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For many, a garage is so much more than just a secure place to park cars or store unused items. Woodworkers, hobbyists, and weekend mechanics all know that garages are sanctuaries; just far enough removed from household distractions, while still within arm’s reach of home. Until the icy winter months roll around, that is, and put an instant freeze on projects, thanks to frosty fingers and quivering hands. Garage heaters are a great way to keep the chill out, and there's certainly no shortage of options to choose from. However, finding just the right one for your space is no easy task.
To help you stay toasty while you tinker, we've scoured the market to bring you five of the best garage heaters available. At BestReviews, we select all our featured products ourselves, so you can rest assured that our reviews come from an objective standpoint. We never accept free samples from manufacturers. If you're in need of a garage heater and already know what you're looking for, take a look at our top five contenders in the product matrix, above. Need to learn a little more about them before choosing? Refer to our detailed guide, below, to find the best option to help you get cozy quickly.
Fan-forced heaters work by drawing air through the unit via a fan, warming it with the heating elements, and finally, blowing the heated air back into the room. These types of garage heaters are capable of heating up enclosed spaces fairly quickly, but keep in mind that because fan forced air heaters blow air — and dust — they may not be the most suitable when you’re painting or finishing wood projects.
Rather than heating the air, these types of heaters work by directly (and quickly) warming the objects they're pointed at, including floors, work surfaces and you, if you happen to be positioned under one. While these heaters won't warm up large areas as quickly as fan-forced air varieties, they do provide steady warmth — without blowing air or stirring up dust particles.
Infrared and radiant garage heaters will immediately warm the objects they're pointed at, but won’t warm the air as fan-forced air heaters do.
Electric: Electric garage heaters are popular for their easy-to-use convenience. These can be more expensive to run, but they also have considerably fewer safety concerns than fossil fuel varieties, making them our number one choice.
Natural Gas: Natural gas heaters are probably the most cost-effective when it comes to heating large spaces over extended periods of time. These types of garage heaters undeniably provide fast and efficient heating, and if you already have a gas line in place, this is a good option. If not, consider an electric option instead.
Propane: In the absence of a gas line, propane heaters are an alternative for those who are unable to use an electric heater. However, propane canisters require refilling, and unless you have a backup on hand, you could easily be left in the cold without warning.
While gas and propane fueled heaters can be more economical in the long run, due to their carbon monoxide emissions and highly combustible nature, they require special care and proper ventilation.
Propane fueled garage heaters may be economical, but require special care and safety considerations.
As the majority of garage heaters pack considerably more power than household varieties, many of them aren't compatible with the standard 110 or 120 volt outlets, the kind typically found in homes in the US. Larger garage heaters usually require 240V and, in the absence of an appropriate outlet, these may require professional installation.
While some garages come equipped with wiring for more powerful appliances, it's always a good idea to check the voltage first to avoid overloading your circuit. We recommend contacting a professional electrician to assess your outlet voltage and install the appropriate wiring, should your garage require more warmth than a 120V heater is capable of supplying. Keep in mind that all wiring needs to adhere to national and local electrical codes.
Some garage heaters are strictly designed for hardwiring, while others plug into an outlet. Hardwired heaters are permanent fixtures, and usually require professional installation. For those looking for a more port able option, a garage heater that plugs into an outlet may be a more more suitable option.
Have a certified electrician examine your wiring to ensure it's suitable for your electric garage heater.
The size of your garage is the single-most important factor to take into consideration when choosing a garage heater. An overly powerful heater will not only make you uncomfortable, but will also add unnecessary cost. A heater that's too small will be ineffective, and it simply won't make much of a temperature difference. For smaller spaces, infrared and radiant heaters generally get the job done, while bigger garages may require a more powerful fan-forced air heater to quickly heat up, and to maintain warmth in larger spaces.
So, how do you know if a heater is capable of producing sufficient heat for your garage? Take a look at the heater’s thermal output. In electric models, this is measured in watts, while propane models will be measured in BTU/hr (British Thermal Units per hour). The higher the number, the higher the overall amount of heat. Not taking into account climate zone, ceiling height, or insulation (all important considerations) the following guidelines can be loosely applied when selecting a heater for your garage:
1500+ Watts: This range is usually adequate for smaller garages, up to 150 square feet.
