Choosing a Garage Heater

Garage storage
Fotosearch/Getty Images

Most garages seem to get a lot use in warm weather, but are often sent into hibernation for the winter. If you would like to spend more time working in your garage in cold weather, here are some affordable heating choices worth investigating.

Liquid Fuel Heaters

Freestanding space heaters that burn kerosene or propane are portable and inexpensive, but they are only useful for heating small spaces. Unvented kerosene and propane space heaters can boost the temperature in a small garage, especially if it is insulated, but they also release carbon monoxide and moisture into the air.

Be very careful when using a freestanding liquid fuel heater in an enclosed space—many safety experts frown on the practice. 

Direct-vent space heaters, on the other hand, can be great choices for supplying heat to the garage, especially if your house is already piped for propane or natural gas that runs your stove or a gas fireplace. Direct-vent garage heaters exchange combustion air and exhaust fumes through a pipe in the wall, thereby eliminating carbon monoxide danger. If you plan to use the heater frequently, look for a  model with maximum efficiency. Suppliers of direct-vent heaters provide instructions for installing the unit yourself, but even if you feel up to the chore, it's best to have a professional install the gas line.

Direct-vent space heaters are perhaps the best choice for a garage in a cold climate that needs to be frequently heated or kept at a constant above-freezing temperature.

Wood Stoves

A wood stove can be a great choice for heating the garage under certain circumstances—especially if you have a steady, inexpensive supply of wood for fuel. Using a wood stove comes with caveats, however.

You will need to have room for a safe installation, with proper clearances between the stove and any combustible materials.

And all wood stoves must be connected to proper chimneys. A woodstove takes quite awhile to heat up, and will continue generating heat long after you’ve stopped feeding it fuel, so this is not a good option for short, quick heating needs. A wood stove can be perfect, though, for daylong projects in the garage. A woodworker with lots of scrap lumber on hand might find a wood stove to be a perfect solution. 

  • Caution: Never burn pressure-treated lumber or scraps of sheet material with chemical resins in a wood-burning stove. Burning these materials produces toxic fumes that by law cannot be sent into the atmosphere. 

Electric heaters

Electric heaters suitable for heating a garage come in many forms, from small 120-volt portable plug-in heaters, to 240-volt radiant overhead heating units, to permanent baseboard heaters. The main virtue of electric heaters is their convenience. Electric heaters are quiet, clean, and unobtrusive, and they do not require that you tap into a furnace or boiler, and they require no chimneys or vent pipes. 

Electric heaters are generally fairly inexpensive to purchase and install, but they can be fairly expensive to operate on a constant basis, especially in very cold climates.

In cold climates, it may be best to fully insulate your garage if you want to heat the garage frequently with electric heat. Electric heaters are ideal in more moderate climates where subfreezing temperatures are rare. 

HVAC Extension

It is also possible to extend the ventwork that heats and cools the rest of your house by adding ductwork into a garage that is attached to the house. However, this can dramatically change the load on your HVAC system, so it is best to have an HVAC professional assess the situation and run the additional ductwork if you choose to go this route.