The Heat is (Not) On

garage heaters 1219
Which seems better suited to keeping the boiler (foreground) warm, the quartz heater in the brown box on the ground, or the little box by the ceiling that apparently needs to be manually controlled?

Days after discussing how I haven’t really figured out the best way to use under-floor heat, and one day — less; hours (hours!) — after posting/boasting about how warm our garage is, Lynn and I experienced what appears to be yet another failure of a new part.

When I look at it closely, it seems a very undersize part for the job it has to do, this tiny box tucked up against a corner of the garage ceiling, nine feet away from the floor. It’s a little blower that is single-handedly responsible for keeping the cold temperatures at bay in the bays of the garage.

I believe it’s operated electrically, not gas-powered, and it was put up by the ceiling by the plumber because of the boiler. Otherwise we wouldn’t really care how cold the garage got. Well, my car would, and I would probably complain bitterly as I set bare feet out there.

Our old garage, which never held a car while I owned it, never seemed to drop much below 30 despite not having any heat source other than the compressor on Lynn’s commercial freezer. But it was also a little less than half the size of this garage, and didn’t come with two giant windows, neither of which I can bring myself to feel bad about installing.

The new garage is better insulated, but it’s a big open space with windows and giant bay doors that open and close with regularity as cars come and go. As noted, just yesterday, it’s been holding at 50 as the outside temperature has — well, let’s go with plummeted, which seems appropriate when we go from 40 above to 20 below.

But as soon as I told you that, the thermometers inside the garage started sliding closer to 40, probably aided by the outside temperature, which I doubt topped 10 at any point of the day. We needn’t worry about this, except for the boiler.

This sounded like a great idea to me, during the design phase of the house: put the boiler in the garage. There were people, people who had experienced a boiler in the garage, who thought this was a great idea and assured us this would keep the garage toasty warm (and ancillarily — that ought to be a word — making my car very happy).

But Ben the plumber or Dusty the contractor burst that bubble early on. Our boiler operates at something like 94 percent efficiency (and should have been good for a rebate from the gas company, but I can’t find anyone with a good story about how easy it is to contact Atmos), which is great for us but bad for garage heat. Ben further said the boiler needs to live in temperatures of 40 degrees or warmer. This makes it and my car, which gets cold at 38, simpatico.

Which is where the little blower in the ceiling comes into play. Only so far it hasn’t seemed too inclined to play.

Two nights ago, when the outside temperature was still reasonably warm but pointing toward cold, our garage was still around 50. Nonetheless, I got our stepstool (the new ladder was nearby but would have been a major production to move over to the heater — we still need to free up some space) and took my first close look at the heater.

I think it’s pretty similar to the heater I had installed at work, on the north wall near Kara’s desk. That building is very poorly insulated, and this is one of those decisions that you wonder how we ever functioned before it was made. For heating an area the size of Kara’s desk, this is a great heater. For heating an entire open space, it seems hopelessly inadequate.

The heater in the garage, which is perhaps 11 inches wide by 15 inches tall, comes with two controls. One offers “off,” “fan” and “heat,” and when Ben installed it, he set it on “heat.” The other is a temperature dial. The lowest selection is 40, then followed, oddly, by 44, then more usual numbers like 55, 65, 75 and 85. Ben left this dial on 44.

But two nights ago I wanted to make sure the heater was functional. Admittedly, this might be a little late to worry about it, but in my defense, this is the first time the garage hasn’t been hovering around 60. So I climbed on the stepstool that wasn’t a ladder and turned the temperature dial up until the blower kicked in.

I have to say, I still have zero idea how this little box is supposed to keep the entire garage warm. And maybe it doesn’t have to, because just yesterday I detailed how Carol’s garage stayed right around freezing with her house sitting only at 40, with no garage heat source and one small window. So maybe the presumption was that it would just be there to take the edge off.

But I don’t even think it’s going to do that. When I turned the dial back down, I aimed for the non-existent 50 rather than back to 44. But I’m not sure the heater kicked on ever, despite the garage dropping below the 50 threshold and even the 44.

Last night I climbed back up, still on the stepstool (so glad we bought a expensive new ladder so it could supervise), and turned the temperature up until the heater kicked on, somewhere around 55. There I left it, and went back into the house.

For some reason I needed to go back into the garage less than 15 minutes later, and the heater was not blowing air, even though it was set at 55 and the thermometer showed 45. As near as I can tell, the heater made no effort to come back on all evening.

That left Lynn and I driving into town much later than we wanted, to fetch our quartz infrared heater out of storage. It was in the “maybe” pile, because I figured we wouldn’t really have a use for it.

Since we did not get itemized bills from either the plumber or the electrician (really, most of the subcontractors just submitted lump sums, which may be convenient but not really useful), I have no idea how much this heater cost, and I can’t remember how much the one by Kara’s desk was, except that it was more than you’d think. Whatever the cost, it was worth every penny in Kara’s case, and not worth a plugged nickel here.

Honestly! Wouldn’t it be great if new stuff actually worked?

We continue to have breakers blow periodically, in response to our excessive power demands like closing the garage door and starting the vacuum, and I am still waiting for my bathroom vanity to be put together. (Alleged arrival: tomorrow. Are we expecting a phone call from True Value? Not at all.)

Sometimes the path of least resistance seems easiest, and we have our quartz heater to keep our boiler warm. But then part of me says, we probably paid $500-$1,000 for this stupid little box to hang uselessly in a corner of our garage, so somebody should fix it. Now I just have to find someone who cares.

It’s a cold, cruel world out there, especially when the outside temperature is also cold and cruel.

Update: I set the box to 85 and it appears to be running. This maybe should have occurred to me to try last night, before driving to town, but I suppose when the plumber, who allegedly knows what he’s doing, sets it to 44, you assume that should work. And now, in our stairless house, we will get the joy of climbing a ladder of some sort to turn the heater control up or down as needed.

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