You may wonder what a little amphibian has to do with heating your garage. The answer is a bit complicated. The legend started when early peoples noticed salamanders and other small creatures fleeing from fire pits that had just been ignited. These people believed that the salamanders were actually coming from, and not fleeing from, the fire. Therefore the name salamander was connected to heat, fire and cooking. In the Spanish and Portuguese languages a “salamandra” is a wood burning stove.
In modern usage, this term has been applied to a type of portable forced air kerosene heaters that are commonly used on construction sites to provide warmth which allows construction workers to remain productive during inclement weather. Alternatively, this term may also be applied to similar units powered by propane, diesel or natural gas which work on the forced air/combustion principle.
A basic requirement of this type of heater is the need for an adequate flow of fresh air for both combustion and ventilation purposes, and as such they are often not immediately associated with garage heating options. However, a salamander heater, with a few precautions such as opening windows and doors when in operation to forestall the built of up carbon monoxide gas in your enclosed space, can be used judiciously to quickly warm up even the largest garage.
A combustion heater has several advantages over other kinds of heaters. They are an ideal choice in large, well ventilated areas, or open air structure such as carports. They were designed specifically to provide heat in open air venues and are noted especially for being able to quickly warm a large interior area, often able to raise temperatures an average of 40 degrees within 10 minutes. They are typically easy to use, and fast starting.
When choosing a salamander heater, it is important to determine the area of the space to be heated and choose the salamander with the specifications which best match the need. A salamander that is too small or large for the area to be heated will result in energy wastage and inefficient overall operation. Heaters are rated by the BTU (British Thermal Unit) system, and there is a simple formula available to determine the BTU rating needed in your heater. First, calculate the volume of the area to be heated, taking the square footage of the space and multiplying it by its height. Next, multiple this sum by a factor based on the level of insulation the space has. If your insulation is nonexistent or poor, multiply by a factor of four. If the insulation of the garage is average, multiply by three and if good to excellent by a factor of two. The number you arrive it gives a general idea of the amount of BTU output you will need in your salamander heater (example, 1200 sq ft volume garage would require a heater with a 50,000 BTU output).
As with any product, salamander heaters have pros and cons to their use.
Salamander Heater Pros:
- Quick heating
- Easy to use
- Multiple fuel options—some even allow for interchangeable fuel usage (i.e. models which require connection to an outside fuel source as opposed to having their own dedicated internal source)
- Clean, cost effective and efficient.
Salamander Heater Cons:
- The area to be heated MUST be very well ventilated
- Units become very hot while in operation and can potentially be harmful to objects and people
- Not all units are available with automatic shut off and thermostat features.
- Forced air feature can be very noisy
It is extremely important to take the following into consideration when choosing a salamander heater as your garage heating source:
- Maintain ample ventilation in the area being heated at all times
- Follow all manufacturer warnings and recommendations
- Keep the area immediately around the heater clear of flammable materials
- Do not use in areas where children and pets may approach the unit while in operation
- Remember to keep your own distance from the unit while in operation to prevent accidental burns
The salamander can be an effective garage heater and provide years of safe service when the above considerations are kept in mind. A further suggestion is to consider the salamander an supplemental source of heating in a garage—best used to quickly warm up the work area, then switching to another mode of heating to maintain the built up warmth. This will allow for a reduction in the ventilation required to safely heat your garage space and allow for hours of comfortable activity without the danger of carbon monoxide build up.