Are Infrared Heaters Worth It?
Salesmen and women from electric, gas and infrared heating companies will all tell you the same thing:
Our system is the best.
So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
You may have already heard some of the hype surrounding infrared heaters and wondered if there’s anything to back it up.
You’re a reasonable person who isn’t going to be misled by the crowd.
That’s what this post is for, and why I’ve put in the research to give you the facts as they currently stand. I’ll tell you how infrared heating systems compare to other traditional heating methods; both where they fall short and where they excel. From there, you’ll be able to decide if it’s something you and your household could benefit from.
- 1 The Bottom Line
- 2 How do infrared heaters actually work?
- 3 Infrared Heater Efficiency versus Convection Methods
- 4 Infrared Heater Effect on the Electric Bill
- 5 Infrared Health Risks versus Traditional Heaters
- 6 Summing Up
Spoiler alert: infrared heaters really will save you on energy costs, while also offering a number of health and safety advantages. They won’t, however, be suitable as a primary heating source, unless you were to place one in every room (which would hardly make sense if the goal is to save on energy).
As a point of reference, there is one situation where infrared heaters really stand out above the rest. This helps to give you a bottom line understanding of the difference between infrared and convection heating systems:
For garage and poorly ventilated spaces, infrared heaters come out on top in all categories. This is where they truly excel, and if you’re looking to warm up your basement or workshop, you really can’t go past an infrared panel.
For household heating systems, more comprehensive heating systems will be necessary during difficult winters.
How do infrared heaters actually work?
I’ve covered this point in more detail here, but it’s worth refreshing briefly to understand how infrared heaters can save your energy bill.
The best way to think about it is by comparing the difference between standing in the sun and standing in the shade.
Your weather report might give you consistent temperature throughout the day, but it only takes a moment to realize that standing in the sun is significantly warmer than in the shade.
This is because the sun also relies upon infrared rays to heat up objects. The feeling of sunlight upon your skin is what it feels like standing near an infrared heater. This method of heating also describes how infrared heaters are able to warm up objects more directly than traditional heating systems.
Let’s explore that a little further.
Infrared Heater Efficiency versus Convection Methods
Convection heaters rely upon airflow. They use energy to heat the air in your room, circulating the warm air through the cold so that you are eventually surrounding by hot air. This process can take a little while. It’s what your car uses, and why you have to sit there for a few minutes on winter morning, rubbing your hands and praying that the heating system will hurry up.
Infrared heaters, on the other hand, heat objects directly with infrared rays. When it comes to efficiency, this has a two-pronged effect:
- You can direct these rays in the same way that you can direct sunlight to a particular point. This means that the difference between standing in front of an infrared heater, and standing somewhere else in the room will be significantly different. This can be an advantage if you are staying in the one area, or a disadvantage if you want to move around.
- Infrared heating panels take up roughly 40% of the energy needed to provide the same level of bodily warmth as convection heaters.
In this way, it’s safe to say that infrared heaters are certainly more efficient than convection heaters, though they don’t provide the same scope of heat.
For example, convection heaters will give you a good run-over into other rooms. You can leave the bathroom heater on and still experience some warm overflow into the surrounding rooms. Infrared heaters don’t work the same way, instead focusing on heating a specific area–and doing it for less than half the energy costs as convection systems.
Infrared Heater Effect on the Electric Bill
You can probably infer or make the calculations for yourself based on the information above, but bottom line: infrared heaters will cut your energy costs significantly if you use them correctly.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what it might look like in practice. Sticking with some basic assumptions, I’ll run you through the difference between a regular electric convection heater and an infrared heater.
These are the assumptions being made for a single winter season:
1) The warmth/comfort level will be the same for a 400W infrared heater as it would for a 1kW electric convection heater (this figure is based on reports that an infrared heater 40% the size of an electric convection heater will produce the same comfort).
2) The electricity cost in your household is 16 cents per kWh
3) You are using your heating system for 5 hours per day
4) We’ll count the four coldest months, coming to a total of 120 days.
