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The Best Way to Heat a Garage Workshop

Updated: October 9, 2022
Heating a garage requires understanding the space to be heated, swings in temperature and installation requirements. In this guide learn what heaters are best for small, large and temperate versus cold-climate areas.
Best Way to Heat a Garage
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The Best Way to Heat a Garage Workshop

The best way to heat a garage is with a power friendly heat source that maintains heat when you need it. But the choice in the right heater will come down to climate, insulation, installation preference (DIY or contracted) and how you intend to use the garage. 

For example, a three car garage in a northern climate often requires a large 50,000+ BTU garage heater that is professionally installed.

But a small garage in a southern climate can make do with a fraction of the BTU’s.

Getting started, things to consider when choosing the best garage heater include:

  • Cold climates require thermostat-controlled heaters
  • Some heaters require venting to allow moisture or vapors to escape
  • More “BTUs” equal more heating power. 
  • Insulation in cold climates is a must
  • Radiant heaters will heat the objects in the space – air heaters will heat the air
  • Most electric heaters are 240v and will require a licensed electrician to complete the installation
  • Not all heaters are intended to be left on. Look for a thermostat-rated device (preferrably that comes with on) and follow directions.

Editor’s note: I’ve heated my Minnesota-based woodworking shops with everything from indirect wood stoves, barrel stoves to (now) a 75,000 BTU natural gas unit (professionally installed). 

Top Garage Heating Solutions

Plug-and-play 120v radiant heater:

Small garage 240v forced air:

Best radiant heater for large area:

Best for cold climate:

Portable pick:

Garage heater thermostat:

Last updated on 2023-01-26 at 20:46 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

First Things First: Garage Size & Climate

US Climate Map - Garage Heating Reference

Before looking at heaters you’ll need to evaluate a few things based on where you live:

  1. Garage Square Feet:  this is the #1 determinant of heater size. Simply measure the width and depth of your garage to arrive at square footage.  Hint: a 3-car garage is usually 20×30′ = 600sqf.
  2. Climate Zone: there’s a big difference between heating a garage to 60-degrees in northern Georgia than in Minnesota.
  3. Heating Sources: do you have gas (LP or propane) or just electric?

The bottom-line is the farther north you live, the more BTU’s, insulation and need for a thermostat controlled solution you’ll need.

Why Are You Heating the Garage?

So you have size, climate and heating source options in hand, now what else matters? 

How you’ll use the space, of course.

For example, if you’re a woodworker you need a steady temperature above 60 degrees to prevent glue joint failures. On the other hand, a mechanics shop can cool off overnight and then warm up. 

Or, perhaps you’re looking to keep the temperature at 50-degrees for a warm car and to keep a garage fridge or freezer running.

With that in mind, before selecting a heater you’ll want to consider:

  • Temporary heat or hold a steady temperature
  • Heating to 50-degrees vs. 70-degrees
  • Does the heater need to be portable?
  • Location and programming of the thermostat
  • Energy efficiency
  • Brand of the unit (eg. Honeywell, Reznor, HotDogg)
  • And lastly, location of  the unit

With all of these factors in hand you’re now ready to make a decision and warm your garage!

Beware of Dust and Flammable Fumes

Large Wood Shop

If your workshop will be used for woodworking then you’ll need to factor in how the heater will handle dust.

Many heaters, like heat (and cool) mini-split systems have sensitive filters that will easily clog. And some systems with open flames cannot be used in paint or finish environments. 

Generally, a closed electric or gas system with proper venting is the best way to go if you are heating a workshop that produces hazardous dust or fumes. Not sure? Call in a professional.

Types of Garage Heaters

Types Of Garage Heaters

While this might seem obvious, the number one step in deciding the best way to heat a garage is will you need occasional or constant heat?

If your needs are for weekend projects and you won’t need to bring the temperature up significantly you can consider smaller plug-in heaters or stand-alone infrared units for small spaces.

But if you live in a cold climate odds are you’ll need a heater to hold the garage above freezing the entire winter. And then a heater big enough to raise the temperature quickly when you will be working in it.

