What is infrared light?
Infrared light allows us to feel warm when the sun is shining in the middle of a wintery day. It would be fair to think that if the air temperature were cold or even freezing, then you too would feel cold. However, the infrared waves emitted by the sun travel unhindered through space, then warm anything they collide with, including you.
Infrared is a type of ‘electromagnetic radiation’ that is positioned just past the red end of the visible light range of the electromagnetic spectrum. When people hear the word radiation they tend to automatically associate it with being harmful, in actual fact, radiation is just a type of energy emission. Just the same as visible light radiation, infrared radiation is completely 100% safe and even our own bodies emit infrared radiation.
Conventional space heating
Conventional heating works by warming up the surrounding air; for instance a wall radiator does most of its heating through convection currents while also giving off a small amount of infrared radiation.
When a radiator warms up, it heats the air directly around it, which then expands while rising upwards. As the hot air rises, it creates a vacuum beneath it, which in turn pulls colder air into contact with the radiator also causing it to heat up. The cold air gets heated once again and then repeats over and over – this is known as convection heating. (In larger rooms you will possibly feel a draught due to this process)
Many conventional heating systems emit infrared waves. For instance, when you have sat besides an open fire, you will have felt the heat on your face. If you put your hand in front of your face, this stops the infrared hitting your face directly; instead you will feel your hands warming up instead. This is infrared heat.
Infrared heating isn’t a well known form of domestic and/or commercial heating. The heat is emitted from the heater itself, which then travels unhindered through the surrounding air until it hits an object. The object absorbs the radiation which in turn leads to further heat production due to molecular vibration within the object itself.
When the infrared waves come into contact with people they will be absorbed about 30mm into the body, providing a feeling of deep warmth. Even if you’re not directly in line with the waves, any solid object will vibrate (at a molecular level) when the waves hit them, causing them to bounce the heat back towards you.
Gas, oil and solid fuel infrared heaters are available, but for ease of use it is suggested that using electric infrared is the best solution. There is no need to integrate any pipe work or fuel storage facilities when you install the panels and there are no direct emissions associated with using the electrical panels ( if used alongside solar panels you will get 100% emission free heating). Electric infrared heating panels can also can be placed high up on the walls or the ceiling, so they will be easy to keep away from pets and children. The heating potential is similar to a standard radiator, the panels are available in numerous sizes and some models can double up as mirrors. With no moving parts they operate in silence, which makes them ideal for bedrooms, libraries and hospital wards.
Energy Savings from Infrared Space Heaters
Infrared heaters heat the surface area of a room, rather than the volume of the room, as is the case with traditional convection heaters. This means they use far lower amounts of energy to heat considerably more efficiently and provide the same amount of heat as conventional heaters.
In addition, you are heating solid walls and/or objects with infrared radiation and these have a thermal mass, so they retain heat aiding to keep the building warm. Unlike solids air has no thermal mass, so traditional convection heated spaces are harder to keep warm. For example if doors are opened the warmed air will escape and the space will need reheating. An excellent benefit of infrared panels is the ability to provide the building with a fully-zoned heating solution. Central heating systems (usually)are all or nothing solutions with all rooms running off one thermostat, whereas infrared heating panels can be switched on in individual rooms using independent thermostatic controls. This is a major benefit as rooms that need heating are the only ones using energy, which equates to lower bills.
Electric infrared heaters take roughly 30 seconds to reach full optimum temperature therefore they are far more efficient at heating spaces than more conventional space heaters. As the heat is absorbed into the thermal mass of the room surfaces, as opposed to the space, it stays warmer for longer and those dreaded draughts do not cause an issue as they do with conventional heating solutions, such as radiators.
Other advantages of infrared heating
Another big advantage of infrared heating is that, unlike conventional heaters, which just heat the air, infrared heaters heat the walls, meaning they keep them completely dry. It then builds up the thermal mass within the walls and the floors, which maintains the warmth and keeps it dry by reducing condensation. Therefore infrared heating helps prevent the spread of mould or damp in the property, which can be a big problem in older cottages.
Additionally, conventional heaters warm the room by convection currents that circulate dust particles continuously around the home, this does not occur with infrared heating, so for people who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems, infrared panels are an ideal solution.
Infrared heaters are emission free as no fuel is burnt in their operation and if they are used along side renewable energy sources like solar PV, you are producing 100% clean heat, which is a great way for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.
A 600 Watt panel is sufficient to heat a small room and will cost approximately £220, dependant on where you purchase it.