Is there anything worse than leaving your toasty house on a frigid morning to start your car? There you are, shivering as you wait for the car to warm up enough to pump out something other than cold air from its vents, wishing you could just crawl back into bed.
Winter is coming, friends. It's best to plan for it.
If your car garage isn't heated, there are plenty of ways to keep it warm. Whether you're looking for a portable option or something a little more permanent, you can act now to make sure you're a little more comfortable when the snow and ice arrive.
First Things First: Prep With Insulation
The most cost-effective way to keep your garage warmer in the winter is to help it hold in the heat in the first place. If your garage is uninsulated, it will be harder — and much more expensive — to heat your garage for the long term, no matter what kind of heating system you choose. Before you do anything else, follow these steps to get a well-insulated garage.
1. Seal Any Air Leaks
Drafts are your enemy, so start by replacing the weather stripping around any windows and doors — including the garage door. This is a relatively easy DIY project, but it's best to do it long before it gets cold if you can. Remove old, damaged weather stripping and take it with you to the hardware store so you can find a match to replace it. Peel and stick is the easiest for most beginners, though you'll have to replace it very few years.
Next, inspect the walls and foundation for any holes. It's not unusual for insects or small animals to try to find a way in, particularly where the walls meet the foundation. Seal these gaps with expanding foam insulation that you can spray right into any gaps to plug them up and prevent drafts.
2. Insulate the Walls
If your garage walls are unfinished on the inside, it's easy to roll some fluffy pink batt insulation between the studs to create a nice blanket that will keep cold air at bay. Be sure to wear long sleeves, pants and gloves as you work, though — fiberglass can be incredibly irritating to your skin. This is another DIY job, but you may find it helpful to work with a partner to help secure the insulation.
If your garage is finished with drywall on the inside, it may already be insulated. If you suspect that it's not, you can call an insulation contractor to blow in cellulose insulation to fill the cavities in the wall. This will cost a bit more, but insulation will pay you back quickly as you save on future heating bills.
3. Insulate the Garage Door
It's easy to forget about the garage door when it comes to buttoning up your garage, but that would be a mistake — it probably takes up about a quarter of your garage's wall space, so it's a huge source of heat loss if you ignore it. A garage door insulation kit is a great option to get this job done easily, since it comes with everything you need to get the job done. These are available at your local home improvement store.
In general, insulating your garage door involves cutting rigid foam insulation boards to size to fit each panel and attaching it with double-sided carpet tape. It's a pretty easy project, and it's worth keeping in place year round as well, since an insulated garage will also stay cooler during the summer months.
Heating Your Garage: Portable Solutions
Once you've brought your uninsulated garage up to snuff, it will be much easier to keep cold air at bay. If you don't spend much time out there, a temporary heating solution may be just what you need to warm it up when needed. Try these solutions for a quick fix that doesn't require any special home projects to install.
1. Space Heaters
If you're just looking to warm your hands while you wait for your car to warm up in the morning, a space heater is an easy solution for quick, focused heat in one area. Infrared heaters work by nearby heating objects, while forced air electric heaters blow hot air into your garage. Either choice is fine for aiming a little extra warmth where you need it.
If you want to heat your whole garage with a space heater, you'll have to carefully size the heater. Measure the length and width of your garage to determine how many square feet of space you need to heat, and check the specs to make sure your heater is up to the task. Many space heaters that work for rooms in a house just aren't big enough to keep a whole garage warm, though they might work for a corner that you use as a workspace.
2. Garage Heaters
To keep your whole garage warm and toasty, garage heaters are an efficient way to maintain a steady supply of hot air. Electric garage heaters are a plug-and-play choice that bring the heat immediately. These are vent free heaters that can be placed on the floor, a tabletop, or mounted on the wall or ceiling — whatever makes the most sense for your space. They're much more powerful than a small space heater, so they're perfect for a two- or three-car garage.
If you're worried about your electric bill and are able to pay a little more up front for a heat system, a gas heater for your garage can also work. You can hook it up to an existing natural gas line, or choose a kerosene heater or propane heater model. These need to be vented because they run on combustible fuel, and it's a good idea to check with your insurance company to make sure these are appropriate for your property, but they can be very efficient for anyone who spends a good deal of time in a garage working and needs to stay nice and warm.
Choosing a Permanent Heat Source for Your Garage
If you spend a lot of time in your garage because you have a workshop or other recreation area out there, you may be in need of a more permanent heating solution. These are typically more expensive, but some are easier to install than others — and thinking about how much they cost to operate can help keep your costs down over time.
1. Radiant Heat Ceiling Panels
These hardwired ceramic heaters mount flush to the ceiling or wall and radiant heat into the room without taking up any additional space. That makes them a good choice for small garages, especially if you want warmth directed in a corner where you work on hobbies. The heating element is completely enclosed in the panel, which makes it a safe choice for anyone who has a flammable objects like waste oil in their garage — they're very unlikely to spark a fire because they're so far away fro these items.
2. Mini Split Ductless Heaters
These can get pricey, but ductless heaters are a great choice for garages because they're easy to install. As the name implies, there's no ductwork to deal with, since the systems vent directly to the outside through the wall. These systems also do double duty: You get a forced air heater for the winter and an air conditioner for the summer, giving you a lot of bang for your buck if you spend significant time in the garage all year long.
3. Radiant Floor Heat
If you work on cars in your garage, there's nothing better than being able to lie back or kneel on a warm floor when temperatures drop outside. Radiant floor heating works by running tubes of hot water under the floor in your garage. It's relatively inexpensive to install if you do it when the garage is built, but it can be difficult to retrofit. It's possible to install the tubing over the cement floor and install a new floor over top, but you'll need to make sure your new flooring material will stand up to very literal heavy traffic as you drive over it.
The Bottom Line
Whether you spend your whole weekend in your garage or just need a little extra spot heating at times, heating your garage doesn't have to be costly. Start by insulating your garage to protect it from the cold first, and see how it feels. For people who live in mild climates, this may be all you need to keep the winter wind at bay. If you live somewhere colder, consider adding a heater to take the chill off being in the garage.
The amount of time you spend in the garage as well as its size will help you decide what kind of heater is right for you. In general, large spaces need heaters capable of throwing lots of heat, while one-car garages may get away with a small space heater. Whatever you choose, it's best to insulate and install your garage heater early in the fall, well before temperatures drop.