When I wrote Surviving Winter on a Boat back 8 months ago, in mid-January 2020, we were coming thru the coldest period we would see all winter, and everything had worked as advertised.
It was not to last. In fact, two weeks later, we had no heat and then no electricity.
Let’s check the videotape.
We are in for a period of really cold weather, at least for Southeast Alaska, with temperatures going down to zero (F) by early next week and staying in the single digits for a week or more.
And it did get cold. January temperatures went below freezing in the morning of January 1st, were in the teens in the second week and single digits mid-month. Through it all the Wallas DT40 heater worked well and keep Dauntless warm and cozy, as I wrote last January:
I’ve had to turn up my Wallas heater, no longer content to leave it on the minimum setting. On its thermostat scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the minimum, I now run it at 2 to 3 at night and 4 to 5 in the day. That keeps the salon in the mid-60s in the day and the forward cabin mid-50’s at night. That OK to sleep, since I also have a mattress heating pad that takes the chill off the bed before bedtime.
At the coldest, with lows near 5°F and daytime highs in the low teens, the Wallas used 2 gallons of diesel per day if I ran it on high most of the time. During normal use, basically for the rest of the winter and spring, it averaged about 1 gallon per day, which is right in line with what the owner’s manual states. It’s certainly refreshing to have a company provide real data that hasn’t been lawyered to uselessness.
And then it warmed up and everything went to hell in a handbasket.
On January 20th, the temperature went above freezing for the first time since the cold snap has started a month ago.
What’s Hell in a Handbasket? Mix cascading consequences with trying to be a little too cute and a dash of inattention and you get no heat and soon no electricity.
It all started so innocently enough.
Back in the fall, when I had finally completed the installation of the Wallas DT40 heater (Wallas Finland Heater homepage) the 9 feet of 1” stainless steel exhaust hose ended in my propane locker. That didn’t seem like a good idea even to me, so I went to the local hardware store and got 3 feet of 1 ½ “ mild steel flexible hose because that is all they had.
I can make that work and I did. Nothing a little duct tape won’t solve. I was even proud of myself for making a large loop, in which I even thought to drill a hole for condensation water drainage. Too small a hole as it turned out.
All went well for months, until the warm-up in late January. The Wallas turned itself off and would not run.
Knowing that water in the exhaust could be the culprit, it was the first thing I checked. But that was easier said than done. The Wallas heater is installed on the starboard side of the engine room, above the battery box. The exhaust hose runs straight up to the salon to the fly bridge. I wanted to blow thru the exhaust hose. First, I had to take the heater off its mount. Then I hooked up the vacuum hose to blow and connected it to the exhaust.
It worked. I had also seen that my drain hole in the “U” of the exhaust pipe had sealed itself due to rust. So that’s why the ice and water had collected in the exhaust and when it got warm outside, the ice melted and the heater was on a low setting, so the water eventually clogged the exhaust causing the automatic shutdown.
The best laid plans of mice and men…
I drilled a much bigger drain hole, ¼” this time.
The heater started up and ran for 9 hours before shutting down for some problem. Strange.
I started it up again, and again it shut down after about 9 hours.
I called the US Distributor of Wallas products, Scan Marine USA in Seattle, Scan Marine Seattle homepage
Just wonderful people and truly knowledgeable. Bill is the resident expert and he was so helpful. I ended calling them a dozen times over the next week, as I would take the Wallas down and clean out the burner. It would then start, run ok, but shut down at some point on its own.
Scan Marine suggested I send the unit to them. But I wasn’t ready to quit yet.
When cleaning the burner, three parts are removed:
- The glow plug which starts the fuel burning,
- The fuel pipe, a 1 mm metal pipe that drips fuel into the burner
- The thermocouple which measures the heat out put to make sure fuel is shut off if there is no fire.
I had cleaned that little 1mm fuel pipe numerous times, since it will clog if the burner gets sooted up, like with a semi-blocked exhaust!
I had spent what seemed like hours in the engine room, holding the exhaust pipe, checking if it was getting warm, then hot. By then I knew every little noise it made. The minute ticks of the fuel pump, the fan blowing in the burner, etc.
I finally saw a pattern. It was starting ok, fuel was going in, it was burning (since it was getting hot), but then it would shut down, like I had turned it off (though I would get a warning that it had an unusual shutdown).
As I thought about its operation: it was getting fuel and air, but it was turning itself off.
Finally, at my wits end I went online to see how I could test the thermocouple. Right away, I found someone who had measured the resistance of the thermocouple at about 9 ohms.
Umm, mine was more than 2200 ohms.
Called Scan Marine and they told me the music to my ears, that anyone with no heat wants to hear: “Our mail goes in in 30 minutes, but I’ll make sure your thermocouple makes the pickup”
It arrived in Wrangell, two days later. J
Its resistance was 7 ohms. That boded well.
Put it in, turned it on and it’s been running normally the last 7 months.
Thank you Wallas for building a heater that is fixable.
Thank you, Scan Marine, for holding my hand through the process and then getting me the parts quickly.
Looking back, here’s what happened:
- I extended the exhaust pipe, but then put too small a drain hole in mild steel.
- With the heater running near high with very cold temperatures outside, the exhaust air was hot enough to prevent any water collection, even with the now rusted over hole.
- As soon as it warmed up, ice melted in the exhaust ANDI turned down the heater, resulting in cooler exhaust, allowing water to collect, semi-blocking the exhaust, then blocking it causing a shut down.
- In the process of cleaning the heater too many times because I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working correctly once I had cleared the exhaust, the thermocouple wire broke, but not obviously. Therefore, it would run, but as time went on, the wire insulation got a little warmer, allowing the wire to stop making contact at the break.
- Once the thermocouple reported no heat due to the wire break, the heater would turn off the fuel pump, as to not pump fuel with no fire going (even though the fire was going).
Not the first time, in diagnosing one thing, I cause something else to break.
On the other hand, I love the Wallas and would buy it again if need be. It’s expensive, but worth it. It is as quiet as advertised. At night in bed, with the Wallas on high speed fan, I can not hear it, but instead do hear the muffin fan on the fridge compressor. The Wallas is that quiet, with it’s mufflers on the two hot air ducts.
The only thing that made this week with no diesel heater tolerable was having a mattress heating pad on our bed. It allowed us a decent night’s sleep in a cold boat. Don’t leave home without it
This is the 120v one that I have had for a year now and would recommend my 120v Mattress Pad. I hesitated getting a 120v pad because there are issues with noise in the transformer, they can produce a buzz that’s audible in a quiet room. This 120v unit has no noise at all.
Previously, I had used a 12v hating pad. The first one lasted 4 years and I loved it. It didn’t need an inverter to run and it really warmed the bed on cold winter days in New England and Northern Europe. So, when it started not to work, I bought the same one My 12v Mattress Pad. this one only worked for a couple of months before it too, started simply stopped working. So, I gave up on them. Stupidly, I should have returned the second one while under warranty, but for some reason, that never occurred to me.
Now, while we spent this week with no heater. I did have the two A/C reverse cycle units on the boat. They will provide heat. But we only had on 25-amp circuit to the boat. So that took some jury rigging to turn on one heater or the other.
Worked fine until I also decided to install an Automatic Generator Start that same week.
When it rains, it pours!
But that’s the next story.