Workshop heating suggestions

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Dec 26, 2021
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Hi. I'm looking for some advice on heating my pole barn (workshop/garage). I live in SouthWest Michigan, so temperatures can get quite cold in the winter (although temps have certainly changed since I was a kid!). We recently built a pole barn that will double as a garage/workshop, and I'm determining what would be best for a heating solution. Wood is cheap, but I don't want to have to go out and start a fire every time I want to work in the barn. I don't mean to sound lazy, but I'm just getting older and want to try and make it as simple as possible. I was wondering about a pellet/wood hybrid system, where I could connect a Nest or Ecobee thermostat and have the burner get started with pellets, and then switch to wood when I go out to the barn. I'd appreciate any thoughts or experiences. Thank you!
I used to use a quartz tower (because I had one) propped up to just illuminate me at the particular tool or bench where I was working. It just kinda took the chill off me rather than heating the workplace.
"In order to determine the BTU rating that you'll need to heat your barn, you'll can follow this formula: (cubic feet of space) x (desired temperature change in Fahrenheit) x . 133 = BTUs needed per hour"

What size & shape is your barn?

For our 18,000 cf insulated house & a 35F temp rise, this gives 82,000 BTU/hr. Over several winters our house needed 56,000 so this formula is not totally off the wall.
I have a detached garage that I do a lot of work in it is around 24’x24’ then there is an open sided car port around 12’x 24’ and then a workshop room addition of 14’x 14’.

At my old house I had something similar but a bit smaller and I put a wood stove in it that was almost useless. If a building is not insulated first off and then kept heated full time it is really hard to get it warm enough to use when you need it. I would go out on the weekend at 6am and build a roaring fire in the stove in the non insulated garage go in the house and eat breakfast and go back out around 8am and it was still stone cold. The floor and everything being cold was a lot of mass to heat. I would work on the fire for a bit and then mostly stand around the wood stove staying warm. By noon it wasn’t warm but warm enough to be wrenching a little with a coat and insulated pants and gloves. By 4pm it was really nice like you would like and it was time to go back in the house. If it was the weekend I would sometimes stoke the fire up and go in the house for the night and by the next morning it had went out and I was pretty much starting over.

Knowing this when I bought this place I closed the 14x14 room off and insulated the inside with 6” of foam and then covered that with .5” plywood and that room is a small workshop and tool storage room. I heat it with a two burner radiant propane heater that I run off 20lb bottles and I also have a small electric cube heater. Now I go out at 7am and by 8am that room is nice and warm and my tools are also warm and many jobs I can do in that small room. If it is a bigger job it isn’t as bad with working in the cold as I have a place to go and warm up.

I have a friend that has a large insulated garage with a lift and it is his business and he has in floor hot water heat and he keeps it 70 all winter but the concrete floor is about 80 and it feels so good on your feet and is a pleasure to lay on even when working in there. I’m lucky enough I can use it during his off hours in a pinch.

If you really have a lot of wood to burn and plan on using the shop a lot I would highly recommend an outdoor burner with in floor heating and a good insulation job. Gets rid of the fears of having a fire in your shop and also all the smoke and such with it inside when you open the door.

Here is a panoramic shot of my small workshop room. The heater is under the rolling rock sign and next to my DIY insulated door to the main garage. Welcome to the forum. :welcome: IMG_7738.jpgIMG_7739.jpg
Bud, your shop looks to clean, I could never find anything in my garage if it was that organized...😉
If you want I can run out thru the snow and take a current photo. It will alleviate any fears you have about me having a clean and neat shop. :coffee:

I did notice from when I took those pics I have moved the welder out into the unheated garage area where I covered the walls with sheet steel I salvaged from a 36' pool that was 54" high. I managed to use that whole ring of sheet metal on 4 different projects. Now I have the outside door in the little shop blocked with a big red roll around mechanic cart a neighbor gave me. It is nice if I'm working in the big area on a car or tractor I roll it out and have my tools there.
8’ ceilings, 24x24 = 21,000 BTU/hr.

For fine work & evenly distributed light you may need some LED fixtures. Fluorescent fixtures migrate from our "conditioned space" to my sort of unconditioned workshop.

Regarding organizing, I cut down wine bottle boxes to fit between shelves spaced 11-1/2" & label them. I cut lids if necessary. Cardboard is free but doesn't well with water.
Amazon's boxes are never the right shape or volume.
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I'm planning on putting in a couple of Modine Hot Dawg heaters to run off Natural gas that will be piped in the same time as electric. The prices on this link are all over the place, but I found a couple good HDS30 units locally.

