How Do I Choose the Right Garage Heater? by Scott Workman
Choosing the right permanent heater for your garage or small shop can be a daunting task, given the fact that there are so many options now available. So How do I choose just the right garage heater for my space? To help narrow down the choices, ask yourself the following questions. 1) Do I have a gas line available or easily accessible? What about adequate gas pressure?2) If there is no gas, do I have 240V electrical power available or easily accessible?3) What are the energy costs of gas versus electric in my area?4) Do I want forced air or radiant?5) Is my garage insulated?6) What is the ceiling height?7) Is there adequate clearance at the ceiling or on the wall to mount the heater?8) What is my budget?9) How big is my garage? 10) Will the heater I choose require installation by a heating professional or can I do it myself?11) Will I set the thermostat to keep the garage comfortable 24/7 or will I use the heater for only short periods?First, if no gas line available or there is no practical way to get gas to the garage space, your selection process just became a lot easier. That's because your only choice is an electric heater and there are only a few good options. There are several electric heater manufacturers to choose from including Chromalox, Qmark and Fostoria (TPI). These brands offer reliable forced air models suitable for residential and commercial heating. These eletcric space heaters are normally suspended from the ceiling or side wall with optional mounting brackets.Most two or three car garages require between 25,000 and 35,000 BTU's. An electric heater with a rating of 10.0 KW is about right (Note: to convert watts into BTU's, multiply the total watts - in this case 10,000 watts, by 3.413). Remember, electric heaters draw a lot of amps and usally require a dedicated circuit from the electrical panel. Older, smaller homes sometimes have panels that are too small to expand and are unable to accomodate the power requirements of a high amp heater. Check with your electrician to help determine if your panel is adequate. A panel upgrade may be necessary.In most areas of the united states, the cost of electricity is higher than the cost of gas. Even so, electric heaters do offer advantages. First, Electric heaters require no flue. If you are concerned about running a new flue through your roof or side wall, an electric heater suspended from the wall or ceiling may be the answer. Second, electric heaters are quieter than gas forced air heaters and produce little vibration. A common concern with forced air is that they are noisier and can transfer vibration through the structure of the house.Gas forced air heaters do require 120V power, in addition to the gas line, yet the electrical draw is much, much less than with an all electric heater. What about energy consumption? Costs of gas verus electric varies all across North America. Your local utilities can help you figure out cost differences. That said, natural gas heaters have always been much cheaper to operate. Propane fired heaters can cost a bit more to run.If a gas heater is what you're after, you have a bunch of options. Forced air heaters, or "unit" heaters, are very common. They heat up quickly and are generally more energy efficient than electric unit heaters (comparing BTU for BTU). Choose from brands such as Enerco, Modine and Reznor. For gas radiant heat, Enerco and Superior Radiant are two excellent brands that offer residential approved gas infra-red radiant tube heaters. Unlike forced air heaters, radiant tube heaters offer the benefit of increased creature comfort, a lot less noise and higher energy efficiency. They are a bit more expensive initially, but they can pay themselves back in a very short time. For the budget minded, Enerco offers the HeatStar H25N (Nat. Gas) or H22L (LP Gas) vent free high intensity infra-red heater. This heater is designed to heat 550 sq. feet or more, depending on insulation. It comes with wall mounting bracket, thermostat and thermostat wire and operates on a millivolt control, so it requires no electricty. Just hang the heater, connect the thermostat, run the gas line and you're done. Total installation cost can be as little as $500.00. The H25N/H22L is one of the most popular garage heaters in North America.Other options for heating the garage include wall mounted infra-red radiant and forced air heaters. For options, consider Rinnai, a manufacturer of residential vent free radiant heaters, forced air vent free heaters and vented wall heaters. While designed primarily for the dwelling space of the home, these heaters are excellent for garages, small shops, greenhouses, out butildings, cabins and more. When installed in garages, we recommend mounting them at least 2 feet off the floor, which should meet or exceed local codes in most areas of the U.S.As for heater sizing, keep in mind that it can cost 80 to 90 percent more to heat an uninsulated garage compared to one that is well insulated. If you intend on maintaing a comfortable termperature inside the garage during the cold months, insulating is a must. Some homeowners may simply want to take the chill off when tooling around for short periods of time near a workbench or other spat within the garage. In such cases, insulation is not as critical. If insulation is poor, we recommend choosing a heater that is not forced air. In other words, choose an infra-red radiant heater, which produces no drafts and standing beneath it feels just like standing in the sun.Whatever you do, DO NOT skiimp on safety. The above mentioned heaters are designed to mount safely from the ceiling or high up on the wall. Many homeowners choose to use portable propane or kerosene heaters located at the floor level to heat their garages. These heaters are unsafe around children and pets. In addition, gasoline and other flammables stored at ground level could be easily ignited in the presence of a spill. Spending a few dollars more for a permanent heater that is high and out of reach is worth that extra cost. Always use a residential garage approved heating appliance, especially for attached garages. Check local codes and use a qualified licensed heating professional for installation. Doing it the right way will add value to your home and give you peace of mind.