The math works out to look like this:
Infrared Costs Of Operating
Wattage of heater (w) – 400w
Cost of running 1 hr – 6.6 cents
Daily cost – 33 cents
Total Winter Cost – $39.50
Standard Heater Costs Of Operating
Wattage of heater (w) – 1000w
Cost of running 1 hr – 20 cents
Daily cost – 1 dollar
Total Winter Cost – $118.50
Moral of the Story
So, moral of the story: electric space heaters will work to cost you roughly 3 times an infrared heater for the same level of heat comfort.
Infrared Health Risks versus Traditional Heaters
One popular point of discussion is the assumed health risks associated with infrared heaters: emphasis on assumed. I get it. The idea of being heated by a form of electromagnetic radiation can be enough to turn some people off. It sounds like too much time in front of your infrared heater will have you walk away looking like something out of Dr. Who, but let’s just put this myth to rest once and for all.
Some forms of electromagnetic radiation can be harmful. X-rays and ultraviolet rays aren’t the best for our bodies when exposed for long periods of time. But that doesn’t mean all forms are harmful.
For example, visible light (the thing which gives us the rainbow and all of the wonderful colors we’re so familiar with) is also a form of electromagnetic radiation. And like visible light, infrared rays are a completely harmless form of radiation which will not do anything funky to your genetic makeup or tissue cells.
One final point on safety
Please not that infrared heating panels are a form of far infrared. This is a completely safe form of heating, unlike ‘near infrared’ which is more intense and penetrating and can lead to potential health hazards. So for those nagging friends who will come back at you with articles on the dangers of ‘near infrared’, you can be confident in telling them that, while they both use the word infrared, we are talking about completely different things.
Now that we know far infrared rays aren’t going to give us any surprise superpowers, we can take a look at how they actually line up against other heating systems; in terms of health and safety.
Infrared heaters have a couple of strong advantages over convection heaters in the bodily health category. Both of these have to do with the method by which infrared rays heat your body. I’m talking about:
- Lower chance of overheating/starting fires; and
- Improved air quality.
The fact that infrared heaters use less energy to produce the same level of warmth comfort has benefits beyond your utilities bill.
It also means that the mechanism itself is less likely to overheat.
Electric space heaters and gas line systems have a habit of getting quite toasty.
This can be a hazard for young children to touch, along with a fire risk in the house. It makes you less confident leaving your heating system on when you’re out of the house, and it also leads to some more frequent maintenance costs to ensure everything is running safely.
While convection heaters definitely give you a more comprehensive, house-through heat, they do this by circulating the air in your house. When you leave your convection heater running all day, this can dry out the air in your house quite quickly.
Like being stuck in an air-conditioned hotel room all day, dried-out air isn’t very good for your skin and body. It can lead to breaking down your immune system, along with drying out your skin.
For cheaper convection heaters with just the one filter, it can also mean that you are sending collected dust throughout your home–needless to say, this isn’t ideal if you have a dust allergy (or simply don’t enjoy the idea of breathing in dust all day).
Infrared heaters bypass these factors because they don’t rely on circulating the air to create heat. They heat objects directly.
This also means that even if it’s a bit chilly outside, you don’t need to be afraid of letting some fresh air in the house.
Since infrared heaters don’t rely on warming up the air (and therefore keeping the hot air in), you can circulate some fresh air in the house every now and then while maintaining a comfortable heat near your infrared heater.
Infrared heaters’ pros and cons are pretty simple, in the end. They are best used as a supplementary heating source, or as a local heater for poorly insulated spaces like garages and workshops.
When it comes to heating a five bedroom house, one infrared heater in the living room simply won’t cut it. If you’re looking for a comprehensive heating system for your home to get you through a blistering cold winter, I’m not here to tell you that infrared heaters will do the job alone.
What I will say is that they are a far superior form of heating when it comes to efficiency, energy costs and safety. Between infrared heaters and electric space heaters, at this moment in time, I really have no hesitations in passing judgement. Infrared heaters outperform in all categories except for how much area they can heat. If that’s a major factor for you, then infrared heaters may not be for your home.
For more information on infrared heating systems, how they work, and how to choose the best infrared heater for your home, check out my Buyer’s Guide.