Are Infrared Panels the Future of Heating?

We’re used to seeing infrared heating panels in an outdoor setting. Think of the red glow of patio heaters and those found in beer gardens. But thanks to recent advances in technology, these ingenious heating systems have made their way indoors too.

The move of infrared into homes is a promising step for the future of heating. Infrared panels offer a whole load of benefits. They’re energy efficient, powered by electricity, easily installed and can be hidden away if necessary.

All considered, infrared panels have the potential to replace outdated heating systems and lower your impact on the environment. But they aren’t without their drawbacks and there are certainly a few things to consider when it comes to infrared heating.

What Are Infrared Panels?

Infrared panels are a modern and super efficient form of heating for your home. 

These low-emission electric heaters use radiant heat to target specific areas – or more importantly, objects. Unlike a radiator or open fire, which primarily heat the air around us, an infrared panel heats objects up directly. 

It’s a similar sensation to how the sun feels on your face on a cold day. Or how an outdoor patio heater warms you up straight away when turned on. This innovative approach to heating allows for energy savings and efficient temperature control within a space.

Infrared panels are generally rectangular and slim. They come in a variety of sizes from small to very large. You can get infrared panels installed all over your home and in a number of different places, including:

  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Underfloor
  • Over the door
  • Freestanding units
  • Bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms

There’s a tonne of options and potential with infrared panels. They also come in various designs and can even be customised to show artwork or personal photos. The options with infrared panels means you can match up functionality with home aesthetics, which are important in a modern-day home.

For me, this flexibility and forward thinking nature represents the direction in which home heating is going. 

How Does Infrared Heating Work?

Ok, to fully appreciate infrared panels, it’s important to have half an understanding of how they work. 

If you think back to science class, there are three main types of heating: conduction, convection and radiation. Infrared panels utilise radiation. 

Thanks to the nuclear link, radiation can be an intimidating word. This might be why we’re seeing the term ‘radiant heating’ used more often. But, rest assured, infrared radiation in this setting is perfectly safe.

In fact, baby incubators use a type of infrared radiation, so we can confidently say they are safe. Incubators and infrared panels emit a type of ‘far’ infrared heat. This is safer than the more intense ‘near’ infrared heat. 

Differing to convection and conduction, radiant heating travels from the source until it hits an object, such as you, to which it then heats up. Infrared heat doesn’t heat up the air molecules in between objects. The infrared panel itself will heat up a little and emit some convection heat.  

You might be thinking, won’t I get cold when the panel is turned off? Not exactly. 

By heating up objects, such as furniture and walls, the infrared heat also gets re-released back into the room. That’s two heating mechanisms for the price of one. With the addition of good insulation, you and your room will be feeling warm and comfortable. However, without high levels of insulation, the base air temperature of a room will be lower, which might not suit everyone.

Infrared panel heaters are quick-acting. Once switched on, they’ll be emitting heat in a matter of seconds and will reach full heat intensity in a couple of minutes.

Can Infrared Heaters Replace Central Heating?

Infrared heating is still relatively new in the UK. That said, infrared heating systems show good promise as a more energy-efficient alternative to traditional central heating systems. It’s possible that infrared heating will replace gas central heating systems, but not a foregone conclusion. 

Let’s start with the reasons why infrared heating can play a part in the future. 

Firstly, infrared heaters are powered by electricity. Eventually, all homes will use renewable electric energy instead of fossil fuel powered systems. This has been, and arguably still is, a long road, but change is in motion.

The electric nature of infrared panels means they’re compatible with other forward thinking home energy systems, such as solar panels. Of course, all this fits in with smart tech and 21st century houses. This is undoubtedly where the future lies.

Infrared heating also has efficiency on its side. Some models can convert 100% of the electric energy input into heat energy. As discussed, this directly heats up objects rather than the air, which can easily be lost through draughts and windows. 

To contrast this, a modern gas boiler for example, may be 92-94% efficient. This is very good but you have to remember that the boiler is also burning a non-renewable fossil fuel. 

In order to replace traditional heating systems, infrared panels need to be combined with top quality levels of insulation. Any new build properties or renovated eco homes should be achieving this. High levels of insulation will ensure that room air temperatures remain comfortable, limiting the need for high powered radiators. 

A sticking point of infrared replacing central heating systems is the water heating side. Infrared panels can’t directly heat water. However, it’s entirely possible to use your electric heating systems to pair up with water cylinders or electric immersion heaters. 

