Who doesn’t want to take a hot shower after a long day on the trail or playing in the ocean?
Hot water that used the same fuel as our van, diesel in this case, is why we chose to go with the Espar Hydronic D5E heater. We also loved that we could heat the interior of the van and the engine block at high altitudes and in cold climates all without starting the van.
Out of all the Espar heaters, we chose the Espar Hydronic Heater D5E after speaking with the tech department in depth about our trip, van and needs. This heater has a high altitude kit that is needed in order to run the Espar at high altitudes. The newest Espar is not compatible (at least not at this time) with high altitude operation.
We ordered our heater from the UK because the heater, the high altitude kit and the installation kit was about $600 less than companies in the US. It arrived in 2 days and then the fun really began. We also ordered the 6 way temperature valve from a company out of Indiana to hook up the heater system to our coolant system and hot water system. We ordered the Elgena hot water tank from a company in Germany and that took a few weeks to arrive. We looked at so many options in the states, but none of them were are small and compact as the Elgena.
The system itself is not complex as you can see from the basic model below. The preparation and installation, on the other hand, proved to be quite challenging.
In order to install this project we needed to have a few things in place and complete:
- Auxiliary Fuel System
- Interior Wall Panels
- Interior Auxiliary Heater Core
- Auxiliary Fuse Panel
- Auxiliary Battery
- Water Filtration System
- Hot Water Tank
- Shower/Faucet System
This project took a long time to finish because of all the steps required to install it. The housing needed to be built, but couldn’t be built until all the components were in hand for measurements. It also had to fit in the space where the old heater core used to be. We had to use coolant hoses that would work in the tight spaces. Lucia found pre-molded Dayco hoses that worked well for the tight space.
Metal Cutting for Elgena-Espar Housing from Wandering Peso on Vimeo.
Colin did an incredible job fabricating the aluminum housing and getting it mounted securely under the van. His measurements were perfect and allowed us to put the heater, the hot water tank, the water pump and the 6 way valve in place. We used the leftover aluminum from the auxiliary fuel tank build to make the housing. Colin drilled and tapped the lid through the housing so we can attach it and remove it as needed for inspections during the trip. The lid is lined with weather stripping to keep water out if we ever submerge that deep into water.
After the housing was built, we had to cut holes for all the coolant hoses, water lines, fuel lines, exhaust, intake and electrical. For the aluminum plates that were mounted onto the frame body it took a couple tries to get the holes to line up with the housing when it was mounted. Colin is much better at this than Lucia and she admits that precision is not her forte so after messing it up, Colin took over that job. Finding rubber grommets that would fit in the holes and over all the hoses was surprisingly hard. We searched all the hardware stores in Santa Rosa and tried McMaster, but to no avail we could not find the damn grommets. We ended up ordering them from an online company called Rubber Feet Warehouse after days of phone calls and research. They have a wide selection of larger harder to find grommet sizes.
Once the housing was complete, we were able to start on installing the heater, water pump, 6 way valve and hot water tank. It was a puzzle for sure since we had to build it “upside down” in the housing before actually installing it. The Espar, 6 way valve and the water tank were able to be installed before mounting the housing. Feeding the hoses through the holes in the side panel of the van and into the Espar housing was difficult, but we managed to get them all through with grommets in tack.
Once everything was installed it was time to test the system with coolant. We filled her up with new coolant and fired her up. The coolant began to warm and circulate through the system. We did notice that some areas were not getting warm, so we retraced all the hoses and realized that inlet and outlet lines to the vans coolant system were backwards on the 6 way valve so we had to drain the coolant from the system and swap the hoses. After a messy and long afternoon, we filled up the coolant again and tested the system. All hoses are warm and bubbles have been purged.
The hard part was getting the coolant to flow through the auxiliary heater core. There was an air bubble that would not push through so Colin bled the coolant lines very, very carefully at the auxiliary heater core and managed to get the coolant flowing through.
After we installed the auxiliary fuel system, we were able to test the Espar itself. We had a bung welded onto the tank and placed the fuel pick-up line there and routed the fuel hose along the frame of the van. It fired up on the first try and worked like a charm! The coolant started to get warm within a few minutes and the Espar isn’t too noisy. The only thing that we don’t like is that the exhaust is not long enough for our liking and if the windows are open we could slightly smell a little bit of the exhaust. It’s not in any way an endangerment to our health, but a slightly longer exhaust (6”) would be nice.
Thoughts post installation:
Wow. What the f*ck were we thinking when we decided to add this modification to the van?
No seriously, this project was a beast. If we had more space to work and install the components it would have been much easier. So far the system works. It is nice to arrive at camp after driving and have hot water available for 10-15 hours after parking just from driving. However, we could have installed just the hot water tank integrated with the cooling system and had the same results as we have now. Before I jump the gun though, we’ll give the system a fair chance to prove itself in cold climates (which won’t really be until South America).
In hindsight, we would have chosen an external propane system for heating water for a couple reasons: (1) Less chance of problems with the vans cooling system and (2) Less time on installation. However, it’s only been a few weeks on the road so we may have another opinion later down the road. We haven’t yet had to turn on the Espar for heating or hot water because driving the van heats the water. We’ll post an update when we get into climates that we need to use it.
Maxmillion McLaughlinNov 1, 2018
Thanks for this write-up! I’m looking to install a similar Espar heater in my van once I get the rear AC pulled. Do you have a link to the 6 way temperature valve you used?
