Best Ways to Heat a Workshop

Best Ways to Heat a Workshop

If your shop gets as cold as a meat locker every winter, maybe it’s time to install a decent heating system.

Climate wise, woodworkers here in coastal California where I live have it awfully good. There are just a handful of scorching days in the summer and only maybe a dozen or so truly frigid nights every winter. Many of the shops I’ve worked in had little or no insulation, and staying toasty in the dead of winter simply meant pulling on an extra sweater before making sawdust. But those of you who were affected by the supernaturally chilling “polar vortex” this past January know all too well that keeping your workshop properly heated can be a serious matter.

Besides giving you numb fingers and achy joints, an un- or under-heated workshop can make you feel sluggish and uncomfortable, or even keep you from doing woodworking at all (“think I’ll stay in the house and watch the game today …”). Not only that, but cold temperatures can prevent glues and wood finishes from drying properly, and freezing temperatures can ruin them outright. Unheated air may even be dry enough to draw moisture from lumber, causing cracks and really significant distortion.

Depending on your situation, raising your shop’s temperature may be as easy as plugging in a space heater, or it may present more complicated challenges. There are so many different types of heating devices and systems appropriate for use in a woodshop: some portable, some that require installation. The kind of fuel a shop heater runs on is also important, since keeping a shop toasty shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. And there are safety concerns. Some heaters have open flames or red-hot elements, some don’t — important to consider when there’s lots of stuff in an average woodshop that’s ready to burn: lumber scraps, sawdust, combustible finishes and solvents.

While this article won’t teach you everything you need to know about heating your shop, it’ll certainly point you in the right direction, starting with figuring out how much heat you’ll need on the coldest days. We’ll delve into a number of factors you should consider before buying or installing any kind of heating device, including initial costs and permits, operating expenses, safety issues, etc. Finally, we’ll examine a few of the most popular heating appliances and systems used in woodworking shops.

Although both of these portable space heaters run on electricity, the radiant model (left) heats objects directly with infrared rays. The oil-filled model (right) heats the air via convection.
Although both of these portable space heaters run on electricity, the radiant model (left) heats objects directly with infrared rays. The oil-filled model (right) heats the air via convection.

How Much Heat Do I Really Need?

Your first question before considering any type of heating system should be “how much heat do I actually need to keep my shop warm?” The amount depends on a number of factors, including how cold it gets in your climate, how big your shop is and how well-insulated it is (including how much heat
is lost through glass windows and skylights).

A useful standard for measuring heat is British Thermal Units per hour, abbreviated as BTUs/hr. (for this article, I’ll just use “BTUs” to mean BTUs/hr.). A BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. BTUs provide a universal scale for calculating the amount of heat a shop needs as well as for rating and comparing various heating devices, regardless of the kind of fuel they use. Generally speaking, the higher a heater’s rated BTU output, the larger the space it will heat. By selecting a heater that’s appropriately sized for your shop space, you’ll have enough heat on the coldest days without incurring the higher cost of buying and operating a heater that’s more powerful than you really need.

This chart shows the approximate BTUs of heat needed for shops in various climates.
This chart shows the approximate BTUs of heat needed for shops in various climates.
This map shows average low January temperatures in the U.S.
This map shows average low January temperatures in the U.S.

To get a basic ballpark estimate of your shop heating needs, multiply your shop’s square footage by the BTUs/sq. ft. number shown in the chart, left, that corresponds to your climate and level of insulation. For a much more precise estimation of your BTU needs, a boiler and baseboard heater manufacturer has created the Slant/Fin Hydronic Explorer heat loss calculator application (app).

Following the included PDF instructions, you first create a new “job,” then plug in all the necessary variables: your shop’s square footage, wall construction, insulation, window square footage, floor type, indoor and outdoor temperatures, etc. (Indoor temperature is how warm you want your shop to stay; for the outdoor temperature, see the average January temperatures on the climate zone map,
above.) The app then calculates your shop’s heat loss in BTUs, which equals the BTU rating of the heater you’ll need. The calculator makes it easy to see the impact that various changes can make to your heating needs — say, adding another layer of insulation to your ceiling, removing a skylight, or retrofitting old leaky windows with double-glazed panes.

