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What are Radiant Heaters?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Radiant heaters are electric heaters that generate heat using infrared waves. They are a good solution for people looking for an immediate heat source, as opposed to warm air heaters, which have a relatively long lag time between activation and the area reaching the desired temperature.

Some heating systems work by first heating up a large space of air, which in turn heats up the structure itself, as well as objects and people within the space. The air takes a while to become warm enough to convey the heat directly to people in the room, depending on the size of the space to be filled, the insulation of the structure, and the temperature setting of the heater. These types of heater can work well over a longer period of time or if the air in an entire building must be heated.

When the goal is more immediate heat, however, and an individual person is using the heater, radiant heaters are often the preferable solution. They send out infrared radiation — similar to how our sun transfers its energy to the earth — which is not absorbed by the air as it passes through it. When these infrared waves strike an object, some of the heat is reflected, but the bulk is immediately absorbed. This means that a person sitting in front of an infrared heater will feel the heat virtually from the moment the device is turned on.

Because of the nature of their heat, radiant heaters have a number of other benefits. Since they don’t move air like a typical heater, they don’t disturb dust or send out strong odors, making them preferable for those with dust allergies or who dislike the smell of some more traditional heating sources. These heaters usually achieve their full heat within about five minutes, and they are quite energy efficient when compared to many other heating options. Because the heat is reflected and absorbed as it contacts objects, the warmth produced tends to be very uniform, without pockets of very hot or very cold air.

Radiant heaters are available in both mounted and portable varieties. Many companies specialize in installing a full radiant heating system throughout a house, with controls that allow for multi-zone heating and very precise climate control. Portable varieties range widely in how much heat they produce, from small units intended simply to warm a single person, to larger units meant for use in a large room.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon307672 — On Dec 06, 2012

I noticed the words infrared radiation are not in the manual or on the device I bought. The only description is 'Radiant Heater'. How can I be sure the type of radiation is infrared when in most devices the term 'infrared' is not used.

By MargoAZ — On Jul 15, 2012

Don't let the word radiation scare you. It's the good radiant heat like from the sun. No harmful UV rays, just the good healing rays. Depending on the wattage of the heater, that is what determines the efficiency. They do get hot, but have a mesh guard to keep it from being a fire hazard - read the instructions that come with the heater for more information. I have a Rā-Key, the Radiant Keyboard, Mouse and Desktop Heater to keep my hands warm when on the computer.

By desertdunes — On Dec 29, 2009

OK, the word "radiation" kind of worries me. Are these things really safe? Do they get hot like the space heaters and therefore a potential fire hazard?

If they are safe, are they cheaper to run than a couple of the warm air Space Heaters?

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