Solar Heating for Your Garden Building

Many garden buildings are fine without heating, sheds and summer houses are good examples. But what if you want to make use of those buildings all through the year and when the sun goes down as well? With the growing tendency for householders to use garden buildings as extensions of the home, the need to heat them increases too.

Of course you could run electric heaters on a cable from a household electric point but for the purposes of this article we are going to assume that isn’t practical and explore stand-alone methods of heating.

Solar Heating

Solar heating could well come into its own with a garden building. There are two major components: a collector on the roof and a radiator in the garden building. The collector is usually a system of pipes under glass that hold water which is heated by the sun’s rays. You will also need a pump to circulate the warmed water to the radiator. The collectors are still relatively expensive but competent DIY-ers can make them in a number of ways.

Old radiators painted black and mounted in insulated boxes with glass lids are a very economical solution. More efficient but harder to make are copper pipe networks with metal ‘wings’ soldered to them. You will find plans and videos of people making them on the Internet.

Consider Underfloor Heating

The internal heating device could be an ordinary radiator but it probably won’t get hot enough, particularly in the winter. Putting underfloor heating in would be better as it doesn’t have to reach such high temperatures to warm the place up. It’s basically a hose zigzagged across the room under the floor so the heat rises uniformly throughout the space. There are no cold spots and no radiators in the way on the walls.

Of course it depends very much what use you are putting the garden building to as to whether or not solar heating would be any use, because all the heat will be lost within an hour of the sun going down. So you’ll probably need a backup heating source for use in the dark.

Here are some examples of alternative heating for a garden building:

Portable Gas Heaters

Portable gas heaters are a simple and easy to implement option although the weight of the cylinders of ‘portable’ gas heaters can make lugging them across the garden very tricky, particular if the garden isn’t level. They are relatively expensive to run but this is not such a problem if they are only used occasionally.

There are various different designs and different gases available so go to a supplier and test a few to make sure you’ll be comfortable with the fumes before you buy.

Greenhouse Heating

Smaller gas heaters designed for propagation of plants in greenhouses can raise the temperature of a particular area or shelving unit in a greenhouse but are impractical for heating a whole greenhouse. Because a greenhouse uses the sun’s rays through its glass to stay warm in summer they are (by design) appallingly insulated so they lose heat almost immediately.

Paraffin heaters are more efficient in a greenhouse but not recommended for other garden buildings where people spend a lot of time as the fumes can be quite off-putting.

Wood Burning Stove

Solid fuel or wood fires might not at first seem safe in what is likely to be a wooden building but if you have a concrete or stone base and insulate the flue where it goes out of the shed then it should be safe. A chimney could be built of brick or stone to surround the flue as an extra safeguard but as this would take up a fair bit of space is would only be practical if the garden building is large enough.

Log cabins in cold climates are often warmed by solid fuel fires though. A sensible option would be to use an enclosed stove type rather than an open fire as that would minimise fire risk from coals or sparks landing on anything flammable around the fire. You would be wise to seek advice before going down this route.

Pick Your Own

You need to select the heating method that is going to suit your use of the garden building in question. If it’s a workshop that’s used at weekends and the odd evening then you’ll need something that heats up quickly and delivers spot heat for short periods, so gas might be best. A home office used everyday will need a constant source of heat all over the office, so perhaps solar heating and a wood-burning stove for backup would be better.

But either way, make sure that the garden building is insulated properly. Money spent on insulation will be repaid very quickly, both financially and in having a warmer building.