Are Infrared Panels More Efficient than Electric Heaters?

It may have already been around for hundreds of years, but electricity is the energy source of the future. Despite its murky past with fossil fuels, the transition to clean, renewable energy methods to generate electricity is well under way.

Many people are already thinking ahead and opting for full electric heating systems in their home. Not only are these systems energy efficient, but they are compatible with solar photovoltaic panels to generate renewable electricity in a self-sufficient manner. 

Homeowners are now faced with the question: what electric heating system is most efficient? What’s the best option for my home?

There are a number of options when it comes to electric heating: ground source and air source heat pumps, underfloor heating, electric storage heaters, electric boilers and radiators, convection heaters and infrared panel heaters.

In this article, we’ll be looking at infrared panel heaters vs electric convection-based heaters to give you an idea of what’s best for your space.

Are infrared heating panels energy efficient?

When assessing different home heating systems, a key consideration is always how energy efficient they are. After all, efficiency has a direct impact on electricity bills and environmental footprint. 

Infrared (IR) panels are designed to provide radiant heat using less energy than traditional convection heating systems. They are able to do this because they don’t rely on heating up the air. Instead, IR panels emit electromagnetic waves that are absorbed by solid objects, warming floors, furniture and people directly. This allows an infrared heating system to provide targeted, efficient zone heating.

The IR panels themselves convert 100% of consumed electricity into heat, giving them the best possible efficiency rating. Of course, real-world efficiency also depends on factors like room layout, panel positioning and insulation levels to retain heat. 

Quick look: Infrared heating vs electric convection heating

Infrared PanelsElectric Heaters
EfficiencyUp to 100%Up to 100%
Energy ConsumptionLower wattageHigher wattage
Heating TypeDirect radiant heating  Mainly heats the air (convection), some radiant heat
EnvironmentalGreener choice – Can be renewable energy powered Greener choice – Can be renewable energy powered 
Boiler required?NoNo
Best forKitchens, bathrooms, well-insulated spaces, workshops, officesBedrooms, living spaces, offices, garden rooms

The biggest difference between the two sources of heat lies in energy consumption and how heat is emitted. 

While electric heaters use convection to warm the surrounding air which requires more energy input, infrared systems provide targeted radiant heat directly to objects and people. This explains why IR panels feel warmer even at equivalent or lower wattages.

Infrared Heating vs Electric Heating: Efficiency

Both infrared panels and electric heaters are 100% energy efficient at the point of use. This means that they convert 100% of consumed electricity into usable heat, which is great for those keen on saving energy and reducing running costs.

Whether or not you feel all of that heat depends on a few factors. For example, with infrared heating you’ll have to be positioned in direct line of sight of the panel and be within a certain distance, usually within 3 metres, to feel the benefit. You can learn more on how far do infrared panels reach in our main blog.

The drawback of infrared heating is that it takes much longer to heat the air in a room. This happens as a by-product over time as objects that have absorbed infrared heat, then re-emit heat via convection. The result is that the room air temperature with IR panels usually feels cooler. 

The heat produced from electric heaters takes a less direct path to heat you up. Around two thirds of energy is converted to convection heat that warms up the air molecules over time. The other third is emitted via direct radiation, just like IR panels. 

This gradual warming process means that heat gets dispersed in all directions. The efficiency of these heaters is also more reliant on factors such as insulation and room size. In draughty spots and bigger spaces, the convected heat generated by electric heaters can quickly get lost, which can lead to overall lower efficiency.

In terms of efficiency of use, new models of both infrared panels and heaters can come with smart controls for precise, thermostat-controlled heating. Some even allow you to programme your heating through WiFi or Bluetooth via an app. This is excellent for those seeking a modern way to manage their heating system.

Infrared Heating vs Electric Heating: Cost

Upfront system costs and ongoing running costs are both key considerations when installing or upgrading a home heating system. How do expenses compare between infrared panels and electric radiators?

Initial Costs

Infrared heating does require a more significant upfront investment than electric heaters. A complete infrared panel system designed to heat an entire home will set you back around £5,000-£7,000 on average – though costs are dropping. The exact pricing depends on home size, how many panels are being installed and the complexity of wiring.

You can install just one or two standalone infrared panels at a lower cost starting around £200-500 per unit. This works well for zone heating specific rooms. Either route generally costs more initially than adding new electric radiators one-by-one as needed.

