How To Choose Best Heater For Your Barn

Last Updated on August 17, 2022 by Kimberly Crawford

The heating bill makes for 40% of an American household’s total spending during the cold season. However, if you take your measures against the cold (adding insulation, checking for cracks, eliminating drafts, and checking vent seals), your consumption won’t go off the rails. 

Plus, things may change if you want to add a working heating system to an outdoor unit, like a barn. Depending on the barn’s size and energy requirements, the heating bill can double if you don’t choose wisely. 

Because barns are so different from houses when it comes to heating, there are a series of factors you must consider. 

We’ll discuss these and more below. 

Why Do You Want to Heat Your Barn?

barn heater

Some barn owners use this area for storage (tools, various equipment, things they don’t use too often, and so on). In this case, if you’re not storing anything sensitive to cold temperatures (like cars or tractors), you may not even need to worry about installing a heating system.

On the other hand, if you want to use the area to keep your hooved friends (or other types of livestock) warm and cozy, you’ll need a heating system designed for livestock. 

That’s because horses, cows, and mules fare quite well during the cold season and don’t need much heat to stay safe. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’ll be just dandy in freezing temperatures, so you have to adjust to the outdoor temperatures as well.

The barn is also extremely useful for storing cars or large pieces of equipment that are sensitive to cold. Plus, it’s quite trendy nowadays to turn your barn (or at least parts of it) into a living space. 

Overall, even if you’re thinking about building a backyard barn to store flowers and various tools, you should still consider some type of heating system. 

What Size Heater Do I Need?

So you’ve decided to heat up your barn during the cold season. That’s great, but what now? Well, first, you need to know the size of the space you want to heat. For this, you have to calculate the British Thermal Unit (BTU) requirements.

Start by measuring up the space and calculating the total cubic feet. Once you have this number, multiply the total cubic feet by .133, multiplied by the total desired increase in temperature. The resulting value will be the heat necessities for your space. 

Once you know the approximate number of BTUs (calculated above), you’ll have a pretty good idea about the size of the barn heater you need. However, keep in mind that livestock’s temperature needs are different from what you need if you’re using the barn for storage. 

Type of Barn You Want to Heat

When calculating BTUs, you also have to consider the type of the barn. Depending on where you are in America, you may have a bank barn, a tobacco barn, an English barn, or a pole barn (there are a few other types, but these are the most common). 

While most barns have some sort of foundation, pole barns don’t – there may be a concrete floor, but in most cases, there’s only a dirt floor. That’s why pole barns are great for storing large pieces of machinery used in agriculture, like tractors or lawnmowers. Plus, many owners turn these barns into workshops. 

But you can just use any of these barns for storage as well. After all, when you have an entire barn at your disposal, you won’t need to rethink your pantry shelving too often. That’s because you have plenty of space for storage (as long as you keep the barn’s temperature at a constant level).

And this is why the type of barn matters. Most of them don’t have great insulation, but a pole barn is the least insulated of them all. So before you can even think about buying a barn heater, you need to insulate your barn and add the elements that might be missing (like an insulated floor). 

Let’s Talk About Insulation

Any barn, regardless of type, needs to be insulated before you start thinking about a heating system. First of all, the insulation helps maintain heat inside and cuts down the need for heat. Second, if you plan on keeping livestock in an area where it doesn’t get very cold, a well-insulated barn may not need a heating system.

If your barn has a steel frame (which is common for most modern American barns), it will be very difficult to control the indoor temperature and humidity. That’s because steel is highly influenced by the outside temperatures. So, it can get very cold or very hot, which can lead to condensation build-up. 

This level of temperature and humidity variation can lead to infrastructure damage, and it’s not safe for anything you want to keep inside (such as tools, electronic equipment, food supplies, or livestock).

That’s why insulation plays an important role in temperature and humidity regulation. One common option is spray foam insulation, especially for steel frames, since it’s easy to apply and light. The reason many barn owners choose this type of insulation is its breathability. 

Due to this feature, there’s no need to install a vapor barrier – a layer of 4 to 6 inches of insulation is enough to provide you with protection against cold and humidity. 

