When working with tools during winter months, either at the workbench or under the car, the first priority is keeping steady hands -- and the best way to do that is with a garage heater. Trembling digits or bodies are never a good mix with power tools or heavy mechanical work. While piling on extra layers of clothing such as hats and gloves could keep you warm, it also restricts your movement and can get in the way of your visibility. That's why a good garage heater does more than just keep you warm -- it keeps you safe.
With so many different kinds of garage heaters, finding the one that's right for you requires a good deal of research, but we've made it easier for you by compiling customer satisfaction ratings and expert opinions to determine the best garage heaters across a variety of categories. Read on for our recommendations, as well as tips on how to determine which garage heater may best suit your needs.
Electric garage heaters are typically seen as not being as powerful as their fuel-burning counterparts, and while it's true that a gas heater or liquid fuel can provide stronger heat output, the right electric heater can meet your warming needs as well. Case in point: the Fahrenheat FUH54.
The Fahrenheat FUH54 offers up to 5,000 watts of power, with an adjustable thermostat that goes from 45 degrees to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The electric garage heater needs to be hardwired (rather than plugged in), which means it requires an experienced electrician to be properly installed, but on the plus side, the relatively small size of this heat unit means it can be installed and mounted in a variety of locations.
If you need an even more powerful shop heater, the FUH724 model provides up to 7,500 watts of heating power, while the FUH1024T heating unit provides up to 10,000. Still, for an average-size garage, the FUH54 should make for a sufficient and reliable heating solution.
Like every kind of garage space heater, propane units come with their own safety concerns -- in this case, carbon monoxide is generated by the burning of the fuel and must be properly vented outside. When it is, though, propane units are effective and useful heating solutions, and the best one on the market is the Mr. Heater MH60QFAV.
The MH60QFAV is what's known as a "torpedo heater," named for its shape. This propane forced air heater generates heat that spreads out from the open end and, at a maximum power output of 60,000 BTUs, can warm a room of up to 1,500 square feet. It's also a portable propane heater, so as long as you have a propane tank (and an outlet to power the unit itself), you can use this portable heater wherever you please.
The gas garage heater unit is a great value for the amount of heat it generates, and consumers have noticed -- it's the number-four space heater on Amazon. Even more impressively, customers who have purchased it seem to be very happy with their decision, as it currently has 4.6 stars out of 5, based on more than 500 reviews.
Mr. Heater is one of the leading names in heating solutions, and for an example of just how heavy-duty their products can get, one needn't look further than the MHU80 -- also known as the "Big Maxx." Not only is it the best choice when it comes to natural gas heaters, it's also our top pick for heating large garages.
The Big Maxx natural gas heater generates 80,000 BTUs of heat per hour, making it a great option for heating garages of up to 2,000 square feet. This forced air garage heater works via a fan that pulls in cool air, and then heats it before expelling it, and while it is on the larger side -- it weighs more than 85 pounds -- all that power has to come from somewhere. Plus, once this natural gas heater is properly mounted, the weight won't be an issue.
Please note that the Big Maxx air heater needs access to an electrical outlet for the fan and a gas source to enable heating. The kit for hooking the unit up to a gas source is not included with the heater, but you can purchase it separately. If you choose not to purchase the hookup kit, you'll have to provide your own natural gas connection or use the heater with a liquid propane tank.
If you have a smaller garage or one that's well insulated opposed to an uninsulated garage, you won't need the pure heating power that would otherwise be required. Something a little more modest -- and a little less expensive -- can get the job done for you, and the Dr. Infrared Portable Space Heater is an ideal choice in those situations.
The 1,500-watt infrared garage heater can be set for temperatures ranging from 50 degrees to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and has a programmable timer and thermostat that allows users to regulate their surroundings to a desired temperature for up to 12 hours in advance. This portable heater also has built-in safety features, such as overheat protection and an automatic shutoff switch in the event the infrared heater is knocked over.
As the name suggests, the Dr. Infrared Portable Space Heater is a truly portable garage heater, weighing only 19 pounds and drawing electric power from a wall outlet. Anytime you need a quick heating solution -- whether it's in your garage or in your house -- the Dr. Infrared Portable Space Heater can get the job done.