If you plan on heaters like this and you will be generating sawdust, you must get a separated combustion heater. Modine answered all my questions when I contacted them.
I installed a forced air outdoor wood burner. Heats up pretty quick and does a good job without taking up space and having the mess or the hazzard inside. I plan to put in a small propane shop heater to maintain above freezing Temps and to heat it up before I get out there. I use an Ecobee thermostat. I'm in NW Ohio.
Right now I have the Ecobee connected to the woodburner, which of course doesn't help with remote heating control unless I want to burn it 24/7 which is possible. When I install the ceiling mount propane heater I will connect that to the Ecobee and install a local thermostat for the woodburner. Then I will be able to remotely monitor and control the propane heater. If I know I will be working out there I can bump up the heat from the house so it's warm when I get out there. Then I can start the fire and cut the propane heat off.
I have seen work shops that have a large wood stove that worked very nice . there is always a lot of scrap wood that one needs to get rid of. Once you are finished for the day just walk away every thing can freeze. the only problem is that you must build a small wall of concrete block around the wood stove so as separate the wood or anything combustible from the stove . It is very easy to build this kind of wall as you do not need to mortar in place the block just build .
A friend of mine had a gas station and put a wood stove in the bay. One day I stopped in and he showed me a battery that had blown its top. I explained that hydrogen was a product of the charging process. The battery being charged was about 8-10 ft from the stove. Fortunately no one was near when the battery blew.

Natural gas radiant heaters do a good job. I experienced one at a pier restaurant in CA. I felt like I was sitting in sunshine and looked up at the source seeing only a reflector. A friend of friend has a freestanding one on his deck which works pretty well.
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Hydrogen is explosive. He should have known that.

For another way to blow up a battery, make a go-cart out of four batteries & a starter motor
& put one battery in backward.

My classmate showed up one day with his shirt full of holes & so came this story.
Thanks everyone for all the replies and advice. My barn is already built, so no go on the in-floor heat. Barn is 36x72, but I'm only going to use 1/2 for the workshop. The back half will be storage. Plan is to insulate the sides, front, and ceiling, and build a movable, insulated back (middle) wall. I really like the idea of the propane heater tied to the ecobee. Thanks again! Happy New Year!
A lump sum for insulation now lessens the continuing cost of fuel. There's a breakpoint in there somewhere.
The house up the street has Styrofoam walls 18" thk. I think they are past all reasonable breakpoints. :(
"Opportunity Cost"

Neglecting comfort & such, investing $2000 @ 7%/yr for one year gives you $2000 x (1.07) = $2140.
Investing $2000 in insulation should then save you at least $140/yr or $12 mo.

If you’re up to it, let’s run thru this from beginning to end, based on your heating bills. You could prevent a financial mistake.
This question comes up all the time, it’s about time some real world non-marketing dollar figures are posted.

BTW, our house is pretty leaky, even with new hi-tech windows.

Investing in sweaters is another option. . .:D
Just keep in mind the thermal mass that needs to be reheated each time a shop space is used. No matter how much insulation a building has given no heat input it will become the outside temp. It is just not a matter of heating the air inside a building as everything inside the building and the building itself will be drawing that heat out of the air.

My friends garage will be nice and toasty in the winter and we will open the garage door and quickly bring in my truck that is froze solid from sitting outside. The air loss from the door opening recovers quickly but that big block of steel and melting snow takes a while to normalize. He often tells me bring it up the night before and we will let it sit on the lift overnight and work on it in the morning when it’s warmed up.
that big block of steel and melting snow takes a while to normalize. He often tells me bring it up the night before and we will let it sit on the lift overnight and work on it in the morning when it’s warmed up.
The specific heat or
heat capacity or
thermal inertia
of a truck is way more than air.

On average you may save heating costs by leaving the 'stat on at a low temperature rather than turning it off, when unoccupied.
In our place, for each hour that we're going to be out we turn it down 1F [got this from an HVAC guy on a forum]. Overnight it goes to 65 from 74.

In a winter storm with no heat it took our house three days (the thermal time constant) to level out at 45F.
Wearing shorts in 32F weather shows my time constant to be about 1 minute.
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When I'm alone I keep the house cooler and my quartz tower heater aimed at my easy chair. I haven't measured current to determine what wattage level I m operating at.