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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Finally getting around to posting about my installation of the Rixen/Espar hydronic system. Slideshow with some pics and commentary is below. Shout out to @nealcallan for providing valuable guidance. Points to note concerning the installation:
  • The Rixen system offers heat via 1) the Espar furnace (gasoline), 2) the ComfortHot expansion tank with heating element (electric), and 3) your Transit coolant line. You can install any combination of the three; I chose to do all three.
  • If you decide to tie into the engine coolant line, ordering the Auxiliary Heater Prep package makes it super easy. There is a stub out next to the drive shaft just behind the front wheel well.
  • The stub out is “U” shaped and the rear-most leg (with purple marking) is the hot side and the other is the cold side. The Ford coolant lines are 5/8” whereas the remainder of the Rixen system uses ¾” coolant lines and fittings. I purchased some 5/8” fittings from McMaster for the heat exchanger and two 5/8” Gates 90 degree hoses from Amazon for the engine loop connection.
  • I mounted the engine loop heat exchanger to the frame below the driver seat. I made an intermediate mounting bracket out of aluminum and covered it with Teflon tape to avoid galvanic corrosion with the stainless heat exchanger.
  • I purposely kept the engine loop heat exchanger close to the stub out, since the BEMM specifies that you should not significantly add to the volume of their coolant loop. I confirmed with Rixen that their pump could handle the distance from the pump in the rear to heat exchanger in the front.
  • I copied @nealcallan and installed the Espar furnace under the C pillar, passenger side. Once again, made an intermediate mounting bracket since mounting holes of the Rixen bracket extended beyond the bottom C pillar. Again covered bracket with Teflon tape.
  • Continuing to copy @nealcallan, I penetrated the rocker panel walls on the exterior of the van, and the floor of the inner wall cavity of the interior of the van. Thereby avoiding a hole in the main floor which would interfere with other stuff. Surprisingly easy to route Gates hose in the rocker panel area. Used grommets from McMaster.
  • Fabricated sort of a “C” bracket out of aluminum for mounting the muffler to the rocker panel.
  • I mounted the fuel pump to the frame just behind the fuel tank. For now I connected the pump to the Ford auxiliary fuel port which only involved lowering the fuel tank. Eventually I will fully drop the tank and install a smaller pipe as others have documented (I think @gregoryx).
  • I mounted the interior gear above the front of the passenger rear wheel well (below the foot of our bed). Had to make a small mounting bracket for the mixing valve (temporarily out of plywood; may eventually make one out of stainless or aluminum). Also made some spacer blocks behind the ComfortHot so it would line up nicely with the pump.
  • For now, no duct work attached to air handler; plan is to box out a duct along floor from side-to-side with thin linear register.
  • Was able to get it started up without too much difficulty. Initially was not getting enough fuel and it turned out I pinched the fuel line when raising the tank, so needed to reposition slightly. Other than that, worked like a charm.
  • Have not used extensively, but so far seems to work great. Camped in it a few nights in the Spring when heat was required. It worked flawlessly and cranked out the heat.
  • The ComfortHot tank and heat exchanger get blazing hot. No problem when heat is desired, but counterproductive when you need cooling. Have just recently connected water lines, so have not used for hot water during summer (other than testing). Definitely will act as a radiator but should not be insurmountable.
  • Rixen really does a nice job with their system, and it includes almost everything you need. For sure you have to purchase the Gates heater hose. I ended up needing to purchase a couple of extra ¾” hose fittings and some additional hose clamps, in addition to the 5/8” stuff I needed for the Ford tie-in.
  • It's a pricey system, but everything works very well and the support from Rixen is outstanding.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The Comfort Hot tank contains glycol, which needs to be heated before running it through the heat exchanger to heat the water. The Espar furnace is one way to heat the glycol. The Comfort Hot tank (with the optional electric heat element) is another way to generate the heat. Rixen sells two versions of the tank: one with the heat element and one without. I'm pretty sure you need one or the other. I think the system needs an expansion tank and the pump needs a reliable gravity feed of glycol. The heat element runs off 120V and consumes around 1300W, so you want to connect to shore power when running it. When your van is parked on your property and you want to keep the interior warm, it's a very nice option. Also great if you are at a campground with electric hookup. The beauty of the Rixen system is that it provides three different ways of generating the heat, so you have excellent redundancy.
 

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The ComfortHot tank and heat exchanger get blazing hot. No problem when heat is desired, but counterproductive when you need cooling. Have just recently connected water lines, so have not used for hot water during summer (other than testing). Definitely will act as a radiator but should not be insurmountable.
Hopefully the heat transfer to the water heater is a lot higher than the air heater? I suppose the key is to figure out how long you need to run the furnace to heat the water and minimize the residual heat left in the glycol once the water is at temperature.

