Welcome back to my series on moving and setting up my new woodworking shop. This time we’re going to cover the electrical setup and then a little bit about the heating that I have here in the shop.
The overarching theme when setting up electrical in your shop is future-proofing. Unless you have all the tools and equipment that you plan to own, you really need to be looking to the future and ask yourself “what am I anticipating adding to my shop” so that you make sure that you are set up from an electrical standpoint to make that transition in the future, as easy as possible.
And the first big consideration with future-proofing is a sub panel. The sub panel is going to allow you to have all of your circuits for your shop coming out of one point, instead of running all of your circuits all the way back to your main panel. Instead of a bunch of smaller wires all going back to the main panel, one big wire will be fed right to the sub panel. If you need to add anything, it’s all right here.
Another advantage of that is you can add a lot more circuits to your systems. And if your main panel is already pretty full, this gives you a whole lot more room for additional circuits. The next thing to ask is how big of a panel you need. In my old shop, I had a 60 Amp sub panel, and my current shop is a 90 Amp sub panel. When deciding the size of the sub panel, think about what are the things you’re going to be doing all at once–all drawing electricity together–the lighting, dust collector, and whatever your biggest tool is that you’re going to use with your dust collector.
When I set up my old shop, I went with a 60 Amp panel because at the time when I had it installed, I had a 110 volts dust collector, which drew about 15 or 20 Amps. The biggest tool I had at the time was by jointer, which drew another 15 Amps or so. Adding in the lighting, approximately 35 Amps would be my total draw as a one person shop. Therefore, having a 60 Amp sub panel was future-proof in a sense that I could grow into that more larger power to shop. When I moved to my current shop, I went to a bigger panel here because I now have my sawmill and welder outlet coming off of the same sub panel. At the old shop I had a separate line all the way back to the main panel for that outlet. But now they’re together in here.
Now in both shops, I am a little bit spoiled because both shops butted up against the room in the house that contained the main panel for the house so installing a sub panel was very easy process. There wasn’t a whole lot of exercise of fishing wire to the main panel because it is literally on the other side of the shop wall. With that in mind, if you think about the installation process, if you have a longer run to the main panel from your shop, it’s going to be much better in the long run to just run the sub panel and be done with it. You do not have to worry about pulling a bunch of wires every time. Keep in mind that when the main panel is farther away, the wire itself is going to cost more because you’re going to be dealing with a more expensive larger wire, and the labor to pull a wire through, if you have to go through an attic or a crawl space, will be higher because the pulling of wire itself will be terrible, and you’re going to be paying for that labor if you’re having someone else pull it for you. But paying for the labor to run a bigger wire may be worth it in the long run.
Next thing to consider is “are you going to have a second person working with you in your shop in the future?” Because if you are, that means you are probably going to have more than one tool or more than one machine running at once. That’s going to be a little higher power requirement. For most hobbyist, having more than one person in the shop probably is not a big possibility except for one little caveat- if you’re planning to add a CNC machine to your shop. A CNC is essentially like a second person working in your shop. If you’re going to have that in the future, you might as well plan for that now, while you are thinking about your electrical requirements.
The next thing to consider is “are you going to run everything inside the walls or you can do a surface mount?” In this shop, I have a surface mount with conduit. The answer to this question is more dependent on the conditions of the space you’re going into. Here, I used conduit because the walls were already sheet rocked when I moved in. The surface mount just makes more sense than trying to fish wire behind walls or taken down all that sheet rock and then doing it all over again.
Conduit has a built-in future-proofing advantage because it is very easy to expand or change your setups. If you want to add another receptacle on an existing circuit, just put a new piece of conduit onto another box, put up a new box, put up a new receptacle, pull your wires, and you have your new outlet wherever you need it to be.
Now along with that, a little future-proofing tip to keep in the back of your mind is your conduit size. Plan for extra wires to be in there so that when in the future you pull a new circuit through that conduit, you’ll be able to do that with the actual capacity of that conduit.
