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Electric Radiant Heaters: Full Guide To Understanding Radiant Heaters 2023

guide to electric radiant heaters

Have you been looking into electric radiant heaters? Maybe you’re just starting out, but are thinking about a radiant heater to add a bit of warmth during the colder months? 

Electric radiant heaters provide a direct, zonal heat that will help to keep you cosy and comfortable when the temperature drops.

A radiant heater could be a great, energy efficient choice if you work from home or just want to give a specific area of the house a burst of heat without having to put the central heating on. 

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how electric radiant heaters work, the different types of radiant heaters, when to use them, the benefits of each, discuss how much electricity they use and the considerations when choosing the right electric heater for your home.

What is an electric radiant heater?

An electric radiant heater is a type of household device that provides additional zonal heating to specific areas. A radiant heater uses electricity to create heat energy. 

In the home, electric radiant heaters can exist in a few different formats. You can get radiant wall panels, over the door types, ceiling heaters and underfloor heaters. 

You can also get outdoor electric radiant heaters. However, these are slightly different from the indoor varieties as they need to be more powerful. 

Radiant heaters are an effective appliance to have because they heat up you, and other objects, directly. This is instead of warming the air around you like radiators and log burners do. 

So, how do they work exactly? 

infrared heating panel
Electric radiant heating panel

The science behind radiant heaters – how do they work?

Electric radiant heaters are one of the most effective types of heaters for warming you up. 

This is because they heat you (or more precisely the molecules in your body) up directly through a type of infrared radiation.

Don’t be alarmed, every object in the world gives off some form of infrared radiation, even you!

Have you seen one of those heat maps before where a person glows up red and yellow? This is because the individual is giving off infrared radiation!  

Well, an electric radiant heater uses a heating element to convert electrical energy into heat energy. This radiant heat energy is emitted from the heater and travels until it hits an object.

The heat energy is absorbed by the object (hopefully a person too) and the molecules are excited, being to vibrate and create warmth. 

This is different from an electric fire for example which mainly uses convection heat.

Are electric radiant heaters the same as infrared heaters?

A good question to ask. 

Yes, electric radiant heaters do use a type of infrared radiation. With this in mind, you can say that radiant heaters are the same as infrared heaters. 

Infrared heaters though are usually the name given to a specific type of outdoor heater. 

Indoor electric radiant heaters use a slightly different type of infrared heat. This is called far-infrared or long wave infrared.

Far-infrared is good for indoor use as it produces a gentler, more comfortable warming compared to outdoor heaters that use the more intense near-infrared radiation. 

If you’re thinking that infrared radiation sounds a little scary, you don’t need to worry. Far-infrared radiation is used in many delicate situations, such as baby incubators and is perfectly safe.

It’s worth saying that electric radiators use a combination of convection and radiated heat.

Different types of electric radiant heaters 

wall mounted metal infrared heater
Wall mounted electric radiant heater

Electric radiant heaters can exist around the home in many different forms. 

The most common types of radiant heaters include: wall mounted panel heaters (wall mounted or freestanding), underfloor heaters and ceiling heaters. 

Each type has its own uses and benefits, so let’s take a quick look at each one.

Electric panel heaters

  • Slim and good for smaller spaces or those with limited floor or wall space 
  • Great in bedrooms, bathrooms, conservatories and home offices
  • Can be wall mounted or freestanding 
  • Used as a supplementary or main source of heating 

Underfloor heaters

  • Installed under the floor to provide a consistent ground up heat
  • Great in hallways, bathrooms, kitchens and open plan spaces
  • Helps create a more comfortable environment in large rooms

Electric ceiling heaters

  • Mounted on the ceiling 
  • Great for open plan spaces and large areas
  • Warm up areas quickly
electric radiant ceiling heater
Ceiling mounted electric radiant heater

Benefits of using electric radiant heaters

Each of these types of radiant heaters has its own advantages for the space they are in. 

But there are a number of universal benefits for electric radiant heaters:

  • Energy efficiency – Electric radiant heaters are considered energy-efficient because they convert the majority of electrical energy into heat. However, they may still use a lot of electricity depending on its power and how long you have it on for. 
  • Quick warming time – Electric heaters will warm up quickly.
  • Greener energy – Electricity can be produced from renewable energy and is a better way to be more eco friendly at home.
  • Direct heating – Working as infrared heat, an electric radiant heater will warm you up directly rather than the air around you. This gives you more control of where you want to heat up.
  • Easy installation – Electric radiant heaters are usually easy to install. As most are wired in though, you’ll need a qualified electrician. Freestanding radiants heaters are plug in and go.
  • Safe to use – No harmful emissions and gases being burned. Electric heaters do get hot though so make sure they’re out of the way from young, inquisitive hands. Smart freestanding heaters will automatically switch off if tipped over.
  • Low maintenance – Once installed, electric radiant heaters don’t require much maintenance and are easy to clean,
  • Long lasting – A good electric radiant heater should last you many years of service
  • Styles – These heaters come in a range of modern styles, shapes and sizes. You can even get radiant heating mirrors, towel heaters and picture panels with your own image laid over the top!
  • No noise – Won’t disturb you in your home or if you’re working
freestanding small electric heater
Small freestanding electric radiant heater

Are radiant heaters energy efficient? Do they use a lot of electricity?