Does your calorifier have (or capable of have added) an electric element? Sorta defeats the benefit of the Espar, but with all of the alternator charging you have, it might not take all that much idling to heat the water with just electric. If you've got excess battery capacity depending on your use/driving pattern at the time then the incremental fuel consumption when driving vs running the Espar is probably moot. Might be worthwhile consideration if the waste heat is an issue. Also handy if you are on shore power. All of which you know anyway.

Was not aware of the electric element in the glycol tank. Neat feature , and with all the charging it's actually a practical backup. You don't miss a trick.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hopefully the heat transfer to the water heater is a lot higher than the air heater? I suppose the key is to figure out how long you need to run the furnace to heat the water and minimize the residual heat left in the glycol once the water is at temperature.
My limited observation is that the glycol stays very hot for a pretty significant amount of time. Good news is that it probably doesn't take much energy to keep it up to temp once there; bad news in the summer is that it will linger for a while (good in winter).

Does your calorifier have (or capable of have added) an electric element? Sorta defeats the benefit of the Espar, but with all of the alternator charging you have, it might not take all that much idling to heat the water with just electric. If you've got excess battery capacity depending on your use/driving pattern at the time then the incremental fuel consumption when driving vs running the Espar is probably moot. Might be worthwhile consideration if the waste heat is an issue. Also handy if you are on shore power. All of which you know anyway.
When you ask about calorifier I guess you mean the heat exchanger, which does not have an electric element. But to your main point, I think for hot water I could use electric since I would not need to run it that long. If I ran the engine/alternator, I would get a double whammy of heat from my tie-in to the engine coolant loop plus heat from the electric element in the glycol tank (the Rixen system allows you to turn on multiple/all heat sources simultaneously). If I drive the van during the day and turn on the pump, the engine coolant loop will rapidly heat the glycol and I expect it will not take much power to keep it there.

Was not aware of the electric element in the glycol tank. Neat feature , and with all the charging it's actually a practical backup. You don't miss a trick.
Yes, very nice job with redundancy. Having worked at Airbus for 30 years (satellites), I've got redundancy in my bones. But with a $B satellite or 500 passengers on an aircraft, you can't afford a failure. That risk aversion mentality was great for huge programs, but did not work so well when we wanted to be nimble in other markets.
 

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First, thanks to you and to @nealcallan for the excellent documentation and descriptions of this system. Your installations look professional. I really appreciate it and hope to make use of this some day... if we ever get a van.

Eventually I will fully drop the tank and install a smaller pipe as others have documented
Is this really necessary? Have you had issues with the factory fuel pickup line? I know some people here have encountered problems, but I don't have a good feeling for just how widespread this issue really is. I helped a friend install an Espar Airtronic gasoline heater on his Transit using the factory fuel pickup, and it has worked flawlessly for two winters now at elevations above 10,000 ft.

The ComfortHot tank and heat exchanger get blazing hot. No problem when heat is desired, but counterproductive when you need cooling.
Summer use is a concern that I have. Did you consider mounting the tank outside the vehicle in a well-insulated box? Losing heat in the winter seems to be the lesser evil compared to gaining heat in the summer.

For now, no duct work attached to air handler; plan is to box out a duct along floor from side-to-side with thin linear register.
Did you consider using radiant floor heating? If so, what made you decide against it?

Last question... Have you been satisfied with the control module provided by Rixen? In my mind, this is the main reason to get the Rixen system despite the additional cost compared to building a similar system by hand.

Thanks again!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Can your rixen setup work to pre-heat the engine in the winter?
Yes, my understanding is that it does preheat since I installed the additional heat exchanger to take benefit of the engine heat. The heat exchange occurs on both sides, so it would raise the temperature of the engine glycol if the Rixen glycol on the other side is warmer. Typically the other way around once the engine has warmed up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
hope to make use of this some day... if we ever get a van.
Cincy, I really do hope you get your van! I recall seeing your name/posts here when I first joined, so it's hard to believe you don't have one yet. I guess back in 2020 you got caught up in the PSD fiasco; can't recall for sure. In any event, best wishes with the future!

Is this really necessary? Have you had issues with the factory fuel pickup line? I know some people here have encountered problems, but I don't have a good feeling for just how widespread this issue really is. I helped a friend install an Espar Airtronic gasoline heater on his Transit using the factory fuel pickup, and it has worked flawlessly for two winters now at elevations above 10,000 ft.
I have not had any issues with the factory fuel pickup line, but my experience is still pretty limited. When I spoke with Rixen, he did not seem overly concerned and it was almost like the main benefit was being able to draw fuel lower by sinking the pickup tube deeper in the tank. Like you, I have seen others here who have more experience than me indicate that the large tube caused them significant difficulty.