Also, you will want to consider your wire size. This is going to be more for the larger stationary tools–your 220 volt tools. It might be a good idea to pull a bigger wire size than you need right now, in case you do plan to upgrade. Most tools are going to max out at five horse motor in a hobby shop, which usually is a 10 gauge wire. If you have a three horse motor right now, which usually only needed 12 gauge wire, it might be a good idea just pull a 10 gauge just in case you want to upgrade that tool to a bigger one in the future. So when you get that bigger tool, all you can do is change the receptacle and the breaker, and you are done with the upgrade.
Next, let’s talk a little bit about the specific layout of the shop. In my old shop I had an open ceiling, which is really nice for future-proofing in that sense, because whenever I need to add a receptacle or added a tool and it had new power requirement, it was very easy to pull a new line through the ceiling and put it wherever you needed it to go. One thing I learned from that experience was I like my 220 outlets to be up in the ceiling. I don’t unplug them basically ever. So having those outlets up there was a really nice way to go about it. I carried this forward in my new shop. I have the outlet for the jointer, table saw, and the planer up top, along with the dust collector and the lathe. On the other side, the Bridgeport has an outlet up there. There is an additional circuit over here for future use and right now it’s powering my dust collector. And then the only exception to this, is where I have the welding in the corner.
Looking at the sub panel, you can see all of the 220 breakers in here that the double pole breakers. Most of the tools are on their own separate dedicated breakers. The only exception is the jointer and planer which are daisychained – they’re on the same circuit, everything else is all by itself. And then along the bottom, throughout the shop are the 110 volt outlets, which are spaced throughout the shop. I went with a single duplex versus putting two of those duplexes in there for four outlets. If I’m gonna need more than just that many and they’re gonna some plugging all the time. I like to use hug-a-plugs which allow you to have the cords off the side, so it’s a little less protruding into the other space. So, that’s how we get my four outlets out of just the two.
And that is how my shop is set up electrically. At my last shop, I wired it myself. In this shop I had an electrician come out and install it. Total cost on the install was $4,400. They broke it out between materials and labor, with material costs at about $1,400 and the remaining $3,000 for labor for two electricians for two days. It progressed really quickly, and they did a really great job. If you are in the Minneapolis area, Signature Electric was the electrician company, and I recommend them. They were able to fit me in quickly, even though they were busy, and they did a really clean job. They cleaned up all the drywall dust and the quality of the bends and all the conduit is excellent. I’m really happy with the job they did. One thing I did to make their job a little bit easier was I went around the shop and put a piece of masking tape where I wanted all of the receptacles to be indicated, the voltage of the receptacle, and if it was a 220 volt receptacle. I also indicated the style receptacle on there because if you haven’t gotten into the 220 volt tools, there’s a whole plethora of different styles of plugs and receptacles that you can have. I wanted to make sure that the receptacle that they installed matches the plug that actually supposed to go into that for that tool. Now, let’s talk a little bit about heat.
So I know this just looks like a floor, but this is actually my heater. This garage was installed with an in-floor radiant heating systems. There are plastic pipes or PEX tubing in the concrete and hot water is circulated through the pipes which heats the slab, which in turn becomes a giant radiator that radiates heat into everything touching it and everything touching it becomes a radiator as well. It’s a nice way of heating a space and after experiencing this for this past winter, there is zero comparison.
I have no desire to go back to forced air after this. It’s so much more comfortable and so much more even of a working environment than forced areas. Over the winter, I was able to keep the temperature in the shop lower than I used to prefer in my old shop with forced air. In my old shop, I usually have the thermostat set between 75 to 77, and I still feel kind of cold. But in here over the winter, I had the temperature set at about 68 or 69 degrees all winter, and I felt the same amount like warmth and comfort that I did at that higher temperature at the old shop. A much more comfortable working environment!