After you have a good estimate of your shop’s BTU requirements, there are a few more things you need to consider before choosing a particular heating system.

Initial Costs

In addition to the price of the heater itself, don’t forget to factor in any shipping costs and state and local taxes, as applicable. When considering the value of a particular heater relative to its cost, make sure to figure in its efficiency rating (see the Operating Costs section on page 54). It’s possible that certain high-efficiency models may be eligible for state or federal rebates that will offset a higher initial cost. When purchasing non-portable heating devices, make sure to factor in all the extra costs required for installation: electrical wiring, gas lines, vent and flue piping. There’s also the possible cost of permits as well as the expense of hiring an HVAC contractor to tackle the installation,
if you don’t want to do the work yourself.

Permits

Before buying and/or installing any heating device, it’s essential that you contact your local building department or zoning board and fire marshal to check on the current regulations for your area. This is especially important if you’re considering a wood or pellet stove, as some districts have banned their use due to air quality issues. It’s a good idea to check with your insurance company, to see if the installation of a heating device may affect your policy and coverage in the event of a fire or other accident. Before considering any built-in heater, check with a licensed HVAC contractor, as some systems require professional installation, lest you void their warranty. At the very least, it can be helpful to seek the advice of your local HVAC contractor about the types of heaters best for a workshop.

Installation

Before choosing any built-in heating appliance or system, it’s prudent to go through all aspects of its recommended installation: Where is the best place to mount the heater so that it distributes heat around the entire shop? Would it be more practical to have two smaller heaters than one large one? Does the unit need to be mounted near an outside wall (and if you do have to vent it through the roof, how complicated — and expensive — will that be)? How far does electric wiring or gas pipes have to be run? Does your shop’s electric sub-panel have enough amperage capacity to run both the heater and shop machines at the same time? Working through all possible issues (and/or discussing them with an HVAC contractor) will save you a lot of time, money and headaches in the long run.

Installation of a gas heater can get costly, especially if the flue pipe must run through both the ceiling and the roof.
Installation of a gas heater can get costly, especially if the flue pipe must run through both the ceiling and the roof.

Operating Costs

Possibly the most significant factor to consider before choosing a heating unit is how
much it costs to run it. You must consider three things: 1. The amount of energy the heater consumes; 2. The unit’s efficiency; 3. The cost of the fuel that it runs on.

Energy consumption (in BTUs) and efficiency ratings can often be found on a tag or sticker on the heater itself (see photo, left). Typically, BTU ratings for heaters are based on the amount of energy going into the heater: the useful heat they actually produce is almost always less, thanks to the laws of thermo- dynamics. For example, a unit heater rated at 75,000 BTUs and 82% efficiency actually only delivers about 61,500 BTUs into the shop; the rest goes up the flue. A lower efficiency heater may be inexpensive to buy, but may cost far more to operate in the long run than pricey, high- efficiency models which may quickly pay for themselves over time in lower fuel costs.

An EPA tag, such as this one from a wood stove, shows a heater’s BTU output and efficiency, as well as smoke output.
An EPA tag, such as this one from a wood stove, shows a heater’s BTU output and efficiency, as well as smoke output.

Like the cost of gasoline, the prices of various heating fuels — electricity, natural gas, propane, cords of firewood, etc. — vary throughout the country, and are subject to fluctuations over time. Per BTU of energy produced, electricity costs more than propane, and propane costs more than natural gas. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has prepared a Comparison Calculator that can be downloaded. This Microsoft® Excel spreadsheet program is designed to let you compare the energy output of the various fuels used for generating heat — oil, electricity, gas, wood, coal, etc. (See chart, below.) The calculator provides web links for current pricing. It provides a very handy and accurate way of estimating and comparing operation costs for most conventional heating systems (gas-fired furnaces, fuel oil boilers, wood stoves, etc.).

Shop Insulation

One factor that can have a profound effect on heating costs is how well a shop is insulated and sealed. Predictably, the better (usually thicker) the insulation is in the ceiling, walls and floor, the fewer BTUs it takes to keep the shop warm. Double- or triple- glazed windows and skylights reduce heat loss, and good weatherstripping around doors and windows keeps cold air from coming in (garage doors can be particularly hard to seal). Upgrading a shop’s insulation and sealing can allow you to purchase a smaller heater that costs less to run, saving money in the long run.

