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Radiant Heater Basics and Buying Tips

With heating costs continually going up, many people are looking for cost-saving options for warming home or work spaces. A portable radiant heater (often called infrared heaters) might be the right solution. Radiant heaters provide comfortable warmth to just the space you are using, allowing you to reduce the amount of heating needed for the whole building.

A radiant heater is the best way to provide heat when you're outside. Sidewalk cafes stretch their outdoor seating season by tucking radiant heaters between the tables to keep the customers cozy while they dine in cooler temps. Create the same welcoming environment on your own patio by adding a radiant heater to your backyard d??cor.

So what's a radiant heater, and how does it function differently from traditional space heaters? And, most importantly, how do you know which radiant heater is the best choice for you? Read on for a quick primer.

What is Radiant Heat?

Officially defined, radiant heat is the transfer of heat via electromagnetic radiation between the heat source and the object to be heated.

Chances are you already have a radiant heater in your home. Just remove the shade from any nearby table lamp and hold your hand up to the lit bulb. Feel that projected heat? Only about 10% of a light bulb's energy is used to create light. The other 90% is projected as radiant heat, which you've probably discovered if you've ever tried to change a light bulb before letting it cool off first!

The same basic principle is behind the technology of an average portable radiant heater. A metal or quartz filament is heated with electricity from a wall plug. The filament, which is protected by a heat-resistant glass tube, emits infrared radiation that directly heats anything it comes in contact with.

In comparison, a convection or forced air heater uses the supplied electricity to heat air, which is then circulated through the room with the help of a fan. The temperature in the whole room must rise before the people in it begin to feel its effect.

This is the single biggest advantage a radiant heater has over a convection heater. It doesn't warm the air in a room - it warms the objects in the room. The moment you turn on the radiant heater, the warming effect is instantly felt by anyone standing in the path of its infrared beams. It's a just like soaking up rays from the sun.

For the same reason, a radiant heater will do a better job of keeping you warm outdoors than a convection heater can. The heated air from a convection heater will dissipate too quickly outside, without noticeably raising the ambient temperature, so you stay cold. A radiant heater will warm you up quickly, no matter how chilly the air might be.

Here are few more advantages of a portable radiant heater:

  • No fan noise!
  • No moving air to aggravate allergies
  • Radiant heat can be used to dry paint on walls or laundry on the line, just like leaving it out in the sun
  • People or objects warmed by a radiant heater become radiators themselves, increasing the overall ambient temperature
  • Lower energy consumption - 700 to 1000 watts to heat an average bedroom, compared to 2000 watts for a convector
  • Quicker to heat up, quicker to cool down

Just to be fair, here are a couple of the drawbacks for using a radiant heater:

  • Only heats what it's pointed at
  • The heating filament can be very hot, which makes them more prone to burn accidents

Radiant Heater Specifications

Once you've made the decision to purchase a radiant heater, how do you know which one you should choose? Here are some of the specifications you should look at to make sure you're getting the right product for your needs.


Before anything, you'll want to decide where you're going to use your radiant heater. Some indoor infrared heaters are stylish home accessories designed to accent your home d??cor. Others have a more industrial appearance that is better suited to workspaces or outdoor use. Will you want to mount it on a wall or ceiling, or do you want one with an adjustable stand so you can move it around? Browse the available radiant heater models so you can make an informed selection.

Heating Capacity

Heating capacity is the standard which indicates how much heating power any given unit possesses. It's measured in both watts and BTUs.

A watt equals one joule of energy per second. For electric space heaters, there is a 10/1 ratio of watts to square feet heated. This means an average 120-volt, 1,500 watt heater can heat an area of 150 square feet at its highest setting. A 5000 watt radiant garage heater should be able to comfortably heat over 450 square feet.

A BTU (British thermal unit) refers to the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree, and is useful for comparing one radiant heater model to another. You can convert between watts and BTUs with the following formulas:

  • 1 watt = approximately 3.41 BTU/hour
  • 1000 BTUs/hour = approximately 293 watts

Fuel Type

Most portable radiant heaters are fueled by electricity because of the convenience - just plug it in and you're ready to go. Before you buy, make sure the electric requirements (voltage) match the electric service in the place you intend to use it!

A few radiant heaters, especially those meant for outdoor use, use natural gas or propane as a fuel source. If you're planning to use your radiant heater where a grounded electricity outlet is not available (say, on a camping trip) a gas- or oil-fueled unit may be the ideal choice. Just be sure that you use these heaters in well-ventilated spaces as they may produce toxic fumes.

Other Features to Look For

  • Tip over safety switch to turn the unit off if it gets knocked over. This will help reduce the risk of fire.
  • Check to make sure it is UL, ETL or CSA listed, to be sure it meets all current safety guidelines.
  • A thermostat will help you maintain the ideal temperature. Some radiant heater models have automatic on-off cycles too.
  • Variable heat settings will help you control how warm you get.

Now that you've read all about them, head on over to peruse our products and find the perfect radiant heater for you!

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