Summer use is a concern that I have. Did you consider mounting the tank outside the vehicle in a well-insulated box? Losing heat in the winter seems to be the lesser evil compared to gaining heat in the summer.
I did not consider mounting outside. Pretty sure the Rixen documentation says not to mount the pump and perhaps tank outside. The pump needs to be lower than the tank. If you purchase the tank with the heating element, there is 120V circuitry inside the plastic enclosure. Can't remember how water-tight it is. I'm sure Rixen has opinion and rationale to support. I agree with you; I think I'd rather have that outside and have the heater work a little harder in the winter. I think eventually I may insulate around that gear, with an insulated access panel so it's easy to keep checking for leaks, etc.

Did you consider using radiant floor heating? If so, what made you decide against it?
I did not consider it and no particular reason. Maybe subconsciously assumed it was too complicated.

Last question... Have you been satisfied with the control module provided by Rixen? In my mind, this is the main reason to get the Rixen system despite the additional cost compared to building a similar system by hand.
I'm very early into this, but so far I am indeed very happy. I think getting feedback from @nealcallan and others would be helpful. The main "brains" are on a board which is in a plastic enclosure that you mount relatively close to the furnace. Everything is well marked and easy to connect. The wifi module is now standard (I think it was optional previously); my only gripe is the wifi board is mounted to the enclosure with hot glue so it easily comes off (confirmed by Rixen). You can access the wifi module via a browser to get a realtime view of what the furnace is doing, and view any error codes, etc. You also use this module to prime the fuel pump upon initial installation. The user interface to the system is a small (maybe 3" x 3") control panel that you connect to the controller with RJ45 connectors. Pretty intuitive to use. The upper portion is for the air handler; it turns air handler on/off and controls the fan speed and air temperature. The lower portion has buttons for the three different heat sources (engine, furnace, electric) which you can combine as needed, which is pretty slick. Also a fourth "constant heat" button that you use when you want the glycol hot all the time (eg: for hot water usage or very cold climate). Otherwise it only heats the glycol when the air thermostat demands it. The control module very cleanly integrates and simplifies the engine heat, electric heat, and furnace heat; you really don't have to think about it. I'm sure there are folks who would like more control, but it works for me.
 

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Thanks for documenting your install and thoughts. I am wondering if anyone has any information about mounting the pump outside. When DIYing a similar system, the Espar furnace comes with a bracket to mount the pump right next to it (outside), and your post makes me wonder if that is perhaps going to lead to some issues down the line. The harness that comes with it is also pretty short from what I remember, forcing the pump to be close to the furnace unless you cut and extend the wires.
 

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In any event, best wishes with the future!
Thanks SO MUCH for the detailed responses. This is all very useful information. Your reasons all make sense to me, so thanks for sharing.

Yeah, the PSD has been our issue. My wife is tiny and cannot safely open/close the sliding door when parked on an incline, so it's a must-have option for us. We just need to be patient. This is certainly a first-world problem, after all.
 

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Thanks for documenting your install and thoughts. I am wondering if anyone has any information about mounting the pump outside. When DIYing a similar system, the Espar furnace comes with a bracket to mount the pump right next to it (outside), and your post makes me wonder if that is perhaps going to lead to some issues down the line. The harness that comes with it is also pretty short from what I remember, forcing the pump to be close to the furnace unless you cut and extend the wires.
The Espar pump on our diesel Sprinter is mounted outside. Worked fine for 8 years. Just follow the routing and mounting instructions to a "T" (including the proper diameters of ALL fuel paths). Trust me on that one.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Thanks for documenting your install and thoughts. I am wondering if anyone has any information about mounting the pump outside. When DIYing a similar system, the Espar furnace comes with a bracket to mount the pump right next to it (outside), and your post makes me wonder if that is perhaps going to lead to some issues down the line. The harness that comes with it is also pretty short from what I remember, forcing the pump to be close to the furnace unless you cut and extend the wires.
@brío has some encouraging experience. I think that Rixen uses a different pump than Espar, so the environmental constraints are probably different. From the Rixen installation note below, apparently they disable the pump management on the Espar and handle it with their controller (I guess due to the multiple heat sources, and perhaps due to different pump). Rixen uses the BWO 355 EP, which is IP44 rated. Not sure if road spray is covered by IP44, or even if that is the reason Rixen advises against outside installation. They are super helpful people; I'm sure they would answer your question.

