“Warm and comfy” probably doesn’t describe your garage. But if you find yourself working in there on a regular basis, why shiver in the cold? Installing heating systems in garages can give reliable, comfortable heat — without the hassle, danger and cold spots of space heaters. Follow these steps to get started:
Skip the Easy Shortcut
Simply routing a heating duct in into your garage might seem like a great idea … but it’s not. Do so, and you could end up sucking pollutants into your house. At the very minimum, talk to an HVAC expert before attempting this.
You’ll need to know the exact square footage of your garage — don’t estimate. The formula for calculating square footage is length multiplied by width. There are also gadgets that will measure this for you.
Insulation is a must for any heating system. If you get mild winters, a good insulation job alone might keep you comfortable. Put at least six inches on walls, ceiling and the door, with a minimum R-value of 19.
Choosing Between Heating Systems
There are two popular options:
1. Forced air: A wall-mounted heater that blows hot air from a vent will provide the closest experience to your comfortable living room. A 45,000 BTU residential unit ($200-$700) should adequately heat a 400 square foot, two-car garage. They can run on electricity, propane or natural gas.
- Electric models usually cost the most to run, but they have fewer ventilation concerns and may help lower humidity to protect expensive tools from rusting.
- Propane models require you to have a separate tank that must be filled when low.
- Natural gas (delivered to your home or via your house’s gas line) is often the most economical choice.
A drawback to this type of heating system is that forced air heaters keep dust airborne. That’s harmless to some DIYers, but a deal-breaker for many.
2. Infrared: These models radiate heat to objects (like the furniture and floor), rather than warming the air. You’ve seen them in bus stops. They make closer objects hotter (you included), so they need plenty of space. While forced-air units can be installed almost anywhere, infrareds must go in the back of the garage, at least seven feet from the floor and three feet from any objects. They can also run on electricity, propane or natural gas.
Infrared is a bad choice if you have a cluttered garage or if you actually keep your car in there. They’re also costlier than forced air heaters — a low-intensity, 30,000 BTU residential infrared unit for a two-car garage can run around $1,000 — but they usually cost less to use.
One huge perk is that infrareds don’t kick up dust. That can be key if you do a lot of painting, staining or woodworking in your garage. Also, while forced air units will heat faster, infrareds will keep the temperature more constant if you must open the garage door frequently (because they don’t heat the air).
Other heating options include electric baseboards or panels (cheap to install, usually quite expensive to run), hot-water-heated baseboards (often expensive to install), wood stoves (more effort, take up lots of floor space) and solar (not practical in all areas).
Tap an HVAC Expert
Installation can mean working with a gas line,
electrical supply or ventilation ports — and mistakes here could mean serious
injuries … or worse. If you’re an advanced DIYer, you’ll likely have the skills
to follow the heater’s directions and do the install yourself (saving a few
grand). But you need to follow all local codes, and those might prohibit doing
the gas-line work yourself. So always get a walk-through with an HVAC contractor
before you begin installing a garage heating system.