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Rixen hydronic Espar installation

3911 Views 62 Replies 24 Participants Last post by  nealcallan
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 · #21 ·
@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.
Thanks for the observations @nealcallan.
  • After I started up the system and ran it for a bit, I made sure to check the coolant level and top off; about 1” below, like you. I will check it again just to be safe.
  • Thanks for sharing the positive experience with the factory fuel pickup. It’s also working fine for me, and I have plenty of other stuff to do, so I’m in no rush to install a smaller tube.
  • The system has been installed for about three months and no leaks yet; I monitor regularly since things can change. I did exclusively use constant tension clamps (no worm drive clamps) including on the air handler; no issues. By the way, I forgot to mention in my post that having one of the flexible hose clamp pliers shown in the pic below is really a must for the constant tension clamps. Makes your life much easier since you are working in confined spaces.
  • Getting ready for a two-week trip to SC/GA/FL and have booked most nights in state parks (aside from wedding we are attending). Looking forward to utilizing the Rixen system a little bit more. Happy that our rooftop AC is working well because we will need it on this trip!
  • Line Tool Pliers Wire stripper Nipper
 

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Thanks for the observations @nealcallan.
  • After I started up the system and ran it for a bit, I made sure to check the coolant level and top off; about 1” below, like you. I will check it again just to be safe.
  • Thanks for sharing the positive experience with the factory fuel pickup. It’s also working fine for me, and I have plenty of other stuff to do, so I’m in no rush to install a smaller tube.
  • The system has been installed for about three months and no leaks yet; I monitor regularly since things can change. I did exclusively use constant tension clamps (no worm drive clamps) including on the air handler; no issues. By the way, I forgot to mention in my post that having one of the flexible hose clamp pliers shown in the pic below is really a must for the constant tension clamps. Makes your life much easier since you are working in confined spaces.
  • Getting ready for a two-week trip to SC/GA/FL and have booked most nights in state parks (aside from wedding we are attending). Looking forward to utilizing the Rixen system a little bit more. Happy that our rooftop AC is working well because we will need it on this trip!
  • View attachment 175626
Hi @NealCarney - If I was to redo the project I'd go with constant tension clamp. I was unfamiliar with these types of system and just went with hose clamps out of convenience. Overall only just the one small leak and I do a check after each trip. Those hose clamp pliers are very cool, have not seen those before. Have fun on the trip - stay cool!
Take Care
 

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Discussion Starter · #23 ·
Hi @NealCarney - If I was to redo the project I'd go with constant tension clamp. I was unfamiliar with these types of system and just went with hose clamps out of convenience. Overall only just the one small leak and I do a check after each trip. Those hose clamp pliers are very cool, have not seen those before. Have fun on the trip - stay cool!
Take Care
Good point; for any others following this thread that are thinking about an install, be sure to use the constant tension clamps.

Side point...when you had the leak and needed to fix, did you drain the system to install the new clamp, or just clamp off that section hose? Looking to the future of my build, I will need to temporarily disconnect my system at some point and need to tackle draining the system. I have a drill operated transfer pump which I can use to evacuate the coolant in the Comfort Hot, but that still leaves a fair amount in the lines. I could not find a good/compact bleeder/needle valve which I could install in the hose lines, so I have no ability to drain other than disconnecting the hoses at the furnace, which is the low point. Would be nice to have a drain valve somewhere near the furnace.
 

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Discussion Starter · #24 ·
  • 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.
Quick update on this. I checked my coolant level and it was still at about 1" below the top, so no loss after the initial air bleeding. I ran the furnace and noted on the web interface that the glycol output temperature was 178F. Checked the exterior temperature of the Comfort Hot with my IR gun and obtained readings between165F and 170F. A little tricky since aluminum emissivity is low and values vary pretty widely based on type of aluminum, so I shot the gun at the decal on the tank. To me, it makes sense that the tank temperature would be only slightly below the furnace glycol output temperature. I have a pretty short coolant line from furnace to tank, and aluminum is a pretty good heat conductor. It was more difficult to get a good reading on the water heat exchanger (just below the tank), but it felt pretty much the same and the unadjusted gun readings were about the same.

