Buyer’s Guide: Garage Heaters
Working in the garage can be a mighty cold experience at some times of the year—but it's nothing a little heat can't fix. Learn about the types of heaters on the market and find out which models may be the best bets.
If you’re an avid DIYer, you know how miserable it can be to work on a project, or even perform routine car maintenance, when the midwinter temperatures leave your fingers frozen. Fortunately, you can banish the shivers—and warm your workshop to toasty temps at which paint and glues bond effectively—with a top-notch garage heater. Before you commit to a particular model, read on for the basics about these appliances and to find out which units consumers think are the best garage heaters on the market today.
Top Tips for Selecting a New Garage Heater
Know your type.
As with any indoor heating system, not all garage heaters control the temperatures in the same way. There are three primary types of heaters you’ll find on the market: forced air, convection, and radiant.
- Forced-air garage heaters vary in size, fuel type, and price, but all operate in the same manner, by cycling blasts of hot air into the space. The gas-powered variety (which ties into your home’s gas line) tends to be cost-effective to operate, because natural gas and propane are often more affordable than the electricity required to produce the same heat. Gas-powered units, however, cost more up front than electric units, and local codes require installation by a licensed professional.
- Convection garage heaters (including water- and oil-filled radiators) rely on an enclosed flame or heating element to warm air within the unit, which then rises naturally without the help of a fan. Though these units rate among the most affordable garage and shop heaters on the market, they can take a while to warm your garage to a tolerable temperature. Many are portable, but some—such as baseboard convection heaters—should be mounted.
- Radiant garage heaters feature highly polished reflectors that direct infrared heat outward for spot heating, or, in the case of large overhead units, heating an entire garage. Because radiant heaters offer steady warmth without blowing air, they are well suited to DIYers, particularly those who enjoy finishing wood. Radiant heat will not stir up the unwanted dust particles that can mar a woodworking project’s finish coat. Powered by natural gas, propane, or electricity, these units are available either mounted or portable and in a range of sizes.
To move or not to move.
Look over your garage and determine what you value more: freed-up counter and/or floor space or the ability to move between a few workstations. Knowing this should help you decide whether to look for a stationary or portable garage heater.
- Mounted garage heaters most often attach to the ceiling, but you can also find options that fasten to the wall. Here again, you can pick from a wide variety of energy options, sizes, and prices (ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars). Nearly all models feature adjustable thermostats, built-in safety features, and remote control options. The downside to mounted heaters is that they typically cost more than their portable counterparts because they’re closer to commercial quality. If you’re a dedicated DIYer, though, you’ll appreciate the benefit of not having cords lying around and not running the risk of tripping over a heater on the floor.
- No matter the type of heating or fuel used, portable heaters focus warmth where you need it the most. Like space heaters on steroids, forced-air options feature large horizontal tubes that house the heating element and a powerful fan that delivers blasts of hot air. Multifuel forced-air heaters work fast to produce heat, but their powerful fans will stir up sawdust and may make you uncomfortably warm if directed at you. Moreover, some models can produce fumes and water vapor, which make ventilation necessary. Portable electric-powered units typically cost less but can be somewhat less powerful than their multifuel counterparts. Alternatively, portable units can also distribute warmth through radiant heat and convection. Radiant heaters warm objects directly in front of them—think of sitting near a campfire—so you can start feeling toasty in a jiffy if one is pointed in your direction. Convection heaters are better for heating entire rooms because they warm the air, which then circulates naturally, but they won’t offer the intense heating effect of a forced-air or radiant heater.
Pick your power.
Consumers have a wide range of energy options to choose from when shopping for a garage heater. While they’re most commonly fueled by electricity, propane, or natural gas, you can also find heaters that run on diesel and kerosene.
- Because electric garage heaters pull a lot of power, these usually require a designated electricalcircuit on its own breaker. (An electrician can tell you if your existing garage wiring is adequate to run an electric heater or if a new circuit should be installed.)
- If you already have natural gas service to your home, you might want to consider installing a natural gas-powered heater.
- Propane-powered heaters can be installed on your home’s propane line, or you can purchase individual tanks of propane to fuel smaller heaters.
At the end of the day, the best garage heater for your space will be the one that produces enough heat for you to comfortably work on your projects without breaking your budget. Heat output is measured in British thermal units (BTUs), but you won’t have to compute complex BTU formulas to figure out what size heater you’ll need. Most heaters now advertise the maximum area, in square feet, that they can adequately heat. That number is based on a garage with 8-foot ceilings. If your garage has a higher ceiling, take that into consideration and pick a size up. Other considerations that can affect the warmth factor in your garage are whether its walls and doors are insulated and whether outside drafts can easily enter the garage. Even a high-capacity heater cannot prevent icy drafts from blowing in around an ill-fitting garage door.
The Top Picks
After comparing garage heater reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly rated models available today to help you find one that fits your home’s needs and your wallet’s budget. Select the best garage heater for your space from the picks below.
For weekend workshop warriors who don’t need a ton of heat—and perhaps don’t have a lot of extra room—this 4,000- to 9,000-BTU Mr. Heater model is efficient and affordable. It runs on small propane bottles, available from DIY and camping-supply stores, and can heat up to 225 square feet. Safety features include tip-over shutoff and low-oxygen shutoff. It also boasts a push-button igniter, two heat settings, and a porcelain-coated radiant heating surface for even heat distribution. While it won’t warm a large garage when outdoor temps dive below zero, it’s a solid option for smaller spaces.
Midrange electric garage heaters like this are a good choice for homeowners who experience mild winters or need only occasional heating. At just 13 inches high and 14 inches wide, this small-but-mighty surface-mounted powerhouse will fit in even the most cramped garage and can heat up to 500 square feet. It comes with a built-in thermostat and a thermal safety cutoff. The unit does not, however, come with a power cord—it must be direct-wired to a dedicated 240-volt outlet with a 30-amp breaker. If you’re not familiar with wiring concepts, or if local codes in your neck of the woods do not permit homeowners to run wiring, professional installation is necessary.
For serious DIY enthusiasts with two- to three-car garages or workshops, the four-star Mr. Heater Big Maxx Natural Gas Garage/Workshop Heater offers extra oomph necessary to heat up to 1,250 square feet. This 50,000-BTU model runs on natural gas and uses a standard 115-volt AC outlet to power the exhaust fans and the spark ignition, but it can be converted from natural gas to propane via the included LP conversion kit. Plus, it mounts well out of the way in your workshop via two angle brackets, only requiring an inch of space between the top of the unit and the ceiling and at least 8 feet from the bottom of the heater to the floor. If you have a large garage space to heat, talk to your HVAC professional to see if this Mr. Heater unit is right for your needs.