A temperature-controlled workshop can make all the difference in the world. I work outside all day and the last thing I want to do when I come home after a cold day is to go back out into the cold and do more work – even if it's my hobby. But a nice toasty warm workshop? That’s a different story. So a total heating system was very high on my list of ‘things that must happen' during renovations.
My ideal system would be to have a heated floor. I have had heated floors in the past – both in a shop and house and, in my opinion, it is by far the best set up. However, the concrete was already placed in this shop so the only way to install the required glycol piping would have been to break out all the concrete and start again. I did contemplate it but I was outside on a cold day while thinking about it so something a little more immediate seemed like a better solution. I’m not saying the busting up concrete idea is off the table though. It may be a future project if I get bored.
The shop came with a wood pellet stove. However, it was not installed correctly and was not WETT certified (wood energy technology transfer). Both of those things had to happen before I could get insurance on the shop. I have never owned a pellet stove in the past so I had no experience or knowledge of the requirements. The local inspector was quite easy to contact, came for a preliminary visit and detailed all the requirements. It wasn’t really too complicated and mostly common sense stuff I could do myself.
The first thing I had to do was to fabricate a metal stand for the stove to sit on. That came easy as welding/fabricating is my first trade and I still enjoy doing it as a hobby.
Next was to install the unit on the stand and run the exhaust pipe out through the back wall of the shop. This was really simple because it’s not a conventional chimney as I was used to with previous wood stoves. The pellets burn very efficiently and most of the heat stays in the shop. That means exhaust gas temperatures are quite low and the three-inch pipe just runs horizontally out the back and through the wall similar to a propane burner. The regulations specify a few things: the correct number of screws in each pipe joint, minimum distance from the wall, etc. These things were not difficult to do. I had the inspector make a return visit, I paid his fee and all was blessed. The shop had a stove.
I mentioned insurance earlier. I had checked with my broker to see what the additional costs were for a pellet stove. It is quite reasonable – an extra $75/year.
I have used the stove for a while now and I have to say I am quite pleased with it. It gives a nice even heat and has the same ‘feel' and look as a conventional wood stove. It’s not a lot of work or mess. It lasts nicely throughout the night and lets you walk into a nice cozy shop each morning. It uses 1 to 1 1⁄2 bags of pellets/day depending on the outside temperature of course. The hardwood pellets are about $6.00/bag. The pellets have to be loaded into the top and the ashes knocked down into the bottom once a day. Every couple of weeks the ash pan has to be removed and dumped. In addition to that, the bags of pellets have to be purchased, hauled home and stacked in the shop. Some effort is involved but it is substantially less than an old-style wood stove. I give it a definite ‘thumbs up’ as a shop heating system – except for one glaring flaw.
I wanted a system that would maintain some level of heat when I wasn’t there. Sadly, it seems I still am still obligated to work for a living and can’t be there fulltime to tinker away and occasionally feed the pellet stove. A second backup system was necessary.
Again, a local heating contractor (Lamp’s Heating and Cooling) was conveniently available for consultation. A forced air propane unit was recommended by owner Tim Lampron and seemed to be the right choice. The house is heated partially by propane and the supply tanks are conveniently located at the back of the shop. (Natural gas is reportedly cheaper but I am about 500’ away from the supply line.)
The boys from Lamps installed a supply line from the tanks, ran it underground over to the shop exterior wall and into a regulator. From there it continued up the wall and horizontally under the eave and over to the area where the heating unit would be installed. While they did this, I busied myself by building an HSS steel guard to protect the emerging supply line and regulator. I then dug down about 12 inches into the limestone shale and poured a small concrete foundation around the base of the guard. Unless the grandkids go absolutely crazy with dirt bikes or the lawn tractor or something nutty like that, it should give adequate protection.
The heater that Tim Lampron recommended was an 80,000 BTU Modine Hot Dawg gas-fired unit. It has separated combustion meaning it draws fresh combustion air in from outside. It doesn’t pull in dust or paint fumes or whatever you happen to be doing in the shop at the time. The inner components are stainless steel and everything is guaranteed for 10 years.
There were less costly units available but Tim warned that if he installed one of them he would likely be back replacing it within three to four years. Gas, paint and welding fumes corrode the insides of the cheaper models and they just don’t last. In his experience, the quality Modine unit will last without minimal maintenance for many, many years. That suits me just fine. I'm in this for the long haul.
The installation looks really good and it's tucked up in the corner farthest away from the entrance door. There are still seven and one half feet clearance underneath it so it’s adequately out of the way. I’m quite happy with the performance. I leave the thermostat set at 50 degrees F (10 C ) when I’m not in the shop. It keeps everything at a reasonable temperature above freezing but still keeps the propane costs down. Bringing the temperature from 50 degrees up to a very comfortable 65 degrees takes only about five minutes – it’s very fast.
I have not done a daily cost comparison with the pellet stove vs the propane but I suspect they are about the same. I use the pellet unit when I’m in the shop mostly because I like the look and feel better than the forced air propane. It's also a more even heat. The propane unit tends to make it feel hot when its running and cool when it’s off. Possibly the thermostat or burner could be set to regulate it better but I will need to get the installer back to look at that.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that the attic insulation was less than adequate. No use installing all these fancy heaters if everything is blowing out the top. This was not a very sexy part of the renovation but it was necessary and yielded dramatic and immediate results.
I went to Home Depot and rented their Attic Cat insulation blower. They also supply the bags of loose insulation to go with the blower. The installation was pretty easy. My wife, Heather, fed the bags into the blower. The bag is inserted into the blower with the plastic still on it. A built-in knife slices the plastic as you push the bag in, leaving the bag in your hand and the insulation in the blower. Pretty slick! (OK, it wasn’t that exciting but it did work well.)
I crawled around in the attic with the blower hose and placed the material 20” to 24” thick everywhere. And that was it. It took the two of us about 6 hours total including the 2 trips to Home Depot for pickup and return. I feel the money was well spent. I was burning pellets at the time and noticed a real reduction in the amount required the following day.
Pellet stove installation: $150 for consult/inspection, $150 for installation materials - $300.00
Propane heater plus HVAC contractor installation: $3850.00
HSS guard and heater hanging bracket materials: $150.00
Attic insulation upgrade – rentals and material: $700.00
NEXT UP: SOMETIMES YOU JUST NEED A LIFT!