Often when someone hears the word “infrared,” they picture military equipment, such as night vision goggles. Although infrared heaters are not necessarily military equipment, they do make use of the same energy, for different reasons.
Infrared light is a part of the spectrum that human eyes are not naturally able to detect and properly process. As a result, without use of specialized eye wear, such as infrared goggles, infrared light is essentially invisible.
Just because it cannot be seen naturally does not mean it has no effect. Infrared light still puts off heat, which can be felt being absorbed by the skin, or radiating off of heat conductors, such as metals. This basic concept is what these heaters make use of, achieving the result of heat radiating into a space by various methods, depending on what mechanisms are at work.
How Are They Powered?
The two basic forms of portable heater, distinguished by power sources, are gas-powered and electric. Electricity is a common means of powering devices today, but that in no way renders the gas heater obsolete.
While gas heaters may be more expensive initially as investments, they are cheaper to power and heat up rapidly. As well as that, gas heaters are highly portable, capable of working through power outages.
Typically, the fuel burned may be kerosene, natural gas, or propane, allowing for extra safety against leaks (kerosene), or cleaner alternatives to kerosene (natural gas, or propane).
Although kerosene burning produces more pollution, it burns hotter and costs almost half the amount that propane or even electricity would to produce the same heat, making gas heaters optimal for well-ventilated outdoor settings. Often tied to a wall cord and taking longer to heat up, electricity is convenient for indoors because proper ventilation is not necessary, but convenience comes at a price.
Specific Types of Infrared Heaters
For the back yard or outside dining area at a restaurant, gas-powered heaters with fans are ideal. Many of these either hang from above or resemble large or small lamp posts, which allow centralization and quick spreading of the heat produced.
For those interested in smaller-scale heating options such as family rooms, the electric options have much more potential for use. Ceramic heaters have a ceramic heating element that regulates itself, as well as a fan to force the warm air around the room.
For directing heat to one area and maintaining a certain temperature of the directed heat, fan-equipped ceramic heaters are excellent, often capable of pointing in one direction constantly, or oscillating to spread the warm air evenly across a room. The most energy-efficient electric heater is the convection heater, which uses an electric heating element similar to the ceramic version.
Convection heaters can also have a fan built in, furthering the similarities to their ceramic cousins. Radiant heaters use infrared rays to heat up a conductive metal shield to produce heat reminiscent of the sun. There is no need for fans, so this is a quiet option for heating smaller areas, such as the couch a couple sits on.
The final variety of electric infrared heater is the panel heater, combining the convection and radiant heaters to heat up around 80% via convection and the other 20% or so is produced in the same manner as a radiant heater, evenly spreading heat through a larger area still without a fan.
Gas or Infrared?
Gas heaters are portable and often cheaper to run. Most households, however, spend more time on the couch watching television, or on the computer. The safer option for these activities and settings is clearly the electric infrared heater, as ventilation is no problem. They regulate their heat for comfort and safety reasons, and they are easy to keep functioning.
Storing gas can be dangerous, especially if a flame is burning on the heater, whereas the wall plug is not a danger to kids when a fire is in the fireplace. Although the portability of gas is convenient, real world every day practicality is valuable, and with a heat source that will be consistent for the foreseeable future, infrared heaters will keep family movie nights cozy and enjoyable throughout all the colder nights.