Adding insulation and weatherstripping to your shop can significantly reduce the amount of BTUs you need to keep it warm and toasty all winter long.
Adding insulation and weatherstripping to your shop can significantly reduce the amount of BTUs you need to keep it warm and toasty all winter long.

Safety

Unfortunately, many types of heaters pose serious safety problems in a woodshop: ventilation, combustion and fire, and danger of accidental burns are all issues to consider before choosing and using a heater. The majority of heaters that burn with an open flame (wood stoves, gas wall heaters, etc.) consume oxygen and require proper ventilation for safe operation. Un-vented models expel combustion gases that are noxious or even life-threatening (see the section on gas heaters).

The exposed heating elements used in electric heaters also have the potential of igniting wood dust, chips, volatile finishing vapors and other combustibles and causing a devastating fire
(or, in very rare cases, an explosion). This danger is even greater in shops that lack good dust collection systems. Consider these threats seriously, especially if your shop is attached directly to your home. Heaters with exposed surfaces that become very hot to the touch (electric portables, radiant heaters, etc.) can cause accidental burns and are especially dangerous to pets and small children. Inspect cords on portable electric space heaters occasionally to make sure they aren’t damaged or frayed, and never plug one into an extension cord that may become overloaded. Undersized or frayed power cords are a major cause of fires, injuries and deaths associated with space heaters.

Ease of Use

In terms of heating convenience, there’s a big difference between flipping the “on” switch of an electric heater or thermostat versus building a fire in a woodstove and stoking it all day long. If you’re the spontaneous type who prefers the option of stepping into the shop at any given moment to make a little sawdust, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pick a heating system that takes an hour or more to heat up your shop. If your schedule has you hitting the shop every day at 8 a.m., installing a system with a programmable thermostat will automatically have the shop “pre-warmed” every morning. And any electric or gas heater with a built-in (or remote) thermostat will keep the shop temperature comfortable all day and saves you the hassle of turning the heater off and on as the room temperature varies. By choosing a lower setting, a thermostatically- controlled heater can also keep the shop warm enough to prevent glues and finishing supplies from freezing overnight.

Humidity Issues

In addition to heating your shop’s air, you must maintain its relative humidity to keep it comfortable to work in and prevent moisture problems. Running any heater in the shop tends to decrease the relative humidity of the air. Heated air can hold more moisture than cool air, which is why warm air blown by a car’s defroster defogs a damp windshield. Forced-air heaters, such as unit heaters, can increase shop dryness rapidly enough to cause wood shrinkage problems, such as surface checking.

Conversely, portable and vent-free gas heaters can increase shop humidity, since they produce water as a byproduct of combustion. How much water? A 30,000 BTU gas heater burning for four hours puts nearly a gallon of water in the air. Although the added humidity allows the air to carry more heat and keeps it from feeling dry, too much moisture can rust tools and can cause finishing issues.

Removing excess airborne moisture that adversely affects tools and lumber is easily done with a dehumidifier.
Removing excess airborne moisture that adversely affects tools and lumber is easily done with a dehumidifier.

To keep shop air comfortable and prevent problems, maintain your shop’s relative humidity at around 40 to 45%. You can remove excess moisture with a portable dehumidifier, or add moisture back into the air with a humidifier or, in a small shop, by leaving one or more open pans of water lying around.

Heating Systems and Appliances

When it comes to heating systems and appliances, there are many, many options, including: gas furnaces, oil- burning boilers and radiators, wood stoves, pellet stoves, propane heaters (both built-in and portable), solar walls, radiant floor heaters, hot- water unit and baseboard heaters, portable electric space heaters, electric unit heaters and mini-split heat pumps. There’s even a guy I read about who uses his pickup truck as a heat source: after driving for a while, he parks it in his garage shop with the hood open and uses a small fan to blow warm air from the engine bay!

For the purpose and scope of this article, I’ll concentrate on the two types of heating sources that are the most popular and easiest to use in (or retrofit into) a small or medium-size shop: electric- and gas-fueled heaters, including portables as well as built-in units that require installation. The details of other types of heating systems just get too complicated for an article of this length; for more information and recommendations, consult your local HVAC contractor.