Garage Heaters For Occasional Use

Infrared heater occasional use

Almost all homeowners have a garage with paint, chemicals and even freezers or refrigerators that shouldn’t freeze.

And those living in a southern climate enjoy temperatures that rarely drop below 32-degrees for sustained period. Which makes an intermittent-use garage heater a great option to save energy.

So, consider a heater that isn’t hooked up to a thermostat when:

  • Your garage won’t freeze
  • You only need to warm the garage periodically
  • Temperature rise (difference between un-heated and heated temp) is low. For example, an occasional use heater can take hours to take a space from 40-degrees to 72-degrees.

Garage Heaters For Continual use

Large space natural gas

As you can guess, cold climates require larger heaters.

And if your garage needs to be kept above freezing then a regulated heater on a thermostat is a must. But the good thing is these heaters can be set to a low temperature (say 45-degrees, but follow manufacturer minimums). Best of all, before use for projects like woodworking or fixing the car you can set the temperature up.

You’ll find these heaters are generally:

  • Natural gas hung from the ceiling
  • Radiant heat affixed to the wall
  • Electric 240V for smaller garages

But, plan to use a professional. And, generally, purchase the heater through them for their warranty.

Best Way to Heat a Garage

With variations in your workshop size, intended use, budget, desired “steady” temperature and climate there is no single heater that works for everyone.

However, the following list is a comprehensive collection of the best way to heat a garage:

Best way to heat a garage - electric heater

Overview

Looking for occasional heat for your garage and live in a warmer climate?

First, a great place to start is an electric heater  to take the chill off a small workshop and keep the heat at a working temperature for your shop projects.

And, as a major advantage to a gas garage heater you will NOT need to vent an electric unit (that I have seen – follow all manufacturer guidelines). 

Key features:

  • Ceiling mounted to not take up valuable wall or floor space
  • Direct wired (no extension cords!)
  • Available in sizes from 5000-7500W+
  • Quiet operation
  • Most units have a thermostat on the unit
When doesn’t this heater work? Based on unit size, energy cost and climate an electric garage heater is BEST for small spaces. For larger spaces you’ll want to consider a more industrial unit.

120V Electric Heater vs. 240v Electric Heater

So you’ve heard about 120V heaters and 240V heaters, but what’s the difference? When it comes to a heater, it’s as simple as more power in the 240V. 

And while you should hire an electrician for ALL wiring, you can learn more on the differences between 120V and 240V over here.

Pros

Cons

Best way to heat a garage - gas garage heater

Overview

For large spaces you’ll want (need) to start with a vented gas garage heater.

And, personally, I have no regrets in going this route since I’ve used a 75000 BTU heater in my 1200 square foot garage with 12′ ceilings in a cold climate. Due to the design of a gas heater they heat up fast and hold a temperature easily.

Key features:

  • Ceiling mounted with external venting
  • Direct wired and connected to a gas supply
  • Capable of heating a large space to a high temperature quickly and efficiently
  • Wall mounted thermostats to control temperature
  • Most units have a thermostat on the unit

If your space is for woodworking this will make sure your table saws, workbenches and other tools are all warm and ready.

Pros

Cons

Best way to heat a garage - small electric heater

For instant heating a 120V electric heater will provide heat to smaller areas with minimal installation skills.

Overview

There aren’t many options for heating that use a standard 120V outlet, but this unit is one of them.

Should you consider this for constant duty heating in colder climates? Probably not.

But, if you live in a warmer climate, want to take the cold out of the garage for the weekend then this is worth looking at.

Pros

Cons

Best way to heat a garage - vent free heater

If you don't want to punch a hole in a wall for venting, then a ventless space heater is a heater worth looking at.

Overview

Over the course of two home workshops I’ve had to cut two holes in garage walls to accommodate a vented garage heater.

But my shops are larger and in a (very) cold climate.

So how can I heat my garage without holes? Well, if your garage is in a moderate climate, smaller in size and you don’t want a hole in the wall then this unit is a must-see. 

The only downside? You’ll need to supply it with either propane or LP.

