Infrared Heat Vs. Electric Heat

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A portable infrared heater.

There are many ways to heat your home or an open space. Electric heaters and infrared heaters are both great for heating a space such as a room or a patio. Many infrared and electric heaters aren't suitable for heating a whole house. There are some major differences between each type of heater.


Electric Heat Power Source

Many electric heaters are plugged into a wall outlet.

Electric heat is powered by electricity. Many electric heaters are plug-ins, and some are connected directly to a home's fuse box. Other electric heaters are battery powered.


Infrared Heater Power Source

A propane-powered infrared heater.

Infrared heaters can be powered by different power sources, including electricity, propane and natural gas. This makes them more portable than regular electric heaters and a popular choice for patios in the winter. Natural gas-powered and electric-powered infrared heaters can be attached to existing utilities. Propane-powered infrared heaters can use the same tanks that power propane grills.


Electric Heater Heating Element

An incandescent bulb's element is an electric heater.

Electric heaters use a resistance-based heating element to produce heat. This means as electricity passes through the element, the element puts up a certain amount of resistance, producing heat. It's the same principle that makes incandescent light bulbs work. The elements are made of nickel and chromium. For some electric heaters, the elements are ribbons or wiry coils of the material. For others, the heating element is thicker and the ribbon is sealed in ceramic. These heating elements are similar to those found in an electric oven.


How Infrared Heaters Work

Infrared heaters actually radiate light below the visible spectrum. Electric infrared heaters use a quartz incandescent tube to produce infrared light and heat. Gas-powered infrared heaters burn gas to produce infrared light and heat. Infrared heat is the same type of heat we get from the sun. The rays from the sun that are below the visible spectrum hit us and the earth and warm us.

Electric Heat Weaknesses

Since most electric heaters are plugged in, their range is limited by the length of the power cord or extension cords used. Additionally, power cords are heavy and can be pulled out of a wall socket when someone trips over one. Those using sealed elements take a little longer to warm up.


Infrared Heat Weaknesses

Infrared heaters work best when they're in direct view. It's harder for the infrared radiation to reach you when the element can't be seen. To combat this, some infrared heaters use fans to help disperse the heat they radiate. So even if they're gas-powered, they still need electricity to operate a fan.



Chris Meehan

Chris Meehan is an experienced writer and editor with more than nine years of professional experience. He served as a managing editor, covering green (sustainability) projects at colleges and universities, wrote specialized business-to-business newsletters, Google- and Bing-topping SEO (search-engine-optimized) Web content and communications materials for numerous organizations, both for-profit and non-profit.