Heating Options: Infrared!

Written by  //  May 30, 2012  //  biz  //  3 Comments

Although it’s about as basic as human needs get, choosing heating for your home is far from being just a functional consideration. Warmth is, of course, a feeling.

No matter what your criteria – the initial outlay, running cost, maintenance, appearance or effect on the environment, there may not be a product that suits your needs in every respect, and therefore an innovation in the heating market is always welcome.

And here it is: infrared heating. Infrared has been used for heating in the past as  medically therapeutic heat treatments and space heaters but these were short wave emitters that used a lot of electricity. They acted like other electric radiators, emitting light as well as intense heat that could burn anything that got too close. Like the washing. The cat’s fur. Or one of the kids in their cotton pyjamas.

This new product emits “far infrared” waves using low watt emitters. The heating panels remain at a relatively low temperature while producing a consistent, radiant warmth. Infrared heating does not heat the air in the room, rather the walls, furniture and people in the room which then continue to radiate warmth. The heating panels do not produce light or any other indication of heat. In essence, far-infrared produces an invisible, gentle ambient heat, efficiently and safely.

Another unique quality of far-infrared heating is its perceived low toxicity as it does not produce fumes, smoke and doesn’t burn dust or dirt the way other heating devices do. Infrared heat is much touted for its health benefits with other products using far infrared for therapeutic applications such as in saunas.

But does it really work? Will it make the house cosy, free from cold spots without suffocating us? Efficient… but is there a genuine cost saving?

Raiz Verde loaned us one of their First heating infrared panels for testing.

Our new wood burner is a Solzaima Orion which has a nominal power output of 9.5 kW and burns 2.3 kg of wood per hour. It cost €800 plus €1200 for installation. It has produced excellent results, heating the room quickly and sustaining the heat overnight. But is does require a lot of work of the chopping, lugging and cleaning up variety. I’d estimate this to be the equivalent of an hour a day. From the cellar I dragged up last year’s 2.4 kW oil radiator, bought at a cost of about €100 and costing a small fortune to run. It was never quite adequate in heating the house but it kept me alive. For the tests we ran the heater at the highest point on the medium setting, in an attempt to make it compare with the output of the infrared panel. These are our comparison devices.

The First heating panel we had is 1500 kW and costs €450 for a 60×90 model matte black panel with silver frame. There are a lot more options available than this, ranging from €250 – €750.

Heating up the room

Instant satisfaction is not the most sensible measure of good heating but when you are cold and you need to get warm, speed is important. The wood burner, loaded with 2.3 kgs of wood and kindling feels warm within five minutes and skin baking within 10. The room temperature increases by one degree every half hour.

The infrared panel takes slightly longer to give radiant satisfaction but within 10 minutes it will take the cold from your bones, and you can sit right up against it. Surprisingly for the mild intensity of the panel the room temperature increases one degree in the first hour.

The oil heater is the snail of the race and doesn’t really heat up for 30 minutes. There’s no change in the room thermometer after an hour.

After 4 hours, the wood burner has achieved an increase of 5º in room temperature, and the heating panel 3º. The oil heater has lifted the room only 1.5º.

At this point the wood burner’s heat feels well distributed throughout the room. The heating panel’s heat is more concentrated near the panel itself, as is the oil heater, whose heat you can barely feel 5 metres away.

After 8 hours the results are quite different. The heating panel has maintained a steady room temperature 3.5º above the starting temperature but the room feels more evenly heated and comfortable. The wood burner maintains the rooms at 4.5º-5º and we are using no more than 2 kilos of wood an hour. The oil heater maintains the room at 2º above the original temperature and the room temperature is almost even.

I would expect the results to be more impressive after 24 hours as longer the time the infrared runs the more efficient it becomes. Once objects in the room become warm, they serve to complement the heat emitted by the device. The heating panel is controlled by a thermostat, which you haven give a pre-designated temperature. The panel switches off as the room reaches the required temperature. On the contrary, the wood burner continues to burn firewood at a minimum rate, regardless of the room temperature – therefore we waste wood just to keep the fire alive when we don’t necessarily need more heat.

Operating costs

The first 8 hours of heating are the most inefficient – theoretically once the room is warm you would turn down the heating. The First heating panel is designed to be left on all the time, and because it’s controlled by a thermostat, and presents no fire hazard, this needn’t be anything to worry about.

In the first 8 hours the First heating panel used 9 kWh. But it will only draw this maximum level of power for about the first 36 hours of use. After that the objects in the room are warm, and the thermostat switches off. If the panels are left on, to be controlled by the thermostat, the panels will only draw approximately one third of the initial power when the temperate drops below what’s been programmed – for the next six months.  So, the first day it will cost €3.76 and the second day, €2.50 and then every day after that €1.25. In 6 months it’s a total of €229.

