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If you’ve tried working in your garage during winter you know how tough it can be to get things done with frozen fingers. When the outside temperatures dip below freezing an unheated garage is not a very comfortable place to hang out. Fortunately there are some great heating options designed specifically for garages.
The different configurations and power sources each have their pros and cons. Here are a few things to consider before choosing the best heater for your space.
In general the heaters you’ll be looking at come in two basic configurations:
Forced Air Heater
With a forced air heater an element inside the heater body warms the air around it and then a fan circulates that air by blowing it over the element and out the front of the heater. If the fan is fairly powerful it distributes the warm air throughout the garage fairly quickly. This makes it a great option if you need to warm the space quickly.
The downside is that if you open a door or window the hot air escapes and your heat recovery time isn’t the best. Also, you need to make sure the heater uses a good quality fan otherwise the noise can be annoying.
Pros: Heats space up fairly quickly
Cons: Poor heat recovery time, Cheaper units use noisy fans
A radiant heater uses infrared tubes to radiate heat out in front of it. There’s no fan involved and it doesn’t actually heat the air. Rather the effectiveness of the heater is down to the objects in direct sight of it. The infrared energy actually heats the solid objects in front of the heater and then those objects heat the air around them.
Essentially a radiant heater turns your concrete floor, car, workbench, and anything else with thermal mass, into a heater. It takes longer to heat a garage like this but your heat recovery time is far better after hot air escapes through an opened door.
Pros: Fast heat recovery time if hot air escapes
Cons: Takes longer to warm the space
Heater Power Source
Your heater needs a power source and your options are limited to electric power and two gas options. Your choice between these three options comes down to cost, installation, safety and noise considerations.
From an installation perspective an electric heater is your simplest and most common heater option. Running a power line to the heater is pretty simple and you just need to be sure that the breaker you’re using is rated high enough for the current draw.
This is also your quietest option because the only noise source you have in an electric heater is the fan. The drawback of going the electric route is running cost. While these heaters are often cheaper to buy, the high electricity cost makes them costly to run for long periods.
With garage heaters some of the best ones run on natural gas. A natural gas heater calls for more complex installation but offers long term cost savings. With installation you need to plumb gas lines and that calls for a licensed contractor to be used.
If the heater uses an electric ignition source then you’ll need an electrical connection too. Natural gas heaters are normally quite a bit more expensive than electric heaters are when you consider the purchase price.
The cheap running cost makes them a good cost saving option for long term use though. The sound of the burning gas can be a little loud though so these aren’t a good option if you’re looking for a totally quiet option.
Using liquid propane has the same installation implications as you have with natural gas. The benefit of this option is that propane is often more readily available and can be cheaper in some states. Some propane heaters allow for a hookup directly from the propane tank so you can avoid more a more permanent installation.
Burning propane can also be a little noisy but there’s an additional safety factor to consider. If there’s not enough oxygen in the room then as the propane burns it will produce carbon monoxide. This odorless gas is deadly.
You need to make sure you have sufficient venting and it’s best to mount a CO detector on the wall near the heater. With gas heaters you may be tempted to avoid an electric ignition to avoid electrical hookup.
That might be an easier solution up front but using a pilot flame is not very efficient as you’re always burning a little gas even when the heater isn’t in use.
Whichever heater you end up choosing it’s worth remembering that half the heating battle is won upfront with decent insulation. Also, if your windows use thicker glazing and you keep the doors and windows closed as much as possible you’ll warm the space a lot quicker.
Big pieces of steel like machinery, hoists or your car all have thermal mass. That means they’ll be soaking up the heat before the air warms up. Storing these outside your garage will help to heat the space quicker.
If you don’t mind waiting a while longer for the space to heat up then having thermal mass in your garage can help. These big pieces of steel are great at storing heat and can give off heat after the heater turns off.
Keeping your garage warm is going to cost you a few hundred dollars but think of it as an investment in making your winter more productive. The cosier it is in the garage the more likely you are to get going on that next project of yours. Take a look at how to heat your home in the winter.
Gemma Tyler is a freelance journalist with 15 years of experience writing for consumer publications. She has tested and reviewed a wide range of household items from vacuum cleaners to washing machines and dehumidifiers to steam irons. Her attention to detail and exhaustive testing certainly makes her an expert in her field.