How To Choose A Workshop Heater

The sun shines a little less every day, and temperatures are starting to drop. Leaves begin showing brilliant reds and yellows, before losing their grip on tree branches and plummeting down to their final resting place on the ground. Summer is preparing for hibernation, while Old Man Winter is starting to wake up. Nature is getting geared up for the chilly months ahead, are you? Heating your shop is essential for staying productive, so let us help you find the right heater for your needs.


Read About Choosing BTU • Read About Heating Types • Read About Fuel Types • Read About Heater Safety FeaturesRead About Propane Tank Size

Choosing A BTU

OK, first things first. Before you get your heart set on one specific model, you should know what you need. A heater too big or too small won’t do you much good.

The warming ability of a heater is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTU. The higher the BTUs of a unit, the greater it’s ability to warm your shop. There is a broad range of heater BTU sizes to cater to needs large and small. The formula to find BTU is:

Cubic Feet Of Space x Temperature Difference (Fahrenheit) x 0.133 = BTU Needed

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Heating Types

Forced Air

Forced air heaters, sometimes called torpedo heaters, use a fan to circulate warm air through your space. Like a small jet engine, they draw air in through the back and using powerful motors, pass the air through a cylinder with heating elements inside. This newly-heated air is then shot out the front, creating warm convection currents.

  • Many fuels available
  • Fast heating
  • High BTUs, great for large areas
  • Many are wheel mounted, easy to move
  • Ductable


Infrared / Radiant

Infrared and radiant heaters provide direct warmth using infrared rays. The radiation is created in different ways depending on the heater, such as electricity or combustion. The infrared light is not only able to heat the air but objects as well. While not quite as fast as forced air units, they are much quieter. Without any flame, these small electric models pose less fire risk than other types.

  • Great for indoor use
  • Quiet operation
  • Heats air and objects, good for spot heating
  • Produces heat immediately
  • Variety of fuels available
  • Small and portable


Mounted / Overhead

Many professionals like using overhead mounted heaters to provide warmth in their workspace. By keeping it bolted to a wall or on the ceiling, you will have extra floor room, something especially handy in ultra space-efficient shops.

  • Variety of fuels available
  • Off the floor and out of your way
  • Good for heating large or small spaces
  • Simple to use
  • Overhead heat



Space heaters use convection to heat entire rooms quickly and evenly. They typically burn propane, with vents on the top and bottom. The heat naturally creates air currents, circulating the warmth in your space.

  • No electricity needed
  • Quiet operation
  • Low fuel consumption
  • Heats large areas
  • Great for workers on jobsites
  • Collapsible and easy to transport


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Choose A Fuel Type

Liquid Propane

Liquid propane (LP) is a popular fuel for garage and workshop heaters. It is commonly used by many Americans to heat their houses in the winter, as well as powering gas stoves and ovens. If you already use a bulk propane tank, using the gas to heat a garage, shop, shed, or any other area is a natural next step. 

Of course, as with any fuel-burning appliance, be sure the area is well ventilated to prevent a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.


  • Burns Clean
  • Portable
  • Wide Variety of tank sizes (1-pound disposable all the way to in-ground tanks)
  • Safe for indoor use
  • Fuel stores indefinitely

Do you have a big enough propane tank for your heater? Read about choosing the right tank size.


Natural Gas

Natural gas (NG) heaters are similar to LP models but attach to your utility gas lines instead. LP and NG have many similar advantages. They burn clean, don’t produce smelly fumes, and don’t draw electricity like an electric heater would. You’re already paying for the gas, so why not use it?


  • Inexpensive
  • Burns Clean
  • Never runs out of fuel
  • Attaches to your existing gas lines
  • Safe to use inside
  • No extra gas tank



Kerosene is a fuel commonly used in camping lanterns and lamps, and it’s another great option for heating. As a fuel, it is very stable, safe to use, and remains usable for a long time. Burning kerosene produces a distinct odor, and some people might find it unpleasant. Be cautious when choosing where you put your heater.


