The Right Space Heater for Your Garage

Here are some tips for workshop projects when the thermometer drops.

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A disadvantage to using your garage as a shop or craft area is that it wasn't meant for that. It's where you park your car and store lawn-and-garden supplies.

But if you are among the increasing number of folks using the space for projects, you need to deal with a few minor inconveniences.

One is warmth. During the summer, there's usually not much concern. If the space gets hot, you open the garage door. But when the thermometer drops, it becomes a little tougher to keep your focus on the project.

There are many ways to take the chill out of your garage. First, those little porcelain space heaters work great and can warm up a fairly good-sized area. The downside is, they aren't meant to warm a large space. If you use your garage for a short time, you'll be turning the unit off and on -- which takes longer for the area to get up to a decent temperature.

Kerosene heaters are useful. In fact, I have used one for years. Easy to start, most have an electric starter and can really kick out the heat. My only concern is that most of the models I've seen don't have a thermostat, so it's hard to regulate the temperature. Also, some people are bothered by the odor. So make sure that you ventilate very well while using.

The ideal solution is a professionally installed gas heater. Shari Hiller, my Room by Room colleague, inspired me to purchase one when I saw her brand-new heater last winter.

The many models on the market all are fairly inexpensive. You can purchase an installed model for about $1,000. The beauty of a gas heater is that it can give you a consistently warm environment. Most smaller units can heat an area up to 1,000 square feet, perfect for a two-car garage. Of course, you can purchase larger units if you can afford them.

Gas heaters are available in manual or thermostatic control types. I prefer models that have a thermostat; it can be set at a comfortable temperature that will keep your garage nice and toasty.

There are two types of gas heaters, ventless and vented.

The ventless unit uses air from the room it is installed in, so you must provide sufficient air ventilation. It has a pilot light and an electrical starting system. Push a button and it starts right up. Again, choose a unit with a built-in thermostat that senses the room temperature.

The unit will increase or decrease the burner flame's height. When the room temperature reaches the set temperature, the burner will be shut off, then start back up when the temperature drops below the setting. A neat safety feature for the ventless model is an oxygen-depletion-sensing shutoff system. The system shuts off the heater if there is not enough fresh air. I would consider this a must if purchasing a ventless gas heater.

Other units have a ventilation system that vents directly out of the garage. A hole is cut through the garage wall and a small vent leads directly from the unit to the outside.

Either way, both systems are safe and can make your garage a nice, warm environment for working. In fact, these guys can heat a room for just pennies an hour. But as with any heater, be it in your home or garage, you do need to practice safety. You don't want to store flammable items near or in the surrounding area. The unit also needs to have fresh air circulating around it, so don't store objects in front or to the sides.

If you are going to do woodworking, you may want to turn the unit off while using machinery that kicks up dust. Just blow away any dust from the unit with a can of compressed air and you can turn it back on. And certainly you want to keep children and pets away from the unit when in use.

Call your local professional and he or she can give you all the details and maybe get your garage up to workable temps. And please make sure you fully understand any safety instructions that come with your device.

Well, that's just a quick primer on gas wall heaters. It's now up to you "weather" you want to wait until the snow's up to the window sill or let your fingers do the walking now and call a pro and be ready for cooler weather.

Me? I bought my new heater last year.

(Matt Fox alternates writing this column with Shari Hiller. They also co-host the Home & Garden Television show Room By Room.)

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