Electric Heaters

Electricity provides one of the easiest ways to provide heat in a workshop. Portable models are inexpensive, virtually 100% efficient and easy to use: just plug them in wherever they’re needed. Even stationary baseboard, wall and unit heaters are affordable and easier and less expensive to install than comparable gas-powered heaters. Electric heaters don’t consume oxygen or produce hazardous combustion gases, so they are also relatively safe to operate in a woodshop, fire safety being the only caveat. The biggest downside to electric heaters is their cost of operation, which can be several times higher than the cost of running comparable gas heaters. There are several different types of electric heaters, and some are much better for some applications than others.

Convection Heaters

Whether portable or built-in, convection heaters work by warming the air that flows through them by passing it through electrically heated coils or plates, ceramic discs or oil-filled chambers. Portable models are inexpensive to buy and use (just plug them in wherever they’re needed) and are effective at heating small to medium-sized spaces because they spread their heat over a wide area. Models with built-in fans distribute heat quickly, while most baseboard, panel and oil- filled electric heaters can take a considerable amount of time to warm up. Convection heaters that run on 110 volts produce up to 5,100 BTUs. It’s best to run these on a 15-amp circuit that nothing else is plugged into.

The Cadet “Hot One” space heater runs on 240 volts and produces lots of heat.
The Cadet “Hot One” space heater runs on 240 volts and produces lots of heat.
Oil-filled electric heaters warm up slowly, but can provide a safe and easy way to warm a shop.
Oil-filled electric heaters warm up slowly, but can provide a safe and easy way to warm a shop.

For larger spaces, higher output 240-volt models, such as the Cadet “Hot One” (photo at top of page 58), crank out up to 17,000 BTUs. While easy to use, these require a 30-amp dedicated circuit, like you’d use to run an electric clothes dryer. All modern electric heaters have built-in safety features, such as automatic shut-offs that activate if the unit overheats; portable models have tilt sensors that shut the heater off if it’s accidentally knocked over.

Radiant Heaters

Unlike convection heaters that produce warmth by heating the air, radiant heaters (aka “infrared heaters”) transmit heat directly to objects by showering them with infrared rays (think of how sunshine feels on your face). Most radiant heaters come as portable plug-in (110V) models that produce up to 5,100 BTUs with an electric ribbon or a quartz tube element. Some models, such as the 110V Comfort Zone JEN107, are ceiling-mounted (see photo at top of page), while others that run on 240 volts can pump out over 10,000 BTUs.

A wall-mounted radiant heater is great for providing quick spot heat in a work area.
A wall-mounted radiant heater is great for providing quick spot heat in a work area.

The biggest advantage of radiant heaters is that they produce nearly instant heat, as long as you are in direct sight of the unit (infrared rays are directional) and not much farther than a few feet away. They’re great for “spot heating” a localized area, say a workbench or sanding station. Radiant heaters are also good for providing a quick warmup while you’re waiting for your main heat source (wood stove, gas unit heater) to bring the shop up to temperature.

Mini Split Heat Pumps

Sometimes called “ductless air conditioners,” electric mini-split heat pump systems are equipped with multipurpose compressors that can produce both heat in the winter and cooling air in the summer. Powered by 220V electricity, a mini-split system consists of a main compressor/condenser unit that mounts out-of-doors (photo at right) and one or more indoor evaporator units installed inside the shop (photo below, right). The main unit passes refrigerant through a condenser coil and compressor, then pumps it through copper tubing to the indoor unit(s) that transfers the heat or coolness to the air via an evaporator coil. A fan then blows the heated/cooled air around the shop.

Equipped with a fan that blows heated or cooled air around the shop, a mini-split’s indoor-mounted evaporator unit is fed by refrigerant fluid pumped from the compressor-condenser unit outside.