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Oops, sorry. I thought we were talking about the FUEL pump (hence my comment about fuel path diameters). Sorry.
However: (a) my glycol pump is outside as well; and (b) My system IS a Rixen's, albeit ca 2014. Things have definitely changed since then, so call Jim--he's great.
 

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Might this conversation be talking about two different pumps: the coolant pump and the fuel pump? It was my understanding that the rixen fuel pump would likely be mounted outside and the coolant pump inside.
 

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oh this is just awesome. I'll be doing a Rixens along with a ProAir undermount AC (2 separate controllers/independent systems - I know not as elegant, but didn't quickly see how to get Rixens to control AC). Anyhow, your post has me thinking I ought to do a similar post for undermountAC as the instructions are more like a general suggestion than a detailed set of instructions.
 

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@brío has some encouraging experience. I think that Rixen uses a different pump than Espar, so the environmental constraints are probably different. From the Rixen installation note below, apparently they disable the pump management on the Espar and handle it with their controller (I guess due to the multiple heat sources, and perhaps due to different pump). Rixen uses the BWO 355 EP, which is IP44 rated. Not sure if road spray is covered by IP44, or even if that is the reason Rixen advises against outside installation. They are super helpful people; I'm sure they would answer your question.

View attachment 175098
I see, thank you! Didn't realize they are using a different pump. The link to the pump they use is helpful since I think I do need a secondary pump for the heated floor loop.

EDIT: Woah, that pump is over $400...
 

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@NealCarney - really excellent work! Happy my installation helped. A couple of observations:
  • Our Comfort Hot tank does not get super hot. It did the first time I fired it up, it turned out I did not fill the entire system with enough coolant. When firing up the system the tank drained a little to fill the lines and got very hot. I topped it off to 1" below the top. Since then the tank is warm but not super hot.
  • Same applied to the first heat exchanger when we first fired it up wow it was hot. Once we had enough coolant in the overall system it is hot but not scolding.
  • I wish I had the Auxiliary Heater Prep package as I did not do an engine loop, it would be nice to have hot water when we stop for lunch. But it only takes about 5 minutes to heat up hot water.
  • Factory fuel pickup line issues. I used the factory fuel pickup line and have been using the system since December 2020; as high as 10k feet and in very cold environments. Before we leave on a trip I fire up the system (using constant heat) and it routinely takes a couple of times to kick in. The Rixen "webpage" is helpful to see that the fuel goes to zero; then I let the furnace wind down and restart. After that we have had no problems on the road. When on the road and at camp make sure you have at least a quarter to half tank of gas.
  • When first using the system carefully check all coolant line clamps, especially on the air handler as they are copper connectors and not as "secure" as the brass coolant tank connectors. I used a hose clamp and had a very small leak from the lower connection after a winter trip. I see you have constant tension clamp on the coolant tank, did you use them on the air handler also?
  • Have used the electric element a few times, mostly when visiting family back east in the winter and have the van on shore power over night.
  • Overall we love the system and the support from the Rixen team is top notch.
 

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@NealCarney - really excellent work! Happy my installation helped. A couple of observations:
  • Our Comfort Hot tank does not get super hot. It did the first time I fired it up, it turned out I did not fill the entire system with enough coolant. When firing up the system the tank drained a little to fill the lines and got very hot. I topped it off to 1" below the top. Since then the tank is warm but not super hot.
  • Same applied to the first heat exchanger when we first fired it up wow it was hot. Once we had enough coolant in the overall system it is hot but not scolding.
  • I wish I had the Auxiliary Heater Prep package as I did not do an engine loop, it would be nice to have hot water when we stop for lunch. But it only takes about 5 minutes to heat up hot water.
  • Factory fuel pickup line issues. I used the factory fuel pickup line and have been using the system since December 2020; as high as 10k feet and in very cold environments. Before we leave on a trip I fire up the system (using constant heat) and it routinely takes a couple of times to kick in. The Rixen "webpage" is helpful to see that the fuel goes to zero; then I let the furnace wind down and restart. After that we have had no problems on the road. When on the road and at camp make sure you have at least a quarter to half tank of gas.
  • When first using the system carefully check all coolant line clamps, especially on the air handler as they are copper connectors and not as "secure" as the brass coolant tank connectors. I used a hose clamp and had a very small leak from the lower connection after a winter trip. I see you have constant tension clamp on the coolant tank, did you use them on the air handler also?
  • Have used the electric element a few times, mostly when visiting family back east in the winter and have the van on shore power over night.
  • Overall we love the system and the support from the Rixen team is top notch.
Thank you for your added comments. We have the system here in the box waiting to get installed this summer.
I too did not get the rear heat prep. Wish I had. We did not get the engine heat option. I would have if I had that easy connection.
 
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