Building in the Winter

I had to quit working in October, about 120 hours into the project, when it became too cold for epoxy work. I should have planned ahead back when I was in the “preparing the workshop” phase, but I completed the workbench just days before the kit arrived, and by then my mind was on the airplane–not on heaters.

Nevertheless, mother nature caught up with me, the ambient temperature continued to decline, and I could procrastinate no longer.

I considered many heating options for the garage and my first solution was to purchase a 4000 watt, 240V electric heater from McMaster-Carr. According to their chart, 4000W should have been plenty to heat the volume of my garage. I ordered it. It arrived. I plugged it in to the outlet that I had wired especially for my compressor, and off it went. But to my disappointment it made more noise than heat (the fan wasn’t balanced very well). Clearly, it wasn’t going to keep my garage in the mid 70’s throughout winter, so I sent it back.

I considered tapping into my house furnace and running a duct to the garage, but that presented a problem with the thermostat (being located in my living room) not to mention the hassle of running additional ducting and cutting through walls, etc. There were plenty of propane heaters on the market that would suit my needs, but I dreaded the repetitive task of refilling propane tanks. Finally I settled on a natural gas convection heater, which I also purchased from McMaster-Carr. This heater had a 60,000 BTU/hour output and would be much more convenient since I had a gas line running nearby. So I ordered it, and while awaiting its arrival I ran a gas line into the garage. I chose a convection heater because I wanted to heat the entire volume of air in which I was working, as opposed to a radiant heater which primarily heats objects in it’s path. Convection heat is much more even, and better suited for composite work.

My garage is insulated so heat loss was not a huge concern, but just to boost efficiency I insulated the garage door too.

The natural gas heater works great, and burns very clean, but since it’s unvented and I really didn’t want to kill myself, I bought a carbon monoxide detector to monitor any build up of that stealthy, toxic gas. It has a digital readout so that I can see the actual PPM concentration of CO in the air, which is pretty neat. Happily, CO levels are well within the acceptable range when running the heater.

Finally, for local heating, I purchased a small electric space heater (1500W max). It was inexpensive ($25 at Home Depot) and works great for curing things inside the fuselage. I just set it inside, plug it in, seal up the aft fuselage opening, and it keeps things nice and warm in there. Then I can shut down the gas heater when I’m done working for the evening and let the local cure continue.