How Does Infrared Heat Work? Why It’s Unique

infrared heaters on brown ceiling underneath covered patio with couch and TV

If you’ve been looking for a space heater for inside your home, or an alternative to propane heaters outdoors, you’ve likely come across infrared heaters.  But what are infrared heaters and how does infrared heat work?  In this article we will review these two burning questions, and help you determine if infrared heat is ideal for your application.

What Is Infrared Heat Used For?

When considering how does infrared heat work, the first question you need to ask is what am I trying to heat?  Follow this question up with where am I trying to heat?  Perhaps you are trying to heat your garage so you can work on your car in winter. Or, maybe you’re heating up your covered patio so you can have a meal on a chilly fall day. Infrared is likely perfect for what you’re trying to do.  Likewise, maybe you are looking to replace your aging space heater. Lastly, maybe you’d like to add another under your desk at work. All of these result in infrared is an excellent solution.

How Does Infrared Heat Work?

Infrared is unique among heat sources.  It heats much like the sun, but doesn’t contain UV rays which cause skin cancer and tanning.  This means you and the surfaces around you, the floor and the walls which are in contact with the infrared radiation emitted from the heater heat up.  The strange part of an infrared heater is there is almost no heating of the air.  Unlike propane heaters and fire pits which create hot air from combustion, an infrared heater relies solely on radiant heat.  

The radiant heat is produced by infrared light bulbs or radiation emitters.  This light is in the infrared spectrum. And, as such has the added benefit of heating what comes into contact with it.  Infrared heaters are powered by electricity. When considering an infrared heater, you will need to weigh the electricity demands with your current electrical load panel.  Oftentimes when installing an overhead permanently installed infrared heat system, you will need to employ an electrician. They will be able to provide new wiring to accommodate the load safely.  

Infrared heat is an efficient way to heat. However, it does use a significant amount of electricity to accommodate the radiation emitting bulbs.  Though the load is nothing like what is required for comparable electrical resistance heat, you still need to take it into account when choosing and specifying your infrared heat system.

large outdoor patio showing how does infrared heat work with two heaters facing down heating a living area with gray couch and brown table

How Is Infrared Heat Different Than Other Heat Types?

Now that we’ve answered how does infrared heat work, what makes infrared heat special?  Why would I want to install an infrared heat system in my home?

The feeling of an infrared heater is much like the feeling of being in the sun. This is one reason infrared heat has become a standard in home saunas.  Massive amounts of heat are possible with radiant heat, and unlike electrical resistance heat which relies on heating up wires by overloading them with electrical current, infrared heat is far safer for use indoors and out.

Yes, you need to take into consideration the electrical wiring demands. However, once your infrared heat system is installed, you can provide heat with the flip of a switch.  There is no risk of running out of propane. Additionally, there’s no fear of carbon monoxide buildup like there is with a fossil fuel heat source. Though you still need to be cognizant of flammable items being near your infrared heater, the risk of fire is drastically lowered.  Make sure you read the installation and owners manuals. They will teach you about the required clearances with any heat source you bring into your home or use in your garage our other spaces.  

How Does Infrared Heat Work Summary

In conclusion, we hope this explanation for how does infrared heat work has helped you understand a little more about why you should consider infrared heat, and what it can do for you and your lifestyle.  If you want to know more about infrared patio heaters and want some assistance in choosing one for you, check out our best electric patio heaters guide here.