Heater Selection and Diesel Air Heater Install into Flippac

Jason'sLawnCare

Viva Baja
In researching how I wanted to heat the Flippac camper I found much information about heater selection and options but not too much information about installing them in pickup based campers. I hope this gives you some ideas. I'd also like to share some of my thought process and research but I encourage you to research what fits you and your application best.

Heater Model Selection
I considered two types of heaters, catalytic heaters and forced air heaters. Popular catalytic heaters include the Camco wave and Mr. Buddy heater. Catalytic heaters are great for being simple to integrate. They only require a fuel source to be hooked up and you're off making heat. I have a Little Buddy heater and although it is inexpensive and effective at heating up the Flippac a few degrees, it also provides moisture and burns through a decent amount of propane. It should also not be run overnight since it consumes oxygen. This led me to look at forced air heaters as they separate the combustion air from the heated air.
Forced air heaters run off a few common fuels types: gasoline, propane, or diesel/kerosene. My truck is gasoline and I often carry extra gas with me. From a logistics standpoint gasoline would make sense. Unfortunately, there's more to it than that. From what I read, the gasoline models tend to be more finicky. More importantly, gasoline is flammable which is of much concern since the heater is going inside my camper where I sleep and take to remote areas. Secondly are the propane fed variety, a solid option is the Propex brand heaters that burn clean and quiet. A downside is well, the propane. Propane should not be stored inside and I don't have a good way to carry propane outside. It could be transported inside the bed and removed for camping but that would require extra camp setup which I try to minimize. Furthermore, propane refilling is not found at most gas stations so would require an extra stop before a trip or a little more effort during a trip to seek a refill station. For these reasons, I chose a diesel, although it is still a dangerous fuel, it is only combustible and thus much safer and readily available at most fuel stations.
In searching diesel heaters I found there to be three main types available. German, Russian, and the Chinese. The German ones are the high end, with price to match, manufactures like Webasto and Eberspacher. The main Russian manufacturer is Planar and the Chinese ones don't have a brand name that I could find. The German 4 kW heaters with install kits are in the range of $1500, the Planar is around $800, and the Chinese are a couple hundred but I didn't look into them too much. The German units are high quality and generally rated well. I read many positive experiences with the Planar heaters and their quality. The Chinese products seem to be well regarded with some quality control quirks but for the price seem to be a solid unit. Personally, I wasn't willing to take the risk with the safety of the Chinese heaters but I didn't come across any catastrophic failures to steer me away, that is purely based on my opinion.
Ultimately I decided to try the Planar and spend a little more on the integration of it. The model I went with is the 44D-HA-PU5. I went with the 4 kw model designated by 44D because the Flippac has a lot of heat loss through all the fabric and it was recommended for the comparable Habitat model on the Adventure Trailers group. The HA is for the high altitude model which is rated for 8200'. At higher altitudes, the regular models can burn rich and soot up the burner. Although only rated for 8200' higher altitudes shouldn't be a problem particularly if running the cleaner burning kerosene.

Planar Impression
I am impressed with the quality of the unit, the included hardware, and the documentation available about its dimensions, installation, operation etc. I also couldn't be happier with the support provided by Planar Heaters out of British Columbia. They went out of their way to answer all my questions, entertain my curiosities and quickly get me additional hardware needed to install.

Integration Philosophy
Minimally invasive meaning as little irreversible modifications to the truck itself.
Space efficient to reduce lost camper space since it's only a 5' bed.

Heater Mounting

Mounting Location Considerations

I considered two main places, over the wheel well and within the bed sides. In the bedsides would be nice because no space in the camper would be lost. The downside is the heater would be less protected from dirt, mud, etc. thus would require a full enclosure and be harder to access if service is needed. In the Tacoma bedside, it would also be a tight install for the 4 kw model. The main place I was considering it was behind the driver's side rear wheel as it could mount to the existing bolts that the storage cubby uses and make for a short exhaust run to the back of the truck. The second location I ultimately chose was over the driver's side wheel well. This would protect the unit from the elements better, provide easy access should the unit need to be diagnosed or removed, simplify cabin air ducting, make for a simple bracket from the existing bed rail (make sure to check which orientation your heater can be mounted in), and not compromise floor space. Previously I stored my camp chair in this area so that had to be relocated. The older Tacomas had a storage cubby over the wheel well so I didn't have to cut a large hole in the bedside for the combustion air and fuel. I considered the driver's side due to my specific setup and layout of the Flippac. If you have a choice consider the side away from the vehicle fuel tank for an extra level of safety to keep the hot bits as far away as possible from the flammable stuff.

Mounting Execution
The bracket is hand drilled, drill pressed with hole saws for the larger holes, and hand bent. It's certainly not a production piece but it's sufficient and goes to show you don't need all the fancy tools all the time. It bolts into the bed rail with t slot nuts. I lined the existing hole in the bedside with rubber foam to create a little better seal. It also isolates some of the truck vibration from the heater.

