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Heating your Garage Gym this Winter – Brrrrrr

How to heat your garage gym

Are you looking for a way to warm up your garage gym this winter? A way to make it a bit more comfortable? Maybe at least take the edge off? I thought so! Let’s talk about heating your garage gym.

There’s no two ways about it; walking out into the garage to work out when it’s 15 degrees outside just plain sucks. For as long as I’ve had my garage gym, every winter, I’ve done just that. I just toughed it out and dealt with the cold. Not this year though. This year I’m warming things up out there. I’m saying no to that frozen barbell!

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the heating and air conditioning field. The information I have to share with you has been compiled from many sources including countless forum discussions, articles written by actual HVAC technicians, product descriptions and reviews, and my own experiences. Again, I am not an HVAC technician.

I want to help point you in the right direction to make your garage more comfortable to work out in. If one of these heating options interests you, do your own research on the products and the proper installation. Propane, natural gas, and kerosene are dangerous if not handled responsibly. Read all safely precautions and instructions, and hire qualified help if needed… don’t burn your house down!

Heating your Garage Gym – Electric Space Heaters

First things first -avoid small electric space heaters. I made that mistake, and I had to return it. I know it’s tempting to try one of these because they’re much simpler to use than gas or propane heaters, but I promise you that they do not work in extreme temperatures. At best these little things could take the edge off a 60 degree insulated bedroom, but it has no chance in bringing the temperature of a cold garage up to anything comfortable.

Heating your garage with electric space heaters will not work, sorry

These smaller, under $200 electric space heaters will not even remotely raise the temperature in a cold garage. Avoid these!

To give you an idea, the one I purchased was 5000 watts and it cost about $150. I tried it out in my garage the very night I bought it; a night no colder than about 40 degrees F (a far cry from what many of you deal with in your region). I left it running for 90 minutes and it didn’t even begin to warm up the area around itself, much less the rest of the garage. Complete waste of electricity.

Natural Gas and Liquid Propane Heaters

There are a number of options for heating your garage once you get away from electric space heaters and decide to go with natural gas or propane. While these options are not as cheap and as simple to set up as the plug and go electric space heaters, they will actually heat your garage and make it more comfortable.

Heating your Garage Gym – Forced Air Heaters

Heating your garage - Examples of Forced Air Heaters for your garage gym

On the left is a Dyna Glo 30k-60k BTU adjustable liquid propane forced air heater, and on the right is an example of an overhead, ceiling mounted forced air heater.

Forced air heaters work much like your home’s furnace in that they heat and circulate warm air. They require both an electrical outlet and a fuel source (either natural gas, propane, or kerosene). You can buy portable units that sit on the floor of your garage like that bazooka shaped unit above, or you can go all out and have an overhead unit installed (like the one in the article main image).

If you can afford it, and if your garage isn’t super drafty, I’d recommend installing an overhead unit to run off the natural gas already coming into your home. You’re looking at about $500 for a 50,000 BTU unit (not including the installation), but once it’s done, it’s done. No propane tanks, no giant bazooka on the floor, just heat any time you want it.

Of course, if you don’t mind dealing with propane tanks or kerosene, the floor models offer up a lot of BTU’s for not a lot of money. You can get the same 50,000 BTU from a kerosene model for under $200, and 70,000 BTU for around $250. That’s a lot of heat for not a lot of money.

As with all natural gas and propane heaters, ventilation of some kind necessary for the obvious, safety reasons. Larger, overhead units will have a vent leading to the outside world just like your furnace does, but the floor units will not. So plan for that if you’re interested in a floor unit. In other words, crack a window, the garage door, or something. Don’t worry, it’ll still be warmer than with no heater at all.

Heating your Garage Gym – Infrared Radiant Heaters

Radiant heaters work differently than traditional forced air heaters. Rather than heating up the air and circulating that warm air around, radiant heaters actually heat up the objects (and people) in its path. If you’ve ever stood under one of these heaters on a patio or something, you probably noticed how quickly it can become extremely uncomfortable when you stand too close. That’s because it’s not the air that’s being heated, you’re being heated!

Example of high-intensity infrared radiant heater

The high-intensity radiant heaters you see in commercial settings are generally not approved for residential use. Look for approved low-intensity radiant tube heaters for a garage setting.

One of the benefits of these infrared radiant heaters is that because of how they radiate large concentrations of heat, the heat can be directed where it’s needed. That means you can point it in the direction of your workout space. Of course, all that concentrated heat can make for a tricky installation. Since the surface of these heaters can be upwards of 1300 degrees F, they need to be a certain distance from other objects, including walls and the ceiling.