Portable heater units are typically smaller and less expensive than their stationary counterparts, and the Mr. Heater MH9BX -- also known as the "Buddy" -- is no exception. What makes it the gold standard for convenience, though, is that it runs on liquid propane, and even holds a small tank. That means you can use it anywhere, indoors or outdoors.
The Buddy also has built-in safety features. Not only does it shut off when tipped over, but it has an oxygen depletion sensor that shuts down the unit if it detects a problem with gas (this should not be taken as a substitute for proper ventilation, though). While the heater does have a relatively low power level, it has the heating capacity for 225 square feet that can service a small garage, or simply keep you warm if it's placed nearby.
The Buddy's price, ease of use and reliability have made it incredibly popular. It's currently the top-selling heater on Amazon, and satisfied customers are raving about it. It has 4.7 stars out of 5 on the site, based on nearly 7,000 ratings.
If you have a large garage to heat -- a multicar garage or workstation, for instance -- you'll need a powerful gas garage heater, and these usually cost more. While there are bargains to be found at any price point, if you've decided that you'll spend anything for the right heater, it's worth considering the Modine HD45AS0111 -- one of the models in the company's "Hot Dawg" product line.
This particular model is pricey, but it's effective and versatile. User reviews on Amazon report how quickly it heats up a room, and while it is designed to be a natural gas heater, it can be converted to be a propane garage heater if you need or prefer it that way. For proper ventilation, it features an exhaust pipe that needs to be vented outside to expel harmful gases.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that this is just one of the air heater products in the Hot Dawg line, and your needs may vary based on space and price. In all, there are six heaters in the line, ranging in power from 30,000 to 125,000 BTUs of heat output.
If you want a quick and easy heating solution at an incredibly low price for open garages, odds are you won't be able to do better than the Remington REM-16-TTC-O. Even though this portable propane-powered unit is cheap, it generates an amazing 16,000 BTUs.
The REM-16-TTC-O doesn't require any electricity to run -- simply hook it up to the top of your propane tank, and it will put out the heat you need. It has some safety features -- such as a shut-off valve and a tip-over switch -- but it also gets extremely hot while operating, so it's important to make sure not to touch anywhere near the heating element while it's in use.
Kerosene heaters have similar risks to propane-gas garage heaters -- namely, they expel toxic fumes and require a ventilation solution. That said, if you can provide adequate ventilation, these heaters can be convenient and affordable alternatives to electric or natural gas garage heater units.
The Sengoku KeroHeat Portable Convection Kerosene Heater is a 23,500-BTU heater that can warm a room of up to 900 square feet. It's freestanding, so there's no installation required, and it's battery operated, so it doesn't need to be connected to a power cord and then a wall outlet. Simply fill it with kerosene, turn it on and it will be ready to generate 12 hours' worth of heat.
This kerosene heater is also designed to be as easy and safe to use as possible. It has one-touch shutoff capabilities, as well as an automatic shutoff switch that activates if the workshop heater is knocked over. The Sengoku KeroHeat air heater offers a lot of convenience at a very reasonable price.
Comparison of the best garage heaters
||Make||Model||Power source||Power output||Price|
|Best electric garage heater||Fahrenheat||FUH54||Electric||2,500 to 5,000 watts||$301|
|Best propane garage heater||Mr. Heater||MH60QFAV||Propane||60,000 BTUs||$170|
|Best natural gas garage heater/best garage heater for large spaces||Mr. Heater||MHU80||Natural gas||80,000 BTUs||$600|
|Best kerosene garage heater||Sengoku||CV-23K||Kerosene||23,500 BTUs||$152|
|Best garage heater for small spaces/best garage heater for insulated garages||Dr. Infrared||DR-968||Electric||1,500 watts||$130|
|Best portable garage heater||Mr. Heater||MH9BX||Propane||4,000 or 9,000 BTUs||$100|
|Best garage heater if money is no object||Modine||HD45AS0111||Natural gas||45,000 BTUs||$890|
|Best affordable garage heater||Remington||REM-16-TC-O||Propane||16,000 BTUs||$61|
Which garage heater is right for you?
