Many homeowners want to know how to heat a garage cheaply. Set it on fire? No – that’s not what we have in mind : )
In terms of cost only, the cheapest way to heat a garage from lowest to highest average cost are:
- Portable electric space heaters – cheap garage heat when you don’t need much of it
- Portable propane heaters – very versatile, a must for DIY car repair, the hunting blind, camping, etc.
- Ventless propane or natural gas heaters – cheap, reliable heat in any climate and for any purpose
- 240-volt electric heaters – good for all but the coldest parts of the country
- Vented gas heaters – best for cold climates
What is the purpose of your garage heater? Do you want it to warm the space for a few hours while you work on a vehicle or do a project on a workbench?
Or do you want a “heated garage” that maintains a set temperature all the time? The more hours the heater will work, the more it makes sense to invest in a large, efficient garage heater. That question is considered as we discuss your garage heater options.
Cheap Garage Heaters – What Do You Need?
There are two ways to look at this – the cost of the heater is the obvious way to consider the cheapest options.
But if you’re talking operating costs, then the most efficient garage heaters come into play, even if you pay a little more for the unit. Keeping utility costs under control, especially if you use the garage heater a lot, is definitely part of the equation.
This page gives you a range of options:
- Cheapest garage heaters
- Most efficient garage heaters
Plus, regardless of which garage heating method you choose, there are ways to make any garage heater more energy efficient, reducing your energy bills. And when how to heat a garage cheaply is your purpose, a well-insulated garage is a lot cheaper to heat than one that isn’t.
The Cheapest Garage Heaters
We’ll talk about cheap operating costs – the most efficient garage heaters – in the next section. This is about cheap heaters – the most affordable garage heaters in terms of the cost of the equipment.
We see pages suggesting a space heater for a garage in Minnesota or a pellet stove for southern California. Information like that is useless without the context of climate conditions.
So, let’s be real about what cheap garage heat looks like in various regions of the country.
Where do you live? What’s your Zone? Check the Climate Zone Map, and find your location. If you’re near the edge between Zones, it won’t hurt to choose the colder Zone. We recommend it, especially if you spend a lot of time in the garage.
Cheap Garage Heaters for Zones 1-3
Electric heaters are a good option. They offer cheap garage heat in terms of equipment cost. We also like portable propane heaters that use the little 1-pound bottles or can be used with a larger bottle with the right hose and fitting.
And since your winters aren’t brutally cold, and your garage probably isn’t literally freezing, these heaters will take the chill off in a garage in Atlanta or Dallas in the middle of January. Here are your options with pros and cons:
120-volt Electric Space Heaters
Just plug in the unit, set it on the floor by your feet or on a workbench to keep your hands warm. When you’re hunched over an engine, slide the heater underneath the vehicle, and the heat rises to keep you warm.
Cost: $25 – $150 with an average cost of about $40-$60 for a decent heater.
Features: Most are 1,500 watts max, and they might have Low and High settings such as 750 or 1,000 watts and the full 1,500 watts. You’ll find radiant heat units – no fan, in other words, and those with a fan. Our preference is to have a fan to direct the heat right where we want it. But if your garage is well-insulated and small, a 1-car or 1.5-car garage, then the radiant heaters can warm up the entire space. When units with fans go bad, it is often the fan that breaks. So, those without fans last longer.
What about oil-filled electric heaters? They’re OK and advertised as more efficient since the oil stays warm and radiates heat after the power is turned off. In actual experience, we haven’t found any cost savings with these units. They’re heavier, so less easy to move. But again, there’s no reason to avoid them. You’ll hear that they leak, but we haven’t had that issue.
240-volt Electric Heaters – Wall or Ceiling Mounted
These are next-level electric heaters in the range of 5,000 to 10,000 watts. Some produce even more heat, but might be too large for a garage in Zones 1-3. They’re powerful enough to keep the entire garage warm in a milder climate. If you have a 2-car garage or larger and want it warm more than just a few hours at a time, we recommend you consider one of these.
Again, insulation is essential for the effectiveness of any garage heater. If you mount one of these to the ceiling or high on a wall, and there’s no insulation above it, most of the heat will be lost.
Cost: $225 – $400 plus the cost of running a 240V line, if you don’t have one already.
Features: There are a bunch of different models and options, but many have adjustable heat levels plus multiple fan speeds. Some feature louvers that can be adjusted to direct air where you most want it.
Portable Propane Heaters
There are a range of options here. These cheap garage heaters deliver a lot of heat, and do it very reliably.
Caution: If your garage contains fumes from gasoline or other combustibles, these heaters should be avoided. Of course, you’ll also want to remove whatever is releasing those fumes.
Some, like Mr. Heater Buddy heaters (Buddy, Little Buddy, Big Buddy) have a place to screw on one or two 1-lb propane bottle.
Another great option is a propane tank top unit with one or two heating globes. You can also find large propane heaters that connect to a larger propane bottle and deliver amazing amounts of heat – but they go through the propane much more quickly.
HVAC repair cost is $85 – $150 per hour plus the cost of parts, if needed. Cost varies based on the cost of living where you live and the size of the heating and air conditioning company. All cost factors are discussed later.
Emergency HVAC repair cost is $135 per hour or more. These are repairs made after normal business hours – evenings, nights, weekends and holidays.
Propane is less expensive when you refill a large tank than when using 1-lb bottles that can’t be refilled. These are radiant heaters without fans. Most have tip-over shutoff protection.