You’re unlikely to find a high-intensity radiant heater that is approved for indoor, residential use; because of how hot they get and their lack of built-in ventilation, they are just not appropriate for a closed garage. However, there are low-intensity units that can be safely installed and operated in a closed garage.

The low-intensity radiant heaters for homes are commonly referred to as radiant tube heaters. While technically not as hot as their high-intensity counterparts, they still produce a lot of concentrated infrared heat. Matter of fact, the word is that the heat generated by tube heaters is very uniform and comfortable, so that’s a plus.

Tube heaters are closed systems, so they are supposed to be pretty easy to install and maintain. Of course, they still require a power source, fuel source, and ventilation, so I don’t know how that’s any easier than installing a forced air system.

An example of a radiant tube heater

This Mr. Heater 45,000 BTU Propane Low-Intensity Radiant Tube Heater will heat your garage, but it’s a bit more pricey than forced air heaters.

I think radiant heat can be a good option if you’re planning on installing something permanent rather than using portable floor heaters. It’s probably a better option than forced air heaters if you have crappy or no insulation in your garage. Whichever you go with, I strongly suggest hiring a professional HVAC tech to advise you on the best model and appropriate BTU rating, and to do the installation. Better safe than sorry!

Btw, here is a video I found that does a very thorough job of outlining the difference in radiant heaters.

Heating your Garage Gym – Propane Convection Heaters

propane-convection-heater

Convection heaters are your no-frills, inexpensive way to take the edge off the cold. Convection heaters are literally a propane-fueled, open flame in a giant metal can. In a way, it’s really not much different than using a fireplace. Although unlike a fireplace, heat isn’t being lost up and out the chute.

I use a 50,000-80,000 BTU adjustable propane convection heater myself (this one here). I leave it running for 15 minutes or so with the garage door cracked for ventilation. After that 15 minutes or so, I start my workout. About 5 minutes in, I’m already warm enough to turn it off and shut the garage door completely. It’s kind of loud, but it definitely gets hot. Oh, and they don’t require electricity.

Again, this is an open flame, propane heater. Never leave it unattended! Treat it like you would a gas grill. Matter of fact, treat it with even more respect than you’d treat a grill because you’ve got it in your garage, not outside.

Small Portable Radiant Heaters

Mr Heater portable propane radiant heater

There are a lot of small radiant heaters that I saw both online and in the stores. They still use propane and have a little fan to move that heat around, but the BTU ratings were generally pretty low; like 4000-9000 BTU. I doubt that they do much to warm up a cold garage, but I suppose you could put it near your workout space and at least use it to keep your hands warm.

The Mr. Heater model in the picture above uses the small 1-pound propane tanks, and can also be connected to any large propane tank by use of the standard connector hose. This heater has a crap load of great reviews so it must perform well for its size, but I don’t think a unit this small is a solution for a cold gym though. There is also an 18,000 BTU model, but still a bit small for a frozen garage.

If you have one of these and think it could be a solution for a garage gym, leave a comment. They are very inexpensive so it would be neat if they worked well.

How Many BTU Do I Need?

The amount of BTU (British Thermal Units) you will need to heat your garage will obviously vary by region, level of insulation, ceiling height, and other factors. As a general rule, what I keep seeing is that you’ll want about 50,000 BTU to heat a standard 2-car garage using a forced air heater, and about 30,000 for low-intensity infrared tube heaters. For convection heaters, based on my own experience, I would say you would want at least 50,000 BTU to take the edge off.

What do you think?

Again, I’m not an HVAC expert, so I welcome any and all corrections, feedback, and input from those qualified to give said input. If you’ve used any of these products or even a different product with great success and you’d like to share that, please do. Comments are always on at Garage Gyms.

Additional Reading!

  1. Family Handyman – How to Heat a Garage
  2. Family Handyman – Best and Worst Garage Heaters
  3. Re-Verber-Ray – Types of Infrared Heaters
  4. Reddit /r/homegym – Garage Gym Heating Discussion
  5. CrossFit Forums – Garage Heating Discussion
{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Nikolas January 29, 2015, 12:47 pm

    Okay, here I can say, you’re really complicating and making it very expensive at the same time.
    An air/air heat pump (practically a high end split air conditioner) is cheap, some 1.400$ installed, it heats the space in no time, and emits cca. 4.5kw heat/1Kw electricity consumed. Therefore it’s very economical to run.
    Plus it cools in summer months. :D
    http://www.mitsubishielectric.com/bu/air/products/room_air/mszf01.html

    • jburgeson January 29, 2015, 2:27 pm

      Funny you should say that, I’m having a mini split installed here soon, although not for the heating. We’ll see how well this thing heats though. Incidentally, splits are far less common in the states, and even for a 1 ton, I’m looking at anywhere from $2500-3500 professionally installed. So I wouldn’t say it’s “cheap”, but I’m pretty damn tired of the heat in the summer so I think it’s a worthwhile investment. And if it heats better than my propane fire, so much the better.

