The Amount Of Money I Wasted By Using An Electric Heater In My Garage Is Unbelievable

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January and February were harsh months in Michigan, with temperatures regularly dropping near zero. They also happened to coincide with my decision to swap guts from one broken Jeep to another. Desperate to reduce my vehicle count to something more manageable, I invited my friend Dustin from Wisconsin to help me with the wrenching. It was grueling work, but it wasn’t so cold thanks to my garage’s small electric heater, which, I recently realized, burned away an absolutely absurd amount of my money.

Ever since I began writing about cars in 2015, I’ve taken pride in admitting my mistakes. They are oftentimes deeply foolish and embarrassing, but I have no shame, so why not share my idiocy with you, dear readers? If reading this spares even one of you the financial ruin I just suffered, then my mission is accomplished.

The image above shows me sitting on a rare 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee five-speed that I bought for $350. Unfortunately, the Jeep was missing its most important attribute: the stick shift. Luckily, my friend Dustin from Wisconsin had sold me his rusted-out manual ZJ for just $350 delivered, so I had donor parts ready to revive the red Jeep.

For three days straight, Dustin and I toiled. We had to tow both broken Jeeps into the garage, remove a transmission and transfer case, gut an entire interior, and deal with far too many rusty parts to even mention. (I documented our struggles in an article on Jalopnik a few months back). Since it was so cold outside — and since my landlord had asked me to make sure the pipes in the poorly-insulated garage don’t freeze — I had an electric heater turned on in the corner:

It’s tiny and doesn’t really shoot out a ton of heat, but it gets the garage to a comfortable 45 to 50ish degrees. Throw on a jacket, spin a few wrenches, and it’s enough to help me break a sweat.

I Wasted A Grand Because I’m A Fool

After Dustin and I had swapped the green Jeep’s transmission into the red Jeep, he headed back to Wisconsin, and I continued toiling on The Cheapest Car In America In 2009 (a cheap Nissan Versa) before driving the thing all the way down to Arkansas. From Arkansas I flew to LA for work, and a few days later I returned home and continued work on The Autopian, banging away on my keyboard all day for weeks.

One day, during a lunch break, I checked my bank account and saw an enormous withdrawal from my energy company. “What in the actual hell?” I thought. “I’ll look into this later.” The following day, I received this bill from my energy provider:

Holy mother of god.

FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE DOLLARS AND SEVENTY FIVE CENTS!

My heart began racing as I tried avoiding thinking about how many Jeep 4.0-liter engines I could buy for that amount. I logged into my DTE Energy account to look at my other bills, and that’s when I found the previous month’s statement, which I had somehow overlooked:

OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD.

SIX HUNDRED AND NINETY SIX DOLLARS AND TWENTY THREE CENTS!

Oh no. Oh no.

That’s $1,182 for two months of electricity. I could literally buy eight used Jeep 4.0-liter engisfiewiodaiosfbasfbas [sorry, I fainted on my keyboard there for a sec].

To put this into context, the U.S. government’s “Energy Information Administration” lists the average monthly residential energy bill in Michigan as $109.86. And since I’m just a single dude living in a small shack, I’d guess that my bill should have been about $200 for two months, meaning my dumb ass wasted nearly a thousand dollars over over that span. One thousand dollars.

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133 Responses

  1. It would be cheaper for you to do what I did – buy a house in Florida for the winters. My mortgage is only $525/mo….

    But I do feel your pain – my big garage in Maine has a Monitor kerosene heater – and while the garage is very well insulated, it is also 1450sq/ft. I figured ~$10/day to heat it when I am wrenching up there in the winter – when K1 was half the price it is now. So if I ran it all winter that would add up to big money too.

  2. Insulation first, then a mini-split heat pump, you can get them whole sale and install them yourself for the price you paid in electric heat, plus they provide cold air in the summer should you need it. You aren’t locked in to using fossil fuels as your grid changes, and you can pull them out and move it with you when you relocate.

  3. Holy Crap! My whole house is heated by electricity and I never got that high of a bill! Actually, electricity is my only utility bill. Your two bills are near the same money I’ve put into a cheap $350 Mini Cooper S, including a cylinder head and supercharger.

  4. Use an air to air heat pump and insulate the garage. I heat 4 units each 700 sq feet and I’m pretty sure my tenants pay way less than that for electricity to do that.

    They are pricey for the install but the mitsubishi come with a 15 yr warranty. You can also DIY (but you lose the warranty). Get the Mitsubishi Hyper Heat ones which heat down to -14F. Encouraging people to heat with Natural gas in today’s environment is socially irresponsible and with prices for Natural Gas skyrocketing it’s not going to be that much cheaper than heat pumps over the long term.

