Shop ceiling heights and heating types

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Suggestions on minimum ceiling height and more for a new cabinet shop. August 13, 2002

I am contemplating starting a one-man cabinet shop and am about to build a small (24x30) shop at my home to start off with. Will 8-foot ceilings be sufficient or should I go higher? What is the best way to heat a small shop of this size?

Forum Responses
I started out in a 16x20 shop with 8' ceilings. Lasted about one small kitchen and moved.

The second shop was about 2000 square feet with 8.5' ceilings. It drove me nuts! The ceiling was too low and you always had to worry about knocking down your fluorescent lights. When I decided to start specializing in frameless Euro cabs, I quickly ran out of room.

Now, I'm in a 3200 square foot shop with 14' ceilings (12 to the metal trusses). The 12' ceiling height is much better. After being in the other shops, I'd say 12' is the minimum.

As for the 3200 square feet, we'll be okay for a while. We are a two-man shop and we don't have a lot of extra room. You need quite a bit of room to place a sliding table saw, edgebander, line bore and be able to set up an efficient process flow.

You may find that 720 feet won't do. There are many considerations. Like when you finish, will you do it in the shop? If so, are you going to clean the entire shop every time to eliminate dust contamination? You would also be prohibited from working on any other projects while you finish. All these things affect your throughput and that affects your earnings potential.

Starting small means working in a small space. Many of us started out in situations just like you describe.

An 8' ceiling is not the best situation, but then starting out in a 5000 square foot shop would be nice, also. You can make do with the ceiling height until the business grows. As I'm sure you know, as the ceiling height goes up, so does the heating bill.

Heat the space with whatever is most economical in your area. Just be very careful of open flame arrangements such as wood stoves. They can be used but you must remain vigilant in your care and use of the stove. Hot air furnaces can also be used so long as you maintain the air filters on a very regular basis (we clean ours every other week all winter). Hot water baseboard can also work well if you keep the fins dusted off with the air gun regularly. Many commercial spaces use ceiling hung hot water radiators with fans.

From contributor J:
I started in a shop that was 25 x 35 with a 10' ceiling. It was a cost-effective starting point but after a couple years got a bit frustrating. Four years in, I built a 40 x 80, 12' ceiling, 2-3 man shop with in-floor water radiant heat (heaven).

Are you planning to expand at the same location in the future? Place your building and trusses accordingly. I think 8' may be low - it could be worth going to 10 at least. If you haven't put your cement floor in yet, in-floor heat is great - clean and cheap to run. I installed mine myself.

From the original questioner:
If I expand, I plan to do it in a different location and hope to add a small kiln or two and possibly a small showroom, as I do furniture and other smaller items, also. I am also planning to build a small room on the back to finish in.

I am interested in the in-floor heat. Do you know about how much this would run if I were to do it myself? Money gets tight when you are first starting out.

From contributor J:
My in-floor system is a natural-gas-fired boiler. For the 3200 square foot shop, it cost me about $5000 Can or $3100 US. So in US money, it is about a dollar per square foot. I believe a hot water tank can be used for smaller applications. I have my temperature set at 57 degrees and find that, because the heat is right there, we work in t-shirts comfortably. My gas bill in the coldest month last winter was $225 Can or $140 US. I bought Wirsbo pipe and fittings. I should have built my own manifolds for a savings of $200 US, but I had already bought the factory cast ones and was in a hurry (it was late November). You need to put wire mesh on the floor - 6" x 6" square - and tie the tubing to it, then pour cement.

I assume you are in a residential area and when you expand to a bigger location this will become your home garage. We ended up buying a rural nine-acre property where property taxes were low for our expansion. But we have limited walk-in customers - mainly wholesale.

From contributor S:
I'd have to say 12' is minimum. What if you had to do 10' tall bookshelves for a library? It would be nice to set them up as they would be installed in the field. Look beyond your current needs. I have 2400 square feet and 14' to metal trusses with 20' spacing between and the peak is 30' - this allows me to add a mezzanine level for additional space without increasing my rent, although heating it is costly.

Contributor S, cut your heating bill and make yourself more comfortable by adding some ceiling fans. They will make a huge difference in the winter as well as the summer.

Contributor S, you might be able to make those ceiling fans do double duty as an air cleaner.

Pay attention to your lighting as well. Look into T8 Fluorescents. They have three different types of phosphorous in the tube and will produce a third more light per watt than regular tube lights. Also, the bulb will always burn bright, unlike regular tubes, which fade as they age.

You might also consider cutting a square hole in the concrete at your loading door. Someday you might want to add a scissor lift to assist in loading heavy cabinets into a truck.

We have 18' at the eaves and 23' at the center. I wish I had gone 22 at eaves (we use a triple stage mast on our forklift to stack on cantilever arm racks or to stack 5 units of board high on themselves. I started in a 9' high shop - hated it! My next shop had 12', lots better but by the time you hang ductwork, infrared heating, lights, air lines, etc. it gets tighter. Too tight for production work. With the infrared heat, I don't think the heating cost is much higher. Whatever you use for heat, bring in outside combustion air and keep it really clean. Dust catches fire easily. I had forced air in my first shop - not good. The second shop had ceiling hung, gas-fired unit heaters - very bad! I like the ceiling hung infrared gas-fired units we have now. The combustion air is from outside, as is the exhaust.

One other thing about heat. We have a single Reznor gas heater, outside venting. If I recall, it vents and draws combustion air from outside. Anyway, it is a 160k btu and last month, our coldest month to date, cost $172 to heat the shop. It stays on 57F unless I'm spraying. When spraying, I raise it to 62 because we have negative air pressure in the spray room, due to venting. The heater happens to be about 15' from the spray room air inlet filter and so the air is hotter than 62F.

From contributor S:
I had actually considered putting a drop ceiling in (with $800 a month gas bills from the 2-16' long infrared heaters). But fans seem like a much better option. Also, I have a lot of natural light from two rows of windows running the entire length of the shop at the peak of the roof. My lighting is fluorescent and due for new bulbs and I will check out the T-8 bulbs.

My shop is 1560 square feet with a ten foot ceiling. Ten feet lets me manage 4x8 sheets easily. In 27 years I have never felt constricted with that height. I've been operating out of this building since 1975. Mostly I'm alone but two people can work in it just fine.

I use electric unit-heaters (pretty expensive here in California now, but probably not much more than propane, which is the other choice here). They are hassle-free and cotter pin simple. The ten-foot height is less expensive to heat than 12 or 14 feet.

One suggestion: Make your loading doors at least 8 1/2 feet high and you will eliminate a lot of hot language in the future.

From the original questioner:
I have decided to go with 10-foot walls and trusses with a treyed ceiling so I should get around 12 feet in the center. I will also install a couple of ceiling fans to help circulate the air.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

My father and I recently finished our 32' x 80' wood shop in southern Indiana. We build cabinetry and struggled many months deciding upon a 9' ceiling height. Absolutely perfect. It's easy to heat (GFA) and is tall enough to handle 4'x 8' sheets comfortably. We suspended 8' HO flourescent lights on 6" chains and have plenty of room for our dust collection ducting runs above the lights. I'd certainly not change that decision. I vote for 9' ceilings!