  • Nikolas January 30, 2015, 3:43 am

    1.The installation cost is the same, whether you take a cheap or a premium model. One has to drill a hole through the wall, connect the copper tubing and bring an electrical wire to the unit.
    2.A huge difference is in how a premium model works compared to a common market model (this speaking about the same established brand, not some over the bank stuff).
    a.noise of the outside unit
    b.heating with low outside temperatures
    c.defrosting of the outside unit
    d.power consumption

    3.A premium model with 3,5kW cooling and 4kW heating can control the climate in a 40m² room; now, a house is better insulated than a garage, however you’re not going to heat to 23°C while training. The biggest problem is around freezing, cause defrosting. At -6°C it heats such a 40m² room to 23°C.

    4. Best models, tried out in Europe and Japan are:
    Mitsubishi Electric MSZ-FH35VE/MUZ-FH35VE (inside/outside unit code); price 1.200€ (that is 1.350$); with installation is 1.350€ (drilling through a massive wall).
    Hitachi Premium RAC35WSB/RAK35PSB; 1.300€.
    Toshiba Daisekai 8; 1.500€.

    The prices in Japan are something lower; so I doubt the units cost more in US.

  • sara July 12, 2015, 6:18 pm

    Hey quick question! What about best cooling options?

    Thanks a mill!

    • jburgeson July 12, 2015, 9:05 pm

      Earlier this year, after many years of trying to use fans to stay cool, I had a mini split installed in the garage. I’m in Texas and there really was no other solution. People in hot and dry climates can use swamp coolers, but even though they do cool the air, I have to think that the can mess up equipment since they introduce so much moisture, but I’m not sure. Humidity levels are too high in Texas for them to work well. Air conditioning is the only real way to cool a garage. Fans just blow around hot air. It’s better than nothing, but not much better!

  • George D. July 27, 2015, 3:11 pm

    Awesome article, hopefully I can send this to some friends with the intensive of free drinks and maybe I’ll get some work done. Thanks a bunch!

  • Gaylen December 10, 2015, 4:08 pm

    What do you think about having a wall (Gas) radiant heater with a floor fan up by the ceiling to blow the hot air collected up there to blow it back to the lower half of the garage.

    • jburgeson December 10, 2015, 5:28 pm

      If I understand radiant heaters correctly, the fan wouldn’t really help because of how they work. I could be wrong here, but my understanding is that radiant heaters actually heat objects in their path (including us). The air is mostly unaffected.

      • Gaylen December 10, 2015, 11:08 pm

        Maybe I misspoke. I was putting away some boxes up on shelves at the top of the garage. And it was hot up there. So maybe the heater isn’t a true radiant heater. I just thought I could blow the hot air that is at the top of the garage with a floor fan that I’ll need in the summer back down to the floor and hope it warms it up a bit better than it is now and avoid having to pay for a furnace.

        • jburgeson December 11, 2015, 11:04 am

          Oh I see. Yeah I’m not so sure. I probably wouldn’t invest anything in trying. It’s not easy to warm up an un-insulated room like a garage without some form of direct heat, and other than propane convection heaters, there isn’t really a super affordable way to do that.

          • Gaylen January 14, 2016, 6:04 pm

            The garage is insulated with R12 and plywood and Sheetrock. We’re in Utah, so morning temps 0-8. It isn’t so cold, only when I hold the bar. the bars are freezing. So, would getting one of those portable propane heaters get it warm enough, I’ve thought of installing a small furnace type at the cieling, but any help you could give would be appreciated.

            • jburgeson January 15, 2016, 5:33 pm

              Yeah that’s a tough one… the bar is the worst part about going out in the cold. If you’re not using any heat source at all and just relying on the insulation to keep it from being as cold as it is outside, I’d imagine that anything you did to bring the temperature up some would help with the bar. It’ll still be cold to the core when you start, but at least not as bad.

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