Don’t leave your employees in the cold: HVAC for your warehouse

Get more digital commerce tips

Tactics to help you streamline and grow your business.

The decision to begin heating your warehouse is a big one. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, warehouses, on average, spend $0.70 per square foot on energy. Approximately half of the expense is on fuel and the other half is the electricity used to operate the unit. And though the first thing to consider is this cost, deciding on what kind of system to get is… daunting to say the least. How do you know when it’s time to get one? Once you’ve decided to bite the bullet, how do you know what to get?

Let’s answer the first question. It’s time to consider getting a heating solution for your warehouse if you’re having either of these problems on a consistent basis:

  • Your product is damaged by your region’s extreme temperatures. If it’s only an occasional problem and you have low value products, it might not be cost-efficient to spend the money on a system that will cost you more than your inventory. However, if this is a recurring problem, you might want to consider comparing the cost of damaged product to the cost of a system.
  • Your workers are less efficient and slower due to oversized coats. If improving warehouse efficiency is your concern and you notice your employees aren’t moving product at their typical speeds because of the extra weight they’re having to haul, you might want consider what their discomfort might be costing you. Having slow pickers during your busy season might mean fewer orders out the door leading to unhappy customer and missed deadlines.

Before you begin

Take a look at your warehouse and evaluate if it’s ready for an upgrade.

This involves more than just deciding if it’s a good financial decision. To get the most out of your investment, make sure your warehouse is properly insulated and you’ve filled any potential problem areas with foam to prevent seepage. In addition, you should check with your insurance company to ensure you’re in compliance with their regulations before purchasing anything. Some insurance companies have rules pertaining to portable heaters or warehouses holding combustible materials.

After taking these precautionary measures it’s time to decide whether you’re going to tackle this project yourself or with help from heating professionals. If you’re planning to find the solution on your own, I’m letting you know up-front there’s unfortunately, there’s no fix-all for warehouse heating and cooling systems. Typically specialists have to custom fit a solution to their clients needs and space because there are many factors that go into determining the right solution. Professionals will have more specific advice catered to getting you the best product for your needs. However, here’s some of the details you should be considering and be prepared to provide to a professional (depending on which route you take).

  • Dimensions of your warehouse or the space you want heated. Do you need to heat your whole warehouse, or just particular areas? A heater’s capacity, or BTU’s, vary from 100,000 to heat small spaces to several hundred thousand to heat large warehouses. You’ll need to know the length, width, and height of your warehouse so you can calculate the size and type of heater required.
    • The number of BTU’s needed to heat a space varies by region, however a good rule of thumb is 40 BTU’s per square foot. Here’s a handy chart with estimates on BTU requirements based on location, but if you want to play around with more exact numbers, I also found this calculator.
  • The temperatures of both inside and outside of your warehouse. This will help you determine the correct solution for your needs based on energy loss.
  • The dimensions of any energy seeping points such as loading doors, glazing, roof lights, and windows.
  • Spatial layout. If you have tall and dense shelving in your warehouse, you’ll need a solution that dispenses the heat evenly regardless of physical barriers.
  • Your space’s daily/weekly/annual heating and cooling patterns. Make special note if usage is intermittent.


Types of heating

There’s an abundance of options for heating a warehouse, so I’m going to narrow it down to the basic options and recommend you talk to a specialist about your best options once equipped with the fundamentals.

“There’s three types of heating: direct fired, indirect fired, and electric.”

The fuel for direct and indirect heaters can be gas or oil fired, each of which have benefits and downsides.

Direct fired heaters are ideal for heating large spaces like warehouses, however they need to be in well-ventilated spaces.

Types of direct fired heaters: high-temperature rise space heaters, low-temperature rise make-up air heaters, air re-circulation heaters, and low-intensity tube-style infrared (radiant) heaters


  • Low operating costs
  • Wide selection of options including, radiant and air-recirculation
  • More efficient for larger warehouses
  • Infrared heaters consume little gas


  • Need lots of ventilation
  • Higher installation costs

Indirect fired heaters are also ideal for big spaces, but do not raise the relative humidity of the room, and so need less ventilation.

Types of indirect fired heaters: unit heaters or air-rotation heating systems


  • Low operating costs
  • Come in unit heaters or air-rotation heaters
  • More efficient for smaller warehouses


  • Less efficient for larger warehouses
  • Higher installation costs

Electric heaters, on the other hand, are typically used to heat small spaces, like a shipping station.

Types of electric heaters: convection, forced air and radiant


  • Lower installation costs
  • Ideal for small warehouses
  • Radiant heaters are low-maintenance


  • Higher operating costs
  • Radiant heaters are an explosion risk in warehouses with flammable vapors


Fans & curtains

With whatever option you and a specialist decide is best, you might additionally want to consider fans like suspended high-volume low-speed (HVLS) fans, which promote circulation and can cost as little as a dollar a day to operate. Other alternatives include door curtain fans which limit how much air can escape through a warehouse door or industrial dividers or curtains so you only heat designated areas.These solutions relieve some of the operational expense and strain by circulating air more effectively or regulate air flow.

Warm air heating

The principle behind warm air heaters is pretty simple: they literally warm the air of a given space. After drawing air across as heat exchanger, the fan mechanism distributes the air throughout the room. Warm air heaters come in all shapes, sizes, and types including both direct and indirect fired as well as electric.

The primary trouble with warm air heating is getting the heat (which naturally wants to rise) both to your employees on the ground and have it evenly distributed. Though it’s manageable with a well-designed system and the help of savvy specialist, there might still be some slight temperature variation between spaces. In addition, to get the most efficient use of your system, you might still have to use fans (like HVLS’s) to encourage adequate circulation.

What makes warm air heaters both great and disheartening is the range of products. There’s a massive catalog to choose from, which makes it difficult to decide between a bulky floor unit that’ll easily heat your whole warehouse and several smaller wall mounted or ceiling suspended units that are harder to maintenance. The decision comes down to your floor plan, size, available space, and personal preference.

Radiant heating

Unlike the aforementioned option, radiant heaters warm surfaces which, in turn, emit infrared radiation to warm people and things. Typically, these heaters come in the form of suspended tubes, but you may also find them as wall-mounted or suspended plaques.

As you might have guessed from learning the science of these radiant heaters, for your employees to benefit from them, there can’t be anything obstructing the space between the heater and your employees. Warehouses that have tall structures like shelving, will likely suffer from uneven heating, however this option is ideal for spaces like receiving that are frequently exposed to outside air. The good news is, as with any heating solution you pick, most of these heating issues can be alleviated with the use of door curtains or HVLS fans.

Warm Air Heating


  • Indirect Firing
  • Very customizable (suspended vs floor unit, gas/oil vs electric)
  • Typically better at distributing heat evenly


  • Potential cold spots
  • May need secondary equipment (like an HVLS fan) to ensure heat goes where you need it

Radiant Heating


  • Indirect Firing
  • Electric
  • Good in areas frequently exposed to outside air
  • More efficient at delivering heat where it needs to be


  • Likely to have cold spots
  • Must be in direct line of sight


As you’ve read, there’s a lot of factors that go into choosing the right system for your warehouse. I’ve outlined the most basic of your options, however heating professionals will be able to provide you with the best solutions based on your space. If you’re wanting to figure it out on your own, you can at least use their suggestions as inspiration for finding your own solution. Good luck and keep warm!