Types of Heating Systems

When it comes to home heating, there are several types of systems you can use, but for a barn, you only have to choose between three:

  1. Furnaces
  2. Heat pumps
  3. Radiant heating systems


Furnaces are part of a forced-air system, where the furnace burns gas or propane to generate heat. The rest of the system consists of ductwork and vents that carry and release the hot air in different areas of the building. 

The great news about heating a barn with this type of system is that you don’t have to hide the ductwork. Or, if you have to hide it, there’s plenty of space in the ceiling and walls. A furnace works amazingly well in a pole barn, but it does a good job in other types of barns as well. 

Heat Pumps

If this option suits your climate, it’s more energy-efficient than a furnace, and you can use it all year long (it also works during summer to get the hot air out). Plus, you can get a heat pump that uses geothermal energy or water as a heating source. Depending on your location, you might get lucky and be able to use a cheaper source. 

Radiant Systems

This type of heating model is often installed in the floor or ceiling of a building and doesn’t require any ductwork. This means that you don’t have to account for heat loss that usually happens with forced-air systems. 

Also, radiant systems don’t heat the air inside the building but objects and beings. It works a bit like the warmth we receive from the sun, so this type of system is perfect for keeping livestock warm. 

Now, radiant systems and furnaces are available in different energy sources such as electric, propane, natural gas, and kerosene. This means you have plenty of options, depending on the area your barn is located in. For instance, propane is the fuel of choice for rural areas where there is no access to natural gas.

How to Choose the Best Heater

In most scenarios, you will have to choose between forced-air heaters and radiating systems. 

So let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each:

Forced-Air Heaters

These are often the most convenient systems when there are no other heat sources around (like geothermal or solar energy). Plus, you can have all the ductwork inside the barn, so any heat loss that happens will be released inside. 

However, you need to keep in mind that the air inside can get very dry with this type of system. Because it works by heating the air, it also wicks the water out. If you want to keep livestock or plants inside the barn, you’ll have to add a humidifying system that works in parallel with the forced-air heater.

Also, if there are any leaks or cracks, the hot air will find a way to get out and allow for the cold air to get inside. Plus, it takes a bit for the air to get warm, so you won’t feel the effects as soon as you turn on the system. However, once the air is heated, it will last for a while, even after the system stops working.

Radiating Systems

These systems warm up objects and beings by radiating heat and naturally warming up the place. The effect is almost instantaneous, and you can direct the heat towards certain areas. This way, if you want to make absolutely sure a specific area of the barn doesn’t get cold, you can do that.

Also, due to its nature, the air doesn’t dry up as quickly. However, there are a few drawbacks like the fact that they get very hot very fast. So if you’re not careful, there is a risk of injuries and accidents. Lastly, the heat doesn’t linger if the radiating system is closed.

Wrap Up

Barns are great for storage, raising livestock, or even for living, but only as long as you find a suitable heating system. Plus, you must insulate them to avoid paying a fortune on your heating bill.


How many BTU do I need to heat my barn?

This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on a lot of factors, such as the size and insulation of your barn, the outside temperature, and how many animals you have. A general rule of thumb is that you need about 30 BTU per square foot of barn area. So, if your barn is 30×40 feet, you would need 36,000 BTU to heat it.

What is the safest heater for a barn?

When it comes to keeping your barn warm, there are a few things to consider. The size and layout of your barn, the type of animals you have, and your budget will all play a role in choosing the right heater.

There are several types of heaters available on the market, but not all of them are equally safe. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a heater for your barn:

1. Make sure the heater is properly ventilated.

2. Avoid heaters that use open flames or produce sparks.

3. Choose a heater that is designed for agricultural use.

4. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

5. Have a qualified technician install and maintain your heater.

By following these simple guidelines, you can help ensure that your barn is safe and comfortable all winter long.

What is the best way and cheapest to heat a 30 by 32 pole barn?

There are many ways to heat a pole barn, and the best way depends on the specific circumstances. The cheapest way to heat a pole barn is usually with a wood stove, but this can be impractical if the barn is not well-insulated. Another cheap option is to use portable electric heaters, but these may not be very effective in a large space. Ultimately, the best way to heat a pole barn is to assess the specific needs and choose the most efficient and cost-effective option.