When I confused from California to Colorado in 2010, my new abode had a bare-bones two-car garage. One window, apparent studs, no insulation, and the cheapest garage-door opener money could buy aback the anatomy was congenital in the 1990s. This actuality the aboriginal abode I had anytime lived with a 18-carat garage, I admired it. I could do agent swaps, body cool projects, and leave accoutrement out partway through a job. Such an advance over decades of alive in a driveway! The alone botheration was that Denver winters can get cold, able-bodied beneath aught Fahrenheit on occasion.
It’s adamantine to assignment in the barn aback it’s like this. Photo by Murilee Martin
The barn got hot in the summer, too, but I apparent that botheration with solar-powered blast fans, additional a bargain air conditioner for the absolutely hot days.
Insulation and bank helped a lot. Photo by Murilee Martin
I installed insulation in the walls and roof, afresh paneled aggregate in plywood. I assassin an electrician to install an upgraded circuit-breaker box and lots of ability outlets, and I planned to get a natural-gas band run out from the abode and a able gas boiler installed, or maybe aloof chaw the ammo of cher electrical bills and use a 220-volt electric boiler fabricated for garages. But afresh I remembered that my bounded self-service accident backyard was abounding of alone recreational vehicles, and affluence of those RVs had nice forced-air propane furnaces. I adulation junkyards! Junkyards are great! And so I committed to a agency of barn heating that mostly didn’t assignment and appropriate years of connected tinkering and acknowledgment trips to buy added junkyard RV furnaces.
Murilee Martin adequate in advanced of his shantytown berth and camping trailer, 1985. Photo by Chunky Death
I spent my academy years active in an on-campus RV esplanade in Southern California. It was a abundant abode to be a car guy, and I did above automotive projects there. Active in a 1969 Roadrunner camping bivouac with propane furnace, stove, and baptize boiler accomplished me a lot about ambidextrous with RV propane appliances, and I ample this ability would accomplish installing a propane-fueled RV boiler in my barn an accessible process.
Every one of these RVs is a wonderland of biohazards, aciculate edges, and accepted ickiness. They aroma bigger in winter, so there’s that. Photo by Murilee Martin
I headed over to the RV area of a adjacent self-service backyard and begin a gigantic Winnegabo with a Suburban NT-30 forced-air furnace, rated at a boss 30,000 BTU. My barn is bigger than an RV’s interior, but it has abundant bigger insulation and I don’t charge to be kept at the balmy 85° advantaged by octogenarian road-trippers.
As you ability imagine, junked RV interiors are disgustingly filthy. Photo by Murilee Martin
The boiler amount me a bald 50 bucks, additional $25 added for the 12-volt/45-amp DC ability accumulation from the aforementioned RV, but it was a dirty, foul-smelling brace of hours to abolish it. RVs that get bad abundant to get scrapped are consistently abhorrent inside, about abounding of hantavirus-saturated rodent poop, bedraggled syringes, and septic-tank arising on everything. I wore gloves, goggles, coveralls, and steel-toed boots while yanking this boiler and my bark still crawls at the anamnesis of the fetor in there. Tip: junkyard RVs don’t aroma as bad central aback it’s beneath freezing.
Bench-testing appear that the boiler fabricated heat, but with a abhorrent address scream from the blower fan. Photo by Murilee Martin
In what I should accept interpreted as a warning, bench-testing the boiler and ability accumulation appear that the blower fan’s bearings were bad. No problem, I’ll go aback to the junkyard and get addition $50 furnace! Which I did.
Naturally, the gasket on the blower-fan apartment fell apart, so I had to accomplish a new one out of cardboard. Photo by Murilee Martin
I dismantled Boiler #2 (which came from an alike added bedraggled donor RV) and removed the blower fan, which (miraculously) angry out to be good. Afresh I had to cut a new gasket for the fan housing.
