Choosing the most efficient, cost-effective and sustainable heating system is an important decision for both homeowners and businesses.
It’s not a one-size fits all approach though. Choosing the right sustainable system for you depends on several factors, including how you use the space, its size and shape, insulation levels and the type of heating you want.
Two sustainable heating solutions that should be considered are infrared heating panels and heat pumps. Of course, both technologies can heat a space up, but they do it in very different ways.
From the installation of the systems and upfront costs, to how the heat is created and emitted, there’s a lot to be learned when it comes to infrared panels vs heat pumps.
Don’t worry, this article will give you all the key information you need to compare and contrast these two innovative heating systems.
- Infrared panels offer direct, focused heating with minimal installation effort, making them ideal for targeted or supplementary heating needs.
- Heat pumps provide efficient whole-house heating by transferring heat from outside to inside, but they come with higher initial costs and maintenance requirements.
- The energy efficiency of heat pumps is generally higher than that of infrared panels, making them more cost-effective in the long run for extensive heating needs.
- Infrared heating can be more immediately felt, as it heats objects and people directly rather than warming the air.
- The choice between infrared panels and heat pumps depends on specific heating requirements, budget constraints, and the desired efficiency over time.
How heating differs from infrared panels to heat pumps
Infrared panels and heat pumps represent two distinct heating methods.
Internal infrared panels produce directional heat through long-wave (also known as ‘far’) infrared radiation. This type of heat warms objects and people up directly without heating the air or space, although this can happen as a secondary effect over time.
Infrared (IR) heating is a perfectly safe form of electromagnetic radiation that allows for the precise targeting of warmth to zones in a home or area without wasting energy heating empty air.
Heat pumps, on the other hand, provide convective heating. This is a similar heating method to how traditional radiators work. Convection heat warms up the air first, which then transfers across to you.
Unlike most standard radiators that operate via a fossil-fuel powered boiler, heat pumps use an ingenious form of engineering to extract heat from other sources. There are a few main types of heat pumps, including air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps.
Heat pumps are all about the flow of heat from warm to cold. Essentially, heat pumps use a reverse refrigeration process to exchange heat, compress it and condense it, so it can be transferred around your home’s heating system. Although a little more complicated, this process is super efficient, with systems generating up to four times the heat energy as the electrical energy that goes into powering it.
Heat Pump vs Infrared Panels
When comparing heat pumps and infrared panels, there’s lots to consider. Some of the main factors to weigh up are cost, efficiency, installation and maintenance. Let’s take a closer look.
- Just a note, unless stated we’ll be comparing infrared panels to air source heat pumps (ASHP) rather than ground source heat pumps. According to the latest stats, for every ground source heat pump installed, there are six installations of ASHP.
Heat Pump vs Infrared Panels: Cost
Unless money is no object, costs are going to be at the top of most people’s lists when comparing these sustainable heating solutions.
The first thing to note is that heat pumps are a whole house heating system. They’re designed to completely replace a standard gas boiler central heating system.
Infrared panels can be a whole house system (in certain circumstances), but they’re more commonly used to provide supplementary zonal heating for specific spaces, such as kitchens, garden rooms and offices.
With this in mind, the upfront purchase and installation costs are significantly lower for IR panels versus a full air source heat pump system.
Individual infrared heating panels can cost anywhere from £200-£600 depending on the size and brand. However, scaling IR to replace main heating systems proves much more expensive.
For example, a three bedroom home (with advanced levels of insulation) may require up to 12-15 infrared panels. With a rough average of £500 per panel, this could cost up to £7,500.
Although trickier to install with several units, pipework and ducting required, the average cost to buy and install an air source heat pump system is around £5,565 (according to Octopus Energy).
This is largely thanks to the Boiler Upgrade Scheme from the UK government that grants £7,500 (England and Wales) or £7,500 (Scotland) off the total cost of a heat pump. The grant is only available if you’re replacing a traditional gas boiler.
For the majority of heat pump customers, this will actually knock the cost to around £3,000, bringing it almost in line with the cost of installing a new gas boiler. Get these prices while you can; the BUS is set to end on 30th March 2025.
To give you a further comparison, ground source heat pumps are much more expensive, costing anywhere from £15,000 to £50,000 to buy and install.
In terms of full heating systems, it’s a win for ASHP on initial costs.
Both infrared panels and heat pumps run off electricity. This is a good start for sustainability as both can be paired with renewable energy at-home sources, such as solar panels, or supplied with green energy from the grid.
