Winter shop: pole barn (heating question)

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Forum topic by dakremer posted 01-13-2016 02:04 AM 2736 views 0 times favorited 45 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2672 posts in 3114 days

01-13-2016 02:04 AM


I have a double wide, double deep, pole barn/garage (roughly 20×30 garage). This is my first winter in the shop with all my tools in there. There is zero insulation in it. Insulating the garage is not in the budget at the moment, and and may never be – as this is not a forever home…

I’m wondering your thoughts on heating it when I need to work out there for a day or so. I do not want to heat it all winter long, just when needed. With no insulation, is this even possible? Could I get a 800 sq/ft heater (from the big box store) and heat when needed? I have no experience with this, and would love some input before I buy something I shouldn’t! Thanks!

I thought about partitioning off half the building and just heating the back side – cars are parked in the front, shop is in the back. However, I don’t want to limit my space in the summer (when the cars will be parked outside, giving me more room).

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

45 replies so far

View sawdustdad's profile


354 posts in 907 days

#1 posted 01-13-2016 02:45 AM

About the only thing that makes sense is a kerosene “torpedo” heater. I’ve used one in an uninsulated 22×30 foot garage (concrete floor) when I had to work on one of the tractors. It will take the chill off, but it’s not really a good solution because they are noisy and smelly. Depending on where you live, it may work for a while. The heaters are not that expensive but you have to haul and deal with kerosene or diesel fuel.

Your tools will rust away unfortunately in an unheated pole barn. I’d try to find a way to insulate the building. Fiberglass batts are not all that expensive.

-- Murphy's Carpentry Corollary #3: Half of all boards cut to a specific length will be too short.

View JBrow's profile


1358 posts in 942 days

#2 posted 01-13-2016 03:50 AM


I second sawdustdad recommendation to insulate. In Iowa, the winters are fairly brutal and you will be lucky to get more heat into the shop than you lose. So the question becomes how to do this with little or no money? My first thought is check for any consignment or second hand building supply stores near you. Habit for Humanity may have a resale store nearby. Also you may find a remodeler or insulating contractor who is willing to give you a call when he is tearing out some insulation.

In your case, a kerosene heater is probably your answer. I have used propane, but went through the propane like crazy. So I switched to kerosene until a couple of years ago. I did not like the order, cleaning up kerosene spills when overfilling the heater, and the odor, and the inconvenience of having to buy the stuff. The kerosene is now gone. A problem to consider with kerosene is that as you burn, moisture is introduced to the shop. It would, I think, be a good idea to ventilate the shop by opening a door for a few minutes every so often to let the moisture out if you heat with kerosene.

Reducing the footprint of the barn makes sense for heating purposes. In order to open the entire length of the barn in the summer, you could install an insulated garage door in the partition wall. Check with garage door companies, explain what you are trying to do, and see if you can talk them out of a used door that they have replaced. You would still have to purchase the hardware (tracks and springs).

View clin's profile


849 posts in 1018 days

#3 posted 01-13-2016 04:44 AM

You really should insulate first. It may not be a forever home, but if you own it, I’d insulate. If you do things properly, it might even add something to the value when you sell.

Also, “not forever” homes have a way of becoming “stayed here a lot longer than expected” homes.

As mentioned, fiber glass batts aren’t that expensive.

I took a very quick look at HomeDepot’s price on R13 batts. It ws roughly $0.50 per sq ft. Assuming 8 ft high walls, a 20×30 structure has 800 sq ft of wall or $400 of insulation. You have another 600 sq ft of ceiling/roof which is another $300 (through R13 is skimpy for roof insulation).

So you’re looking at $700 in insulation. And I would assume if you shopped around a bit you could get something for less.

I think you’d be looking at $400 for a reasonably large kerosene heater plus you then have to buy fuel for it. So while you might spend less this winter, it won’t be that much less and I think after two seasons you’d be at a loss.

Of course even if you insulate, you still need to heat it. But you might get by with just an el-cheapo electric heater.

Another thing, if you really, really don’t want to spring for insulation, you might consider putting up some plastic sheeting on the framing This would help seal the space and trap some air between the plastic, framing and exterior wall, giving you some added insulation.

Though I don’t know how you could run a portable kerosene heater or similar in a closed space and not kill yourself.

-- Clin

View joey502's profile


537 posts in 1540 days

#4 posted 01-13-2016 08:29 AM


View joey502's profile


537 posts in 1540 days

#5 posted 01-13-2016 08:32 AM

The heat in your shop will rise and escape as quickly as you produce it without insulating. The kerosene cost without insulation would be too costly. If you did add the insulation you could easily use a topedo heater from the box store.

Do you have access to an inexpensive firewood source? A wood burning stove might work for you needs but installation would drive the cost up.

View HamS's profile


1829 posts in 2411 days

#6 posted 01-13-2016 11:56 AM

Insulate, then install a 30,000 BTU propane vent free heater. will keep it above freezing for very little and bring it to workable temp (60 or so) in less than an hour. I am in central Indiana so is not really cold, but it ain’t warm either. when I went to shop last night it was 10 outside and 40 in the shop with just the pilot light on the heater on.

