Infrared technology is used in various forms of heating, cooking and other products including electric infrared heaters, infrared saunas and propane infrared turkey fryers, but the most popular is electric portable infrared heaters. They have gained popularity of late as an efficient form of zone heating to keep a room, space or zone warm and comfortable.
There is a tendency to measure infrared heater efficiency in terms of how quickly a heater heats a room, but some portable heaters can heat up a room just as quickly, so there's more to consider when it comes to efficiency. And though infrared heating technology is known to be efficient when compared to some other forms of electric heat, there is a lack of sound testing data of infrared heaters to support this theory.
Consumers should also not be swayed by claims of energy savings of 50% with an infrared heater, since the actual energy saved needs to be measured in terms of kilowatt hours used to heat the space, compared to the other available heating alternative. And without this analysis, claims cannot be substantiated. That is not to say that you cannot achieve reasonable energy savings, but there are more factors at play when it comes to heating efficiency and energy savings. Consumers should consider several aspects and features, before buying an infrared heater to make sure they get the best value and buy the best infrared heater for their space.
1. Types of Portable Infrared Heaters
There are basically two types of electric infrared heaters, portable wheeled units with infrared heating technology and more compact heaters with (partial) infrared combined with other forms of heating systems. While both are indeed portable and can be easily relocated, the larger model usually has wheels, while small units can be carried to another room. Portable infrared heaters have quickly grown in popularity mainly because of claims of large energy savings.
While the energy savings may take longer to verify, portable infrared heaters are considered an efficient zone heating option. However, they do vary in construction, materials and how the wave heat radiation is constructed, making them very confusing to compare among brands and models. While ConsumerReports.org has tested some models, the efficiency of those infrared heaters has not been measured.
Infrared technology has many applications so it's not surprising that it has been combined with other heating technologies such as convection or radiant heating, in the production of compact ceramic or quartz heaters and even electric fireplaces.
While electric infrared heaters are more suitable for home use, propane infrared heaters are often used on outdoor construction sites. This article provides information on residential electric infrared heaters, rather than commercial units or heaters designed strictly for outdoor use.
Portable Infrared Heaters
Pros: Designed to heat larger areas, wheeled models, temperature controls, more features, use of fan to circulate warmth; cool exterior, stylish exteriors
Cons: More expensive, often bulky, require bulb or tube replacement
Compact Partial Infrared Heaters
Pros: Low priced, compact, infrared plus radiant or convection, little or no maintenance
Cons: Heat smaller spaces, limited warmth distribution, exterior hot to touch, less features, limited temperature control
2. Important Portable Infrared Heater Features
Basic models should have enough features to enable a safe and efficient operation:
- Built-in thermostat and controls
- Quartz bulb(s) - the longer life, the better
- Easy to set controls
- Cool exterior
- Heating capacity suitable for the area (some can heat 1000 sq. ft.)
- Stable design to resist tipping
- Wheels - swivel
- Return/refund policy
3. Bells and Whistles
Though not as efficient as stand-alone appliances that clean or humidify the air, an infrared heater with some of these features may prove to be helpful.
- Replacable air filter
- Built-in humidifier
- Operating light
- Stylish design
- Quieter fan
- Compact, non-bulky cabinets
- Longer than average warranty
- Return/refund policy
4. Energy Efficiency - A Must to Save Money
While we know that infrared heat is efficient, it really depends on the construction of the heater as to whether it will be reasonably efficient in producing heat and maintaining the desired temperature level. Unfortunately manufacturers do not always divulge exactly how their heaters are constructed.
You should realize some energy savings with an infrared heater but its construction materials will influence how much you'll save. Depending on the cost of the heater and energy savings realized, the net break-even point could be longer for some units than others. And tracking a decrease in electrical consumption will prove any energy savings.
Infrared heaters are generally not part of the Energy Star program and they also do not denote any other energy efficiency ratings. If Energy Guide labels are supplied, this can give an indication of operating cost energy-wise.
As for the green aspect of infrared heaters, since they use electricity, must be disposed of in the future and have parts that need to be manufactured and replaced, a 'green' nature is somewhat debatable.
5. What Not to Buy
I cannot stress this point enough: Do not be swayed by claims of 50% in electricity savings. It's most unlikely even when you turn down your main heating system and use an infrared heater for zone heating. You should not expect any energy savings at all, if you are adding a heater without decreasing the consumption of another heating system. In this case, you should expect an energy increase. Only if you cut down on another heat source, should you hope to have a small decrease in overall energy costs.
