What's the Most Efficient Way to Heat and Cool Your Garage?

Whether you use your garage as a home gym, storage space, workshop or just as a place to store your car, you want that space to be as comfortable as possible. A boiling hot or freezing cold garage isn't a pleasant place to be — but fortunately, there are several methods to control the temperature in that space. Here are some of the heating and cooling systems you can use to heat or cool your garage temperature year-round.

What Are the Best Ways to Heat a Garage?

When choosing the best method for heating a garage, you need to consider how you're using the area. If it's an office, you'll likely want to choose a quiet, low-profile option that won't interrupt your workday. Of course, your project budget and garage layout will make a difference, too. Here are the most efficient ways to heat a garage.

Ductless Mini-Splits

A ductless mini-split system is a popular and efficient choice for any space. It provides all the same comforts of your whole home heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system but in a small package. These systems can both cool and warm your garage through a small unit that attaches to the top of the wall. A ductless mini-split system doesn't require any ducts, so it works well for a garage. A thermostat, remote or mobile phone app will allow you to control the system.

There are downsides to mini-split units, which are the cost and the installation. These units can cost upwards of a few thousand dollars, so that's a factor to keep in mind. In addition to the unit's price, a technician must come to install the unit. This professional will need to cut a hole in the wall to connect it to the outside air conditioning unit, so you'll want to check that you have enough space around your garage.

Window Units

Unlike previous models, window units are no longer big, bulky and inefficient. Today's window-installed units are energy efficient and provide air and heat. Another benefit is they're quick and straightforward to install — the only necessary component for installation is a window in the garage. For the most part, window units are an effective, simple option for garages.

Note that window units can be noisy. Additionally, window units aren't always the most powerful. If your garage is particularly large, you may need more than one to adequately cool and heat the space. Those looking for a sleek, modern HVAC unit in their garage to blend in with their home's aesthetic may want to avoid window units, as they have to stick out of the window to operate correctly.

Portable Units

If you only want to cool or heat your garage, you may want to consider a portable unit. These options get the job done in smaller areas, and you can move them around the garage when needed. Here are a few portable unit possibilities:

  • Electric space heaters: An electric space heater can come in three different forms — radiant, forced air and infrared. Radiant heaters use sealed heating oil and take time to warm up but are least expensive. Forced air heaters blow air over a hot electric heating element and are a quick way to heat. Infrared heaters turn electricity into infrared heat, so they heat up quickly but can cause severe burns.
  • Gas-fired heaters: There are three types of gas-fired heaters — propane, natural gas and kerosene. They all use open flames, so you must practice caution while using them. If you choose a gas-fired heater, it's crucial to keep the garage door and windows open to release the gases.
  • Wood- or pellet-fired heaters: This method relies on using wood or pellets to generate heat. If you add a wood-burning stove to your garage, you can heat most of the area rather easily. Keep in mind that this option requires a chimney to vent.

Through-the-Wall Systems

A through-the-wall system operates similarly to a window unit. However, through-the-wall systems require a hole in the wall rather than a window. If you're interested in a more permanent heating solution but don't want to purchase a mini-split system, you may prefer a through-the-wall unit.

Can You Install Radiant Floor Heating in a Garage?

Yes, you can install radiant floor heating in your garage. This process involves installing electrical or liquid components in the floor to heat the garage. There are two main options for heating, including electric and hydronic. The first option uses electric cables or mats. Alternatively, hydronic systems require tubes that connect to your water heater and a thermostat.

Using radiant floor heating is a cost-effective and efficient way to heat your garage, especially if you're installing it while building. It heats the garage or space effectively since it provides even coverage. Additionally, installation is more straightforward than you may think — it requires installing the required mat and tubing on the concrete and pouring another layer on top. This process only adds about 2 inches to the floor.

What Are the Best Ways to Cool a Garage?

The process of cooling a garage is very similar to heating it. There are various methods, and depending on your needs, you have a good set of options. Here are several ways to cool your garage.

Ductless Mini-Splits

This system requires an indoor and outdoor component — outside is the condensing unit that circulates the refrigerant to cool it. The key benefit of this system is its size, as it can efficiently cool relatively large spaces. A mini-split unit is also very efficient, so if you're only using it to cool your garage in the summer, you likely won't see a significant uptick in your energy bill.

Window Units

Choosing a window unit has its upsides, which are the cost, efficiency and features. A window AC unit is the least expensive option for cooling the garage, is relatively efficient and sometimes comes with customizable features, such as remotes, timers and cooling levels or fan speeds.

The downsides are that your window must have a sill for the unit to sit on, or you must install a bracket to support it. Many garages have small windows, so you'll want to ensure that a unit could fit in your garage windows. It's possible to use a tube to vent the unit, so keep that in mind if you don't think your windows are large enough. A window unit is also one of the louder cooling options.