Ventless propane heaters can be a good choice for longer heating in your Zones 1-3. They’re discussed in the next section on Zones 4 & 5.
Cheap Garage Heaters Zones 4 & 5
Now we’re talking about areas of the country where temperatures regularly drop below freezing. And below-zero temperatures aren’t unheard of.
Gas heaters, either propane or natural gas, are more effective and definitely more efficient in these Zones. The more hours the heater runs, the more this is true. Electric heat is expensive heat. And you just can’t make the kind of heat you need with most electric heaters.
Let’s go through your garage heater options in these zones.
120-volt Electric Space Heaters
These are mainly a waste of time and money in the cold months of winter. The electric space heaters mentioned for Zones 1-3 are OK in chilly fall and spring weather, but don’t bother trying to stay warm with them in 20F weather in mid-January.
240-volt Electric Heaters – Wall or Ceiling Mounted
One of these should be considered if your garage is insulated quite well and you’re not heating it full-time. See the information in the Zones 1-3 section above for details.
A large electric heater will be fine for fall and spring, and if you’re willing to run it a little longer during the coldest part of winter, and pay higher electric bills, then these are a cheap garage heating option in terms of the equipment.
Tip: Get one with a timer or a WiFi app, so you can begin heating the garage an hour or so before you want the space warm.
Cost: $225 – $400 plus the cost of running a 240V line
Features: We recommend 240-volt electric garage heaters with a timer and/or WiFi, adjustable fan speeds and heat output (Low/Med/High) options.
Portable Propane Heaters
These are very versatile and come in a bunch of styles. Choose models that put out from 10,000 to more than 100,000 BTUs of heat per hour. Style choices include:
Heaters with 1-lb propane bottle attachments (Mr. Heater Buddy, for example)
20-lb propane tank top mounted heaters
Tube or torpedo-style propane heaters with high-powered fans
Convection heaters with up to 200,000 BTUs of heat output
Features: Lots of heat. Most have heat output adjustments and connect to larger propane tanks with a hose and regulator. Many have fans with multiple speeds.
Ventless Propane Heaters / Ventless Natural Gas Heaters
Hugely popular, these floor-mounted or wall-mounted natural gas (NG) and propane (LP) garage heaters need no venting and put out a lot of heat. They’re recommended for short-term use and when you want to keep the garage above freezing or warmer throughout the cold months. Most units are either 20,000 BTU/hour or 30,000 BTU/hour.
Features: Adjustable heat settings. Most do not have fans. Venting isn’t required, but you should crack a window or door if you get a headache. All the best models have a low-oxygen/oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) that will shut them off if oxygen gets low for safe use in confined spaces.
Vented Gas Heater
If you want your garage warm a lot of the winter, think about one of these high-output heaters.
Most of these large garage heaters are natural gas, but propane models are available. Some come with propane conversion kits.
All must be vented out the wall or the ceiling/roof.
The advantage of these heaters over ventless heaters are portable gas garage heaters is that most feature commercial-grade construction and durability.
Features: Electronic ignition, multispeed fan, 02 depletion sensor and shutoff, timer, wall or ceiling mounting brackets, remote. Not all features offered on all models.
Cheap Garage Heaters Zones 6 & 7
Rather than repeat the details, here are the cheap garage heaters mentioned above that work well in the coldest Climate Zones:
- 240-volt electric heaters for well-insulated garages
- Portable propane heaters – for short-term, focused use
- Ventless propane and natural gas heaters for total garage heating
- Vented gas heaters for longer hours / heated garages / keeping the garage at a minimum above-freezing temperature
Gas offers more heat output and lower operating costs, so a gas garage heater is the cheapest and most efficient option for Zones 6 & 7.
The Most Efficient Garage Heaters
It’s really simple. Gas heat is cheaper than electric heat. Sure, the electric heater says it is 100% efficient while the gas heater might be anything from 80% to 100% (ventless gas heaters) efficient.
But in terms of cost, electric heat is more expensive than gas heat everywhere in the country. When you want low operating costs, choose a gas garage heater.
See all garage heater options in our complete Guide to Heating a Garage – 11 Options.
Tips for How to Heat a Garage Cheaply
For equipment, consider electric heaters in mild climates. They don’t need venting, and some put out quite a lot of heat.
The cooler your climate is, the more it makes sense to choose a gas heater. We’ve probably made all that pretty clear.
But regardless of the heater you choose, there are things you can do to lower operating costs – and that promotes heating a garage cheaply.
- Insulate the garage door.DIY kits with foam panels and tape are available for preventing heat from passing so easily through a steel garage door.
- Insulate the ceiling. If your garage has open rafters, nail plywood or OSB sheets to the bottom of them. Make an access door. Then, use loose-fill insulation to cover the top of the sheets in a foot or so of insulation.
- Insulate the walls. If you plan to add drywall, fill the wall cavities with fiberglass batt insulation ($-$$), blown-in cellulose insulation ($$) or spray foam insulation ($$$-$$$$). Fill the gaps around outlets, vents, windows and any other breach with foam insulation that comes in a can.
- Wrap exterior walls. Homes less than 20 years old should have Tyvek or similar house-wrap/vapor barrier. If yours doesn’t, put it on the to-do list for the next time you replace siding. Why? Because it will inhibit air leaks – and air leaks are just as detrimental to a warm garage as poor/no insulation.