Ask a Pro
Workshop heating systems
What's the best heating system for a large workshop and home I'm building? Where I live, we have easiest access to electricity, propane and wood. - Jim Smith, Chapleau, Ont.
There are many ways you can go, and you’ll need to start by considering two distinctly different things: the heat source itself, and the heat-distribution system that channels the warmth to various parts of your buildings. The combination that makes the most sense has as much to do with your lifestyle preferences as it does with energy efficiency and installation costs.
Propane-fired radiant ceiling heaters are the simplest thermostatically controlled heating system I’ve seen for workshop applications. They also deliver heat quickly–a plus if you plan to lower the temperature of your workshop significantly between uses.
A hydronic radiant in-floor system is an excellent option for both your home and workshop, as long as you’re OK going through the trouble and expense of installing it. A radiant system works well with a propane-fired boiler. Today’s best models are more than 90 per cent efficient, and can heat domestic hot water too.
Before committing to any propane system, check your local pricing. When there is only one supplier, prices for propane can sometimes be very high.
A ground-source heat pump is worth looking at if you want to use an electric system to heat both your shop and home. For every one unit of energy invested in operation, about three units of heat are harvested and delivered to your buildings. As good as this sounds, you’ll need to consider the high installation costs vs. the relatively small amount of heat you might need if you build using the most energy-efficient materials. I wouldn’t consider electric heat except when used to power a heat pump.
How do you feel about heating with wood? An outdoor furnace is one option worth looking at, especially if you have two buildings to heat. The newest models are designed to burn more cleanly than traditional designs that produced a lot of smoke and particulate emissions. Outdoor furnaces accept large pieces of wood that require less splitting and handling than firewood meant for stoves. They also keep your buildings safer and cleaner by keeping the fire and ash outdoors.