As you can see, there are many different types of garage heaters, but one main distinction between models is how they're powered. Heaters fall into one of three categories: either they're electric, gas-powered, or they run on a combustible liquid (like propane or kerosene). Just like with the appliances in our homes, each choice has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Price plays a major role in determining a garage heater purchase, but it can't be the only factor. For instance, kerosene and propane heaters are typically the least expensive, but they give off carbon monoxide, and require a level of ventilation that may ultimately undercut their heating ability. As PickHVAC notes, gas and electrical heaters both work well, but gas heaters are typically capable of a bit more heating output, which may come in handy in a large or otherwise uninsulated garage.
It's also worth considering how much a heater will cost to run after it's purchased and installed. According to PickHVAC, "For every million BTUs of heat output, a gas heater will cost you $18, propane is around $30, and an electrical heater will cost about $35. These prices can change due to fluctuations in fuel and energy costs, but it is a good indicator of what they cost in relation to each other." Remember, a garage heater isn't a one-time expense -- it will continuously cost you money. If you winterize your garage properly by making sure that it's insulated and sealed, though, it will be easier to keep it warm and you'll save money on your heating bills.
The decision of which kind of heater to get may not even be entirely in your hands. If your garage isn't connected to an electrical or gas source, those options will be off the table (many electric heaters need to be hardwired, but some can run from outlets -- either way, you'll need a source). If you don't have either source, then a portable propane or kerosene heater may be your only choice. Additionally, some gas heaters may still require electricity to function, so those will be off the table without electricity in play.
Another factor that will influence your decision, in terms of the power of your heater, is the size of your garage. NewAir states that a good rule of thumb is that you should have 10 watts of power for every square foot of your garage (for electric heaters) or 34.1 BTUs of heat for every square foot (for gas heaters). That said, you can more accurately determine your power needs if you pick an ideal temperature you want to maintain in your garage. NewAir has a calculator to help you work your way backwards with that information.
Make sure to use your garage heater safely
The most important thing to take into account when using your heater is safety, and safe operation will depend on the type of heater you have. As mentioned earlier, heaters that burn liquid fuel (propane and kerosene in many cases) expel carbon monoxide. Some of these models are designed to vent the harmful gas outside, but these are more difficult to install. On the other hand, a vent-free liquid-fuel heater is easy to install and helps with heat retention, but you'll need to come up with your own ventilation solution, which could mean keeping the garage door open while you work. That said, these heaters are still safe when operated properly.
"A propane heater for a garage is indeed safe," says Muhammad Abdullah Hashmi, technical content manager for CieloWigle, which creates Wi-Fi controllers for air conditioners and heat pumps. "They heat up the garage space much more efficiently and at a lower cost as compared to electric resistance or oil-furnace heaters. All that needs to be done is to have adequate ventilation within the garage. Keep a small ventilation space open in the window, or have an exhaust fan installed. When buying a propane heater, be sure to check that it has a low oxygen sensor, and an automatic shutoff in case of high temperatures."
Melanie Musson agrees. Musson is an automotive expert at 4autoinsurancequote.com who creates content around insurance budgets and coverages, automation technology, and vehicle safety. "Propane heaters are safe," says Musson. "Reputable companies ensure the safety of their products by manufacturing them with multiple safety features, including automatic shutoff. Years ago, propane and other fuel-burning heaters were notorious for causing garages to burn down, but modern-day propane heaters are much safer."
One type of liquid-fuel heater that may raise safety concerns is the torpedo heater. Named for its cylindrical shape, a torpedo heater is a portable, free-standing, vent-free heater that generates harmful gases that come with kerosene- and propane-based heating solutions. Additionally, torpedo heaters pose an additional risk, as they can be easily knocked over. All of this is not to say that torpedo heaters are bad or inherently unsafe -- many people find that their power and affordability makes them a great choice. There are simply more safety concerns that need to be taken into account in order to ensure proper usage.