The other issue with infrared heating is that objects may get in the way of the heat. As it’s a directional form of heating, you’ll only feel the warmth if you’re directly in line with the panel and the line isn’t blocked by furniture or sofas. It’s possible that cold spots will develop in homes with infrared panels. 

The Environmental Benefits of Infrared Heating

Infrared heating panels offer several environmental benefits that make them a strong contender for the future of heating:

  • Energy efficient – High efficiency ratings of 100% can be found with the best infrared panels on the market. This means that all of the energy consumed is converted directly into heat. 
  • Minimal waste – Infrared works through radiant heating with no need to heat up the air in a space. You also have full control to only heat the specific zone where you want warmth at the click of a button. This minimises wasted energy and can help reduce heating costs (although this will depend on the panel power and how long you keep it on for).
  • Reduce fossil fuel use – Infrared heating allows you to lower your thermostat and reduce reliance on fossil fuel-powered boilers, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Compatible with renewable energy sources – Infrared panels can be powered using solar panels, which can be paired with battery storage solutions. These systems can run with little to no impact on the environment. If you’re powering your infrared panels using your mains electricity, you can go more sustainable here by using a green energy provider.
  • Long lifespan – Infrared heaters typically last for decades with little maintenance. This reduces waste from replacing broken heating systems frequently.

The Cost Benefits of Infrared Heating

Infrared heating panels are not the cheapest source of heating you can install. As with most long-lasting, renewable energy options, there’s an upfront cost to infrared heating. As the technology advances and the use of panels becomes more popular, this initial cost will come down. 

Each infrared heating panel isn’t too expensive on its own, but together they will add up. You can expect to pay anywhere from £150 to £600 for a panel depending on its size and power. For example, a small 30 x 90cm 300W panel starts from around £230. A larger 60 x 155cm 1100W panel comes in at over £500. 

Once installed, infrared panels start to bring their benefits. It’s thought an infrared heating system can reduce household heating costs compared to gas systems by up to 50%. To give a ballpark figure, Checkatrade estimates that it will cost £124 to run a 500W infrared panel for two hours a day across the year. 

Further, unlike water-based radiators, electric panels require little to no maintenance and will last a decade and longer. With their efficiency savings, there are benefits to infrared heating over the long term.  

What Do Experts Think About The Future of Infrared Heating?

Infrared heating can provide homeowners with a ‘compelling alternative’ to heating reliant on fossil fuels and other new heating methods hitting the market, such as heat pumps, according to Sam Abel of Herschel Infrared. 

“Infrared heating provides a practical, efficient electric heating solution that is simple to install in homes and is available in a number of space-saving, attractive finishes.” 

Heating by infrared also offers plenty of flexibility so that budgets can be managed accordingly. As Sam says, “Infrared heating offers a modular approach to installation. It can deliver a complete home heating system, install on a room by room basis or even personal heating from portable heating solutions.”

“Infrared heating is highly controllable, each room can be precisely heated exactly when you need it, ensuring energy is not wasted heating unoccupied rooms and maximising comfort levels where it’s needed,” continued Sam. 

There are more benefits too. “Radiant heating minimises the presence of damp and mould and also reduces the movement of airborne dust particles and allergens to create healthier interiors. As more and more people look to decarbonise their homes, infrared is readily available for installation by qualified electricians, with no skills shortage, and is more practical and less disruptive for the majority of domestic properties.”

Should you choose infrared heating over traditional heating systems?

This largely depends on the type of home you have. 

For new or recently renovated sustainable homes with high levels of insulation and renewable energy systems at play, infrared heating may be worth it. 

However, for older homes with draughts and lower energy ratings, infrared heating isn’t worth it as your main source of continuous heating. In this scenario, you’ll end up paying more trying to keep you and your home warm. 

While infrared heating panels may not entirely replace central heating systems for all homes just yet, they can serve as an option for supplementing existing heating or for use in highly-insulated, energy-efficient buildings. For new homes and renovations heading in the super insulated direction, we’re likely to see more and more infrared heating systems.

About the author 

Ben Hardman

Ben is a professional writer and the creator of sustainable living website
It's here where he helps people to reduce their environmental impact through simple, everyday choices. Away from the laptop, Ben loves spending time in the natural environment with his young family and Murphy the cocker spaniel.

First Class BSc Biology degree (environmental and climate change focus)
Six years of working and writing in the environmental sector, including two years working at an international sustainability consultancy
Written for Ethical Consumer magazine, My Mother Tree, Unsustainable Magazine, Happy Eco News, Emission Index,
Commented in The Independent, The Guardian, GreenMatch. Also featured on Radio 1's environmental special 'Minute of Me'

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