As we will be traveling in cold to extreme cold environments – for longer periods of time – heating is very important to us. We have put a lot of thought in what would be the best option for us to heat our Box and for hot water.
We used to have a Webasto hot air heater in our Sprinter 4×4. A very good piece of kit, it never let us down. Hot air heating from a Webasto kind of heater is not always comfortable though. The heat is very dry, kind of noisy and when the blower stops, the cold creeps in.
Should be fine for most Vans, as it was for ours (and for people travelling in moderate climates), but we are building a Tiny house on Wheels and that is a different ballgame.
So central heating it must be. Just like at home. Radiators give solid heat (mass) that will not fly out of the door right away. There are several ways to create central heating in an expedition camper. You can use the heat of the engine to warm the water – in combination with a Webasto or Eberspacher (for example) water heater. The thing is that in our opinion these appliances are not made for 24/7 use – over a longer period of time. So, we opted for something else.
Kabola KB20 Ecoline Hybrid
We also used to have a seagoing yacht with a Kabola diesel central heater, with heat exchanger for hot water. When we sold the yacht the Kabola was 21 years old and still functioned like it was new.
We decided that we needed a Kabola in our Mountain Yacht as well. We made an appointment at the Kabola factory – showroom in Vianen (The Netherlands). They have plenty to choose from, but for us a small 8Kw heater should be more than sufficient. There is a rather new Hybrid version, the KB Econline Hybrid series. It functions on diesel, electricity or a combination of those. With the hybrid set up it is possible to set the power drainage at 1, 2 or 3Kw, when more power is needed it will be delivered by the diesel burner.
The Kabola should be 94% efficient and 100% soot free. We choose the version with a heat exchanger for our hot water. This way we have hot water for as long as our 800 liter watertank has water to give. No boiler that can run out of hot water when Amy is washing her hair.
Radiators and hot air blowers
Central heating usually works with radiators and we have four of them. A radiator in the garage (technical room) to keep it frost-free. A towel radiator in the bathroom, a radiator under the table (window) and a radiator next to the entrance door. These create a very comfortable and steady environment.
During our intake with Kabola they also told us that we could combine the standard radiator set up with hot air blowers. They can be incorporated in the central heating system. These are fed by the hot water of the heating system and the blowers have three outlets. The blowers function as stand alone units and have their own controls for temperature and blower intensity.
We have three blower units (with three outlets): in the garage with two outlets heating the alcove and one for the bedroom. Another blower under the seating area that heats the bathroom, seating area and isle. The last one is situated under the kitchen and has two outlets towards the isle and one under the kitchen.
Wifi controlled thermostat
Kabola supplied a wifi thermostat (Computherm) and together with our permanent wifi connection we can manage our central heating remotely. This is very convenient when we are away for the day, set a lower temperature and remotely crank it up to 20C (or more) before we arrive. Just nice to have.
Experiences up to now
We have been using the Kabola for almost 10 weeks during trips last winter but it has been ‘on’ full-time. Just like a central heating system at home we never switch it off. In winter we just set the temperature and the Kabola will do the rest. When we need hot water we switch that on and about 10-15 minutes later we have hot water for as long as we want to.
We only use the hot air blowers when we want to heat up quick. For example when we come in like snowmen after a cold day of powder skiing. The blowers will heat up everything really quick and give just a little extra comfort over just having the radiators.
We love to sleep cold, window and roof hatch open, even in freezing temperatures (curtain to the living room closed). At night we set the temperature in the living room at 16 C. and when we get up we use the hot air blowers to make it comfortable really quick.
So, perfect performance during wintertime, lots of comfort, very reliable and relatively quiet.
At this moment we are travelling during a heatwave in Southern Europe. Needless to say that we do not use heating, but we do use the hot water for showers everyday. Just ten minutes before we want to shower we switch the system on and when we are ready, just switch it off and the Kabola will fall asleep again. Depending on the state of our battery we use diesel or the electrical way.
The whole system is very practical and just a joy to use everyday. It’s just like a modern house: heating and hot water at your disposal whenever you want it.
This comfort and reliability comes at a price. The investment is rather steep for a heating system and it will not be worth your money when you just travel in moderate climates. When you are building a luxury expedition truck and/or will be traveling in the cold and are looking for a trustworthy companion that will deliver 24/7 for a long period of time: take Kabola into the equation.