With the majority of the northeast a deep freeze and buried in snow, the reality of a frozen garage/workspace is a reality for many of us. This year it’s been a reality for many across the U.S – at one point last week 49 out of the 50 states had snow, with many being totally engulfed by record snowfalls. It’s been a tough winter already and we’re just half way through it. Those of us who have trudged out to a un-insulated, unheated garage to get some winter rebuilding done know that sub-freezing temperatures + spinning a wrench = no fun. Everything from working with small parts to trying to concentrate can become trying, to say nothing of dealing with lubricants that have frozen solid inside aerosol cans. You can be a tough guy all you want; I can be frustrated enough by the task at hand, that last thing I want to be cursing about is freezing my ass off.
There are of course many solutions to help remedy the problem – from small electric heaters to those powered by propane or kerosene – these can be a godsend when the thermometer spikes in the low-teens. For the past few years I’ve been using a propane powered convection heater – one of those vertical cylinder deals (aka the pancake) – and by most accounts it’s been pretty good. It does its job, they’re fairly cheap and it takes the edge out of the bitter cold making the garage a workable space. All that said; it has a few downsides:
1) With a propane bottle and hose attached, it takes up a lot of floor space. In a cramped garage, this can really hinder the pace of getting work done, plus you’ve always got to be aware of where that hose is so you don’t trip over it. That might seem minor, but when you’re hustling around, inspired by an idea for a sick-bro-choppa-bobber part, you’d be surprised how quickly you forget where it is.
2) The open flame design, while capable of cranking out BTUs, leaves a bit to be desired when working in an old wooden tinderbox. Combine that with the propensity to use flammable chemicals and you can see where caution needs to be taken. I suppose this is less of an issue if you’re working in a concrete or metal structure, but my wooden garage is old, dry and has already seen a small fire (from a previous occupant) so mindlessly spraying some WD40 while close to the heater is not an option. I’ve never had a real problem with this, but only because I don’t forget that I’m working inside a matchstick.
3) You need adequate ventilation. My current shop is 20’ X 20’ with a second floor loft and windows, so no longer need to worry about this, but when I was working out of a 10’x12’ shed with no windows, there were a couple occasions I came out with my lungs hurting.
4) You’re going to run out of propane at an inopportune time. Maybe you have a place next door to your shop that you can run to anytime of day to get your tank refilled, but I do not. On more than one occasion I’ve run both my main and reserve tanks dry in the middle of a Sunday afternoon after all the refilling stations have closed. On a cold day when you need the heat cranking, this is a major bummer. If you use one of tank swap deals like Blue Rhino, this might not be a big deal since you can just run to the grocery store or gas station, but you’ve still got to interrupt your workflow to get the heat back up and running. The time I get to spend in the shop these days is limited, the last thing I want to be doing is leaving the shop to refill the tank.
All that said, I still find these propane heaters to be a decent solution to heating the shop. It’s not perfect, but it works. My little pancake stove would have continued to be my heat source had I not found out about the NewAir G73 electric heater from www.air-n-water.com . When the folks at Air N Water contacted me, I was skeptical that such a tiny unit could really crank out the BTUs, but I figured I’d give it a shot and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. This thing is great, it’s tiny, it hangs on the wall instead of sitting on the floor and it keeps my shop plenty warm. It’s specifically made for small shops and garages, advertised for heating up to 500SF (although I think you could get away with a slightly larger place) and incredibly well built.
A few things I really like about it:
1) It’s tiny and it hangs on the wall. In a small shop, floor space is at a premium so getting your heater off the ground is remarkably liberating. No more tripping over hoses, no more having to work around a hot stove, no more having make sure that plastics or flammables are a safe distance from said hot stove. Maybe that sounds trivial, but when you’re having to deal with that day in and day out, it makes a difference. Once you install the NewAir G73 on the wall, your heater is no longer getting in your way. Set it and forget it.
2) It’s electric. The two big advantages for me here are that I don’t have to worry about an open flame and I don’t have to worry about running out of propane. Again, set it and forget it. When it comes to cost, I know the general consensus is propane can be cheaper than electric depending on your geographic location, but I haven’t seen any real jump in my electric bill. I only run the heater when I need it and considering every propane fill cost me $20, I call it a wash. I have read from people who keep the heater running 24/7 having their electric bill increase by $100, which doesn’t seem so bad for keeping a un-insulated garage between 60-70 degrees, but take that with a grain of salt as I don’t know the specifics. The size of your space and how well it’s insulated, plus your geographic location are all going to effect the cost. For me, even if there is a slight increase in monthly cost, it’s worth it for the convenience, plus it’s safer for smaller spaces and workshops attached to or inside a house.
3) It’s hard wired. There are both pro’s and cons to this (I’ll talk about the cons below). On the pro side – it’s always ready to go and by putting it on it’s own breaker you’ll be fine when you fire up the welder or air compressor. Wiring it into your junction box should be pretty straight forward, but if you’re not electrically inclined I would suggest using an electrician. You can either wire it straight to the box or outfit it with a 220 dryer style receptacle & plug so it’s a little more mobile.
4) It’s adjustable. The included bracket allows you to point the heater in pretty much any direction you need. The louvers on the unit allow you fine-tune the direction of the airflow even further. The adjustable thermostat gives you even more control. Compared to my propane pancake heater, it’s not even a contest; the NewAir wins by a mile.
5) It’s warm. When I first saw how small this thing is I was doubtful it could keep up with the cold New England winter; but it’s size is deceiving. With temperatures in the teens, the heater was able to heat the shop to the mid 60s in short order, and I didn’t even have it cranked all the way. Other users have reported keeping temperatures in the 70s in their shop, while outside temperatures read in the low teens. Tiny unit, but lots of power.
6) It’s a tank. The heater is really well built, it feels solid, the all steel construction give it some heft and assurance of quality.
7) Customer Service. I’m going off of other customer reviews here because even though my interaction with customer service was great, it was fairly minimal. By all accounts Air N Water are attentive, capable and put a priority on customer service. My experience with them was great and by reading other reviews, that seems to be par for the course, even when folks have encountered issues.
Can you tell I really dig this thing? All that said, very few things are ever 100% perfect, here’s a few nitpicking things I found with the unit.
1) Thermostat location: It’s on the back of the unit, and once you have it on the wall, it’s not the easiest thing to get to. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but in regards to total ease of use, if it were on the front or even the side, it would be better.
2) It’s hard wired. As I mentioned above, this is both a pro & con. The downside of hard wiring is that you need access to your junction box (not always something you can do if you’re renting) and you need some electrical knowledge to install it, otherwise you need to hire an electrician. This can add to the final cost of the unit. That said, it’s fairly quick & simple to install (especially for an electrician) if you’re box is near by and accessible. This is just fair warning, you’re not going to just be able to plug it into a regular outlet.
Overall, a winner in my book and gets my recommendation. If you’re looking a way to heat your shop/garage/man cave, this should be on your short list. The folks at Air N Water are great to deal with and come highly recommended. They’re currently running a special on this, which includes a free portable space heater and free shipping. For $279 that’s a solid deal.
Check it out here: http://www.air-n-water.com/product/G73.html