Keeping Your Shop Warm This Winter


As the cold weather approaches, properly heating your shop space becomes a priority. A comfortable temperature allows you to work efficiently and productively all winter long. However, choosing the right heating solution can be a difficult decision with so many options on the market.

When determining the best heating method for your shop, there are several key factors to consider: the size and layout of your space, your climate and winter weather conditions, your budget, and energy efficiency. With some strategic planning and smart implementation, you can create an affordable, effective heating plan that will keep you toasty even on the coldest days.

Choosing the Right Heating System

The first and most important consideration is selecting the appropriate type of heating system for your unique shop space. There are a few main options to choose from:

Consider the Size and Layout

Larger, open shop spaces with high ceilings will require more powerful heating systems, such as a central forced air furnace or radiant floor heating. The heating system will have to push warm air or heat throughout the entire large area. Smaller, divided shop spaces can often get by with zone heating from several smaller space heaters or wall-mounted radiators.

Think about any garage doors, which can be a major source of cold air infiltration. Positioning your heaters or ductwork to counter the cold near the doors is ideal. Work areas where you sit in place for long periods would also benefit from directed radiant heat to keep you comfortable.

Factor in Your Climate

The heating needs for a shop space in Florida are much different than in Minnesota. The climate, average winter temperatures, and extremes in your area should guide how robust of a system you require. If you regularly experience sub-zero days, a powerful furnace is likely necessary. In milder climates, smaller space heaters may be perfectly sufficient.

Also consider how well insulated your shop is currently. If it is an older building with minimal insulation, you’ll need ample heating power to compensate for the heat loss. Newer, well-insulated shops may require less intense heating.

Choose Gas, Electric or Propane

Most shop heating systems run on natural gas, propane, or electricity. Assess which fuel source is readily available, affordable, and efficient in your region. Gas furnaces and propane space heaters are common choices for shops because they generate ample heat for large areas. Electric space heaters have improved in efficiency and power in recent years. Choose based on your budget and access to fuel sources.

Using Efficient Space Heaters

For some small to mid-sized shops, space heaters can be a smart and cost-effective heating method. They are a fractional cost of installing a full furnace system, and the heat can be focused right where you need it most. Just be sure to choose high-quality, efficient space heaters with adequate power for the size of your shop.

Focus the Heat

A major perk of space heaters is flexibility in placement. You can angle them right at your main work bench or task area to provide personal heating comfort. Move them around seasonally to direct heat where you need it most. Many newer space heaters even have oscillation settings and built-in fans to help circulate the warm air around you.

Prioritize Safety Features

Space heaters do present a fire hazard if used improperly, so look for key safety features when purchasing. Newer space heaters often come with tip-over auto shut-off technology to prevent fires if they get knocked over. Units that automatically turn off if they overheat or detect abnormal operation are also critical protections. Choose well-reviewed models from reputable brands to get those key safety features. Also be sure to plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet, never an extension cord.

Size it Right

When using space heaters in a shop, you want the unit to be properly sized for the space you are heating. Oversized space heaters will cycle on and off frequently, which wastes energy. But an undersized model will run continuously at maximum output, straining the unit. Refer to sizing guidelines on space heater packaging or manuals to determine the right wattage you need per square footage of shop space. Buying too large or too small is inefficient.

Adding Insulation for Maximum Efficiency

Any shop will benefit tremendously in heating efficiency by improving insulation. This is the easiest way to contain and conserve heat in the winter. Insulation helps to seal air pockets in walls, ceilings and floors which are prime locations for heat loss. A well-insulated shop will require much less power from your heating system to stay warm.

Insulate Walls and Ceiling

Fiberglass batt insulation is straightforward to install yourself in standard 2×4 wall stud cavities and attic rafters. Use proper protective equipment and cover skin when handling fiberglass. Alternatively, spray foam insulation kits allow you to fully air seal and insulate walls and ceilings for maximum effect. This comes at a higher cost but is a cleaner approach.

Foam Sheathing for Metal Buildings

If your shop has a basic prefab metal building construction, insulation can still be added. Foam sheathing boards work well when applied to the interior or exterior of the metal wall panels. The foam seals effectively between the metal ribs. A thermal barrier may also need to be added for fire protection.

Caulk, Foam and Weatherstrip

Any remaining cracks, gaps or penetrations in your shop walls, ceiling, windows and doors should be sealed up. Caulk cracks with a paintable silicone caulk. Use spray foam for larger gaps. Weatherstripping doors and windows helps cut down on infiltration. This air sealing is the final step to a tight, well-insulated building envelope.

Heating a shop efficiently through a cold winter is very achievable with the right combination of insulation upgrades and an adequately sized heating system for the space. For maximum comfort and energy savings, address the insulation first before purchasing any heating equipment. A tighter, better insulated shop will allow a smaller, less costly heating system to keep it just as warm. With some strategic planning using the tips above, you can stay toasty in your shop all the way until spring.

Heating Options Compared

Gas-powered forced air furnacePowerful, heats full space, energy efficientExpensive to purchase and install, need gas hookup$$$$
Electric forced air furnaceGood for smaller shops, no venting neededLess powerful, higher operating costs$$
Propane space heaterPortable, direct heat where neededVentilation required, refilling tanks$
Electric space heaterAffordable, flexible placementLess efficient, fire safety concerns$
Radiant floor heatingComfortable ambient warmthExpensive to install, not ideal for shops$$$

Key Considerations

  • Size and layout of workshop
  • Insulation needs – reduce heat loss first
  • Climate conditions – temperature extremes
  • Budget available
  • Fuel source accessibility and costs
  • Health and fire safety

I hope this overview of some popular heating options aids you in determining the best system to keep your workshop warm and comfortable this winter! Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the most budget-friendly way to heat a small shop?

For small shops, a good quality electric space heater is typically the most affordable heating option. Models with emergency tip-over shut off features provide safer operation.

Should I insulate before getting a heater?

Yes, adding insulation should be your first step when heating a workshop. Reducing heat loss through walls, ceiling and gaps makes a huge difference in efficiency. This allows you to install a smaller, less expensive heater.

Where should I position space heaters in my shop?

Try positioning portable space heaters near where you sit most, pointed towards you. You can also angle them near doors and windows where cold air enters. Just be sure to keep a 3 foot clearance from objects and never leave unattended.

How many BTUs do I need to heat my shop?

As a general rule of thumb, you need around 30 BTUs per square foot for moderately cold climates. Colder regions may require 45-60 BTUs per square foot for a well-insulated shop.

What’s the most heavy duty heating for large workshops?

For large spaces, a powerful gas furnace system is typically best. Make sure it is properly sized for the square footage and height. Propane heaters are another good option.

Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!

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