the best and safest method.
This is my experience, I’ve tried to relate it as clearly as possible and I recorded the process with plenty of photos and kept a good list of the ‘extras’ and tools I needed for the job. This is part one and I haven’t fired the beast up yet (in the next few days hopefully) but I decided to split the post into two or more parts as there’s a fair bit to relate.
A couple of decisions had to be made before I placed the order for the heater on eBay – where to install the unit in the van and what kW rated one to get. The position to install the heater came down to 2 spots, one under the L-shaped lounge seating or under one of the single beds. We decided to fit it under a bed but to have 2 warm air outlets, one at the seating area and the other close to the beds. Here’s a photo of the spot chosen – underneath the plywood to the left (this is the foot of my bed). The grey plastic thing is one of two drawer slides behind a drop down door. Due to space constraints and also because our wee poptop should only need a 2kW model that is what we decided on – more on which one we bought and important info about the decision of which to buy later.
Firstly, I cut a hole in the ply and removed the ’90s grey carpet that was under there then found an appropriate spot for the heater. It was a little tight due to the tank water filler hose position (I ended up enlarging the hole the pipe ran through to ensure the plastic pipe was well clear) but also because we wanted to use the ‘T’ piece on the end of the heater to enable the fitting of the two warm air outlets. This adds to the overall length of the heater by around 100mm and is one reason it ended up at an angle, the other reason was the location of a steel cross member under the floor!
I decided to use the ‘one large hole plus a metal downpipe’ method that is popular for a few reasons. The first is safety. While these heaters are inherently very safe due to an automatic shutdown if it overheats and complete isolation between the burner and the interior but because the exhaust exits through the plywood floor some additional heat protection isn’t a bad idea. As you can see in the photo to the right below, the air intake, diesel fuel line and the stainless steel exhaust pipe all come out under the heater. The unit comes with a large metal plate that the heater sits on and is screwed down to the flooring but installing the metal downpipe adds protection as it surrounds all the connections and extends 40 odd millimetres underneath too. The full name of this handy thing is a ‘Fielders 100mm Zinc Round Downpipe Pop’ and is available from any good hardware store for around seven dollars. I’ll give you the entire list of stuff I got from good ol’ Bunnings in part 2 of this post. Being a cautious bloke, I also added a panel of 4mm fibro cement board I had left over from another project for the heater and metal plate etc to sit on. I sealed the plate and the downpipe pop with fire resistant silicone too.
Here’s the end result, the first one prior to the heater fitting, the second from underneath after fitting the heater. The tube at the top of the left photo is the one that goes under the lounge seating area.
Fitting the warm air tubes was a little fiddly – mainly because I really should have cut the access hole larger – and you have to be careful not to distort the thin aluminium tubing, especially at the ends where it fits over the ‘T’ piece and the outlets. Here’s the end result of the first stage – you can see the lounge air outlet and the bed area one at bottom right of the photo.
The heater kit included a fuel tank that I fitted inside the metal box already on the A frame of the caravan that has the gas bottle and we use to store the portable toilet. As the tank is quite thin it fitted nicely behind the gas bottle. Deciding on where to mount the fuel outlet to the tnk involved plenty of YouTube watching and reading of others experiences and I used the ‘standpipe’ that came with the kit which is usually used to install in existing motorhome diesel tanks. My reasoning to not drill the hole in the bottom of the tank and use the supplied outlet was the thought of it developing a leak and the front box ending up flooded with smelly diesel.
Mounting the standpipe needed a little thought, but in the end after cutting it so the end is sitting 40mm or so off the bottom of the tank I drilled a hole just large enough to insert the metal flange through then inserted the pipe and secured with the rubber washer and metal ring on top of the standpipe followed by the nut. I was careful not to overtighten the nut but it needed to be quite tight to ensure a good seal.
A quick trip to the local servo where I bought a small 5l red fuel container with a built in pourer spout (suitable for petrol so fine for diesel), 6l of diesel (yes I know but they make them larger to allow for expansion!), then poured it in the tank. No leaks yay.
To finish this part I’ll mention the fuel pump installation. These little things ‘tick’ when running and if mounted within earshot can be quite annoying apparently. My plan was to mount the pump under the kitchen area of the van at the opposite end of where we sleep, however it seems that the ticking noise is carried by both how it is fixed to the van and also the hard fuel line so I went a little further by installing it inside a thick walled plastic electrical box that will be lined with soft foam. The pump itself will then be ‘floating’ inside the foam so shouldn’t transmit sound to the van, this may be overkill but we’ll find out in a day or two! Here’s the box with the pump and filter inside prior to cutting holes.
Stay tuned for part two where the story continues and as well as plenty more photos, I’ll list all the extras used and where to get them from with a rough cost breakdown of the install.