Best Heaters for a Garage: Forced Air, Infrared or Portable?

garage organization

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 garage? Most families rarely use their garage space just for storage or for parking their vehicles.  Today, garages as laundry rooms, workshops, play areas and even as 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 heaters before making a final decision, including forced air heaters, infrared heaters and electric heaters.

garage heater

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 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 and 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 portable gas-fired forced air garage heaters, with some models providing easy electronic ignition, a fuel shutoff device, and automatic overheat shutoff.

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 temperature settings.  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.

garage heating

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 heater 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 heaters may be the best heaters 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 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 vehicle such as a truck or an SUV.

garage heating

Portable Electric 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 natural gas. 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 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 cold make them a good choice as the best heaters for a garage, such as automatic shut off. Most electrical heater units 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 critical feature if you’re using flammables or have pets or children nearby.

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 by electric garage heating is that many cities and states offer incentive programs to home owners 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.

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