The Best Way to Heat a Garage in Winter

Your garage is a useful space that can be used for much more than parking your car. Here in Canada (where it can get VERY cold in the winter), it’s very common where I live to see people using their garages for many other things, including a workshop, a “hang out space” (like a second family room), an office, a home gym, or even a studio for creative types. But what is the best way to heat a garage in the winter?

If you fall into any of these categories, or even if you just want to keep your vehicle nice and warm, winter will mean that some heating is required. Why shouldn’t you be able to use your garage in the winter, right?! Several garage heating options are available, but the one that you choose will depend on several factors including: initial investment cost, long-term operating costs, installation considerations, safety, and how you use your garage.

Below, I will outline some of the main options and considerations for heating your garage in the winter. Hopefully this will help you, and make it easier for you to decide which option is right for you.

At the end, I have a couple of great bonus videos that help to demonstrate what I go over in this post!

Types of Heaters For Your Garage

  • Forced Air Gas Heaters
    Can be gas or propane, pushes warm air into space.
  • Infrared Heaters
    Can be gas or electric. Transfers heat to objects instead of air.
  • Portable Electric
    Good for small areas as needed and can be moved around.
  • Radiant Heat
    Can be installed right into floor of garage (best for new homes that you’re getting built). There’s also portable radiant heaters as well for smaller spaces.

Types of Fuel Sources

  • Natural Gas Heaters:
    • Forced-air Heater
    • Infrared Heater

    (Both of these options will require gas, electric hook-up, and venting to the outside.)

  • Electric Heaters:
    This can be either a low-intensity infrared heater, or a portable heater. An electric heater is generally easier and more convenient to implement – cheaper to buy, no ventilation needed, no gas needed, and no installation costs. Fire safety might be the only main concern. The biggest drawback though, is the long-term cost of operation as it can be several times more costly to run when compared with gas heaters.

Forced-air Heaters

A forced-air heater is initially less expensive than infrared, and is most comparable to the furnace in most homes which blow warm air. They can be a great way to heat a whole garage.

If air quality is important (painting/staining), they may not be as clean as they can kick dust into the air.

Forced-air garage heaters are almost half the operating cost of infrared heaters… but generally more expensive to run. How you use your garage would be a factor here of course.

If you are frequently opening and closing the door(s), then this may not be the best option because forced air heating has a longer recovery time.

Fuel Source: Gas. Also need electrical connection.
Ventilation: Venting to the outside required.
Installation: Forced air heating installation is a bit less specific than infrared. But be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
PROS CONS
  • Less expensive to purchase (about half)
    • Hot air rises making it cooler near floor
    • More noise during operation
    • More expensive to run long-term
    • More air movement which could keep more dust in the air, which could be bad for painting projects.
    • Worse heat recovery (if door opened/closed). Takes longer to recover.

    Infrared Heaters

    Low-intensity Infrared Tube Heaters are quiet and clean but a bit more expensive in terms of initial cost; however, they are cheaper to run long-term.

    Infrared heaters act like a mini sun. They warm objects in the targeted area like the floor, car, tools and other objects, as well as people. The warmed objects then go on to radiate some of their heat into the air, and to other objects and people that contact them, thus increasing the overall warmth. Example: a floor absorbs infrared heat and will warm a person who walks on it.

    Placement in the garage is very important because this type of heater tends to heat a “zone” rather than an entire large space. Because of this, sometimes more than one may be needed (think of a fire station where it’s common to see several ceiling-mounted infrared heaters for the entire large garage). Because low-intensity infrared heaters heat objects instead of heating the air, placement is important depending if you want “spot heating” (such as your main workbench area), or if you want more general heating for the larger space (ceiling mounted).

    If you do woodworking, infrared heating might be good because it doesn’t stir up dust into the air. It’s important to make sure objects are at safe distance from the heater so they don’t overheat. Check with the manufacturer’s recommendations, but often approx. 3 to 4 feet minimum is required.

    You can also get portable units which you could even use for camping, patio, etc.

