There’s a misconception that all electric heating is bad and expensive and this often leads people to ask, Do infrared heaters use a lot of electricity?
Firstly it’s important to consider the type of heating that an electric heater is producing. If this heat is primarily convection heat (warming up and circulating air) then this is inefficient and has a number of other issues which are not ideal. Increasing condensation (caused by warm air touching cold surfaces) and stirring up dust particles to name a couple. Convection heat is also prone to heat loss – if there is a draught or an open door, the warm air created by convection heating is quickly lost. This means that a convection heater has to work hard to keep the space to the desired temperature.
Efficient Central Heating
Infrared heaters heat in a different way to convection heaters. Infrared heaters work by not heating the air, but by heating the objects, people and the structure of the space. Heat is retained not in the air, but in the structure of the space. This makes heat loss much less of a problem so that once the space is up to temperature, the infrared heater does not need to work hard in order to maintain the temperature.
When we use infrared heaters to heat spaces we need to set our controls differently to convection heaters. Convection heat is generally set to come on and off at regular times through the day (because it is an inefficient form of heat). With infrared heating we set up temperature parameters to make the most of the efficiency of infrared heating. This ensures heat is retained in the structure of the space and that you get the most benefit from this form of heating. Ensuring that the infrared heaters you use have a suitable control system is essential.
Science has proved that infrared heat is a more efficient form of heat than convection heat. So if you’re asking the question, do infrared heaters use a lot of electricity, then the answer is no.
Where are the Energy Savings with Infrared Heaters?
It all begins at the specification stage. When we size an infrared heater to heat a space we use a different calculation than would be used for a convection heater, this is because of the improved efficiency of infrared heaters. For a well insulated space we would typically calculate the demand based on 30W/m3 whereas for convection heating you’d be starting at 55W/m3 that’s over a 40% saving in power demand right there!
OK, so far so good, but if the infrared heater is on all the time and the convection heater isn’t then this saving doesn’t mean anything. So we return to the question, do infrared heaters use a lot of electricity?
Infrared Heater Controls
If you install an infrared heater with no controls and switch it on then it will be working and drawing power all the time. This is the same with a convection based heating system. So in order to make the most of the efficiency of infrared heating you need to ensure that your heating controls are up to the job and making sure that your central heating is being efficiently run (this applies to traditional wet radiator heating systems too.)
With Funkyheat infrared heaters we have two different heating control options. With our touchscreen range of radiant heater the controls are integrated and designed specifically for the heating. Each heater monitors the space it is heating and makes adjustments accordingly. If there is more than one heater in the space then they will often be working at differently temperatures (and using different amounts of electricity) based on the unique demands of the heater location. This provides additional efficiency over and above the action of heating efficiency.
The second way we control our central heating systems is used with our Eco range of electric infrared heater. In this case we use a quality Honeywell heating control system which allows a fine tuning of temperature, together with zoning capabilities and, if desired, remote control via an app which can also be geofenced.
Both of these options mean that it is possible to spot heat the home rather than switching on the whole heating system as required with a conventional heating system.
So we have two areas of savings with infrared heating at the moment, but there’s more… heat losses with a convection based heating system can be quite dramatic. Heat losses in a traditional central heating system occur in a number of places, particularly in distributed heat loss. What this means is simply the heat lost from the hot water pumped around the heating circuit by the boiler. For example it may leave the boiler at 60ºC but by the time it returns it may be down to 30ºC meaning the boiler has to work hard to maintain temperature, using more power to do so.
Heat is lost through the pipes in the circuit and the radiators themselves which have to work harder than an infrared heater system to maintain temperatures due to the inefficiency of heating air and using that as a heat transfer mechanism (convection heat). The harder a boiler has to work, the more quickly it also loses overall efficiency, this means you’re not just spending money on the inefficiency of convection heat your also subsidising the decreasing efficiency of your boiler.
Cost of Ownership
When comparing different systems it’s important not just to compare the day to day running costs, but to also consider the actual cost of ownership of each of the systems.
The cost of installing a traditional wet radiator (convection) heating system is more expensive than installing an infrared central heating system. It is also more complicated, with additional pipework, lagging etc.
Day to Day Running Costs
We need to consider the cost of fuel, any standing charge, annual maintenance, efficiency, distributed heat losses, and controllability. Once all of these factors are properly considered then using infrared heating is significantly cheaper than the traditional central heating methods. If we consider all the associated costs and assumptions as outlined above we can show an example yearly cost of ownership comparison.
Conclusion – Do infrared heaters use a lot of electricity?
If you’re replacing a gas central heating system with an electric infrared heating system then of course you will be using more electricity. However as discussed the overall savings will be significant when a good quality infrared heating system with appropriate controls is installed. You will also benefit form a more controllable form of heat, the ability to easily zone and heat areas of your home or office. Alongside this it is worth considering the quality of heat. Infrared heating means that the temperature is more even through the room rather than hot spots up towards the ceiling and cold in the bottom third. Infrared heating is also better for allergy sufferers since then is not the airflow associated with convection heating dust and mould particles are not stirred up.
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