  • Stable, safe fuel
  • Some units can burn jet or diesel fuel
  • Self-contained fuel tanks, easy to move
  • Very high BTU density
  • Good for very large areas



Electric heaters are small lightweight and don’t use any flammable fuel. They’re a great choice if you need to heat indoors since there’s no risk of carbon monoxide. Keep those windows closed and keep drafts out. 

*Be aware some electric heaters require 240-volt outlets. They draw much higher wattages than standard appliances, so ask your electrician to be sure you have a proper setup before buying.


  • No flame or exhaust fumes
  • Doesn’t affect moisture levels for sensitive projects
  • Small and portable
  • No fuel required
  • Quiet operation
  • Perfect for indoor use
  • Many sizes available



 While some kerosene-fired heaters can also burn diesel, dedicated diesel units also exist. Diesel-only heaters are large, and generally only built for commercial applications, like construction sites. Some are even mounted on trailers for easy transportation by rental users. They produce tremendous volumes of heat, but also cost considerably more than other heater types. 


  • Lots of heat
  • Trailer mounted, portable
  • Ductable heat for large sites
  • Good for construction and other commercial users


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Other Features To Consider

Tip Protection

Heaters work great, as long as they stay upright. Many modern heaters come standard with safety triggers that shut the unit off if it’s knocked over. You should never keep flammable materials near an open flame, but when an accident happens you’ll be glad your heater was smart enough to extinguish itself.

Overheat Protection

Overheating can destroy a heater, making it unsafe to use. While you look at heaters for your space, be sure that it has protection built-in against getting too hot during use.


Some heaters have ducting available to send warm air inside while keeping the heater outside. If you’re worried about exhaust fumes getting into your space, ducting keeps the combustion at a safe distance without leaving you cold. Ducting requires a method to move the air, so they are exclusive to forced-air type models.


The insulation of the heater, that is. Naturally, most heaters get hot to the touch after being on for a long time. Some units are insulated though, so you won’t burn yourself while carrying it around or accidentally bump it.

Physical Size

In your already-cramped shop, you don’t want a big heater hogging even more real estate. Once you determine the heating power you need, small heaters or wall mounted models will save precious floor space.


Some heaters are pretty big and hard to move around. Wheel mounts make it simple to relocate a heater in your shop if you need heat in a more specific place.

See all Heating Accessories


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The Right Propane Tank

Propane forced-air heaters need different tanks depending on the BTU output. And while a small heater can use a big tank, a big heater won’t work well with a small tank.

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  • Amy Winters

    August 13, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    Thank you for pointing out that there are forced air heaters that are good for workshop spaces. My dad just had an outdoor workshop built and chose not to put central air or heating in the building. It’s good to know that they draw air in through the back using powerful motors, then pass the air through a cylinder that has heating elements inside.

  • Shaylee Packer

    November 11, 2019 at 7:52 am

    I like the fact that that first heater listed is heavy duty and heats things up fast, but it is also on wheels so it would be easy to move from room to room. Being able to have each work space warm in the winter is essential. I will have to do some further research on this heater.

  • Ellie Davis

    April 2, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    It’s interesting to know that a propane heater will not need electricity to work. My husband and I are thinking about building a workshop in our backyard, and we are looking for advice about what to do. I will let him know about your recommendations to choose the right heater for his workshop.

  • Michael Pearson

    September 3, 2020 at 8:03 pm

    Whatever you do, do not use heaters powered by propane and similar, in a woodworking shop. Not only the risk of setting off an incident when sawdust comes into contact with flame but these type of heaters produce moisture. Start thinking of mildew and mold on wooden surfaces and / or drywall surfaces once they get damp.

  • Trish

    November 22, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    Two things you ace with this post: calculating how large an area you want to heat so you’ll know what size heater to purchase and ending with tank sizes! Both are such a help but especially tank size information. I grew up with the unvented gas stoves (that usually ran on propane) in every room and looking back they were very dangerous, glad those days are behind us! Thanks!

  • Bradley

    February 17, 2022 at 9:33 am

    Nice article, but there is a problem with units in your formula. Length x width = Square Feet. Multiplying by height gives you cubic feet. ft^3.


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