The compressor-condenser unit for a mini-split heat pump system is designed to be mounted out-of-doors and wired to a 240-volt electric circuit. Tubing carries heat or cold to an evaporator unit inside the shop.
The compressor-condenser unit for a mini-split heat pump system is designed to be mounted out-of-doors and wired to a 240-volt electric circuit. Tubing carries heat or cold to an evaporator unit inside the shop.
Equipped with a fan that blows heated or cooled air around the shop, a mini-split’s indoor-mounted evaporator unit is fed by refrigerant fluid pumped from the compressor-condenser unit outside.
Equipped with a fan that blows heated or cooled air around the shop, a mini-split’s indoor-mounted evaporator unit is fed by refrigerant fluid pumped from the compressor-condenser unit outside.

Compact and quiet, mini- splits are very safe for installation in woodshops, as they produce no flame, nor do they have hot elements, and the indoor unit’s coils never get hot enough to ignite dust and other flammables.

While they’re relatively expensive to buy, they’re simpler and less expensive to install than heating systems that require ductwork. They’re also more efficient and cheaper to run than typical electric heaters, thanks to inverter technology that allows their compressors to operate at variable speeds, delivering only as much heating/cooling as needed.

Gas Heaters

In most states, gas is still one of the most inexpensive fuels for heating a building. Natural gas is considerably less expensive than liquid propane, but isn’t usually available in rural or outlying areas. Like electric heaters, gas models come in several different types that differ considerably from one another.

Portable Gas Heaters

Portable propane-fueled heaters, such as the ProCom Tank Top radiant heater (photo at left) and Dyna-Glo Delux forced air convection heater, are inexpensive and offer lots of BTUs for the bucks. They also burn oxygen and emit noxious combustion gases, including deadly carbon monoxide. Combined
with the fact that gas portables burn with an open flame or element hot enough to ignite sawdust and other flammable materials (there’s also the hazard of using a propane cylinder indoors, something that heater manufactures strongly discourage), it’s clear that portable propane units are simply too dangerous to use inside an enclosed workshop.

A tank-top style portable gas heater mounts atop a small propane cylinder.
A tank-top style portable gas heater mounts atop a small propane cylinder.

Wall, Baseboard and Unit Gas Heaters

Built-in gas heaters include wall- and baseboard-mounted models, as well as industrial style unit heaters that can be hung from a ceiling or wall bracket. These appliances offer heat outputs that range from around 5,000 BTUs to 125,000 BTUs and higher, depending on the model. Wall-mounted gas heaters come in models that produce either convection or radiation type heating (photos below). Those with built- in fans distribute heat more quickly, but are also prone to suck up more fine dust, and so will require cleaning more often. Unit heaters heat via convection and distribute warm air with louvered fans. While the initial cost of built-in gas heaters is on par with comparable electric models (in terms of their BTU output and efficiency), gas models typically cost more to install. However, these higher initial costs are quickly offset by lower monthly operating costs.

A radiant wall heater’s yellow-orange glowing elements produce heat that warms objects directly with infrared rays.
A radiant wall heater’s yellow-orange glowing elements produce heat that warms objects directly with infrared rays.
 This direct vent wall heater’s bluish flames indicate that it is a convection model. It uses a fan to distribute heated air around the shop more quickly.

This direct vent wall heater’s bluish flames indicate that it is a convection model. It uses a fan to distribute heated air around the shop more quickly.

Vent-free vs. Direct Vent

A very important distinction between various gas heater models is that some are vent-less (vent-free) and some are directly vented. Vent-free models are considerably cheaper and easier to install than direct vent models of comparable size. Although they’re up to 99.9% efficient, vent-free heaters do expel small amounts of unburned gases, including carbon monoxide (CO). (The amount is so small that it won’t even set off a CO detector’s alarm.) But most people can still smell a vent-less heater when it’s on, and those with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory conditions may find the combustion gases objectionable.

Vent-less heaters also increase the air’s moisture content and consume oxygen; all units built after 1980 are equipped with an oxygen detection safety sensor which shuts off the gas supply if the oxygen content of the air drops to unsafe levels. Despite this safeguard, heater manufacturers urge you to leave a window open during operation and not to run the unit for more than four hours at a time.

A ceiling-mounted gas-fired unit heater can be a great way to heat a big shop economically.
A ceiling-mounted gas-fired unit heater can be a great way to heat a big shop economically.