I have a 1/2" baltic birch bed platform immediately above the Comfort Hot tank. I took readings on the plywood and noted that the area directly above the tank was 7F-10F warmer than the remainder of the bed. The good news is the area with the heat differential was pretty much limited to the footprint of the tank. Based on this observation, I plan to place insulation directly above the tank at a minimum; possibly all the way around the tank. Fortunately I sleep on that side of the bed and I prefer more heat than my wife, who prefers an Arctic environment. Maybe I will make the insulation easily removable so that in the Winter I will have extra heat for my toes.
 

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Quick update on this. I checked my coolant level and it was still at about 1" below the top, so no loss after the initial air bleeding. I ran the furnace and noted on the web interface that the glycol output temperature was 178F. Checked the exterior temperature of the Comfort Hot with my IR gun and obtained readings between165F and 170F. A little tricky since aluminum emissivity is low and values vary pretty widely based on type of aluminum, so I shot the gun at the decal on the tank. To me, it makes sense that the tank temperature would be only slightly below the furnace glycol output temperature. I have a pretty short coolant line from furnace to tank, and aluminum is a pretty good heat conductor. It was more difficult to get a good reading on the water heat exchanger (just below the tank), but it felt pretty much the same and the unadjusted gun readings were about the same.

I have a 1/2" baltic birch bed platform immediately above the Comfort Hot tank. I took readings on the plywood and noted that the area directly above the tank was 7F-10F warmer than the remainder of the bed. The good news is the area with the heat differential was pretty much limited to the footprint of the tank. Based on this observation, I plan to place insulation directly above the tank at a minimum; possibly all the way around the tank. Fortunately I sleep on that side of the bed and I prefer more heat than my wife, who prefers an Arctic environment. Maybe I will make the insulation easily removable so that in the Winter I will have extra heat for my toes.
I have been thinking about an insulated box around the system to keep the heat in. Was worried it would get to hot but in thinking it should just get up to the max 170-180, what ever the max temp it. Insulate tank and heat exchangers only. Just need a good fire resistant insulator to put inside box. Also want to insulate it from the side of the van. Do not want to cook the paint on the side of the van.
 

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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.
Would it be possible to heat the system while driving with an inverter (powered by the alternator) via 110v?
 

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Discussion Starter · #27 ·
Would it be possible to heat the system while driving with an inverter (powered by the alternator) via 110v?
Yes, even without the engine loop heat exchanger you should be able to heat the system while driving with either 110V or the furnace. The electric heater element consumption seems be around 1.3kW (I think the spec says 1.5kW), so your alternator and/or battery consumption would be a little or a lot more depending on your system components/efficiency. You could pre-heat the system on shore power prior to departure and then you would just need energy to maintain the temperature.
 

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Good point; for any others following this thread that are thinking about an install, be sure to use the constant tension clamps.

Side point...when you had the leak and needed to fix, did you drain the system to install the new clamp, or just clamp off that section hose? Looking to the future of my build, I will need to temporarily disconnect my system at some point and need to tackle draining the system. I have a drill operated transfer pump which I can use to evacuate the coolant in the Comfort Hot, but that still leaves a fair amount in the lines. I could not find a good/compact bleeder/needle valve which I could install in the hose lines, so I have no ability to drain other than disconnecting the hoses at the furnace, which is the low point. Would be nice to have a drain valve somewhere near the furnace.
Hi @NealCarney - I did drain the system once when adding an additional coolant line. I disconnected at the furnace over a 3 gallon bucket; wore a pair of those yellow kitchen gloves. A little messy but managed to capture all the coolant in the bucket. I did see a Sprinter install from a youtuber called "Dares Drives" where he used a 3/4" boiler valve for draining the coolant.
 

