Question: My experience with diesel heat is that it’s hard to light, hard to control, it smells and the deck is covered in soot. That was 25 years ago with the stainless steel pot belly stove in [a] Westsail. You rave about the Espar diesel heater. Is the Espar really that good and does it address my previous experience with diesel heat?
Answer: Yes, the Espar (Eberspaecher) really is that good. Keep in mind that we set a very high standard to make it into our Stuff That Works area. If the Espar had the problems you mention, it would not have had a chance. Our Espar D8 has run for about 4000 hours and has never let us down. Very occasionally, as it fires up, we get a slight whiff of diesel but that clears as soon as it completes the ignition cycle.
The key issues are good installation and to make sure you have it serviced at least once every two years. (If you are mechanically inclined and can pry the service manual out of the dealer’s hands, you can learn to do this yourself.) Also, you should make sure you run it regularly (not a problem for us).
On the installation, it is vital that the power cables are heavy enough and that you follow the instructions for the fuel pickup and fuel pump installation to the letter. Mess up in either of these areas and the thing will drive you crazy. Also, see our comments and photograph on a proper exhaust for an offshore boat.
If you will be far from service help, it is probably worthwhile investing in one of the little black boxes that allow you to read diagnostic codes and reset errors on the Espar, as well as a few spare parts including a glow plug. Also, keep in mind that on the air units the blower motors only last 2000 to 3000 hours. We carry a spare.
Having said all that, if we were to do it again with what we know now and keeping in mind our heavy usage, we would have installed a water, rather than air, circulation unit from Espar or possibly a Refleks from Denmark. The advantage of the Refleks is that it is a much less complex machine than the Espar and uses no electricity (the Espar is a power hog). The advantage of the Espar is automation: Need heat? Flick a switch and you got heat.
The disadvantage with both water circulation solutions is that they are more complex to install than the air unit we have. Also the Refleks requires a real chimney, rather than the simple exhaust of the Espar, and with a water coil to feed the radiators, which we would need to heat our aft cabin, which is very large.