Baby It's Cold Outside - Garage Heater Review

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Keeping warm while fixing your car: Mr. Heater HERO and Tank-top space heater test drive.

By Thom Cannell
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Lansing MI December 2, 2013; At The Auto Channel we get our hands dirty. Not only on press event where mustard spills on our ties, but in the garage fixing greasy engines, replacing suspensions, and keeping our personal vehicles healthy and running well. Many of our staff live in northern and eastern states, it’s getting colder outside and we need heat for our garages: some tasks cannot be put off until next summer. So, a note about garage heating plus a suggestion for a Christmas present for the Do It Yourselfer in your life.

The first requirement for heating in the garage is safety, so wood burning stoves are, in our code jurisdictions, forbidden. Plumbing the garage for natural gas or heavy duty electricity is expensive. That leaves propane as a readily available fuel source, and it’s likely you have several propane tanks for your BBQ lurking about. Our tests involved freezing weather, a 850 square foot work space, and two heaters from the same company purchased years apart. The first is a familiar pie-pan tank top heater (MH15T) and the recently released HERO, which is battery powered.

Tank-top heaters work on the principle of infra-red radiation and heat objects, not the air. In contrast the Mr. Heater HERO is a fan driven non-radiant heater. Tank-top heaters are compact, easily stored and transported. Suggested uses are ice fishing, camping and hunting, and of course heating your workspace. A big advantage of these inexpensive heaters is that they will run on 1-pound propane tanks. With High-Medium-Low settings, which work out to 8,000, 12,000, and 14,000 BTUs, they can run for just over two hours on those teensy tanks. With BBQ tanks you’ll get 30-52 hours according to the manufacturer. Our experience bears this out. They are also relatively quiet. However a single burner unit (they make dual and triple as well) takes a long time to heat a work space when the temperature is below 40F. Which is a very good reason to buy a forced air heater?

The HERO was developed to blow hot air, producing a powerful 35,000 BTUs of heat and will heat a garage or workspace more quickly than a single radiant heater. The HERO is unique, it has a built-in lead-acid storage cell to run the fan for up to eight hours on a single charge. That makes it, along with the propane tank, completely portable. Other features are its advertised, and realistic, quietness. If you’ve used torpedo heaters before, this is far quieter. It’s also shielded to prevent contact with hot surfaces.

HERO weighs a mere 12 pounds, runs up to 12 hours on a ubiquitous 20# propane tank, and the battery will power the fan for about 8 hours before it needs a recharge. Recharging takes only 5.5 hours and HERO can run while recharging. HERO arrives as a package, you won’t have to buy separate hose, gas regulator, or charging cable (which is a familiar computer-style power cord). Operation is simple, start the fan and insure it’s blasting away, wait few seconds and slowly press the gas valve until gas flow, keep on pressing deeper until the piezoelectric lighter pops a spark.

There are only two buttons, so it should be foolproof. However, HERO does have a fault, the fallible human operator. We don’t read and re-read the manual—which is attached to the handle. What our in-house mechanics forgot was to make sure the fan was running strong before igniting the gas. The result was not catastrophic, but we do need to order a new fan module.

If you’re wondering what we’d suggest as a purchase, our conclusion is actually simple. Buy both. The single infra-red you’ll use on chilly days, where portability is paramount or where you’d use the 1-pound propane tank in an ice fishing or hunting shack. It’s only forty bucks. HERO you’d use for really cold days in the shop, or when you need heat faster. It’s about $160. Oh, and when the car is broken or the woodworking has to happen, having HERO to heat the shop and the infra-red to keep it warm while conserving fuel is simply a workman’s dream come true.

Here’s the things you have to know:

• Any propane heater consumes oxygen, you must allow .5 square feet of intake air and .5 square feet of exhaust for safety.

• A sparker or long reach lighter is needed to light the infra-red heater, HERO is self-igniting.

• READ THE HERO MANUAL every time you use it—or you will buy new parts. Eventually it will become second nature, but every season, or if it has been a week, READ THE MANUAL.

We use both on a weekly basis, when it’s cold, and couldn’t be without them. Either make a great gift and if we had to choose one it would be the HERO for its portability and strong blower fan, as well as the high heat output. Now, get to work!

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