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What type of glycol are you using in the system? Rixen said use standard automotive 50/50 green blend, but I would have thought a food grade glycol would have been preferred. Also if it vents any fluid outside through vent hose, probably not good to just be dropping automotive antifreeze on the ground.
 

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What type of glycol are you using in the system? Rixen said use standard automotive 50/50 green blend, but I would have thought a food grade glycol would have been preferred. Also if it vents any fluid outside through vent hose, probably not good to just be dropping automotive antifreeze on the ground.
I use an automotive 50-50 blend as recommended by Rixen. Certainly you can use a food grade propylene glycol, it is safer to handle, non toxic... Not sure of the cost though. I have never vented any glycol via the expansion tank vent. More of a fail safe, and you have bigger problems if it vents any decent quantity.
 

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I use an automotive 50-50 blend as recommended by Rixen. Certainly you can use a food grade propylene glycol, it is safer to handle, non toxic... Not sure of the cost though. I have never vented any glycol via the expansion tank vent. More of a fail safe, and you have bigger problems if it vents any decent quantity.
I had not thought about the type of Glycol for my system but now I may use the food grade stuff just incase I got a leak inside when I'm not there and my dog decides to lick it up. Yes if it leaks that much I have a big problem but I would prefer not to poison my dog while I'm at it. Need to ask Rixen if we are ok to use that stuff.
 

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There seems to be limited installation documentation on the Rixen‘s site apart from diagrams and the Espar manual. Where do I find the guidance from Rixen’s for things like what type of glycol to use? I haven’t ordered the system yet, maybe you only get access after ordering?
 

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There seems to be limited installation documentation on the Rixen‘s site apart from diagrams and the Espar manual. Where do I find the guidance from Rixen’s for things like what type of glycol to use? I haven’t ordered the system yet, maybe you only get access after ordering?
Call them. They are very helpful and answered all my questions on a couple phone calls before I ordered.
 

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There seems to be limited installation documentation on the Rixen‘s site apart from diagrams and the Espar manual. Where do I find the guidance from Rixen’s for things like what type of glycol to use? I haven’t ordered the system yet, maybe you only get access after ordering?
I just asked yesterday via email and got a response from Andrew to use 50/50 green automotive coolant. I replied back asking about food grade gylcol, and haven't heard back yet. The food grade gylcol on Amazon is around $40/gal. Andrew pointed out it takes about 3.7 gallons to fill the system.

I'm guessing the chances of any leaks in the hot water heat exchange are very rare. And I'm guessing you'd notice pretty quick if you are using green antifreeze? 🤷‍♂️
 

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I just asked yesterday via email and got a response from Andrew to use 50/50 green automotive coolant. I replied back asking about food grade gylcol, and haven't heard back yet. The food grade gylcol on Amazon is around $40/gal. Andrew pointed out it takes about 3.7 gallons to fill the system.

I'm guessing the chances of any leaks in the hot water heat exchange are very rare. And I'm guessing you'd notice pretty quick if you are using green antifreeze? 🤷‍♂️
I'm curious about this as well as I'll be picking up my Rixens system this month.

I wonder what RV antifreeze has to offer. It's food safe and is available everywhere. There must be a variety of formulas available as the prices run from $4 - $40 a gallon.
 

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I'm curious about this as well as I'll be picking up my Rixens system this month.

I wonder what RV antifreeze has to offer. It's food safe and is available everywhere. There must be a variety of formulas available as the prices run from $4 - $40 a gallon.
I am not certain, but I think that the pink stuff turns to slush, rather than remaining liquid. Might not be desirable. 🤷‍♂️
 

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The cheap RV antifreeze is grain alcohol based, Lots of people use it.
Yeah, I see the cheapest at HD ($4) is ethylene glycol:

Then they have 100% propylene glycol for $8:

And this corrosion resistant one for $40:

All are non-toxic.

When I pickup my system from Rixens I will try to get more info on the possible use of a non-toxic variant.
 
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