Are Infrared Panels More Efficient than Radiators?

As homeowners and businesses aim to optimise their energy usage, comparing the efficiency of radiators and infrared panels is a great question. 

Although both systems are designed to heat up a space, they operate in distinct ways. Traditional radiators are water-based, powered by gas and heat the air, whereas infrared panels are ‘dry’ systems, powered by electricity and heat objects directly. 

When it comes to strict energy efficiency there’s a clear winner: infrared panels. 

They heat up rapidly with the better models being able to convert 100% of the electrical input into heat energy. But not all infrared panels are the same, plus there are other efficiencies to take into account too, such as costs and environmental factors.

This article aims to provide a clear comparison between infrared panels and traditional radiators, exploring how their respective efficiencies stack up. It’s worth saying that you can now also get electric radiators, which are becoming a more popular option for modern homes. 

Do infrared heating panels use a lot of electricity?

The electricity consumption of infrared panels is largely influenced by three factors:

  • Size
  • Usage
  • Placement 

Let’s set the scene for you. According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the average UK home uses 3,509 kWh per year. This works out around 9.5 kWh per day, coming mainly from domestic appliances, like washing machines, dishwashers and fridge freezers, as well as ovens, lighting and consumer electronics. Adding in an electric heating source would bring this average up. 

In terms of IR heater size, most panels fall between the range of 200W – 1,200W. The wattages at the lower end of this scale aren’t particularly high in terms of electricity use but the higher end can quickly add up. For example, if you run a large 1,200W panel for two hours, that’ll be 2.4 kWh of energy. 

To put this into perspective, the average dishwasher uses around 1,800W per cycle. A machine washing can range from under 300W (energy efficient models) to over 1,000W. Of course, how much energy each IR panel actually uses depends on how long you keep it on for. 

Infrared (IR) panels are designed to consume less energy than traditional heating systems. They don’t need to be on for long periods of time, plus each panel can operate independently and via smart systems. 

As Martina Woodworth, Director of iHelios, says, “Infrared heating provides instant warmth within minutes and can be controlled independently in each room and through sensors switch on automatically to the desired temperature when someone steps in the room.”

Quick Comparison: Infrared Heating vs Radiators 

Infrared PanelsTraditional Radiators
Efficiency100%70% (F-rated)  to 92%+ (A-rated) 
Main energy sourceElectricity Natural Gas
Energy CostHigher (electricity)Lower (gas)
Energy ConsumptionLowerHigher
Heating TypeDirect radiant heating  Heats the air (convection)
Boiler required?NoYes
EnvironmentalGreener (more renewable compatible) Not green – Fossil fuel powered (natural gas)

Infrared Heating vs Radiators: Efficiency

Infrared heating panels employ infrared radiation to directly warm objects and people within a room. This is similar to how direct sunlight heats you up. 

Infrared panels boast an efficiency rating of 100%, meaning that all the electrical energy put into the system is converted into heat output. If you’re looking for a sustainable system, top efficiency is what you want. 

Infrared panels also heat up in a very short period of time, usually just a couple of minutes before you’re feeling the full benefit of radiant heat. Read up here on how long do infrared panels take to heat a room

Traditional radiator systems on the other hand are less efficient. This is because they require water to be heated up to temperature (usually via gas), then sent around the central heating system. As the water circulates, the heat from the water warms the metal radiator, which then warms the air in the room. This all takes more time to action than IR panels. 

The greater number of steps also means a portion of the generated heat is inevitably wasted along the way, reducing overall efficiency of the heating system. 

That said, gas-fired boiler and radiator systems can operate around 90% efficiency, which is pretty good. In fact, new boilers must be A-rated and hit at least a 92% ErP efficiency. 

Infrared Heating vs Radiators: Cost

Cost is always going to be a crucial factor for most people running an efficient home. When it comes to infrared heating vs radiators, it’s essential to consider not only the initial purchase price but also the running costs, efficiency and potential savings.

Initial costs

Initial outlay costs will depend on whether you want a single panel installed to heat a specific area or a whole house infrared heating system. 

Generally speaking, it will cost more to buy a large IR panel than it will to buy a standard radiator. Although there isn’t a huge difference here.

On average, you should expect to pay between £200 to £500 for a single panel. If a three-bed home needs 12 panels, the total cost for all infrared panels will be around £5,000-£7,000. 

However, as we’ve seen with solar panels, the cost of infrared panels has been decreasing in recent years, making them more and more accessible to consumers.

The other positive news is that infrared panels are relatively easy to install for a skilled electrician. Whether wall or ceiling mounted, IR panels can be wired into the mains behind the scenes rather than being plugged into a socket, although this is still a possibility. 

As Daniel Morris, Director at CG Electrical, says, “More often than not, installing infrared panels is a straightforward job. However, the task can be a little more tricky depending on where the panels are positioned and how easily this can be accessed. It’s also important to consider the wiring. To run a nice, neat whole house system, it’s recommended to run the panels on their own circuit, which will require a greater amount of installation work.”