Here is the system that heats the garage. Essentially all it is is this tankless hot water heater and two circulating circuits that gets the hot water from here into the flooring into the shop. The room where this is located, and everything above it, the shop is an addition to this house that was put on about 10 years ago and everything in this addition has the in-floor heating system in it. This heats basically everything in this half of the house. So there are two circuits. We have the primary circuit and the secondary circuit. I don’t really know how stuff works, but essentially this pump just keeps the water flowing through the boiler and then the hot water is allowed to come over into the second circuit and this is what actually goes out to the manifold, which controls where all the water in the house is going to go based on the thermostats.
Throughout the house and in the shop, there’s a thermostat which is going to correspond to the different zones here. This box can control the six zones. We only have five in this house, but if the thermostat calls for heat, this is going to control all these valves on here and it’ll actually allow water to flow through that circuit. The garage is on zone four, so if there is a call for heat from a thermostat in the garage this valve will open, allowing water to flow down into the manifold. And it’s pretty cool because you can watch and see how much water is flowing through it. Our heating system does a really nice job.
I don’t yet have air conditioning in the shop. Air conditioning is something I want to add at some point. I’ll probably do a mini-split so that allow me to have a segmental heating source in the winter here as well.
Now, let’s go back to the old shop. Looking at the heat: what it is, how it’s all hooked up, and the overall experience with it for the nine years I was in the shop. These ceiling mounted garage heaters are pretty ubiquitous: you can get them almost anywhere and there’s a bunch of different brands. This one is a 45,000 BTU, and it’s a Mr. Heater brand unit and it is a natural gas.
This shop was in the garage above living space. We had a gas line that came through the house, running through the garage and going up to the wall heater that heats the room above. It was very easy for me to tee off and run a new gas line to fuel the heater. The electrical was a 110 volt connection, and there was a thermostat the wall.
The only other thing needed for a ceiling mounted garage heaters is an exhaust. I did not have a high efficiency unit so it did combust the interior air and shoot it outside. Therefore, I made this window insert for my exhaust. It’s a quick little frame that allows me to run the actual exhaust out the window. This heater worked really well for the space, and it did bring up the air temp really quickly. The garage space is partially like underground, so it does have a little bit of a thermal break. If I do not run the heater, the coldest it ever got in the garage was about 30 to 34 degrees.
The biggest downside of this heater for me is that it is loud for filming. It would muddy up my audio a lot. When I was out here, once I had a temperature of 77, I would turn it off if I had to record anything where are you going to hear the actual audio. And would get cold. The air sealing was not super great.
So, what is the cost to operate these ceiling mounts? I have no idea because I have never gone through a winter without a heater actually running. The only little bit of data I can provide is going from part-time running to full-time running–this raised the gas bill about $30 a month. That is my only bit of data.
The last thing to touch on is dehumidification. I started running a dehumidifier in my old shop a few years ago, and it really helped in the summertime to make it less swampy. It’s crazy how much more comfortable it was being in a dryer environment. It sure helps knock off the extreme heat edge. As far as building projects out of wood, it’s a lot nicer for your material to be at a equilibrium moisture content which is much closer to what it would be in a conditioned indoor space, so you don’t have to plan for as much insane shrinkage as my wood goes from super wet from being outside of my shop to super dry sitting in a house.
So there you have it! My electrical and heat comparison from my former shop to current shop. Hopefully this will give you some things to think about as you’re pondering the infrastructure, the unseen infrastructure of your shop, the things need to be there for everything else to happen. And if it’s done right, you shouldn’t think about them in the future!
I couldn’t agree more with having dehumidification, in some form or another, in a garage workshop. Living in Florida, the humidity here is horrible in the summer. I keep the garage closed nearly always. Because of stupid county regulations, I couldn’t install a mini-split. Instead I had a couple of vents added from the main A/C trunk from the house to help with heating/cooling and the humidity. I have a small dehumidifier to help with the humidity if it gets really bad after opening the door, but it’s only really used when the A/C or heat aren’t running in the house. The difference before vs. after is amazing.
Good job on the article, Lindsay. After the computer debacle, I’d say it turned out pretty good.