IMG_9269.JPG

IMG_9268.JPG

IMG_9264.JPG


Combustion air
The intake is made of a plastic pipe with a silencer on the end of it. This is routed towards the cab and p clamped to an existing fender bolt. The exhaust is stainless flexible pipe with a muffler and end cap. It's routed back over the fender liner, under the rear storage cubby, and towards the hitch receiver.

The bracket and p clamp are made out of the same sheet of stainless that the heater bracket is made out of. The bracket is a simple bent piece with a rivnut installed. I made my own p-clamp because I had the material on hand and find it satisfying to make parts out of raw material. I used a large socket to roll it over. The bracket is held to the inside of the bedside using 3M double sided sticky tape. It's quite stout and can flex the bedside a decent amount without feeling like it's about to come off. I'll be monitoring it to see how it ages as I've found in other places sometimes time works it's magic on its strength. My contingency plan is VHB tape.

8/21 Update: The 3M double sided sticky tape failed around October 2020 and has since been replaced with 3M VHB 5952 tape which is still holding up well.

The muffler is mounted with the bracket that's supplied with the Planar kit. It came as a 90 degree but I bent it to around a 45 degree to tuck the muffler higher up. I opened the mounting hole up to be able to use one of the rear bumper/receiver bolts to hold it.

IMG_9272.JPG

IMG_9273.JPG

IMG_9293.JPG
Some fiberglass exhaust wrap has since been added to further reduce the the heat transfer to the bracket.

IMG_9297.JPG


IMG_E9299.JPG
I've since added the cap to the end of this as recommend by Planar to keep the wind from blowing up the exhaust and larger critters out.
 
Last edited:

Jason'sLawnCare

Viva Baja
Fuel Tank
REV 1

A 7L fuel tank is included with the planar kit. It has a barbed fitting for the outlet on the back and the cap is vented. I considered many options but to get it up and running I decided to give the included tank a chance. I made brackets to mount it to the bed rails, again out of the same stainless sheet all the other brackets were made out of and one of them was made out of the steel bracket included with the Planar. The brackets were mounted to the bed rail via t-slot nuts. A fourth bracket was used to prevent the tank from swinging out. It's isolated via rubber foam since I think the bed and rail flexes a bit from the weight of the Flippac. It's mounted to the bedside via double sided sticky tape. The fourth bracket worked ok until some kerosene dripped on it. Doh! Speaking of Kerosene dripping, the main issue with the included tank is the vented cap. It vents down and towards the screw threads. On bumpy roads, it's inadequate at keeping sloshing fuel from dribbling out when the tank is more than about a quarter of the way full. This made me consider other options since I wasn't able to source an alternative fuel cap with a nipple to run a vent line outside. I could have plastic welded up the included cap, drilled the tank for a separate vent and called it good, but I thought I could improve on the system.

Down selection
I considered about ten options including building a tank to go in the center of the spare tire but I narrowed it down to a removable tank installed in about the same location as the original, or a more permanent one that would go in place of the driver's side rear storage. My requirements were >10L, external venting, a way to fill with minimal risk of spilling in the camper, and a way to check the level quickly and easily. I settled on a removable tank which allows flexibility with being able to remove for filling, easily use the fuel for other equipment such as stoves, lanterns, or the off chance that one of my lucky friends with a diesel needs a splash. It also aligns with the rest of the camper build in that I can remove all the gear and use the truck for other truck things or save a little weight when I know I won't need the heater.

Rev 2
For the removable tank there is the custom route, existing solution such as those used for outboards on dinghys, or a combination of the two. I've been impressed with the Wavian tanks I carry extra fuel in. They are well built and remain sealed through elevation changes and whatever roads I've been able to throw at them. To get them to work as a fuel source both a vent and fuel feed need to be added. You either go the bolt through option where all that is needed is a hole in the tank or there is the weld on fitting. For the sake of not having to worry about seals ever failing and there being limited flat spots on the top of the can, I went with the weld on route. The tank now has two NPT fittings on the top, one has a rollover vent to prevent fuel from spilling out in case of an accident or I knock the tank over. I think the rollover vent will also help prevent or reduce sloshing fuel from going up the vent line but time will tell. The vent is routed underneath the mounting rail on the Fiippac, through a bulkhead barbed fitting in the steel part of the bed, and routed to behind the rear bumper. The second NPT fitting has a pickup tube threaded into it. The fuel line is routed underneath the wooden bed plate, through the same metal part in the bed as the vent, behind the tail light, to the top of the storage cubby where the fuel filter and pump is mounted, and forward to the heater fuel inlet. Both lines are fitted with quick disconnects so the tank may be removed or installed with push of some release buttons or pushing in of the quick disconnects. The tank is held in place via a ratchet strap and L tracks.