Lucia PapineauNov 3, 2018
Thanks! I think the install would have been a little easier if we didn’t incorporate the hot water system or in hindsight if we had added an access panel from the outside similar to how an RV has exterior water access. We bought the valve from lubricationspecialist.com. I think they are out of Indiana if I can remember properly. We’ve used it a couple times in cold climates now and it only takes about 10-15 minutes to get the water piping hot!
William HolmquistMar 1, 2019
hey guys. love the blog. I’m looking into hot water options. seems like what you have is really the only thing out there besides using a propane heater…. is that what you would have chosen if you had to do it again? i like the idea of having a way to heat up the engine prior to start on cold days but it looks like more trouble than its worth. love to hear more of your thoughts. thanks!
Lucia PapineauApr 12, 2019
Hey! Sorry for the delayed response. We would most likely choose a propane heater and water heater in the future. The install of the Espar was not easy and for all the effort propane is much simpler to install. Granted it all depends on your space. We just bought a more powerful fan for our heater core and will be installing that this week because the one that came with it is pretty weak. It doesn’t heat the van as we had hoped. It’s not for lack of the diesel heater heating the coolant, just not enough fan umph to get the heat inside. We’ll put an update once we get it installed.
We originally were worried about access to propane in S.A. That was our driving factor for going with the diesel heater, however as we have learned propane is plentiful and not hard to get. You just have to plan.
If you want to incorporate just hot water you can run the coolant lines into a hot water tank (Elgena) without electric coils and this works awesome. Only downfall is if you are not driving for a few days you can’t heat it unless you run the engine. This is pretty easy to install and doesn’t require any extra fuel of any kind. If you want more details on that I can certainly send some over.
ZachAug 1, 2019
Howdy! I am doing a similar L300 build and thoroughly inspired by Peso and DinoEvo. LOVE IT. Still thoroughly in the mechanical stage and doing all kinds of fun things, like rebuilding the suspension, exhaust, etc.
BUT – I’ve been having issues with the front A/C and will be pulling the R-12 out in a few weeks to replace an expansion valve. Seems like an opportune time to pull out the rear heater / A/C core.
Can you send a picture or explain what you did to cap off the freon lines going to the rear A/C? Looks like the DinoEvo crew just trimmed off the threaded connectors, flattened the pipe ends, and welded them shut. What was your experience?
Lucia PapineauAug 6, 2019
Awesome to hear about the van! Welcome to the Deli Club!
Our system arrived with a leak from Japan so we didn’t have to recapture the R12 before taking out the rear heater core/ac system. Colin removed the old heater core and we tried to weld the pipes, but it wasn’t holding pressure. So we followed the lines to a spot that was more accesible and closer to the compressor. I cut the pipes there and installed an AC block off kit to each line (AirSept 77508 & AirSept 77516). This worked and also shortened our AC lines. This is important to remember when you recharge so as not to overcharge the system. If you’re converting the system, make sure you don’t overcharge… The tech that did ours over charged and ruined the clutch on our compressor.
Hope this helps! Send over any more questions you may have!
ZachAug 19, 2019
Awesome! Thank you!
I’m working through a few other things right now but this is coming up on the list. THANK YOU for the part numbers on the block-off kits. Those look like a much better option than welding the tubes directly.
Will reach out again as I dig into the interior, I am sure! Cheers.
Jason GrantAug 24, 2019
Love your site!! Building a L300 for winter camping and skiing. Getting ready to install a diesel heater. Do you happen to remember which water line at the back heater is the incoming water and which is the return line? Also how has the heat exchanger worked for heating the cab. Lastly have you had a chance to use it to heat the engine when cold? Thanks so much.
Lucia PapineauAug 25, 2019
Thanks so much! It’s a work in progress, like everything else in life! Off the top of my head I can’t remember which is the incoming and which is the return line. We are installing a new radiator this week so I can get under there and check it out. However, I can tell you how I figured it out. Find the coolant lines coming off the back of the engine and start the engine. Feel the lines to see which one gets hotter first and then follow that one to the rear AC/Heater. It’s pretty easy to follow it back there once you figure out which one is which near the engine.
As for the heater core we installed, it works ok for heat. The problem is we didn’t allow enough space between the body of the wall panel and the rear of the fan. You’ll need a couple of inches in order for the fan to do its job fully. It does heat the cab for us, but not as well as we had hoped. It may be advantageous to go with a bigger heater core if you have the room. Our build was for all types of climates, so we compromised to try and make most climates comfortable. We do have more cooler nights ahead of us to use it and we’ll try to post an update when we get there.
So far it’s only been on a couple of nights that we have used it. One thing that we didn’t consider before installing the (ESPAR) diesel heater, was how much electricity it uses to run. It uses a lot and runs continuously. This can be problematic for your battery bank if you let it run all night so just keep that in mind. We also have other continuous draws such as our fridge so for us we only use the ESPAR at night and when we wake up. We used it to heat the engine when we were camped at 4500 meters and it works pretty fast. I’d say it took only 10-15 minutes. For boiling hot water for our shower its about 10 minutes.
Since you are using your Deli for winter camping, I would highly highly recommend a good floor insulation (and windows of course). The floor gets super cold! We went with what we saw in DinoEvo and it doesn’t work at all. It was really disappointing to realize that after all the cabinetry was installed because at this point its too late to do anything about it. If we did it again, we would go with the 1/2” to 1” RMAX under what ever type of flooring you are installing. This will also decrease the amount of heat you need to produce with the heater.
Let us know how it goes! All the best! L & C
**There is also a heat shield fabric that works amazing on the engine compartment for keeping heat out, but that wouldn’t be an issue with cold weather travel. It made a massive difference for us driving in tropical climates.