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Heating the shop

I received a message from a reader asking how I heated my shop in the third stall of my garage. Since temperatures here have been much cooler than normal, I thought this might be a good time to share that info with everyone, so here are the particulars.

For the first four years we were in the house, the primary heat source for my shop was me! I worked in insulated coveralls, a stocking hat and fingerless gloves. I had a little milkhouse heater blowing as close to me as possible, but at best, it prevented frostbite.

Milkhouse heater

Milkhouse heater

It’s the only time I thought my shop was too big. Glue-ups and finishing meant carting parts into the house and down to the basement.

Then I installed a ceiling-mounted natural gas heater, similar to a Modine Hot Dawg. It’s up by the garage-door opener, blowing back into the shop.

Cayenne heater

Cayenne heater

In the winter, I keep the shop at about 55 degrees while I’m working. I bump it up higher if I’ll be gluing or finishing, although some of the finishing I still take to the basement.

The attic above the garage has 12” of blown-in insulation, and the outside sidewalls are insulated. I could make the arrangement more efficient by hanging a curtain to divide the shop from the two-car portion of the garage, thereby containing the heat in a smaller area. It would also help if I had a better seal around the overhead doors. A good W or NW wind pushes them in about 1/8” from the weatherstripping.

One problem I’ve had with my heater: The exhaust vents horizontally through the north endwall. When a stiff north wind blows (ie when a nasty mass of arctic air is moving in), the heater often won’t fire, due to the back-pressure in the exhaust.

Before turning the heater on for the first time each season, I climb up and give it a good cleaning, blowing and brushing away the dust and cobwebs. I do that a couple of times during the winter as well.

So how do you guys heat the shop in winter? And I don’t want to hear you guys in the Sunbelt say “I open the windows.”


13 Responses to “Heating the shop”

  1. Well, I used to say I opened the windows…

    But the past few winters have gotten the temps so low here in Florida that I had to break down and get an electric, oil filled heater.


  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by WOOD Magazine and the woodwork, Martin Armac. Martin Armac said: RT @WOOD_Magazine: Read how one WOOD Editor keeps his shop toasty in winter. http://bit.ly/fQaKoX [...]

  3. We have a wood burning stove in our shop. I burn all the scrap wood, newspaper, junk mail etc. My dad had the shop before me and ran a cabinet business. He kept everything! This winter I started burning the huge formica pile he kept. I have burned through the 60′s-orange,avocado,gold. I am now working on the 70′s-lime green,pink,fake wood. It’s better than filling up the land fill, and boy does it burn hot!

  4. I live in a rented house in middle Tennessee. My shop is the two car, unheated basement garage. The doors are metal and do not seal at all, so in the last couple of months when the temperatures here were in the teen’s and 20′s it got pretty cold in there. Since I rent the house and can’t make any permanent changes I heat with a propane construction heater and use my JET air filter system to circulate the heat around the shop and down off the ceiling. It’s a convection style heater, not the torpedo, and it’s rated for 20,000, 40,000 and 80,000 btu. I turn it on when I first start to work in the shop and turn it off when it warms up. There is plenty of ventilation from the leaky garage doors, but I do open the entry door a bit as well. I make sure it is off if I am doing any finishing work with volatiles like lacquer and dye stain. So far it has worked quite well but I do keep my finishing and glue supplies in a warmer part of the house. Not the best but it’s only needed 3 or 4 months of the year.

  5. I use a Big Buddy from Mr. Heater.

  6. I have a dedicated workshop we built in 2008. So I had the ability to run pex tubing in the concrete floor. So I use in floor radiant with a geo thermo heat pump. It works great and keeps the shop at about 60 degrees in northern Illinois.

  7. My shop is equipped with a hotel-type heating and air conditioning unit. It’s a heat pump which is programmed to keep the shop at least 40 degrees to prevent the water lines from freezing. Even though my shop is small (24×24), the unit doesn’t heat the shop quickly taking several hours to 60 degrees. It’s just enough to allow me to be out there without getting chilled.

  8. Been in my shop for 4 years, and initially divided the space into 2 roughly equal equal spaces with heavy floor to ceiling plastic curtains. Heat was provided by an 8,000 watt electric wall mounted heater that did a relatively good job of heating half of the shop, but you should have seen the electric meter whirl like a dervish. I’ve since framed a removable solid wall, and have a 36,000 btu propane heater in the work space. Insulating EVERYTHING will go a long way to helping, and that is scheduled for this coming season (May thru September).

  9. I live in Oregon and with the recent Arctic flows, we have been getting temperatures down into the 20s. My workshop adjoins a three car garage via a roll up door so there is quite a bit of volume to heat. I bought a Mr. Heater kerosene contractor series 75,000 btu/hr and it gets the space in the 60 deg range within 15 minutes (it has a built-in thermostat so it cuts off automatically). It helps that all the walls and rollup garage doors are insulated. I open one about a foot to let exhaust out and fresh air in and since it is at floor level, the heated air goes to the ceiling and the cold air out the bottom. With a kerosene heater you don’t have to worry about gas leaks and the price is not too bad if you buy in in bulk at a gas station.

  10. Hello all I have a question about heating a shop,
    my shop is located in the basement only not a regular basement ,as the ceiling above is the bottom side of my garage floor . There was a double doorway into this area but it has been enclosed with a wall and a single door,I have put electric power in to the room for lights and outlets and plan to put more outlets in . My question is the room has all concrete walls ,floor, ceiling so am I kind of stuck with electric heat or is there a cheaper way?
    Live in Kansas right now the temp outside is some place in single digit range which leaves my work shop rather on the cold side.

  11. I built my workshop about 8 years ago. It is a 30×24 building with a loft. I put radiant floor heat in when I built it. Water is circulated through PEX tubing embedded in the concrete before the pour and is heated by a tankless water heater. This system is not only very stingy on my wallet but very reasonable and easy to install. I set my thermostat on 60 and the building usually stays a very cozy 64-65. I have found it is more efficient than the gas forced air system I have in my house.

  12. i run a 175,000 btu torpedo heater when in the shop, keeps things around 60 degrees. only 2 cons is the smell when it fist fires (not all that bad)& the cost off road diesel fuel. i get 45 gals. at a time for $120.00 now. will last around 2 months but some of it goes into my tractor.i also when going to get subzero overnite i plug it into a time clock set for a 1/2 hr. runtime in the middle of the night to prevent freezing stuff. garage is a separate bldg.about 2/3rds. insulated, which is real pricey.

  13. I’ve installed a pellet burner in my shop. Its great. I start it up around 5 am and let it heat up my shop. A few hours later after breakfast and sports center, news etc., its warm. The part I like is cost. One bag of pellets will heat my shop for a weekend at around $5. Since 2008 it costs me between $70 to $100 for the entire winter. Its a sealed system and the bin holds 3 bags of pellets. I love it.

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