Pros

Cons

Best way to heat a garage - torpedo heater

For portable heat or temporary heating a torpedo heater was designed to make your garage workable, and then allow the space to cool when not used.

Overview

Growing up in a northern climate I remember my dad’s torpedo heater well. On cold days in the workshop this would occasionally make an appearance to quickly warm the shop after extended periods of the shop doors being opened.

And as a kerosene powered unit it blasted out a high volume of heat quickly.

Key features:

  • Doesn’t require any installation
  • Simply plug it into a wall outlet and a 20-gallon propane tank
  • Runs around 20 hours on a single tank

The biggest drawback? You won’t want to use this for continuous duty heating (follow the manufacturer’s instructions!).

Pros

Cons

Best way to heat a garage - convection heater

A kerosene heater is a classic convection design that's been used for decades to heat indoor areas - simply and without power or installation.

Overview

First, convection heat works by heating the air around it and continuing to warm air gradually warms an entire room.

Similar to a torpedo heater but with no noise or air movement this installation-free heater will heat a small to medium sized garage at an affordable price.

The biggest downside? Storing and supplying this heater with kerosene.

Pros

Cons

Best way to heat a garage - compact space heater

This 240V plug-in heater will heat a small garage with 4000 watts of power.

Overview

If your garage is smaller (1-2 stalls) and your climate is warmer then a compact wall garage heater is an option.

While this heater will still require a 240V connection to achieve the required heat, they are easy to use, simple to mount and will take the chill off a cold workshop.

Pros

Cons

How to Heat Different Garage Types

Choosing a heater often involves deciding on what type of garage you’re trying to heat. 

For example, a detached garage will have different considerations due to location, availability of energy and often differing construction quality (and efficiency).

However, an attached garage may require additional considerations for venting and controlling the temperature for doors that may open more frequently.

Best Way to Heat a Detached Garage

Best way to heat a detached garage

As you might guess, a detached garage has a number of shortcomings when it comes to heating options. For example, you’ll need to likely overcome:

  • Limited power supplies such as availability of natural gas or propane.
  • Insulation and construction quality often less than a home due to building codes
  • And lastly if you’ll be heating and holding the temperature, or letting it cool and re-heat (time to heat)

With that in consideration there are two options for heating a detached garage:

  • One of the best options is a 240V electric heater (or two) that leverages your existing electrical.
  • Or, if you propane is an option, a gas heater with a propane conversion for larger garages.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most efficient way to heat a garage?

Before choosing a heater, the first thing you’ll need to do is fully insulate your garage and garage doors. Without adequate insulation you’ll spend hundreds (or thousands) on lost heat. Next, based on your garage size and target temperature, look for a heater that will run when needed. Gas heaters can be the most efficient way to heat due to their ability to quickly heat a space and turn off the blower motors.

What type of heater is best for a garage?

The size of the garage often dictates the best heater. For single car garages a wall or ceiling mounted garage is often best. While for 2 or 3 stall garages you’ll want to turn to gas (LP or propane) for a sure-bet heating to higher temperatures. Building a new garage? Then I’d consider investing in radiant in-floor heating.

Should I heat my garage in the winter?

You should only heat your garage in winter if it’s necessary, of course. Reasons to heat a garage often include keeping an outdoor fridge or freezer above 45-degrees. Or, for hobbies like woodworking (my use) you NEED to heat it for keeping glue and other cannot-freeze items above freezing.

How many BTU's does it take to heat a 2 car garage?

The minimum is generally 35,0000 BTU’s in warmer climates up to 70,000 in bitter cold climates with tall ceiling spaces (remembering a 12′ ceiling can add 50% to your space over an 8′ ceiling).

Summary

While there is no one best way to heat a garage there are types of heat that can go from heating a small garage in Florida to a large industrial garage in northern Minnesota. Just be sure to follow directions, use a professional for installation and be responsible with the thermostat.

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Last update on 2023-01-07 at 18:21 / Images from Amazon

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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.

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Disclaimer: DIY projects can be dangerous, hire a professional (link to Home Advisor) if unsure.