Running costs 

Per unit of energy, electricity costs more than gas. From January 2024, the UK electricity price cap is just short of 0.29p per kWh. The equivalent cost for gas per kWh is 0.074p. 

The cost difference might appear significant, but infrared panels require less energy to function effectively than gas. This partially offsets the higher cost of electricity.

Total running costs over the month and year will depend on:

  • How many panels you have
  • How long they are switched on for 

At these prices, a 200W panel will cost 6p an hour to run, whereas a 1,200W panel will run at 35p an hour. At two hours a day, the smaller 200W will cost £44 for the year and the larger 1,200W panel will cost £255. 

How does this compare to traditional gas heating? Well, a quick look at my Octopus energy bill estimates that I’ll spend £1,400 on gas for the year. 

To heat my full home with infrared panels, it’s estimated that I would need 12-15 medium to large sized panels – you can learn more about how many infrared panels you need here. I would then need to factor in the costs to produce hot water. So, in terms of running costs, this is likely to come in more expensive than my current gas-powered system. 

One way to offset the costs of running infrared panels is to pair them with rooftop solar panels

As Martina Woodworth of iHelios says, “With solar panels, you can run your infrared heating through the solar battery, potentially saving 80 to 90% off your heating bills. Solar panels usually take 10 to 11 years for a return on investment, but when combined with infrared smart technology, the return on investment is around 3 to 4 years.

“Of course, you can always choose to stagger your eco investments with solar panels and electric water heaters being installed later down the line.”

In terms of costs, it’s pretty close, but radiators may be more cost-effective at current levels. 

Infrared Heating vs Radiators: Environmental impact

The major benefit of infrared heating is that it’s powered by 100% electricity. In the UK, electricity is generated by various methods, including renewables and fossil fuels. 

The good news is that the electricity mix for the national grid is becoming greener and greener, with wind and solar providing most of the renewable energy. The latest three month data in 2023 tells us that 43.8% of electricity was generated by renewables, with gas at 37.6% and nuclear at 15.6%. 

There are two ways to reduce your energy environmental impact at home: use a green energy supplier for your mains or generate your own electricity via solar panels.

Running a gas heating system uses (unsurprisingly) 100% gas. As natural gas is a non-renewable fossil fuel, it comes with a heavy carbon footprint. There are impactful industrial processes attached to natural gas, land disturbance, as well as lots of harmful emissions pumped into the atmosphere from the burning of the gas, flaring and leakage.

Environmental impact is a hands down win for infrared heating.

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

This depends on whether you’re starting from scratch or converting a current system. 

As Martina from iHelios explains, “If you already have radiators in your home and are considering switching to infrared, the main issue involved is the cost and the upheaval of installing a new system in your home.” 

If you are going for a new system, you might want to consider other sustainability and efficiency upgrades at the same time, such as solar. But there are other factors to take into account. 

“For example, radiators often come with a boiler that heats your water, and if you change to infrared, then you will most likely want to consider investing in changing to an electric water heater at the same time to remove gas completely, although you do not have to and can keep the boiler for water,” explains Woodworth. 

“Besides from the cost of changing from radiators to infrared, infrared heating does offer a

compelling edge over traditional radiators in heating homes, and when it comes to starting with a home without either system already installed, it also costs less and offers massive savings in the long run.”

Other benefits to infrared heating include being able to conceal the panels more discreetly, whether this is in ceilings, underfloor or higher up on the wall. You don’t get this degree of flexibility with radiators, which can limit furniture arrangement. 

As IR panels don’t disturb the internal air circulation, they help to create a cleaner environment. As Woodworth tells us, “Traditional radiators and Air Source Heat Pump systems heat the air and subsequently agitate dust and allergens. Infrared bypasses this issue entirely. It maintains an environment devoid of dust particle disturbance, humidity, mould issues and damp spots. This can bring multiple benefits for individuals battling allergies, eczema, asthma and other conditions sensitive to air quality.”

Smart control

A big advantage of electric radiant heating is that it’s fully compatible with smart systems. As Woodworth says, “In order to save on energy costs and track your energy usage efficiently, you do also need to make sure the infrared heating technology you choose comes with smart technology.”

“Some of the benefits of energy control include being able to heat each room independently of each other. Radiators can take considerable time, ranging from 30 minutes to several hours, to warm a house, infrared heating provides instant warmth within minutes and can be controlled independently in each room and through sensors switch on automatically to the desired temperature when someone steps in the room.”

“Infrared systems do not all operate in the same way either and this can impact how eco-friendly the system is and efficiency. For example, iHelios is engineered with advanced PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient) technology. Such systems operate on a far more reliable and efficient method than traditional wire-based systems. Moreover, these elements self-regulate, preventing overheating and ensuring absolute safety.”

There are many factors to weigh up when deciding between infrared panels and radiators. Currently there are pros and cons for both, but I think the pros’ side to infrared panels will start to weigh more and more as costs come down and homes become more insulated and are able to retain heat better. 

If you think infrared panels are the future and are ready for installation, it’s important that you go with a good quality model from a reputable UKCA provider.

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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