Direct vent gas heaters feature a vent tube that draws in fresh air for combustion and also vents the burner’s exhaust gases. They come in both wall-mounted and unit heater style models. Forced- air gas unit heaters such as the Modine “Hot Dawg” provide a practical way to produce a lot of BTUs (80,000 or more) to heat even a very large woodshop (photo, right). If you go this route, look for a model that features a sealed combustion chamber, so that in case any dust gets into the heater, it won’t come in contact with the burner’s flames. Because burner gases are vented to the outside, direct vent models won’t increase indoor moisture as much as non-vented gas heaters. Although they require a fairly rigorous (and expensive) installation and aren’t as efficient as vent-free models (a certain amount of heat escapes out the flue), direct vent gas heaters are both safe and practical to use even in the most tightly sealed shop.

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  • Jim at WYSIWYG Woodworking

    Good article & great tools. One thing to note is that too much temperature change, depending on the humidity, can cause tools to gather condensation. IMO, that’s makes it worth keeping my shop heated at a pretty consistent temperature. It varies by 10 – 15 degrees, but I also find that below 60 degrees, my finishes don’t dry well and it takes projects a lot longer to warm up than the surrounding air.

    • Erik

      Hey Jim (and everyone else), I recently bought the Hot One shown in this article. Now I’m wondering if I should return it and get an electric heater WITHOUT heating coils. Maybe an oil-filled one? Or is there a safe way to do wood finishing work with a heater like the one I currently have? Heat the shop up to sweltering, before opening the can of finish, then shut off the heater? Put the heater by an open window? I’d appreciate your advice.

      • Jim at WYSIWYG Woodworking

        I wouldn’t have red hot coils in my shop. Too much dust accumulating & occasionally I make a dust cloud. (I vacuumed up a bunch of dust the other day, went to carry out the base & dropped the whole mess. Huge choking dust cloud.) My heater is a ceiling mounted, oil filled, 240v electric heater. It stays pretty clean, but I blow it out a couple of times each year. It’s a Fahrenheat Ceiling-Mount 5000 Watt Electric Heater, Model# FUH5-4 that I got from Northern Tool for $275. It keeps my insulated shop in KY between 60-70 degrees all winter at close to the lowest settings. Cost about $275 & has been trouble-free for over 3 years.

        • Erik

          Thanks Jim. I’ve ran my Hot One a fair bit this (mild) winter. The coils never glowed and I had my windows cracks for ventilation, and I had no problem doing some oil finish work on some built-ins that I pre-constructed in my shop. The little heater got my up to 75+ degrees on the low setting (shop is roughly 20×24 with a vaulted ceiling.) Very pleased with it. Next project: fiber-glass the cedar surfboard I just built! Thanks again.

          • Kurt Spiridakis

            Hi Eric, how did that heater work with glassing? Did it blow dust around too much? I have a smaller shop than yours but in a cold climate, and will be heating primarily to glass boards in the winter. The Hot One seems like a simple way to heat occasionally, but did you find it created too must dust? Thanks!

          • Erik

            Hey Kurt, I took some time to vacuum the shop before glassing. As I do a lot of woodworking, sawdust was the main issue. I also gave it a couple days after vacuuming for the dust to settle. Once it looked relatively dust free, I used the heater to warm the shop for glassing. It worked just fine. Yeah, a couple little specs which I worked out in sanding and subsequent coats. But again, I started with a very dusty shop. Nothing a little housekeeping can’t fix.

  • TwistedRedneck

    Thanks for this article. I have never really given much consideration for heating. I have just gone out to the shop with extra layers of clothes or not at all. However this does bring up something that I have pondered from time to time, humidity. I moved to southern Virginia from the West Coast. A big difference as far as humidity goes. I can buy some lumber from the store and literally watch it twist out of shape at times. If I decide to heat my shop and cool my shop, I have been wondering at what temperature should it remain at and how much humidity do I need to compensate for. Is their a chart for this as far as say, maintaining a 63 degree shop and maintaining 40% humidity as an example. These numbers mean nothing, just throwing them out. I can just see my work in my dry shop being placed in someones home and it starts to crack and twist because of too much or not enough moisture.