In terms of comparing like-for-like running costs though, it’s a difficult task. It all depends on the heat demand of your energy, insulation levels and ultimately annual energy use. But we’ll give you some ball-park figures.
Let’s take an average three bedroom home. The running costs for an air source heat pump will be around £1,000. With a whole house infrared heating system, the running costs of the panels will be somewhere between £800-£1,200.
This puts both systems in very similar running cost territory.
Heat Pump vs Infrared Panels: Efficiency
Efficiency is where things start to get interesting with these forms of technology. Safe to say, both forms of heating are extremely energy efficient, but we do have a clear winner…
The best infrared panels are designed to convert 100% of electricity into heat energy. They can do this thanks to advanced heating element technology, layers of insulation at the back of the panel and no need for any lighting.
Heat pumps take it a step further though, operating around 300-400% efficiency. This is possible because of the way they extract thermal energy from the air (or ground) in what’s known as an active heat exchange. It’s called ‘active’ because it requires energy input, but for every unit of electricity input, you get three to four times the heat energy output.
It’s worth noting that the energy efficient nature of these systems can be undermined by other factors, which lessen the effectiveness. For example, poor insulation and draughts will impact the effective warmth from heat pumps more than it will for infrared panels.
That said, the effectiveness of infrared panels can be diminished if they are installed in a bad position. This is because they require a clear line of sight towards the person, and to be within the right distance away, to warm you up effectively. Learn more about infrared panel positioning here.
You might read that heat pumps become less efficient the colder it gets outside. Technically there’s some truth to this, but it’s nothing to worry about. Heat pumps will still maintain excellent efficiency in sub-zero temperatures. In Norway, which is much colder than the UK on average, around half of all homes have heat pumps.
However, you’ll have to wait longer for a heat pump to warm up a room (and you) than you will for IR heating. Infrared panels have rapid controllability and can reach full temperature in just a few minutes.
Heat Pump vs Infrared Panels: Installation
Infrared panels are much simpler to install than heat pumps. Panels can be mounted directly onto ceilings or walls or simply plugged into a mains socket. In our view, ceiling mounting is best for maximum effectiveness. Either way, for an electrician it’s a straightforward process of installing onto a bracket and wiring into your mains electrics.
For full home infrared panel installations, it’s likely you’ll need a rewire so it can run on its own circuit. But aside from that, there’s no need for ductwork or outdoor units.
Installing air source heat pumps is a much bigger job, requiring significant infrastructure changes. This might include new ductwork, pipework, electrical upgrades, enhanced insulation, an outdoor unit and an indoor unit. There’s no getting away from the fact that you need a qualified expert for heat pump installation. The only issue is that there’s a severe lack of qualified engineers, which is causing long lead times and less heat pump uptake.
Heat Pump vs Infrared Panels: Maintenance
As heat pumps have several moving parts and components of a system, they do require proper maintenance to ensure maximum efficiency. Just like a standard boiler, an annual checkup by a certified technician is suggested.
During a heat pump service, a technician should check refrigerant levels, electrical connections, test the pressure, inspect ventilation and check the coils and filters.
Typically, a heat pump should last between 10 to 15 years, though regular maintenance can extend this period.
Infrared panels on the other hand require very little maintenance. Being simple in design with no moving parts or external units, they don’t suffer from much wear and tear. All that’s really required is an occasional cleaning of the panel itself to remove dust.
Thanks to this, IR panels can have very long lifespans, with some lasting up to 20 years or more, depending on usage.
In terms of maintenance, it’s an easy win for infrared panels.
Infrared Heating for you?
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Verdict on infrared panels vs heat pumps
Both systems offer a more sustainable heating alternative, but both also have their own unique set of advantages and limitations. You can read a little more about the pros and cons of infrared panels here.
Heat pumps are a fantastic, energy efficient way to heat your whole house. At the minute, installation costs are low thanks to the Boiler Upgrade Scheme grant available. However, heat pumps are much more complex to install and will require annual maintenance.
Infrared panels are also energy efficient, but they won’t heat up your home or space in the same way that traditional convection heat will. If you have a super insulated home, this shouldn’t matter too much as the ambient air temperature will remain fairly constant.
There aren’t any grants available for infrared panels, so costs to purchase several panels can quickly mount up. The major advantage is that once panels are installed, they require little to no maintenance and upkeep.
The most suitable system for you depends on the space in question, budget and individual needs.