These things are not fun to detach and reassemble. Photo by Murilee Martin
These Suburban furnaces are appealing ample units, but owners of RVs— decidedly final owners of RVs— mostly don’t do any aliment on their furnaces, and alike the best-cared-for RV tends to absorb months and generally years sitting unused. Because these furnaces accept bankrupt and assimilation ducting to the alfresco world, wasps like to body nests central the blower admirers and agitation chambers, and afresh there’s the botheration of athirst rodents chewing on wires. Accessing some of the being that needs acclimation is a finicky, aching action involving a lot of cuts from aciculate sheet-metal edges.
Fresh air for the furnace’s agitation alcove comes in through the basal hole, bankrupt goes out the pipe. Photo by Murilee Martin
I acclimated accurately angled and sized flared chestnut tubing with the appropriate accessories to accumulation gas from the propane tank, which lives outside, on the added ancillary of the bank from the furnace. Bankrupt is agitated abroad via a aqueduct continued abundant to bright the roof eave. I’m application an LP gas burden regulator with overpressure valve (also army outside), and the boiler itself has thermal-overload and flame-detection sensors.
These things aren’t cheap, it turns out.
Then I added four carbon-monoxide detectors central the garage, because dying sucks. One would accept been enough, but I didn’t appetite to booty chances. Added than the casual anxiety aback I cull a non-catalytic-converter-equipped agent into the garage, my CO detectors accept remained bashful during the three winters I accept acclimated an RV boiler for barn heat. It’s safe, but not reliable, as we’ll see.
Installed and working. Intermittently. Photo by Murilee Martin
After abundant futzing, it worked! With 30,000 BTUs and ducting to the abroad corners, my boiler could get the barn from 20 degrees to 60 degrees in an hour or so. However, in all the time I’ve had this rig, its longest trouble-free aeon has been about six weeks.
You consistently run out of propane during a big snowstorm. Photo by Murilee Martin
Propane burning isn’t aerial abundant to be a big banking hardship, acknowledgment to the austere insulation in my barn (including the big door), but I consistently run out aback a big snowstorm comes in, it’s ten degrees out, and I accept an important activity to do. They charge abhorrence me at the accouterments abundance area I get my tanks filled.
This is one of the big anemic credibility in this blazon of furnace. Photo by Murilee Martin
Some of the earlier furnaces of this blazon use an ancient pilot ablaze for ignition, but post-middle-1980s units accept cyberbanking agitation with blaze detection. The ascendancy lath goes bad, abnormally in ill-maintained RVs with bad power, and afresh you don’t get heat– the blower fan aloof spins and annihilation happens. After misdiagnosing the botheration for months, I assuredly begin a aggregation authoritative aftermarket ignitor boards and bought one. Added money into this allegedly cheapskate project!
Yet addition antecedent of problems. Photo by Murilee Martin
Then the 45-amp ability accumulation went bad, frying my new ignitor lath and acute backup with an big-ticket avant-garde switching unit. Afresh the LP gas regulator went bad, with affection identical to those of a asleep ignitor board. Befitting my barn balmy was demography as abundant assignment as befitting the electrical arrangement in a Jaguar XJ-S operating perfectly, and with a agnate success rate.
Back again. Photo by Murilee Martin
The low point came a year ago, aback the boiler bootless on the day afore my big Junkyard Boombox Building Party. With temperatures in the 20s, I had no best but to run to the junkyard and get addition RV furnace, this one a 14,000-BTU assemblage with an ancient pilot-light agitation system.
This is appealing nice by junkyard-RV standards. Get a tetanus attempt afore you go here! Photo by Murilee Martin
The acting backup boiler had a forced-air blower, but it fabricated aloof almost abundant calefaction to get the barn up to 45 degrees and it took several hours to ability that not-so-comfortable point.
This will be the aftermost winter for my RV furnace. Photo by Murilee Martin
I accept spent abutting to 500 bucks on this bureaucracy so far and I still can’t calculation on it aback I charge warmth. For abutting winter, I’m activity to do what I should accept done all along: appoint professionals to install a able natural-gas boiler in my garage. Yes, it agency added money and apparently disturbing up my asphalt backyard to run a gas band from the abode to the barn 50 anxiety away, but in the continued run it will be cheaper that way.
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