    • Bill Wells

      Good question. But I don’t know how you would maintain 40% or any specific humidity based upon a chart. There are charts but are pretty complicated, and maybe not useful. I suggest you invest in a good humidity meter (hygrometer) which will at least tell you where you are with moisture in the air. Also, a moisture meter for the wood so you can tell if it is too wet, which is the usual problem.

  • Bill Wells

    Very good article, thank you WWJ.

    However, I’d like to correct, or clarify, a statement made about humidity: “Running any heater in the shop tends to decrease the relative humidity of the air”. Yes, that may be true while the heater is running, but most of us shut off the heat in our shops when we are not working. If we use the much criticized portable propane heater, that heater is producing carbon dioxide and water vapor as combustion products. Maybe some carbon monoxide as well, but if burning properly only CO2 and H2O. Safety aside, if you turn on that propane heater in a cold shop, humidity will increase and water vapor will condense on the cold surfaces of your tools. And produce rust. It definitely happened to me. Another strike against the propane heater.

  • Nv man

    In Edmonton, AB, it is as cold as it gets. I had an natural gas infrared radiant tube heater that was direct vented. I was a little worried as to how well it would heat my garage/shop that was 24×28 and 11 ft ceiling but my plumber insisted that it would have no problem. I am glad I followed his advice. It worked like a charm. I would keep the heat turned down to just about freezing when at at work during the day but it would only take half an hour to warm up. The best part was that there was no fan to blow dust around.

  • Claudia Moring

    Gentlemen…. Can you put it in simple terms for me. I am old, handicapped, and look out….. female. With some adjustments I am still able to piddle around with my wood crafts. Nothing detailed like furniture just what I call “fun stuff.” Basically use my scroll saw, jig saw, circular saw and soon would like to buy a Miter saw. Plus my sanders. Not tons of saw dust flying around but definitely some.I am from California where heating in my garage/shop has never been an issue. I recently relocated to Oklahoma (Burrr) and have a 2 car garage with fair insulation. I am fairly warm blooded so cold as a rule doesn’t bother me. I just bundle up. BUT that being said what would you suggest I use for heating. I am unable to work out there for a long time but would enjoy working a couple of hours comfortably. It really needs to be portable as I do not want to have to hire someone to install. Using an estimate of 500 sq feet what can I reasonably buy for heat?

    • Jon Hecker

      In Indiana, I have installed two of the Comfort Zone 750/1500 watt quartz electric heaters in a 1000 sf shop. They were $50 each at a local big-box store. They need to remain ON all day to maintain a comfortable working environment. This is probably a climate very similar to your in Oklahoma. They work best as a localized heater, like over the workbench.

      Now I am looking at WECO International’s infrared heaters to finish the job. I don’t want to use propane (fear of combustion with a lot of dust and solvents) and I don’t want the high installation expense of a direct vent, sealed combustion gas heater (think $3500+). I can install three of these IR electric heaters for less than $1000. Each 1950W heater covers an area approx 14′ x 14′.

      Look up WECO. I have found their tech support to be quite helpful. http://www.wecointernational.com/infrared-comfort-heating-solutions

  • Cathy

    It seems that the 5000w 240 volts are the way to go for our garage. But I believe we would have to make electrical adjustments to accommodate that. I see there are Step Up Transformers from the average household outlets. But I’m afraid this might be dangerous or not advisable. Do you have any suggestions in this regard?

    • Phil

      Cathy, a step-up transformer is likely not a good option. If you have a 220v heater that draws 12 amps, that means it would be drawing 24 amps on the 110v side. So to start with you would have to run 10 ga wire (capable of 30a) to the transformer. If you have to do this you are better off just running a new 12 ga wire (capable of 20a) to the new heater. A lot cheaper in the end, and done properly.

  • AllodialTitle

    Propane, Mr Heater in the Living Room works wonders. Fireplace isn’t airtight and the airflow sucks out noxious gases.

  • Jen

    Hi, I have a 9×16 ft workshop. It’s insulated as of today! It’s 144sf. I do wood work and acrylic, chalk and latex paint work. What is the safe way to provide constant heat for a small space like that? Affordability is key as I’m out of funds for this space. Plug in is necessary. It needs to be ok left plugged in… ideas? I just need some clarification since my space is so much smaller than most of the ones mentioned here. Thanks so much for this guide and your input.