Beating the Cold with Job Site Heaters

Windchill chart and OSHA advice on cold weather workBy Katherine Lewis

While most office workers are turning up the thermostats on their heating systems this time of the year, that’s a luxury most construction workers don’t have. We’re often working on sites without power or permanent amenities, so keeping warm can be a challenge.

One of the obvious solutions to this problem is to use portable heaters. So, we’ve put together a brief guide to the types of heaters you can install, as well as how effective they are, and how much they cost.

Portable heaters: the main options

There is a surprising array of heaters available for use on construction sites. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but should give you an indication of what’s on offer. All rental and purchase prices are estimates. Hire prices exclude VAT.

Diesel-powered heaters – Diesel heaters are well-suited to warming up large spaces as they’re very powerful. Direct models should only be used in well-ventilated spaces as they add moisture to the air, while indirect ones are fine where ventilation is restricted. They’re also good if you don’t have a power source. Rental costs range from £80 to £160 ($126 – $253) per week, while purchase prices start from £200 ($316) and can go up to around £500 ($790).

• Electric heaters - There is a variety of electric heaters available, but these don’t tend to be as powerful as their diesel-powered counterparts. They’re better suited to use in small spaces like site offices. Among the different types are ceramic, fan and convection heaters, to name just a few. It costs approximately £10 to £15 ($16 – $24) a week to hire a fan heater, while ceramic heaters and oil-filled radiators are available for around £42 ($66) a week. Purchase costs vary widely depending on how powerful the unit is, from around £70 to £300 ($110 – $474).

• Propane forced-air heaters – These are another heating device that’s ideally suited to industrial spaces, as they provide a high volume of warm air. They’re also known for their efficient combustion. They can cost anywhere from £85 to over £200 ($134 – $316) a week to rent, and £200 to £500 ($316 – $790) to buy.

• LPG plaque heaters – These are gas powered, making them perfect onsite if you don’t have an electrical supply. They’re freestanding and easily manoeuvrable, but are better at providing directional heat than warming a large space. Hire costs are around £25 to £32 ($40 – $51) per week. Purchase prices are in the region of £60 ($95).

• LPG catalytic cabinet heaters – This kind of heater is great if you’re looking for a gas-powered device that’s safe. The main burners are protected by the case and you can add an extra guard for even more safety. They cost around £35 ($55) a week to hire and £100 to £150 ($158 – $237) to buy outright.

• LPG bin heaters – The final kind of heater on our list is LPG bin heaters. They’re energy efficient and don’t need electrical power to run. They’re a versatile option as they can warm up a reasonable area (like a small warehouse) and are good for drying out buildings. Expect to pay around £54 ($85) a week to hire one.

Rent or buy?

There are two main ways to acquire a heater (or heaters) for your construction site, buying one outright or hiring a device from a firm like Speedy Services. The right option for you will depend on a range of factors, but below are some of the things you should think about when deciding which route to go down.
• Usage – If you’ll use a heater for more than half of the year and often need this kind of device for the projects you work on, buying is usually the more cost-effective option. While you’ll obviously have the initial expense of buying the heater, simply paying for the fuel or power to operate it will work out cheaper than hiring one on a regular basis.
• Maintenance – One of the main advantages to going down the rental route is that you don’t have to worry about maintenance for the heater you’re using. These devices will need regular services to not only make sure they are safe, but also that they’re operating efficiently. Make sure you factor this expense into your calculations if you’re considering buying a heater.
• Purchasing cost – The type of heater you want to use should also inform your decision. For example, it will be considerably cheaper to buy a small fan heater for an office than it will to purchase an LPG forced-air heater. So, you need to weigh up whether the amount you’ll spend hiring heating equipment will exceed the initial purchasing costs

Katherine Lewis writes about construction equipment and projects for contractors and self-builders.