  5. David, you should talk to your landlord about adding some insulation. If he’s worried about the pipes, insulation would help with that, and you’d get some benefit too. Even just styrofoam insulation on the walls would do something. And putting vapor barrier on the ceiling rafters, then blowing in insulation would help a lot. Probably wouldn’t cost much if you did it yourself.

    And my garage is just as messy as yours, but with kids stuff and yard tools. I would say that you should do a Marie Kondo and get rid of stuff that doesn’t spark joy, but you find joy in old Jeep parts, so the point is moot. Now organizing these things might help……

  6. “Meanwhile, it only cost me $200.30 to heat my house — which is bigger than my garage and which I keep toasty at 72 degrees — during that same period.”

    Dude – get your free Nest from DTE and have that shit automatically turned down overnight and while you are gone! You’re a cheap bastard, but you haven’t achieved cheap NORTHERN bastard status yet – 68ish during the day, 64 or lower at night. Blankets are cheap after all.

  7. David,
    I would look into insulating your pipes so you no longer have to worry about them first. Then look into a heater that uses old oil to burn. You should have plenty of oil on hand with all of your vehicles.

  8. First – electric space heaters aren’t TOO bad if you’re just running a 1,500W one – I throw my infrared one out into my garage during the coldest month or two of the winter just to take the worst off the cold off and its very reasonable.

    Second – if you’re going to switch to Kerosene, be prepared for everything to smell. 2 years ago, I had to change out a fuel pump on my old truck and let it sit in a closed garage for a day with a kerosene torpedo heater. Granted – attached garage, but my entire house, car, all of my car washing towels ALL smelled of kerosene for weeks.

  9. When I lived in coastal CT in 1988, I paid $100.00 monthly rent for one room studio. It had electric baseboard heaters. One month we had 10 days of below 10 degree weather, which was unusual for the coast. Being a naive student from TX, I wanted to keep the heat at 70 degrees. That month the electric bill was $650.00! I was so overcome, I could not have coped with calculating kW usage. Thereafter, the room was kept at 55 with many down comforters.

  10. I feel your pain…. The place I rent in northern North Dakota has the water heater, washer and dryer in the garage for some inane reason! It’s not like it’s an old build, only 10 years old. While the house has gas heat, the garage has a similar electric heater to yours, means $$$$ from Jan-Mar/April to keep the pipes thawed depending on the winter. This year the bill went from a spring-fall norm.of around $70 a month to almost $300 a month, and the garage is well insulated.

  11. One look at David’s garage:
    No way is that just the “gubbins” from 2 Jeeps.
    That’s got to be the detritus from at least a dozen various vehicles deposited over many years.

    Thousand years from now, some neo-archeologist will search this site and presume it was a repository for an eccentric collector of specialized vehicular rubbish. Then, she will be absolutely stunned as to why it was housed inside 4 rudimentary walls while multiple rusted skeltalized heaps were found in the surrounding yard. Like any archeological site, she will just presume that it was all for religious/spiritual purposes to worship some unknown Rust god.

  12. I’ve long dreamed about installing a natural gas powered co-gen system. Use the smallest liquid cooled ICE needed to meet power needs; something like the REX out of a BMW i3 but smaller – maybe using a small motorcycle engine and a hybrid battery as a buffer. Bonus points for using an Atkinson cycle, cylinder deactivation, 6+ stroke cycles or whatever to maximize thermal efficiency and to match output to demand. Use as much of the waste heat as possible to warm the garage, water pipes, house and water heater and maybe repurpose a few engine blocks as thermal reservoirs for when the generator isn’t needed.

    Would this be worth it? Could be, especially if there was any chance of the power going out for a long time especially during extreme climatic events.

  13. It’s unfortunate to learn some lessons the hard way but that’s life. My unheated garage froze water lines to the washer and extended line to the garage door sidewall for washing cars, etc. The fault was the flimsy garage door made in the ’60s – no insulation. Replaced with insulated up to date roll up doors, repaired trim and added weather stripping to ward off freezing temps. Temps inside doesn’t go below 45F, still unheated as part of the house. Winter outside temps average down to around 25F.

    If unable to replace the garage door for better insulation to lower heating, monitor winter temps inside the garage and adjust the heater for minimum heat to keep pipes from freezing. Adding foam insulation to the garage doors can help as well as checking weather stripping around the doors. All work can help lower electrical use of that 5kw heater.

  14. Your work is virtual, so *why* do you continue to live there? Sell (more) of your cars. Clean up the garage. Move to the southwest and actually enjoy your off roading hobby. Stop fighting the f’ing rust. Been there, done that… It isn’t worth it.

    I’ve watched you struggle over pointless crap for years while people cheer for it here. They aren’t doing you any favors because there’s nothing noble about it. It’s just reinforcing bad behavior so that they can continue to behold the spectacle. You can do better than this.

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