My shop is 24×48 and half is partitioned off. I did not do it, but one of my buddies has ‘moveable’ walls. They do move, but you don’t want to do it often. The walls started out as theater set pieces. he added 2×4 depth, but with 1×4’s and put insulation in them. think a 4×8 luan panel with 1×4 studs where the 2×4 would be set on a 2’ x 4’ base with a brace. these are on nylon slides. He piles stuff(mostly wood scraps) on the base to keep things upright.

-- Haming it up in the 'bash.

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2826 days

#7 posted 01-13-2016 12:26 PM

I would think by not insulating, your equipment may be on the way to the rust pile. Just my 2-cents.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

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Monte Pittman

29380 posts in 2360 days

#8 posted 01-13-2016 12:29 PM

I have 2 of the construction heaters. It can’t truly heat it, but you can function. I have been in my shop when it was -5° outside.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View JeffP's profile


573 posts in 1414 days

#9 posted 01-13-2016 12:41 PM

This may not work depending on where you are in the world. What I have been using is the “remote heat” solution.

Put simply, I heat my house rather than the shop. I work for about 1/2 hour to 45 min at a time with two hoodies and long underwear.

Then I go back in the house for awhile and thaw out. Then back to the garage.

Recently I added a propane IR heater, which does not warm the shop much at all, but does warm me if I happen to be at the TS or workbench (in other words, it heats what you point it at). Despite not raising the average air temp in the shop appreciably, it does make it more pleasant between thawings to have the heater warming up your derrière.

My limited experience so far supports the wisdom above…no way you’re going to put enough heat into that kind of a building to make it warm in there in the winter. Only way would be to fix or replace the building first.

Since I didn’t win the lottery either…I’m currently using my “remote heating” technique until I can build my forever shop.

-- Last week I finally got my $*i# together. Unfortunately, it was in my shop, so I will probably never find it again.

View hotbyte's profile


991 posts in 2998 days

#10 posted 01-13-2016 12:47 PM

This is kind of an odd idea, but hit up as many thrift stores and yard sales as you can and buy up all their old blankets and quilts. Hang these on the walls and fashion a ceiling from them using rope for support. If you later move, you’ll have plenty of blankets for packing tools/furniture :)

View CampD's profile


1673 posts in 3508 days

#11 posted 01-13-2016 01:27 PM

As hotbyte mentions, covering the walls and at the very least the celling. In the past I’ve setup temporary work spaces using sheet plastic thicker mil the better and used tank top propane heater. It’ll at least make comfortable. Oh and fingerless gloves are a must!

-- Doug...

View bondogaposis's profile


4755 posts in 2373 days

#12 posted 01-13-2016 01:44 PM

How high are the ceilings? You are likely to spend as much on fuel as you would on insulation and still not be warm.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View bkseitz's profile


295 posts in 1332 days

#13 posted 01-13-2016 02:04 PM

I’ve a 30×45 steel barn (PacNW). In winter its been a freezer. I originally bought a propane barn heater to get the space usable…wound up getting two to do the job. That was a temporary and expensive fix I was willing to take initially while I started building out my shop. I hit HD for 1” rigid insulation, chip board and husky trackwall. Every few months I complete a section. I’ve now got a little more than 1/4 of the barn done—the area I’ve set up shop.

The barn is still cold during the winter as I leech hit from other areas, but 1) it heats up quicker 2) with both heaters running I can work in shirt sleeves instead of a heavy winter jacket and gloves 3) I don’t feel a draft from the workshop walls 4) I’ve cabinets hung to store suppliers, equipment and parts.

Advice start insulating as soon as possible, it will save you money in the long run. If you track the cost of fuel used to heat your barn you see even a modest level of improvement will save you $$$. Heating costs add up quickly

-- bkseitz, Washington "if everything is going well, you've obviously overlooked something"

View REO's profile


928 posts in 2096 days

#14 posted 01-13-2016 02:22 PM

almost sounds like people are directly equating cold+heaters = rust. My dad ran a shop out of an uninsulated barn for many years. I still run the equipment and its not rusting away. On equipment rust caused by temperature is because the tool is at or below the dewpoint of the air. This can happen anywhere anytime. uninsulated shops see it more often because they are open to dramatic changes in humidity. They are not usually “tight” and easily follow the humidity variations. In a “heat as needed” shop the humidity is artificially increased from the natural byproducts of combustion Co2 and water. when heated with non-vented type heaters. Wood burners send the water and co2 up the stack but as the shop cools down the equipment still crosses the dewpoint and condensation occurs. Keeping a coat of past wax on the exposed metal parts helps tons! and a shot of wd40 once in a while to the workings helps too.

View dakremer's profile


2672 posts in 3114 days

#15 posted 01-13-2016 04:01 PM

So it seems the majority are saying insulate. So my initial question – can you heat up the shop for a day (if I wanted to work out there) without insulating it (with an electric heater)? I’m not looking to heat it all winter long (yet). Just when I need to be out there. Looks like the wife isn’t getting her built-ins until I insulate the garage…. :)

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

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