2500+ Watts: Recommended for medium garages, up to 250 square feet.
4000 to 5000 Watts: Larger garages, up to 500 square feet, naturally require higher wattage.
If you live in exceptionally cold climates, you'll likely require a more powerful heater to adequately warm the same amount of space.
Before purchasing a garage heater, assess your needs. A portable option can be easily moved between workstations, while a wall- or ceiling-mounted garage heater will help you save on space.
Many garage heaters come with mounting brackets. This is an especially useful feature for smaller spaces. Mounting your garage heater on a wall or ceiling will not only free up valuable floor and surface space, but in most cases will also provide more efficient heating. If you plan to mount your garage heater, ensure that it comes with mounting brackets.
Many garage heaters feature built-in, adjustable thermostats, allowing you to warm your garage to the ideal temperature.
Garage heaters with adjustable louvers are useful for aiming heat in a particular direction. Pointing them directly at your chosen area will allow for quicker heating.
Fan-forced air heaters do an excellent job of heating up larger spaces quickly.
Just about all garage heaters will require at least some measure of cleaning or maintenance down the line, but certain models need significantly less care than others. For fuss-free maintenance, keep an eye out for these features:
A solid and durable construction.
Self-lubricating fan motor.
An air intake grille to help keep debris from getting into the unit.
Overheat Protection: Not surprisingly, heaters do run a risk of becoming too hot when used over prolonged periods of time. If this does occur, the overheat protection function will automatically turn the heater off, preventing damage to the unit’s internal components.
Tip-Over Switch: A heater with a tip-over switch is designed to automatically shut off when knocked over.
Cool-touch: An important feature, especially when it comes to standing heaters (whether placed on a table or on the floor), cool touch housing will help to prevent accidental burns.
When choosing a garage heater, look for one with a tip-over switch. This will automatically shut off the heater, should it accidentally fall over.
Electric heaters definitely have the lowest initial cost, but, depending on the unit’s power and how frequently you run it, they can end up costing you anywhere from $20 to $100 per month.
Not all natural gas heaters come with ventilation equipment included, and this could easily add an additional $150 to $300 to the price.
Overall, propane heaters are an affordable option even when factoring in ventilation equipment between $150 to $300 extra, as well as regular canister refilling (cost would depend on size and frequency).
Mounting your fan-forced air heater in the coldest corner of your garage, at a 45° angle, will ensure optimal heating.
The correct positioning can go a long way in increasing your garage heater’s efficiency.
Mounted Fan-Forced Air: For optimal heat distribution, mounted, fan-forced air heaters should be placed in the coldest corner of your garage, facing the center of the room. A garage heater should never be placed directly against a wall.
Infrared and Radiant Heaters: As a rule of thumb, infrared and radiant heaters should always be mounted at a height of at least 7 feet above the floor, with a minimum of 72 inches between the bottom of the heater and any combustible materials. While it’s tempting position this type of heater close to your work surface, we don't recommend installing it directly above, as this could pose a fire risk.
Portable Garage Heaters: Portable garage heaters are best placed flat on the floor, in an area where they won't be easily knocked over, and well away from combustible items.
If you regularly undertake wood staining or painting projects, keep in mind that fan- forced air heaters may stir up dust particles.
Even with a high-powered unit, your garage will continuously lose significant amounts of heat without adequate insulation. Commonly overlooked areas include:
The door connecting the garage to the rest of the house.
The garage walls themselves.
The garage door.
Outlets and light switches.
Cracks in the walls and floor.
Uninsulated concrete floors.
Q. Can I change my garage heater’s thermostat?
A. While you could technically change your garage heater’s thermostat to a wall thermostat, doing so may void the warranty. If you decide to replace the thermostat, you should to consult a certified electrician.
Q. Do all electric garage heaters have to be hardwired?
A. While many electric garage heaters do require hardwiring, some also come with outlet plugs. Before buying an electric garage heater, decide whether you'd prefer a permanent installation, or the flexibility of an outlet plug. Some prefer the cord-free convenience of hardwired heaters, while others simply can't do without the portability of an outlet plug. Whichever you choose, always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
Q. I like the portability offered by propane heaters. Are propane garage heaters safe?
A. When used correctly, propane heaters should be safe. However, the margin for error is narrow, and these should be used with proper ventilation and the utmost care.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.