We all know that it is considered bad form to answer a question with a question, but before you can offer a useful answer to the question of whether heat lamps are safe in a garage—you need to know what they mean by a heat lamp.
Are heat lamps safe in a garage? Some types of heat lamps are safe for indoor use, and others are not. It all depends on what they use to generate heat, how well they’re constructed, and whether you’ve made the space you’re heating safe for their use.
When somebody says heat lamp, they might mean anything from the bulb that keeps your fast food burger warm to the popular, propane-powered patio heaters. Even a propane heater can be used safely inside of a garage, but by the time you supply enough ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, you might be losing ground in your efforts to heat the space.
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Heat Lamp Safety
The term “heat lamp” can mean a lot of different things depending on who you ask. If you search for the term on the internet, you’ll get results that range from restaurant equipment to animal husbandry. There are some types of heat lamps that are both safe and practical for use in a garage, but there are others that will create health risks or fire hazards.
Every winter, we see news reports of people who have gotten sick, started fires or even died because they used dangerous sources to heat a closed space. Learning how to use a particular kind of heat lamp safely is the first step to deciding what to use, where to use it, and how to use it safely.
If you want to keep your garage warm without taking on the work or expense of installing a forced-air or other permanent heat source, heat lamps can be a great way to get it done. At the same time, choosing the wrong heat lamp can lead to big problems that you’d be wise to avoid.
Things to Look for in a Heat Lamp
There are two primary power sources that you’ll find in products described as heat lamps—electric and combustible fuels. Electric heat lamp is a term that describes everything from food service warming bulbs to the assemblies used to provide warmth while brooding chicks. On the combustible fuel side of things, heat lamp typically refers to propane-powered patio heaters.
Anytime you use a combustion-powered heat source, carbon monoxide poisoning is a real threat. Patio heaters are designed to heat well-ventilated areas like outdoor decks and patios, which makes them popular with bars and restaurants that have outdoor areas. They’re also popular with homeowners who like to entertain or relax in outdoor areas into the cooler times of the year.
While you could use a patio heater to heat a garage, it would probably only be practical in a limited number of situations. Heat lamp light bulbs would provide a much safer and more practical alternative. Even electrical heat lamp bulbs need to be used appropriately to avoid the risk of burns, fires, or electrical issues.
Choosing a Quality Electrical Heat Lamp
There are two things to consider when you’re shopping for an electric heat lamp. The first is the light assembly. The second is the bulb that goes into that assembly.
Some heat lamp assemblies are constructed to provide direct heat to a small space. This type of assembly is practical for applications like brooding baby chickens or providing heat for other animals in a barn. Other heat lamp assemblies are designed to be hung from the ceiling to provide enough heat to warm an entire room. You’re looking to heat your garage on a regular or permanent basis using heat lamps; this would be your best bet.
If you choose to use heat lamps to heat your garage, you will need to make sure that the wiring in your garage is up to code and appropriate to the lights that you buy. You will also need to make sure that you mount or hang the lights in a manner that makes it safe to have them hanging overhead.
It’s always important to invest in quality lighting assemblies. Any lighting assembly you buy should be approved by the Underwriter’s Laboratory. They should be constructed of quality metal and ceramics rather than plastics, and they should have a thick quality electrical cord.
Heat Lamp Bulbs
One of the easiest and safest ways to use electric lights to heat a space are to take advantage of heat lamp light bulbs. You can typically find these bulbs in wattages ranging from 25 to 250. Some feature a red bulb, and others are clear. You can screw these bulbs into any existing light socket to get an instant and safe heat source.
There are some downsides to using heat lamp bulbs to heat your garage. Even if your garage has incandescent sockets rather than fluorescents, it is unlikely that you have enough of them to give you ready-made access to a sufficient amount of heat through the bulbs alone.
If you need or want to install additional sockets to give yourself more options or more heating power, you need to make sure that the socket wattages match the bulbs that you intend to use. You also need to make sure that you place the sockets in spaces where the heat lamp bulbs won’t present an increased fire hazard.
If you do no permanently wire the sockets, fixtures, or assemblies that you use for your heat lamp bulbs, you need to make sure that they are plugged into an AFCI or GFCI outlet. It is also a good idea to make sure that there is a working smoke detector in the space that you are heating with the bulbs. A final consideration would be to ensure that there are no stored chemicals in the area that could lead to a build-up of fumes that reach the lower explosive limit.
Is It Practical to Heat Your Garage with a Heat Lamp?
There are plenty of good options for keeping your garage warm during the winter months. The option that will work best for you depends on whether you want to maintain a constant temperature in the space or warm it up quickly for times when you will be working there. It will also depend on your level of comfort working with electricity or your ability to provide adequate ventilation.
At the end of the day, only you can decide which approach makes the most sense for you, your space, and the amount of heat that you want or need. The goal of this article was to highlight important safety concerns associated with some of the more popular options that are available to you. We focused on the easiest to purchase and install in the belief that more permanent or complicated solutions would involve professional installation and an accompanying safety briefing.
The most important thing to consider when you’re trying to heat your garage is whether or not you’ll be able to do what you need to do in that space and walk away when the job or activity is done. Carbon Monoxide build-up, electrical fires, and other disasters are very real concerns when you try to find inventive ways to heat an indoor space during the winter months. Be sure that whatever you do to heat your garage isn’t going to cost you more in the long run or worse.