Yes electric radiant heaters are considered to be energy efficient. This is because they convert a large percentage of the electrical energy they use into heat energy.

In other words, they are using energy efficiently for the job they’ve been built for. 

In some electric heaters, they can be 100% efficient!

Compare this to wood burners and multifuel stoves where an efficient model operates at a level of around 75% and over. Other heating appliances, such as gas fires, also waste a lot of energy. You can read more on running costs of a gas fire here.

With an electric heater, no energy is lost as light, up the chimney or through ducts. 

Asking whether they use a lot of electricity is a slightly different question. 

Just how much electricity a radiant heater uses depends on the size and power of the appliance, plus the amount of time it’s used for.

portable infrared electric panel heater
Portable radiant heaters from Herschel Infrared

How much do electric radiant heaters cost to run?

Although an electric radiant heater is energy efficient, it may still use a lot of energy. This is particularly true if you have it on for long periods. 

It’s always best to estimate costs with an example.

For example, if I had a 700W electric radiant heater on for an hour, it would cost me around 24p. 

A 1100W heater on for 3 hours a day will cost around £1.12. Quite a big difference with can add up over time and if you have multiple heaters. 

You can get mini under the desk 220W radiant heaters that will be more cost effective to run. If I used a 220W heater under my desk for 2 hours a day, I’d be spending 15p on electricity. If this was the case I wouldn’t be too worried to up my usage on cold days.

Electric fires can also run on low wattage. Check out this article to see the energy use of electric fires for a handy comparison.

You can use this brilliant electricity energy calculator to see how much your specific appliance uses. You just need to know its power in Watts or kiloWatts and how much you use it in minutes or hours.

This calculator is also a good tool to assess how much something might cost you in electricity before you buy. 

under desk electric radiant heater
Under the desk electric radiant heater from Herschel Infrared

Can an electric heater be used to replace central heating?

This depends on a few factors. 

For a fairly large home, I wouldn’t use an electric radiant heater to replace central heating. The space is too big and open for an electric heater to work effectively. 

On the other side, if you’re looking to heat a small apartment or tiny home, an electric radiant heater could do the trick. 

In short it depends on the size of the space, the levels of insulation and the overall temperature you want to reach.

Although they do produce a good amount of heat, the main use of an electric radiant heater is to provide supplementary heating to a specific area, small space or zone. 

Central heating systems, usually powered by oil or gas, are designed to heat multiple rooms and large spaces at once. 

The big difference here is that a central heating system with radiators primarily uses a different type of heat: convection (plus some radiation). Convection helps to warm up the surrounding air which is circulated around a room. This is how electric radiators also work for example.

Although being warmed up directly with infrared heat is nice, it’s also great to have a consistently comfortable air temperature. 

What to consider when choosing a radiant heater

freestanding electric radiant heater in kitchen

Here are a few of the main things to consider if you’re looking to buy a radiant heater.

  • Size of the room – The larger the room, the more powerful a heater is required. For example, if you’re space is over 15m2, you’ll want an 700w electric heater or above
  • Type of heater – Which type of heater will work best in the space you’re trying to warm up? 
  • Safety features – Does the radiant heater come with safety features, such as overheat protection and tip-over protection?
  • Energy efficiency – As these heaters use electricity, and electricity costs are currently high, assessing the energy efficiency of the heater is important
  • Price – This almost goes without saying but you’ll want to select a radiant heater that does the job but comes in within budget
  • Smart features – Does the electric heater come with additional features? Good to have features include a thermostat, timer, remote control, Wifi enabled to allow app management
  • Warranty – A well-known brand with a good warranty will give you peace of mind- with your new appliance
  • Design – Electric radiant heaters come in a range of different designs and styles. Will this fit in with your home or space?
  • Reviews – Check out the latest reviews to see how happy people have been with the product

Before you go…

I hope this article has helped you learn a little more about electric radiant heaters.

These indoor heaters can be a great choice for your space. To maximise their output you’ll want to make sure you have the basics in place such as good insulation and heating saving practices.

For example, if you use a radiant heater in your conservatory, you might want to add some conservatory insulation to use this space comfortably.

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Ben & Murphy Peaks Mam Tor

Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.

Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.