Running costs

Running costs ultimately come down to the wattages, time in use per day and electricity rates in your area. Between the two heating methods, infrared systems generally consume less energy overall, so expect infrared systems to cost less to run daily than most electric heaters.

This is because they operate via radiant heating whereas electric heaters are convection-based appliances that usually require higher electricity inputs to heat the air sufficiently.

In terms of costs, operating a 1,200 watt infrared panel for two hours daily will total about £255 over the year, when calculated at the current electricity unit cost of £0.29 per kWh. Learn more here about infrared panel running costs.

Electric heaters tend to be powered to higher wattages than IR panels, falling in the range of 400-2,000 watts. Operating costs can range from under £1 per day up to several pounds for larger or constantly-run models. How insulated your space is will also impact costs, particularly with electric convection heaters.

These higher wattages and longer running times of electric heaters could add up to £100 more to your annual bill, which could offset the lower initial costs.

Infrared Heating vs Electric Heating: Environmental impact

Electric heating is a low carbon option. As both infrared panels and electric heaters run on electricity, their environmental footprints are directly tied to how that electrical energy is produced. This comes down to your regional energy mix and provider.  

The UK grid relies on a blend of fossil fuels, like natural gas, as well as nuclear and an expanding portfolio of renewables like solar and wind. Choosing a green energy supplier or generating your own power with solar panels are two impactful ways to minimise the carbon emissions resulting from your heating system’s electricity usage.

When powered by the grid, infrared panels and electric heaters have comparably moderate environmental effects thanks to clean operation and lack of on-site emissions. But infrared systems pull ahead slightly thanks to greater efficiency – less energy is wasted heating homes to target temperatures. Smart controls also allow infrared heating to heat more precisely when and where needed, avoiding excess energy consumption.

Generally speaking, both have a much lower carbon footprint than gas-powered heating alternatives, such as traditional boiler and radiator systems. You can read up here on whether infrared panels are more efficient than radiators. Are Infrared Panels more efficient than radiators?

How do you know if infrared heating or electric heaters are best for your home?

With efficiency, costs and sustainability covered, the next step is to weigh everything up and ask: what’s best for my home?

When deciding between infrared heating panels and electric heaters, it’s essential to consider factors such as home type, room size and heating preferences. 

In a new construction or renovation project starting from scratch, infrared heating carries compelling advantages thanks to greater design flexibility, excellent control features and high compatibility with well insulated spaces. Infrared panels also offer near instant heat, whereas electric heaters may take longer to heat a space evenly. For more information, read this on how long do infrared panels take to heat a room

Infrared panels are excellent for zonal heating, however if you have busy rooms with lots of furniture or odd shaped spaces to cover, they may not be as effective. You can take a look at this article on how many infrared panels do I need to give you a better understanding. 

Electric heaters on the other hand can heat larger spaces more effectively. Electric convection heaters are more closely related to traditional ‘wet’ radiator systems in the way they distribute heat around a space. For a lot of people, this will be appealing. But for a major upgrade for a super modern home, infrared panels may be your best option. 

However, integrating either form of modern electric heating methods into an existing home to replace an old system comes with greater upfront time and expenses. You then have the costs of running infrared panels, which can be more than gas-powered radiators systems depending on the house set up. 

How do you know if infrared heating or electric heaters are best for a commercial building?

Commercial structures like offices, retail stores, warehouses and hospitality venues have big heating challenges due to often large open spaces, higher ceilings and fluctuating occupancy patterns. 

When deciding between infrared heating and electric heaters for a commercial building, you’ll be looking at energy efficiency and running costs, heat distribution and installation costs as primary factors. Neither option is universally better, and the ideal choice depends on the specific needs and constraints of the building in question.

Infrared heating provides highly responsive zone control perfect for intermittently used areas. Ceiling mounted panels allow greater targeting for most, however, as infrared panels only reach so far, they may not be suitable for very tall or open spaces as their effectiveness will be limited. 

On the other hand, traditional electric heaters can provide more uniform heat distribution throughout a room, making them suitable for scenarios where consistent room temperatures are required. That said, it will take a lot of energy from an electric heater to warm very large open spaces effectively too. The best option here may be infrared panels positioned closer to where people will be situated.  

All in all, there’s not much in it between infrared panels and electric heaters in terms of efficiency. However, there are differences in terms of costs and how a room or space is heated which will have a significant impact on which type of heating is more suitable for you.

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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