Garage Sense: 9 Ways to Heat Your Garage This Winter and Reclaim Usable Space

Alberta winters are notoriously unkind, especially those of the Edmonton variety. Every now and then we experience the joys of a mild winter, but more often than not, we feel the call to hibernate until the first signs of the spring thaw. With growing families filling up space inside the home, we often need more space by way of the garage. No one wants to “chill out” in a cold garage, and leaving the door open to the house will certainly not cut it. We want to share with you some options for heating your garage. By the way, they will work for detached units as well as attached ones.

Before we dive in, it’s important to assess what the space will be used for. Some options won’t be suitable if you’re building a workshop, but may be just fine for a home gym or games room. We’ll do our best to highlight as many attributes of the heat source as possible, so that you can make an informed decision. Remember, if you’re planning a DIY, be sure to contact the City of Edmonton and get the appropriate permits before starting.


    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.


    Whether portable or built-in, convection heaters work by warming the air that flows through them by passing it through electrically heated coils or plates, ceramic discs or oil-filled chambers. Portable models are inexpensive to buy and use (just plug them in wherever they’re needed), and are effective at heating small to medium-sized spaces because they spread their heat over a wide area. Models with built-in fans distribute heat quickly, while most baseboard, panel and oil-filled electric heaters can take a considerable amount of time to warm up. These require a 30-amp dedicated circuit, like you’d use to run an electric clothes dryer.


    Electricity provides one of the easiest ways to provide heat in a workshop. Portable models are inexpensive, virtually 100% efficient and easy to use (just plug them in wherever they’re needed.) Even stationary baseboard, wall and unit heaters are affordable, as well as easier and less expensive to install than comparable gas-powered heaters. Electric heaters don’t consume oxygen or produce hazardous combustion gases, so they are also relatively safe to operate in a woodshop, with fire safety being the only caveat. An electric heater’s cost of operation can be several times higher than the cost of running comparable gas heaters.


    The biggest advantage of radiant heaters is that heat is produced in no time at all. Radiant heaters transmit heat directly to objects by showering them with infrared rays (think of how sunshine feels on your face). Most radiant heaters come as portable plug-in (110V) models that produce up to 5,100 BTUs with an electric ribbon or a quartz tube element. You must be in direct sight of the unit (infrared rays are directional) and not much farther than a few feet away to get the most out of the heat produced. They’re great for “spot heating” a localized area, say a workbench or sanding station. Radiant heaters are a good choice for supplemental heat while you’re waiting for your main heat source to bring the garage up to temperature.


    Sometimes called “ductless air conditioners,” electric mini-split heat pump systems are equipped with multipurpose compressors that can produce heat in the winter, as well as cooling air in the summer. Compact and quiet, mini-splits are very safe for installation in woodshops, as they produce no flame, nor do they have hot elements, and the indoor unit’s coils never get hot enough to ignite dust or other flammables. While they’re relatively expensive to buy, they’re simpler and less expensive to install than heating systems that require ductwork. They’re also more efficient and cheaper to run than typical electric heaters. This is thanks to inverter technology that allows their compressors to operate at variable speeds, delivering only as much heating/cooling as needed.


    In most cases, gas is still one of the most inexpensive fuels for heating a building. Natural gas is considerably less expensive than liquid propane, but isn’t usually available in rural or outlying areas. Like electric heaters, gas models come in several different types that differ considerably from one another.


    Portable propane-fueled heaters are inexpensive and offer lots of BTUs (British Thermal Units are a measurement used for heat or energy) for your bucks. However, they burn oxygen and emit noxious combustion gases, including deadly carbon monoxide. Combined
 with the fact that gas portables burn with an open flame or element hot enough to ignite sawdust and other flammable materials (there’s also the hazard of using a propane cylinder indoors, something that heater manufactures strongly discourage), it’s clear that portable propane units are simply too dangerous to use inside an enclosed workshop.


    Built-in gas heaters include wall and baseboard-mounted models, as well as industrial style unit heaters that can be hung from a ceiling or wall bracket. These appliances offer heat outputs that range from around 5,000 BTUs to 125,000 BTUs and higher, depending on the model. Wall-mounted gas heaters come in models that produce either convection or radiation type heating. Those with built-in fans distribute heat more quickly, but are also prone to suck up more fine dust, and will require cleaning more often. Unit heaters heat via convection and distribute warm air with louvered fans. While the initial cost of built-in gas heaters is on par with comparable electric models (in terms of their BTU output and efficiency), gas models typically cost more to install. However, these higher initial costs are quickly offset by lower monthly operating costs.


    As another form of supplemental heating, these work very efficiently, don’t make any noise, and are not affected by dust or fumes. They range in size from 1×2 to 4×8 and are powered by either 120 or 240-volt current, and heat up fast. However, it is not recommended that these be used without another heat source.

When you are calculating the expenses associated with heating your garage, be sure to factor in insulation costs and potential flooring. After all, once you go through the trouble of heating that space, it would be nice to keep it inside rather than heating up the neighbourhood.

Since this list only contains methods of heating, contact us for a summary of the makes and models we carry to warm you up this winter.

Canuck Plumbing is dedicated to helping you heat your homes and garages in the most efficient manner possible.

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