Unless you can track and measure the electricity consumption of your current heating and compare it to that of an infrared heater for a given space, with all other factors remaining the same, it may take awhile before you actually can quantify the energy savings. But you should see some decrease in electricity use if you are using an infrared heater to warm a room while turning down your more costly whole-home central heating system.
Though infrared heaters with shorter-life bulbs are cheaper to buy, replacement bulbs are expensive and may be difficult to find. The savings may be short lived. I'd recommend not buying models that are not thermostatically controlled. If you can't control the heat ouput, it can end up costing a lot more in the long run.
Claims of 'energy use similar to a coffee maker' are also deceiving. While a coffee maker may use similar wattage, it only operates for a short period to brew a pot and keep it warm, unlike a heater that may cycle on/off all day and night. Expect a higher more realistic electricity consumption from an infrared heater.
And claims of maintaining humidity levels are entirely false. No heater will help you maintain humidity in your home; a heater can help to dry out a damp area, possibly decreasing the humidity level. To monitor humidity levels, you need a hygrometer. To increase humidity, you need a humidifier and to reduce dampness, you need a dehumidifier. Although some types of heat are more comfortable than others, none will help you maintain humidity levels.
- Learn more about maintaining proper home moisture levels.
Portable infrared heaters are quickly gaining popularity as efficient zone heaters, but they are pretty pricey. Prices range from around $200 to $500 or more. The highest price does not guarantee better energy savings and prices do seem inflated in some cases, simply because demand is high and brands are limited. Features, construction and heating technology tend to differ among infrared models and consumers should compare heaters to get the best value for their money.
The infrared heating technology (in part) has also been used in small quartz or ceramic heaters which may not have the same features or deliver the same heat output as the larger units, but offer good value for around $100 or less. While insufficient for a family room, one might provide enough heating for the home office desk area.
7. Infrared Heater Reviews
Along with comparing infrared heater prices, you should read reviews. Some consumers will include important care and use tips in their heater reviews, along with information on durability, reliability and energy efficiency. This information is valuable to those shopping for an infrared heater.
To help others make their buying decisions, consider writing a review on your infrared heater.
8. Infrared Heater Use and FAQ's
Since the idea of using an infrared heater is to warm those areas most used, the most versatile infrared heaters are portable units with wheels. That enables you to relocate them as needed to another room. However, models that are 1500 watts should use a dedicated electrical outlet and that should be considered when positioning the unit.
Most models of infrared heaters have cool-to-touch exteriors and are safer to use with young children and pets in the home. Though clearances are not as much an issue as with hot heaters, you should remove clutter in the heater's area to ensure that heat can freely be dispursed to the room. As with any electrical heater, keep papers, clothing, magazines and other items away from the heater.
Quartz bulb or tube infrared heaters will require bulb replacements over time. Before buying, you should ensure the availability of such replacement parts and check bulb prices. You might also want to consider a model with a longer bulb life cycle to reduce operating expenses.
The amount of maintenance required will depend on the model; refer to the product manual for full care and use guidelines.
Use of extension cords is not recommended but when you must, ensure that the power bar or extension cord is rated for that size of wattage. Always check that the heater is UL certified before using.
Infrared heating is a somewhat complicated technology. If you want to learn more about infrared heating and heaters, you can find more detail at:
9. Infrared Heaters Versus Portable Radiant Heaters
While either can heat up a room quickly, infrared heating tends to distribute the heat to items in the room rather than dispurse it to the air, which usually helps to make the room feel warmer. Many infrared heaters have fans that help circulate the heat, while a radiant heater mostly warms the air close to the heater. Small radiant heaters are much more economical to buy but infrared heaters though more costly, are generally more efficient.
10. Infrared Heaters vs Central or Whole-Home Heating Systems
Infrared heaters are designed to be room (zone) or space heaters. Though some may boast a capacity to heat a large area, an infrared heater should not be used as a home's sole heating unit, but as a supplemental heater to your central heating furnace or system. By using an infrared unit as a zone heater, you can reap some energy savings by turning down your central heating system and adding warmth to the space or zone that you use the most. A zone heater such as an infrared heater is ideal in a family room, insulated garage or open living space.