IMG_9271.JPG
Two of these were used to mount the REV 1 tank to the bed rail


IMG_9266.JPG
Fourth bracket to prevent tank from swinging on REV 1 tank


IMG_9291.JPG
Fuel filter and pump mounted to the top of the storage cubby. The large hose clamps were later changed out for the other style clamps used on the fuel filter

8/21 Update: In June 2021 I found that Planar now sells a quiet fuel pump so I ordered it. It's is impressive how much quieter it is and I highly recommend it.


IMG_9286.JPG
Fuel line routing and fuel pump power

IMG_9665.JPG
REV 2 tank installed

IMG_9666.JPG

IMG_9663.JPG
With the tank removed

Power
Electrical power was pretty straight forward. The Planar unit comes with its own fused harness. I have a fuse block already in my truck and wanted to use a little heavier gauge wire so I spliced into the harness and routed it to the fuse block under the hood. Notice on the mounting section that there is a part of the bed cubby hole that isn't rubber foam lined. That is for the wire bundle to pass through.

IMG_9284.JPG
 
Last edited:

Jason'sLawnCare

Viva Baja
Cabin air
Being that the unit is mounted in the cab, minimal ducting was required. Ideally you want the inlet air to come from the cabin so it doesn't have to warm up the outside air but since the heater is already inside the camper, no ducting was required. For the warm air, I didn't want the air directed towards the back of the camper so I sourced a silicon elbow to point it more into the camper and up towards the sleeping area. The options I considered were high temp flexible ducting hose but that would require mounting to direct it and look unfinished, a galvanized elbow used for heating or dryer ducting but that wouldn't look appealing and could be dangerous if a you were to brush against it, and silicone hose. I ended up choosing the silicone hose which turned out to be a nice fit and packaged well.

IMG_9313RE.jpg

Controller and CO Alarm
The CO alarm is spliced into the camper lights wiring with an inline fuse. It's mounted to the top of the light via double sided sticky tape. The controller is velcroed to the carpet where it can be controlled from the truck bed or the sleeping bed.

IMG_9312.JPG

IMG_9311 cropped.jpg
Wires held in place via velcro. May pull up the carpet and route the wires underneath for a cleaner look but I like how easy it is to remove for now.


Overall Impressions
The heater is really effective at heating the Flippac. I haven't had a chance to test it in really cold weather as I installed it in the summer, but I did go camping up in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana where it was in the low 40's. I found the heater able to heat the Flippac without the rain fly installed about 20F on the low setting which is 1 kw.
On the low power settings, the fuel pump tick can be heard a little bit but it's pretty faint being that it's all the way in the back of the bed, behind the bedside, and mounted via the supplied rubber clamp.
The fan makes a moderate amount of noise with the heater installed in the bed but it's not bothersome since it's white noise.
The warm dry air is really pleasant particulary when you wake up and the whole inside of the tent isn't wet or worse dripping on you. It's also a wonderful way to start the day by getting dressed with warm air blowing on you and available to warm up your clothes. Like putting on clothes fresh from the dryer haha.
Although it is an substantial investment and an involved installation overall I'm really happy with the unit and integration. I look forward to it opening up the shoulder and winter seasons to more comfortable camping and less need to seek alternate shelter when winter storms roll through.

Acknowledgments
Several people helped me with this project I would like to thank. First my girlfriend for being my excuse for getting a heater and not making me look like a softy :D. Second is Dmitry at Planar heaters. He went above and beyond in answering all my detailed and numerous questions and helping me get additional hardware quickly. Mario with Adventure Trailers for sharing his heater experience with the AT Overland Toppers Facebook group which help me decided to go the diesel forced air route and heater output. Finally my great buddy Miles for his consultation on the design choices and fabrication tools, skills, and labor with many of the parts.
 
Last edited:

highwest

Active member
How does this thing do heating up the sleeping space in the Flippac? I’m in the process of doing something very similar.
 

Jason'sLawnCare

Viva Baja
It does quite well. When it's in the single digits I wedge a towel between the tent and support and route a flexible hvac hose underneath. This saves fuel and battery and give a little better distribution in the sleeping area but it's not necessary.
 

highwest

Active member
It does quite well. When it's in the single digits I wedge a towel between the tent and support and route a flexible hvac hose underneath. This saves fuel and battery and give a little better distribution in the sleeping area but it's not necessary.
You route the hose from the heater outlet or silicone elbow up into tent portion?

Sanity check. I’m planning on having my heater push hot air out near the floor of the truck bed and I’m hoping convection will keep the tent portion warm.

Thanks for sharing your experience.
1F69D7F6-DE10-4B61-878B-D8566F4E33C1.jpeg
 

llamalander

Active member
Nice write-up! I've been curious about these heaters and the Planar in particular, glad to learn they make both a high altitude version & an improved fuel pump.
Your Gas can looks great too, especially with the quick connects, nice solution!
 

Victorian

Approved Vendor : Total Composites
The planar have been proven to be super reliable. I'm not kidding, we have sold hundreds over the last couple years with virtually no warranty cases or other major issues. There is also a new controller that will be Bluetooth enabled at some point. Planar is currently (very slowly) working on the ap.
 
Top