Through-the-Wall Units

An excellent upside to through-the-wall units is they're quiet, so they're perfect for garages used for living spaces. These units can also provide heat, so if you need a garage HVAC system year-round, a through-the-wall unit could be your best bet. The downsides are that they come in limited sizes and are permanent.

How Can You Ventilate a Garage Without Windows?

If your garage doesn't have windows, you still have options for heating and cooling:

  • Open the garage door: Consider leaving your garage door open to increase airflow. If your garage has a door to your yard or patio, you may want to leave that entryway open, as well. Keep the garage closed whenever young kids and pets are around.
  • Set up portable fans: If you have a few portable fans, you can use them to move the air around when it's hot. Try to station two or three around the garage to get the best effect.
  • Install a ceiling fan: Those looking for a more permanent solution should consider installing a ceiling fan. This way, you can keep the air moving even when you have to shut the garage. It's also possible to reverse the ceiling fan in the winter so the warm air rising to the ceiling disperses below, heating the area.

How Do You Calculate Heating and Cooling Requirements for a Garage?

However you plan to heat or cool your garage, you need to find out what size unit you need for your space. Most HVAC systems use British thermal units (BTUs) to calculate some basic requirements for the space. Here's how to get a good estimate of how powerful your unit should be:

  1. Calculate your garage's square footage by measuring the length and width with a tape measure. Multiply these numbers. For example, if a garage is 15 feet long by 20 feet wide, the square footage is 300 square feet, assuming you have standard 8-foot ceilings. If you have taller ceilings, each foot adds 9% to the total square feet.
  2. Once you have the square footage, multiply that number by the approximate wattage per square foot. The average wattage is about 8.3 — in colder areas, use 10, and in warmer areas, use seven. If your square footage was 300 square feet, you'd get 2,490 for the wattage when multiplying by the average.
  3. Now, take the wattage and multiply it by 3.412. If you multiplied 3.412 by 2490, your answer would be 8,496 BTU required for heating and cooling your garage.

How Can You Make Your Garage More Energy Efficient?

While adding heating and cooling will certainly help your garage function better, you should remember that your energy bill will increase. Because garages aren't always the most efficient spaces, you should consider making other improvements to ensure your garage is as energy-efficient as possible.

1. Add or Replace Insulation

Installing insulation is key to reduce heat flow. As a result, hot air stays inside in the winter and cold air stays inside in the summer. If you don't have proper insulation, your heating and cooling efforts won't make a difference because the air will escape. Investing the time and money to insulate your garage will help your HVAC system do the best possible job.

Be sure to insulate your garage's:

  • Walls: The amount of insulation you need for the walls of your garage varies depending on your location. A safe bet is to use insulative wall sheathing with an R5 or R6 rating. For the best results, insulate the wall that connects to the rest of your home if your garage is attached.
  • Door: Be sure to insulate your garage door. Incorporating weather stripping is also essential. If you have a dated garage door, you may want to consider a replacement if your budget allows it. This way, you'll have a much more energy-efficient barrier between your garage and the outdoors.

2. Seal Off Air Leaks

Note that insulation won't cover all air leaks. If you have pockets in your garage windows, you should patch them to ensure the entire space is closed off. To find air leaks in your garage, consider lighting a stick of incense and walking around the space. If you notice the smoke drifting towards a specific location, there's likely a draft in the garage being caused by a leak. Using a flashlight at night can help you locate these spots, too.

3. Install New Windows, Light Bulbs and Appliances

Most older windows aren't energy-efficient, making them the perfect spots for hot and cold air to travel outside. Upgrading them to double-pane windows will save you money in the long run by reducing your energy bill. Alternatively, consider adding curtains or shades to act as a barrier. These window treatments will also ensure excess light doesn't get inside, which can make the area hotter.

Swapping your lights for energy-efficient options is another great choice. Using LEDs instead of standard incandescent bulbs will reduce your energy bill. As a bonus, these bulbs last longer than traditional options, so you won't have to replace them as often. Be sure to keep your garage lights turned off whenever you're not using the space.

Does your garage have a refrigerator or freezer? It may be time to upgrade to an energy-certified model. Keeping these appliances running 24/7 can use a decent amount of energy, so it's best to ensure they're as efficient as possible. Otherwise, if you only find yourself using the refrigerator or freezer to store items occasionally, you may want to get rid of the appliance altogether.

Shop Garage HVAC Products From Ingram's Water & Air

Are you ready to transform your garage? Ingram's Water & Air has the garage HVAC products you need to keep your garage at a comfortable temperature year-round. If you need heat and air units for your garage, we're here to help with our nearly 20 years of industry experience.

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