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Best Way to Heat a Pole Barn?


Pole barns are a popular solution for those looking to create a combined workshop/storage space for their toys (tractors, classic cars etc). In-floor radiant heat can be very expensive to install and hot air unit heaters are inefficient because the hot air rises to the ceiling rather than staying at the lower level. Overhead radiant heat is the best solution for a pole barn owner who wants to heat the space efficiently. In this blog post we will explain the benefits of radiant heat in pole barn applications.

Hot Air vs. Radiant Heat

There are certain instances in which a hot air unit heater is the best choice for heating your pole barn. If your pole barn has the following characteristics a unit heater will work nicely:

  • well insulated (R19 walls, R30 roof)
  • has 10 foot ceilings or less
  • has insulated garage doors
  • and has an insulated slab edge

Unit heaters have virtually no “clearances to combustibles,” whereas radiant heaters require space between the unit and anything flammable (boxes, wood, etc). If your pole barn has tall ceilings (12 foot or higher), then hot air will rise up to the ceiling and leave cold spots at the floor level. This causes inefficiences, not to mention a cold environment, due to the thermostat typically being placced closer to floor level.

Radiant heat is also super comfortable. Imagine the sun peaking out from the clouds on a cool day to warm your face and clothes. The radiant heat sinks into the cement floor and re-radiates back upward creating a warm and comfortable area. Another advantage for welders and woodworkers is that there is no air blowing in the space, keeping your welding and saw dust at bay.

The Pole Barn

We start by asking a series of questions about the pole barn. The information we ask for includes:

  • Dimensions
  • overhead/roll-up door sizes and insulation values
  • wall and roof insulation values
  • and what the space is being used for.

Our “Submit Project Details” page allows you to input all this information so we can review it before speaking with you.

Once we know how many BTUs are needed in the space, we’ll determine which products to recommend and recommend a layout. We strategically place radiant heat over areas being used most often. Rest assured, the entire space will reach the desired temperature but it is nice to feel the heat almost immediately in your work or hang out area. Placing the heater of these areas is ideal.

If the space is currently uninsulated, we advise installing at least R5 insulation because it is exponentially better than having no insulation. We can, and do, heat uninsulated spaces, but you’ll be happier with the utility bill in the long term with some insulation. Insulation also drastically changes our heater recommendations for any space. For example, an uninsulated space may need 175,000 BTU’s versus an insulated space only needing 75,000.

Design Considerations

Our main concern in designing placement of radiant heaters(s) is any obstacles overhead such as:

  • ceiling fans
  • lights
  • overhead door tracks
  • and anything else that might be in the ceiling space.

We’ll also ask about items that are tall or stacked high in the space like:

  • RV parking
  • tall boat storage
  • pallet racks with boxes

As previously mentioned, we must advise you to strictly adhere to the “clearances to combustibles” for the specific unit we pick out for you. These “clearances” vary by unit – nothing combustible can be within the set number of inches from the unit. Combustible items include anything that can catch fire or melt, for example:

  • wood
  • drywall
  • rubber
  • cardboard, etc.

Our employees will walk you through confirming your installation will be safe, whether it be over the phone or in person!

We’ll also want to know if you have any mechanical ventilation (for example exhaust fans), because we’ll need to consider if the exhaust fans will be sucking heat out of the building. Additionally, we want to know if you plan on opening and closing the garage doors frequently because that will have an impact on how much heat is needed for the space.

Electric vs. Gas-Fired

Many people are considering electric radiant heaters these days. There might be rebates through your electric provider, or you may have done the math and figured electric is cheaper than gas. Or, you may want to use “clean energy” to heat the space if you have solar panels. Regardless, there are a few considerations when deciding to go electric.

The first consideration is the “electrical infrastructure” at the location. In other words, what are your voltage options (120V, 208V, 240V, 277V, or 480V)? What is the amp space available at your panel? Many people come to the conclusion that their panel can’t handle the amp draw to fulfill the BTU requirement for the space. We have many different electric heater options, so all of these questions will help us determine if electric heaters are a possibility for you.

Another item to consider is that a typical pole barn can be heated by one gas-fired radiant tube heater, whereas you may need 4 or 6 electric radiant heaters to achieve the same number of total BTUs. More units entails more labor with wiring and controls (thermostats), and the equipment cost can sometimes get expensive depending on how many electric units are required. We can design and price two equipment options, electric and gas-fired, if you would like to compare!

Strategic Use for Max Efficiency

Pole barn owners usually keep the thermostat set to above freezing, around 44-55 degrees. When the space is occupied, the thermostat is set at a comfortable 60-65 degrees, which takes 10 to 15 mintues to achieve. If going with gas-fired radiant tube heaters, we recommened two-stage units with a high fire and low fire mode. The high fire mode activies automatically when the thermostat detects a 2+ degree temperature differential and blasts heat into the space to quickly recover heat. The low fire mode activates automatically once the temperature is within 2 degrees of the setpoint, and then maintains the temperature setpoint.

Electric heaters don’t have two-stage options, so they will either be “on” or “off” based on the thermostat.

Some pole barn owners really enjoy our WiFi thermostat options, which enables you to control the heaters from your cell phone. WiFi thermostats do require that you have wifi in the pole barn. If this is an option, then you can “pre-heat” the space by increasing the setpoint temperature on the thermostat app from your smartphone. When you go out to your pole barn 10-15 minutes later, it will be a comfortable 65 degrees!


Pole barns are one of our specialties. Our employees are here to help with:

  • Determining how much heat you’ll need in a space.
  • Analyzing your space to identify the best locations for heaters.
    • We can do this using photos, videos, video conferencing, or if you are near a Great Lakes Radiant office we’ll be happy to meet you at the space in person!
  • Going over “Clearances to Combustibles” for the selected units to make sure they’ll work for your space.
  • Any other Services you might need!

Give us a call, email, or fill out our Project Details form so we can start working on a radiant heat solution for your pole barn!