Why are Infrared Panels not Commonly Used?

Why are infrared panels not commonly used?

Infrared heating panels offer a tonne of benefits – they’re energy efficient, easily installed and can lower your environmental impact. 

This is all great – it’s for many of these reasons why infrared panels have been growing in popularity over recent years. 

But if infrared panels have all these advantages, why aren’t they more commonly used for heating homes and businesses yet? 

Good question, and one we will answer for you. 

We’ll take a look at some of the main factors holding infrared heating back from going mainstream, plus why they have the potential to push on in a more sustainable future.

Why is infrared heating not yet popular?

Although a promising technology, infrared heating has not yet gained widespread popularity in households and workplaces. They’re still flying a bit under the radar so to speak. 

There are a few reasons why infrared heating hasn’t reached mass adoption yet.

Upfront costs

Installing a full infrared heating system can be pricey. Depending on the size and power, individual panel costs can range from £150 to £600 each. For whole home heating, this adds up quickly. 

With just one panel installed per room, you can expect to pay upwards of £7,000 to install a full infrared heating system.

When compared to the alternatives, it’s still cheaper to install traditional systems, like gas boilers. No matter how environmentally friendly most people strive to be, costs play a key part in decisions.

If a full system is too costly for many, individual infrared panels installed for specific purposes may be a good way forward. 

For example, a homeowner may want to install a single panel to heat a certain part of the home, such as a cold spot, outdoor room or garage. For this, infrared panels can work really well.

They also come in super handy to heat a home office and keep those WFH people toasty during the winter. The direct heat makes the heaters cost-effective, meaning you won’t have to switch the central heating on or mess about with turning the radiators down in unused rooms. 

Infrared can’t replace all heating yet

The costs of creating a full infrared heating system may be one thing, but you also have the practical issues too. 

In older, draughty homes, infrared panels alone may not be enough to keep rooms warm. Rooms will feel nice and comfortable when they are on, but without good insulation, the room temperature will quickly cool down when the panels are switched off. 

Infrared heating works best in modern, highly insulated buildings. Although infrared panels provide direct heat and don’t actually heat the air in between objects, the air will warm to some extent thanks to heat that’s emitted back out from objects. 

Most homes aren’t there yet on the insulation front. This means that any room air that is warmed will quickly dissipate. 

Cold spot potential

Infrared panels may provide a solution for cold spots in your current home, but they can also create cold spots. 

Infrared heating is directional. To work effectively, it requires a clear line of sight between the panel and the individual. Items in the home, such as furniture, can reduce the efficiency of the panels by absorbing the heat. If you’re trying to heat a whole room with infrared panels, the space behind objects can become cold zones. 

This can be overcome fairly easily with the careful placement of furniture.

Lack of awareness

Another potential reason why infrared panels might not be commonly used could be the lack of awareness about the benefits and efficiency. 

Ask 100 people on the street and I bet the majority won’t be familiar with infrared heating technology. This is likely because infrared panels are relatively new to the residential home setting. It’s going to take some time for consumers to become accustomed to the idea and appreciate their advantages. 

The general public tends to need very good reasons to move away from tried and tested systems. Hopefully we’ll start to see this more and more as renewable energy systems hit the mainstream.

Are infrared panels safe?

Infrared heating isn’t particularly new, but it is new to residential homes. When any new technology emerges, it’s normal for people to have some concerns over safety. 

That said, electric infrared heating is considered very safe for residential use. 

Residential infrared heating uses an area of the electromagnetic spectrum called far-infrared, sometimes known as longwave radiation. This part of the spectrum is closer to radio waves and microwaves, which are both forms of non-ionising radiation, just like far-infrared. 

This means far-infrared is much more gentle and less intense than its cousin near-infrared, or shortwave radiation, which can reach high temperatures. 

Highlighting the safety of far-infrared, its technology has been used for many years in baby incubators. This shows that even prolonged exposure of far-infrared on delicate skin is safe.

This is the first safety tick for infrared panel heaters. 

The panels themselves can, and will, get hot to the touch. It’s thought that infrared panels operate most effectively around a temperature of 90oC. They’ll usually be somewhere between 80-100oC. This is hot. To compare, a typical radiator can be anywhere from 50-80oC. 

They’ll be fine to brush past but if you have young children around, this may be a problem. One way to get around this is to place the panels higher up on the wall or even on the ceiling to radiate heat down.    

Finally, it may sound obvious, but infrared heaters don’t create any fumes, carbon monoxide or other by-products, unlike say fires and other combustion heaters.

Health risks and public worries over infrared heating

Despite the fine safety record, there are still some public concerns over health risks associated with infrared heating. 

My view is that this generally stems from the ‘radiation’ part of infrared radiation. It doesn’t sound great I admit, but there’s an easy misunderstanding to have. 

I believe people hear the term and associate it with more harmful forms of radiation, such as UV, x-ray and even nuclear. As we’ve seen though, everyday items such as the radio and microwave work via forms of radiation. We’re all constantly exposed to different forms of low dose, non-harmful radiation. 

Far infrared heaters emit a safer wavelength of radiation that sits on the opposite end of the spectrum to harmful radiation types, like gamma. In short, far-infrared radiation doesn’t cause damage to human tissue.

Is infrared heating expected to become the norm?

Though being used more often, infrared heating still faces adoption obstacles before it can fully compete with gas. In fact, because of the issues in functionality, it may never reach the levels of gas boiler adoption.  

Switching a full home to infrared heating remains impractical, given the limitations around functionality and poor insulation of many UK properties. There’s also the small issue of entrenched gas infrastructure. 

As generations shift and perspectives on home technology changes though, infrared may gradually convert more consumers.

Reasons why infrared panels could become the norm

  • Cost decreases over time – Just as we’ve seen for LED lighting, solar panels and now with heat pumps, costs of infrared panels will come down over time. This will put infrared within reach for more homeowners. Although lots can be attributed to current higher costs, I don’t think price is infrared’s main issue.
  • Electric – Soon the whole country will be fully electric. From home heating and energy generation to vehicles and even planes, electricity is the sustainable currency of the future. Infrared panels just need wiring in by an electrician and they’re ready to go.
  • Compatible – Following on from the above, infrared panels are compatible with future energy generation devices, such as electric-powered heat pumps and solar panels.
  • Smart devices – Smart controls allow homeowners to fine tune their heating and only use panels when occupied. This clever use of technology will maximise energy use and costs.
  • Generation shifts – Shifts in expectations around home technology will see many younger buyers prioritising energy efficiency, customisation and renewable integrations. Infrared panels will fit in perfectly with this shift and will thrive in airtight, well-insulated spaces.

While not quite mainstream yet, infrared heating panels offer a potential and exciting glimpse into the future of home energy use. 

As costs come down and home efficiency improves, infrared heating will continue to grow and provide a more environmentally friendly source of heating.

About the author 

Ben Hardman

Ben is a professional writer and the creator of sustainable living website TinyEco.com.
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, PeakDistrict.org
Commented in The Independent, The Guardian, GreenMatch. Also featured on Radio 1's environmental special 'Minute of Me'

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