Numb fingers and stiff joints are nobody’s friend near a buzzing table saw blade, and a freezing workshop is a first-rate excuse for spending Saturday on the couch instead of putting on your work boots and accomplishing something. Worse still, cold air can suck the moisture out of that stack of reclaimed lumber you’ve been storing, and it can prevent wood glue from working its magic on your latest build.
Whether your workshop is your garage at home, a shed at your cottage, or a full-blown armoury of contractor-grade power tools behind your country estate, there are plenty of good reasons to raise the temperature of your workspace a few notches during the winter. The only question that remains is which method to use.
Forced air and gas
More serious workshops often have overhead or wall-mounted forced-air units that burn either natural gas or propane. Direct-vent units, which pull in external air and vent their exhaust outside, are typically the way to go. These units are highly efficient, great for large spaces, and quick to distribute heaps of heat, but they require a gas source. They’re among the most expensive to install, and you can expect to add gas fitter and electrician fees to your budget for more serious installations. Also keep in mind that because they move a lot of air around, they can kick up dust in your workspace.
Electric construction heater
If you don’t have outside wall access (or the budget) for direct venting, a gas-fired heater might not be your best bet. In those cases, a construction-grade electric heater can work wonders, particularly if you’ll just be in your workshop for short projects during the winter. Portable electric units come in sizes ranging from 250 watt micro heaters to 5000 watt construction-grade models, and all sizes draw air in through the back of the unit and pass it over heating coils before pushing it out the front. While some of the larger units will require 220V outlets, most smaller ones will work with the standard 115 volts.
Wall-mounted electric radiant heaters differ from other heat sources in that they use infrared energy to heat whatever’s in a room rather than raising the ambient temperature of the room itself. This allows you to save energy by heating specific workspaces rather than your entire workshop. Smaller units can often plug into traditional outlets, but they won’t heat a large area. Larger units, on the other hand, can heat everything in a workshop, but they don’t come cheap. They’ll also require a visit from an electrician.
When there’s no furnace to be found and no access to natural gas, a heat pump is a stellar option. Like a refrigerator, it pumps heat from one area to another. In this case, the heat’s coming from the cold winter air (yes, there’s still some heat to be extracted, no matter how cold your out-house seat feels). Increased efficiencies in recent years have rendered them capable of extracting heat from ambient outdoor temperatures as low as -30 degrees. And if you’re in a region that gets hit with particularly hot, humid summers, you’ll be in luck. Heat pumps not only function as high-efficiency air conditioners; they also dehumidify air more effectively than traditional AC units.
On the opposite end of the luxury spectrum (depending on your definition of luxury), you could install a wood stove in your workshop. It’s a cozy, off-grid alternative to the mechanical noise of more modern sources (aside from infrared, which is completely silent), and it gives you a use for all of those scraps and end pieces from the projects you’ll be working on all winter long. Keep in mind, though, that while wood stoves provide ample heat, they require attention to keep the fire going. They also eat up a lot of precious floor space, and they can pose a threat to DIYers who work with a lot of flammable chemicals and vapours.