Raiz Verde tested the panels and created this comparison chart

The oil heater used 19.65 kWh- despite being on the medium setting the heater still pulled almost the maximum wattage it’s capable of. If used for 12 hours a day at 13.93 cents / kWh, that’s an alarming €4.10 a day. For six months that’s €739. And it wasn’t even adequately heating the room.

Energy prices are never going to go down, so the ongoing cost of your heating appliance is more important a consideration that the initial outlay. Certainly the cost of running a normal electric heater makes the initial price of the infrared panel look perfectly reasonable.

Over 8 hours the wood burner used 12 kilos of firewood, which is about one eighth of a cubic meter which might cost about €3.75 euros if I bought it from my neighbour. Which would still be very expensive heating, except that we get our firewood for free.

The wood burner also runs two fans but at 8 watts each the power consumption is negligible.

In CO2 emissions the oil heater produces approximately 15.5 kilos of CO2 a day, the wood burner is carbon neutral (Solzaima even plant a tree for every recuperador they sell) and the infrared panel produces 4.8 kilos of CO2.

Apparently it takes 5 trees to offset every tonne of CO2. The oil heater will cost you 14 trees every year, the infrared only 4 trees, and the wood burner the equivalent of how many you’ve chopped down to burn. I don’t know what worries me more about the oil heater, the €739 or the 14 trees :-/

Ease of installation and use

The wood burner’s installation took 4 days with 2 crew. It’s a professional builder’s job, and you need an electrician as well. The stove itself weighs almost 100 kg.

The infrared heating panel doesn’t require professional installation but it’s worthwhile seeking professional advice about its position in the room. Otherwise it’s simply plugged into a power point and away you go.

The programmable thermostat is ridiculously complex and the instruction manual couldn’t sustain my interest long enough to conquer it. However, the manufacturer says they are working on it and they also offer a basic model for which the consumer can buy their own controller, thereby giving them a choice.

Aside from my technical shortcomings, from the overview of the user’s guide the thermostat programmer is a very useful device, enabling you to fine tune your heating needs and save money in the process. One thermostat can be used to control up to 10 panels.

Appearance

Our heating panel was black, like a switched off monitor. So it looks somewhat ominous hanging on the wall. Fortunately there are other decorative options – either choose from their selection of pop-art or, what I would do, supply your own artwork. Photography for example. The latest models of the panel don’t have a frame and from the brochure, they look pretty cool.

The panels also come in a mirrored surface, which would look good in a living room but also be very useful in a bathroom as, when it’s on, it would never steam up.

Not much beats fire for cosiness though, and the wood burner looks great and creates a beautiful ambience. By comparison the infrared panel seems cold. It’s not as bad as the oil heater which is just plain ugly.

Effectiveness

The Infrared panel created far more heat than I expected, but we didn’t have the right sized panel for our space, and it didn’t quite heat the room adequately. Two panels would be enough. The panels come in a range of sizes, so it’s worth talking to the supplier and putting some thought into what’s going to work in the space you have.

The wood burner creates more heat than we need, which is good because we can direct the extra heat to other rooms via its built-in ducts. The oil heater is completely inadequate.

Recommended use

I think infrared panels would work well in more compact spaces where it could be directed to specific living areas. In open spaces, more than one panel is needed.

They would be great in modern apartments or in any environment where clutter and mess wanted to be avoided. If mounted on the wall as intended, they take up no floor space. The cleanliness and zero maintenance factor of the panels is very attractive, as well as their impressive cost efficiency and low environmental impact.

The heat emitted by the panels is very comfortable. It’s a soft warmth which I far prefer to the intense and dry heat produced by a wood burner. As someone with a winter skin problem caused by artificial heating, I’d recommend Infrared heating to others affected by dry skin or other skin problems.

The panels are designed for wall mounting, but there’s also a stand available so you can rest them on the floor or move them around. We sit at computers all day and it’s good to have warm feet, so this option makes a lot of sense. Also, the panels are really nice to sit up against. Excellent therapy for a sore back after too long at the office, as well as being more easily exploitable by the cats.

http://www.raizverde.pt/

3 Comments on "Heating Options: Infrared!"

  1. Denise Rousseau May 31, 2012 at 12:29 am · Reply

    Thanks Emma, very useful comparative summary. We were already intending to heat the house with thermostat controlled panels, but this analysis seals the deal. Since we won’t be resident year-round until retirement, we hope the panels will be a good way to keep the house just warm enough to keep out the mold and damp when we are away. And if PV installations continue to drop in cost, we might eventually get EDP to pay us instead….

    • Mrs Spownall June 1, 2012 at 10:20 am · Reply

      yes indeed – portuguese house mold fungum ibericas domesticadus is a pernicious beast.

  2. Geoff Wulff November 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm · Reply

    Hi Emma

    Wow this is something which I had never heard about, we are thinking very seriously indeed about retiring to Portugal from Kent, though we are from Cape Town originally…

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