Infrared Heaters vs. Electric Fireplace: Which is Best?

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Infrared Heaters vs. Electric Fireplace

Today, there are many ways to provide effective heating and both infrared heaters and electric heaters remain popular options.

If you are on the hunt for a new heater or fireplace, then you probably want to know which of the two is best.

The truth is that infrared and electric systems are different in some very big ways and the one that is right for you will depend on a variety of factors. This includes the way in which you intend to use the heater and the area of space you want to heat.

How do Electric and Infrared Heaters Work?

Infrared heaters and electric heaters such as fireplaces are typically powered in different ways. This is an important factor to be aware of as it can impact their versatility and determine just how portable they are.

Infrared Heater Power Source

Infrared heaters release heat in the form of infrared light, which is not visible to the human eye. This is the same type of heat produced by the sun, which you have probably experienced on a warm summers day when the light from the sun hits your body.

Infrared heaters can produce infrared heat in several different ways. For example, gas-powered infrared appliances will produce infrared heat through the combustion of natural gas or propane. On the other hand, electric infrared heaters will produce the infrared heat via a special type of light bulb called a quartz incandescent bulb.

Electric Fireplace Power Source

Electric fireplaces commonly utilize either electric resistance heat or electric convection heat or a combination of the two. Resistance heat works by heating a metallic element which in turn radiates heat to the surrounding space.

Electrical convection heaters work by radiation and natural convection to create maximum heat transfer. This is often achieved through the combination of a metal element or coil, which is aided by the use of a heat exchanger and an integrated fan to blow heat into the external environment.

Infrared vs. Electric Fireplace Efficiency

When discussing efficiency, it’s important to be aware of what people are generally asking when they ask “how efficient something is”. Typically, it relates to how much heat is produced for the amount of energy that is consumed.

Therefore, if an appliance is consuming 1 kilowatt of electricity in return for a heat output of 1 kilowatt it could be said to be 100% efficient. However, efficiency does not take into account the cost of the fuel or the effectiveness of the heat produced, so it can be a very misleading metric.

With that said, most electric heaters have an efficiency rating of 100% and infrared heaters typically fall a little behind that.

Infrared vs. Electric Heat Speed

The majority of electrical heaters operate by warming the surrounding air as it passes over the metallic element. This result in the production of a convection current, which is essentially warm hot air that gradually circulates until the air within the entire living space has become warm.

Infrared heaters emit infrared light, which produces immediate heat so you don’t have to wait for the air in the room to heat up to feel the warmth.

Infrared vs. Electric Heat Comfort

Infrared heat emits light, which is naturally warm, so you don’t have to rely on the warming of air, which can have many unfortunate side effects.

For example, electric convection heaters work by warming the surrounding air, which can also impact both the oxygen and moisture levels. This can result in dry sinuses, skin, and hair.

A Comparison of their Effectiveness: Infrared vs. Electric Heat

Having discussed things like efficiency and speed of the heat, it’s important to highlight the practical impact of both infrared and electric heat. At the end of the day, the most important thing is how effective it is at providing you with a warm environment.

Infrared heaters produce heat immediately and are efficient, yet once the unit is turned off the heat stops immediately. It’s also worth remembering that the infrared heat will only heat objects that its rays hit and so you have to be situated relatively close by to feel any warming effect.

Other types of electric heaters will produce heat that emits radiant heat and warms the surrounding air. The advantage of this is that it is still effective once the unit is switched off, until the heat as dissipated. It also has the potential to warm a larger area, since the heat produced has the potential to circulate around the room.

Is an Infrared Heater Right For You?

If you want to heat a very small and precise area, then an infrared heater may very well be a good option. They are designed to be used as a supplementary heat source for places like offices, garages, and sheds.

However, if you want to heat a larger area within your property for longer periods of time, then you would be better served with a different type of heating system. For instance, a gas convection heater, a gas fireplace or perhaps a wood stove.

Is an Electric Fireplace Right For You?

Electric fireplaces vary in the heating mechanism they use, with electrical convection systems being the most popular. In general, electrical fireplaces (as is the case with most electrical heating appliances) are a poor choice since they are not as efficient as many other types of heating and the cost of running them long term is expensive.

However, heating a home with an electrical appliance can in some circumstances make good financial sense. For example, if you live in a warm climate where heating demands will be relatively low, an efficient electric fireplace may be a good option. They are relatively affordable, easy to maintain and energy efficient.

An electric heater may also be suitable in some other circumstances too, for example for zonal heating. This is where you heat a single zone of your home rather than the entire property e.g. the room you are currently using. The logic behind this is that it allows you to turn down your primary heat source e.g. your central heating system, helping you to make financial savings and conserve energy.

Final Thoughts 

If you looking for a heating source to supplement your primary heating system, then an electric heater or infrared heater may be a good choice.

Infrared heaters are generally designed to heat very precise locations, although there are some equipped with fans and blowers that help the heat go further. Still, in general, they are only suitable for small spaces.

Electric heaters such as fireplaces are also designed for supplementary heating or for short-term use. However, in general, you can find electric fireplaces with greater heat outputs (measured in BTUs) designed to provide heat coverage for larger areas. Therefore, if you want to heat a larger space, an electric fireplace or space heater is typically preferred.

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