“Is it cold on your narrowboat?” is a common question asked by non-boaters. Heating systems on a narrow boat are typically fueled by oil (in our case commonly diesel but more on that later), gas or solid fuel such as wood and/or coal. Boats with inverters or AC landlines/generators can utilise electric plug-in heating
Heating Basics… The Options
Heaters can be categorised generally into solid fuel space heaters, oil fired stove space heaters, oil fired forced air burners and gas combination boilers. Radiators can be plumbed from all systems and some heaters can also provide domestic hot water.
Solid fuel space heaters are the traditional and therefore most commonly used form of heating on narrowboats. They evoke times gone by with their design and function so be mindful of this when lugging 25kg bags of coal back from the merchants or storing tons of logs for winter. Simple to maintain and easy to use, they are more controllable than many people think but create dust and need cleaning out.
Oil fired stove space heaters are designed to have no moving parts, running on a gravity fed drip from either the fuel tank or a separate bow tank. They need regular de-coking and can take longer to get to temperature from a cold start. Many people run these continuously through the winter months on their narrow boats.
Oil fired forced air burners are compact, clean and the most like domestic systems in operation. They can be noisy and are expensive when they go wrong. The latest systems have computer based diagnostics and need regular servicing.
Gas combi boilers are also very much like their domestic equivalents in use, quieter but potentially more expensive than the oil fired forced air burners.
If you are buying a second hand narrowboat, a particular heating system may be part of your ‘wish list’, however it is generally possible to change the heating system installed as part of a re-fit. If you are buying a bespoke canal boat or a sailaway, discuss with your narrowboat builder the type of heating you would like on your canal boat. A canal boat design consultation can support you to make the right decision to ensure you never have to agree with the many people who will ask you “is it cold on a narrowboat?”!
Words of Warning…
People die every year through heating related accidents on narrowboats.
Whatever system you use, refer to the Boat Safety Scheme, your supplier/boat fitter and the manufacturers instructions or installation guide.
British Standards with BS 8511:2010 have a recommended best practice for the installation of solid fuel stove space heaters. Follow it!
Finally, Carbon Monoxide (CO) kills. It occurs in the exhaust of internal combustion engines including back-up petrol fired generators. It forms from the incomplete combustion of wood, coal, charcoal, oil, paraffin, propane, natural gas and rubbish. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It cannot be absorbed by the lining of the lungs and builds up causing DEATH.
In recent years, solid fuel stoves and engine or generator exhaust fumes have been responsible for most deaths of boaters from CO poisoning. Solid fuel stoves can have up to 100 times the concentrates of CO found in a gas hob burner with problems.
Be aware of the warning signs that your heating system could be filling your narrowboat with CO:
- Smelling or seeing smoke escaping regularly into the cabin when running your stove
- Staining, sooty smears or discolouration of surfaces around the appliance or flue
Install detectors for both smoke and carbon monoxide and be safe! Find more information on CO alarms here
Solid Fuel Stoves (Typical price range £500 – £1200)
|The most reliable heating solution||Regular manual lifting & sourcing of heavy solid fuels|
|Can be very economical||Poor or inefficient combustion with generate CO|
|Extremely effective, localised heat source||Localised heat source can leave cold spots|
|Low cost, low maintenance||Hot exposed fire is a burn hazard|
|Cosy ambience on cold winter nights||Regular maintenance is required for efficiency & safety|
|Optional back boilers for some models|
Oil Fired Stoves (Typical price range £800 – £2000)
|Fuel storage already on your narrow boat||Localised heat source so can leave areas of the boat cold|
|Silent operation||Requires regular de-coking|
|Do not use any electricity when gravity fed||No automatic thermostatic control|
|Heat output is easily controlled||Burn hazard for anyone on the narrowboat|
|Constant 24 hr heat||Requires an electrically powered pump if not gravity fed|
|Optional water heating with many models|
Forced Air Combustion / Diesel Central Heating (Typical price range £500 – £2500)
|Low maintenance||Can be noisy|
|Can be installed in the engine bay||Requires good quality fuel|
|Compact dimensions||Maybe considered expensive if used all the time|
|Room or radiator thermostats|
|Can heat domestic hot water|
|Optional water heating with many models|
Gas Fired Heating (Typical price range £500 – £1200)
|Much smaller hoses to run through bulkheads||Fuel cost|
|Can also heat domestic water||BSS pressing to remove gas fired appliances from inland waterways for safety reasons|
|Less heat loss over distance than blown air or space heaters||Mains 240v AC alone only suitable for heating a small tank or calorifier, NOT a full radiator system|
|A well specified system can also run from 240v AC|
|Home style familiarity|
Electric Heating 230v AC (Typical price range £30 – £50)
|Silent||Expensive to run|
|Maintenance free||Power hungry|
|Mostly a simple installation||Not practical for all owners|
|Cheap to install||Some types are a fire hazard|
|Readily available at retailers (not marine specific)|
|Can be purchased cheaply|
Not what you're looking for? Try some other items within this chapter...