Infrared Versus Ceramic Heaters; The Bottom Line

As the technology grows, portable space heaters are becoming more popular in modern homes. By relying on zone heating to warm up your home, they save you on energy costs by heating only the spaces you’re actually occupying.

So what makes a great portable heater stand out above the rest? And how do you know which is right for your home?

A sub-debate exists within the portable heating world: between ceramic and infrared heating systems. Both of these systems take advantage of reduced energy costs and zone heating (and they’re both killing it right now in the heating industry at large). But despite their many similarities, they rely on completely different methods of heating.

This post will tell you everything you need to know about infrared vs ceramic heaters; explain how they line up against each other; how they work; and which is best suited to your home.

The Bottom Line

You’ll want to consider three major factors when choosing between ceramic and infrared heaters:

  • Health and Safety;
  • Noise and Light pollution; and
  • Your Living Space

While there are other subcategories which I will cover–such as the fact that infrared heaters are actually cheaper to run than ceramic heaters–these are the big 3 you’ll want to keep in mind.

So, bottom line? Infrared heaters can be hotter to touch, but better for your overall health than ceramic heaters. They’re also quieter than ceramic heaters, but emit a steady yellow/orange glow while on. And, lastly, ceramic heaters come out on top when it comes to heating up larger spaces, while infrared heaters are more efficient at heating small or localized living areas.

How they work: Infrared versus Ceramic

For a more in-depth discussion on how infrared heaters work, read my post ‘Keep Warm This Winter Without Blowing Your Energy Budget’. But it’ll help to give a quick break down of how both infrared and ceramic heaters work, before looking into how this plays out in the pros and cons.

Ceramic Heaters

They are two types of electric heating methods: convection and radiant. Ceramic heaters are a type of convection heater. This is the standard heating method and has been for centuries. It’s the process of heating by moving or pulling air over a hot surface, then blowing it out into the room. You can have fan or fanless convection heaters, but the principle is still the same: It’s all about circulating the air through the heating system, so that eventually all of the air around you is warm.

Infrared Heaters

Infrared heaters, on the other hand, are a type of radiant heater. That means that they heat objects directly. With infrared, this means sending infrared rays in a straight line to heat whatever is in its path. This could be the wall of your living room, which will then also radiate heat (and bounce off a few extra infrared rays), or it could be a person standing directly in front of it. Unlike convection heaters, infrared heaters don’t rely upon airflow or keeping the hot air inside. You can leave the window open on a winter’s day and still have the same level of warmth comfort from your infrared heater. If you are interested in an infrared heater, you can check out our buyer’s guide and top picks here (Infrared heater buyers guide).

How does this all break down?

Ceramic heater advantages

Ceramic heaters are some of the latest in convection heating, since they utilize the ceramic plates and aluminium baffles to conduct electricity and heat. Ceramic plates have shown to be an incredibly efficient heating source, and since these plates can remain relatively small with good effect, this makes them an obvious portable option.

Efficiency and portability are the main selling points of ceramic heaters over competing convection heaters, but these don’t really match up too well against infrared. The main advantage of ceramic over infrared is the range or area that that they can heat up. This is simply to do with the fact that they utilize convection heating properties which heat up the air in a room, rather than the objects directly. So, if you keep you ceramic heater on in the bathroom, you will likely get some overflow into the adjacent rooms (that is if your home is well insulated and no windows are open).

Ceramic heaters are also slightly cheaper at purchase than infrared. Of course, this depends on the brand, quality and model of heating system, but generally speaking ceramic heaters will cost you a little less at checkout.

Last point, while ceramic heaters give off no light whatsoever (except when they include an electric or digital thermometer), they can be a little noisy. Since most models utilize a fan to blow the warm air throughout your home, this can range anywhere from a low buzz to a consistent purr. If you’re watching TV or doing busy-work, this probably won’t be noticeable. But if you’re like me and enjoy your peace and quiet at nighttime, a portable ceramic heater may not be your first bedroom heating choice.

Infrared heater advantages

Direct Heating

Infrared heaters have been able to enter the market strongly in one particular niche: garage and workshop heating. The problem of trying to keep a poorly insulated, often damp and cold workspace has been without a solution for a long time. Our regular conception of heat and warmth naturally involves trying to keep the warm air in (like when you’re lying under a blanket and don’t want to let the heat escape!). Infrared heaters bypass this idea and instead focus on heating objects (or people) directly. That means that even if your garage is prone to drafts and leaky insulation, you will still get the same level of warmth from your infrared heating system.

40% More Efficient Heating

This advantage, while originating in the garage, has shown to have other applications throughout the home. It’s merely the discovery that if you are going to be in the same place for an extended period of time, you can heat up that space much more efficiently through radiant heat than convection. For these cases, infrared heaters are without a doubt the most efficient heating systems on the market. They take just 40% of the energy required of electric convection heaters to produce the same level of warmth comfort.

Avoid The Side Effects Of Stale Air

They also give your home or workspace a more comfortable heat. By this I’m mostly talking about the fact that infrared heaters don’t rely on constantly circulating the air through your heating system, and they don’t require you to keep the same air locked in your house all day to keep warm. This can lead to dry or irritable skin and other issues like immune system breakdowns and illness. It’s also worth noting that if you have a dust allergy, or have had troubles with convection heaters in the past, infrared heaters will relieve any of the reactionary complaints.

Avoid Noise Pollution

Lastly, infrared heaters are incredibly quiet while operating. Since they don’t use a fan to blow hot air throughout your living space, they don’t come with that persistent humming noise. This is also known as ‘noise pollution’, and infrared heaters perform very well on this scale. When it comes to light pollution, however, they are not as invisible as ceramic options. Infrared heaters glow a yellowy orange when they are being used, and this may be an annoyance if you prefer pitch black while you sleep.

A short video on how infrared heaters work:

Summing Up

At the end of the day, if you’re comparing infrared and ceramic heaters, you’re really looking at supplementary heating systems. I wouldn’t recommend either of these heating systems as your primary source. I would say that each has its value.

Infrared will save you significantly on energy costs if you plan on heating your garage or workspace. However, it won’t do much to boost your home’s overall temperature. Lastly, infrared heaters only produce heat while they are on. With convection heaters, the air still remains warm for a good amount of time after you turn the system off–this is not the case for infrared heaters, since they are heating objects directly and not vicariously through the air.

Ceramic heaters are the more robust option for heating your living space. Meanwhile, they will take up a little more energy. When it comes down to it, this is the main issue to resolve before choosing the right heating system for your home: how much space do you need to heat up; and how much do you want to spend on your energy bill?

With the information above, and those two questions answered, you should be able to make this winter a toasty one. Enjoy!

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