    Fuel Source: Gas or electric. Also need electrical connection (usually).
    Ventilation: Venting to the outside required if gas is used.
    Installation: Installation is more specific and exacting for low-intensity infrared tube heaters.For the natural gas powered heaters, venting will be required. Check the manufacturer documentation for specific sizing. Some units may include a kit for the venting. In most cases, you should be able to route the venting through a sidewall, or through the roof.
    PROS CONS
    • More uniform and even heat distribution
    • Less noise during operation
    • Less expensive to run long-term
    • Less air movement (less dust in the air) which could be good for painting projects.
    • Better heat recovery (if door opened/closed).
    • More expensive to purchase (about double).
    • Location of heater is essential (minimum 3’ from objects, 7’ from floor). Also need enough headroom for yourself so you don’t overheat if working near heater.

    A Word On Insulation

    So far we’ve discussed heating options for your garage. But we can’t just leave it at that, because we don’t want all that wonderful warmth to escape. That’s why insulation is so important. If you plan on heating your garage, proper insulation is critical to maintaining heating efficiency and a lower cost of operation. If you don’t ensure your garage is insulated well, you will find the cost of operation to be very high. According to Snowflake Air, heat escaping the garage can make you lose 30% more on your electric bill!

    The main considerations are:

    Walls:
    The first consideration is making sure your walls are insulated. Usually, fiberglass batt insulation is a good choice that is also inexpensive. If using fiberglass batt insulation, you need to make sure that it is cut to fit snuggly, but not jammed into the wallspace.

    Door:
    Another main area for concern is the garage door. This is a large area where a lot of heat could be lost. There are options for insulating garage doors such as:

    • Fiberglass or foam DIY Panel Kit
    • Reflective Foil
    • Polystyrene Foam
    • Weatherstripping for door (bottom of door where it meets floor)
    • Door with insulation already built-in


    Other:
    Another thing to look at is any other areas where heat could escape such as around windows. Ensure you seal any cracks, add or replace weatherstripping, ensure windows close fully, or even consider using shrink film kits to cover the entire window area.

    Conclusion – So, what’s the best way to heat a garage workshop?

    The best option will depend on your garage size, and how you use your garage. You may only need localized spot heating near your workbench, in which case a portable electric heater or a solo infrared header could do the job. Or you may use more space in your garage for bigger projects, and require more even heating throughout the entire garage, in which case a forced-air or infrared heater(s) (ceiling mounted) could work better for you.

    What is the most efficient way to heat a garage?

    Again, this will depend on how you use your garage. Do you need it heated all the time, or just occasionally when you need to work on something? How often do you open/close the door? Do you only need heat one main area, or the whole garage? Not to mention, even the most efficient heating won’t be efficient without good insulation as well.

    Many people might say that the best solution is a gas-fired forced-air heater up on the ceiling. As long as you’re not opening and closing the door a lot, as the recovery time can suck a lot of energy.

    Others might say that in-floor radiant heating is the best for nice even heating. However, this won’t be an option for most people with the concrete poured already, in addition to the high initial investment cost.

    Yet other people (including myself) might say that gas powered low-intensity infrared tube heaters are the way to go. Infrared heaters offer the benefit of quick heat recovery if the doors are opened or closed (or if just starting the heater up in a fully cold garage). In addition, my particular style of usage wouldn’t be to keep the garage fully heated all the time – I would only use it full power when I needed to actually use the garage, and infrared heating would work well for this. Consider that many fire stations use this type of heating. While the initial cost might be higher, it’s cheaper to run in the long-term.

    What is the cheapest way to heat a garage?

    If you factor cost into the efficiency equation, then the cost of the unit, cost of the installation, and cost of usage, will all need to be factored in as well. This is why “how you use your garage” is an important question to answer.

    Please share with any friends that you think would enjoy learning how to heat a garage in the winter.

    Here are a couple of excellent bonus videos to help explain things even more:

    Be sure to check out my other posts:

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