Infrared heaters are increasingly popular for home use, but they have their own instructions for safe use, both based on power source and construction style. Infrared heaters use infrared heat (like the kind that comes from the sun) to warm up objects in their direct path. While infrared heaters can be powered by any source, electricity is most common -- in such cases, users don't need to have any concern about gas ventilation, but with any electric heater, unsafe wiring poses a risk. Additionally, some older models of infrared heater may be constructed in ways where the heating element isn't covered, and so they present a burn risk-especially to children who may not be old enough to understand the safety requirements associated with such equipment.
It can help to look for certain safety features when shopping for a garage heater. Cool-touch housing ensures that the outside of the heater is safe to touch without causing injury, while overheat protection will automatically turn a heater off if it reaches too high a temperature. Many portable heaters also have tip-over switches that will cause automatic shutdown if they fall over, lowering the risk of fire.
Finally, installation is a concern with some heaters, as well. While portable heaters can be placed anywhere, many mounted models can require expert help, which usually means professional installation. Working with electrical or gas systems can be very dangerous if you're not highly experienced, so make sure to work with a trusted professional rather than take any unnecessary risks. An experienced contractor will also know the best place in your garage to install the heater, and if it's a hard-to-reach location -- such as on the ceiling -- they'll have the tools and staff for the job.
"The best location for a garage heater is near the wall opposite your garage door and facing toward the door," says Musson. "Your garage door is the area that lets in the most cold air, but when you direct your heater's power toward the door, the heat helps create a wall to keep the cold air out."
Hashmi offers additional information. "A heater should be placed near a ventilation space, but not in a secluded corner of the room so that the room does not get warm," he says. "Also be sure to keep the heater away from rags, carpets, or piles of wood or tinder. These objects have a tendency to quickly catch fire, and can be potential hazards in the garage. Also, keep these heaters away from any oil containers, if present. Do not place the heater right next to a door or window. Frequent opening or closing of these will serve as an escape route for the warm air, and reduce the efficiency of the heater."
Remember, all garage heaters pose some sort of risk. Every kind of power source poses its own danger if not handled properly, and heat can be a destructive force when not treated safely. Make sure to familiarize yourself with all the instructions provided by the manufacturer -- as well as any additional advice provided by your installation professional -- so that you can minimize the chance of catastrophe.
5 things to know before you buy and use a garage heater
- What power sources are available in your garage? You'll need an electric source to run an electric heater, and a gas source to run a gas heater. If you don't have access to one or either of these sources, your choices will be limited.
- What kind of heater do you want in terms of power? Each type of heater has its own advantages and drawbacks, so make sure that you take all information (as well as your own needs, and source availability) into account before making a decision.
- How powerful of a heater do you need? Using the size of your garage (or calculating based on garage size and ideal temperature), you can determine how many watts or BTUs of heating power you'll ultimately need, and purchase accordingly.
- What will you do about heater installation? If you don't have expertise with electrical and/or gas systems, you'll either want to get a portable heater or hire a professional to safely install your model.
- How can you use your garage heater safely? Make sure that you familiarize yourself with all of the manufacturer's instructions, as well as any additional instructions that your installation professional may have for you.
Garage heater FAQs
What is the most efficient heating for a garage?
Even before deciding what garage heater to buy, properly insulating your garage space is key. Because not being able to contain the heat in your garage isn't very efficient. Consider beefing up the insulation in the walls and if your garage door isn't an insulated unit, buy a door insulation kit. For cost and ease of use, propane garage heaters are powerful choices, but make sure you account for proper ventilation. Besides the costs associated with installing a natural gas heater, these are the most financially frugal garage heaters with minimal running costs.
How many BTUs does it take to heat a two-car garage?
How many BTUs is required to heat a space depends on the type of heater you're using. If you are using a forced-air heater like most of the heating units featured above, generally a two-car garage requires around 45,000 BTUs. If you're lucky enough to have a three-car garage, you'll roughly need 60,000 BTUs to keep it warm and toasty. These are rough estimates as the required BTUs will vary between garages with factors such climate, insulation and ceiling height all playing a part.
How can I heat my garage cheaply?
After insulating your garage and making sure you have proper venting, the cheapest way to heat it is a propane heater. Propane is a powerful and affordable heat source that doesn't require the installation of a gas line like natural gas heaters.
Written by Scott Fried for CNET Cars.