How Infrared Heating Works

Walk out on a hot summer’s day and touch something like the roof of your car or the pavement and you will feel a fair degree of warmth. Most of this is generally thought to be from infrared heat and it is a source of radiant energy that can be used to provide heat for homes and offices. Many people will have come across infrared in the form of specialist cameras that can pick up the amounts emitted by a person’s body.

But this radiation that is invisible to the naked eye has a much wider range of uses in today’s world.

Infrared heaters work differently from the boiler and radiator systems we are used to in that they do not actually warm the air around them but warm up solid objects instead through the radiation they emit. This absorption of heat by objects, including people, rather than heating up the surrounding air provides an entirely different way of warming up a room.

More often used in factories and offices in the past, it has recently come into its own as a way to heat our homes with new infrared panels that can be fixed to walls or made part of furniture.

The discovery of Infrared Heat

Infrared energy was actually first discovered by astronomer and scientist William Herschel in the early part of the 19th Century. It had already been found that light could be split using a prism, the same kind of effect that produces a rainbow, but Herschel took this notion a little further, theorising that the split of light contained different kinds or levels of energy.

By using thermometers with the bulbs ‘blacked out’ he was able to measure each colour of a spectrum and discovered that the temperature increased from violet through to red. The area just beyond the red spectrum produced the most heat in his experiment and this was termed infrared, or ‘beyond red’.

  • It’s thought that some 80% of the sun’s energy is in this area of the spectrum.
  • You can split this into three more subsections called near, middle and far infrared.
  • Infrared energy is invisible to the naked eye unless you have a special camera.
  • We all emit infrared energy and heat which has often been used in healing in the past.

Visible Light Spectrum and Infrared Heating

Infrared has a broad range of uses in today’s world. It is found in the use of night vision cameras and can be used to determine the temperature of surrounding areas. It can be used in various types of imaging including hyperspectral and infrared photography. It can be utilised for tracking objects and is often found in modern day weaponry such as missiles and has a role to play in communications and study areas such as meteorology.

And, of course, increasingly it can be used in heating our homes and offices.

Infrared Heat Generation

There are different types of infrared heating which depend on the wavelength of energy used and the method used to generate it. Infrared heating is quite diverse as it can heat large and small areas and can also provide high temperatures for industry. It originally gained popularity during World War II when it was designed to help dry paint during the manufacturing process. It has developed after that on and off, providing heating systems for both the home and office but has gained more popularity with the growth of greener energy technologies.

The integral part of a number of heaters is a tungsten coil that can be heated to high temperatures but there are a wide variety of methods of actually producing infrared heat. Some systems direct infrared light directly into a room onto an object or area creating heat at that location. Others incorporate an infrared bulb, heat exchanger and use a fan to blow the heat out into a room or location.

Different types of infrared heater include:

  • Metal wire elements made from a chrome and nickel mix.
  • Heat lamps that use an incandescent bulb and red filter to remove visible light.
  • Ceramic and panel infrared heating systems.
  • Far infrared heating systems.
  • Quartz glass heat lamps.
  • Carbon heaters.
  • Luminous/high intensity and radiant tube heaters.

Because of the diverse nature of infrared heating systems which work in slightly different ways, it is difficult to evaluate the overall green credentials of the technology but recent advances mean that many systems, particularly the home and office panels that have been developed, are more carbon friendly than ever before.

Infrared Panels

One of the new developments in heating are infrared panels which many see as far more efficient than normal electric and convection heaters for the home or office. These are normally in the form of a ceramic or glass or mirror panel that can be mounted onto a wall but can also be built into furniture. Infrared panels need to be positioned carefully so that there is nothing blocking the emission from the device but they can also be considered as a part of the décor which makes them more attractive than other heating systems.

Infrared panels are designed to produce heat immediately and many people find them a little less ‘stuffy’ than other forms of heating though they have the one slight disadvantage of losing heat quickly after they are switched off. Overall the advantages far outweigh any possible disadvantages.

Standard convection heater vs infrared heater

Find out about the benefits of infrared heating here.





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