Adding garage heating is a task that has become very common for homeowners. But with so many options to choose from, which truly are the best heaters for a residential garage? Most families rarely use their garage space just for storage or for parking their vehicles. Today, garages are laundry rooms, garage workshops, play areas and even niches for pets, and some people even do garage conversions to turn these spaces into beautiful living areas.
But while the garage has become an extension of the family’s living space, cold temperatures and a drafty structure combine to make it less than habitable, causing a loss of square footage during the winter season. This problem, however, can be easily fixed with a simple garage heater.
To determine the best garage heater for your home, you must first consider its use, and then choose from three different types of space heaters before making a final decision, including forced air heaters, infrared heaters and electric heaters. Your decision will also be based in part on the available fuel types: natural gas heater, propane, kerosene or electricity, as well as how many square feet of space you need to heat.
Forced-Air Garage Heaters
Traditional forced air garage heaters deliver instant heat like a conventional furnace and are designed to solve any outdoor heating needs. A convection garage heater moves air past a heating element warming the surrounding air; then the hot air rises away from the heater. These garage heaters are best for enclosed spaces and are similar to a forced air heating system in a home. They are easy to use and install, with heating levels set by an adjustable thermostat, louvers to adjust the direction of heat. These garage heaters are a great way to warm an entire garage.
Some of the most common and widely used forced-air garage heaters include a range of both permanent and portable gas-fired forced air garage heaters (which require venting), with some models providing easy electronic ignition, a fuel shutoff device, adjustable thermostat and automatic overheat shutoff.
In addition, electric forced air garage heaters are equally common and a good solution for homes without ready access to natural gas. Be mindful however, that the cost to operate an electric heater will be far greater than that of a natural gas forced air garage heater.
Forced-air garage heaters can be placed in a corner, near a gas line and an electrical outlet. How many BTUs (units of energy) you’d need depends on variables such as your garage size, climate zone and preferred heat settings to maintain a comfortable temperature. However, a basic rule of thumb for forced-air garage heaters is 45,000 BTU to heat a two to two and a half car garage, and 60,000 BTUs for a three-car garage.
Infrared Garage Heaters
The required minimum BTUs for infrared garage heaters is marginally lower – 30,000 BTUs can heat a two car garage, with a suggested 50,000 for a three-car garage. Infrared heaters deliver radiate heat rather than using a conventional blower fan. Available in many different styles from infrared to tube heaters, it’s likely that you’ve seen these types of heaters at city bus stops or large warehouses. As opposed to convection heaters, radiant heaters work well when you’re only looking to heat a specific area as opposed to an enclosed space.
If you plan on working on a project in your garage, particularly with wood or paints, an infrared heater may be the best heater for a garage because it doesn’t raise dust or keep dust airborne. A forced-air heater will stir up sawdust, which is certainly a problem with many DIY projects usually carried out in the garage, such as painting, re-upholstery, staining, sawing, etc.
However, you won’t feel warm as quickly with an infrared heater because it heats objects first, rather than the air. Yet once your concrete floor warms, you’ll feel more comfortable because infrared heat provides uniform and consistent heating rather than dissipating the heat associated with blower fan heaters. With forced-air heat, the air is warmer at the ceiling and cooler at your feet. And a forced-air heater will take longer to reheat the space after the garage door has been opened and shut.
Installation is markedly different too. For safety reasons, it’s advisable that all nearby objects be kept at a distance of three to four feet. Infrared heaters must be installed a minimum of 7 ft. above the floor, and must hang down a minimum of 4 in. from the ceiling. It’s critical that you make sure objects below are not too close. Most infrared garage heaters are installed at the back of a garage pointed toward the garage door, then aimed downward at a 45-degree angle. They can also be installed between car bays if the garage door opener rail allows and you don’t have tall vehicles such as a truck or an SUV.
Infrared Heaters are available in a wide range of sizes from smaller personal propane heaters or infrared electric heaters or like the Dr Heater line, to those like the Mr. Heater line designed for larger spaces.
Portable Garage Heaters
If you plan on doing any type of body work on cars where bare metal will be exposed, you may want to go with an electric garage heater as opposed to a heater that burns propane or a natural gas garage heater. Burning any type of fuel can create moisture in the air which may cause problems when doing body work on cars. With electric heaters, you don’t have to worry about producing moisture since these types of heaters use an electric coil as opposed to a burner.
Portable Electric Garage Heaters
Portable electric garage heaters also require very little maintenance. And while electric heaters used to be expensive, newer models on the market are competitively priced. A higher efficiency rating, contrasted against the extreme cost of natural gas, has made electric heating far more popular than the alternative.
Electric garage heaters have a number of benefits which could make them a good choice as the best heaters for a garage, such as automatic shut off. Most electrical heater units have tip over protection and will also automatically turn off if the unit has tilted off its base and/or fallen over. This safety measure prevents hazards and fires – which is a critical feature if you’re using flammables or have pets or children nearby.
Electric forced air or radiant garage heaters are a good solution for homes without ready access to natural gas. However keep in mind the cost to operate an electric heater will be far greater than that that of a natural gas forced air garage heater, and larger units may require a separate electrical circuit or power cord outlet be installed.
An additional safety benefit includes protection against carbon dioxide poisoning. Unlike natural gas furnaces, with electric heaters you don’t have to worry about lethal gas leaks (which are often undetectable to humans). And since electric garage heaters don’t produce emissions, they’re definitely the green choice for any eco-minded home.
A cost benefit in electric garage heating is that many cities and states offer incentive programs to homeowners who switched out traditional heating for electric furnaces. Additionally, many utility companies offer similar perks to those who heat their space with electricity rather than natural gases.
While not designed specifically for garages, kerosene heaters can be an excellent low cost option for garage heating. A couple things to note:
Kerosene heaters are rated for indoor or outdoor use. Generally speaking, larger kerosene heaters are designed for outside use. Using an 80,000 – 200,000 BTU heater in a closed garage could be very dangerous, due to both carbon monoxide and fire danger.
Instead, there are a wide range of kerosene heaters designed for indoor use that could be perfect. For example, for my 600 square foot garage workshop heater, I purchased this Sengoku KeroHeat 23,500-BTU Indoor/Outdoor Portable Convection Kerosene Heater. I pain less than $150 and found it was the perfectly sized shop heater for my needs. As with any portable heater, you need to be cautious that it’s not placed too close to a combustible surface, overheats and causes a fire. Plus, check that it has all the appropriate safety elements, including a tip over feature that will instantly shutoff the burner if the unit were to fall.
In my case, I wasn’t looking to heat to what would be a normal “room temperature.” I needed one that would take the edge off a chilly day so I could work with just a heavy work shirt. I’ve just gone though my first winter with the unit heater and it worked well.
Finally, keep in mind that with kerosene, having a steady supply of fuel is important so make sure its available locally and affordably before committing to this type of heat.