Fake Infrared Heating
It’s never pleasant to have to point out the negatives of other products and we try to stay focused on positives here at Ducoterra. But sometimes you just have to stand up and say “Sorry, that’s not really true”, and right now we feel compelled to do that regarding some of the “infrared” heaters coming out on the market. So, what do we mean when we say “fake infrared heating”?
What is Fake Infrared?
Fake infrared heaters are really convection based heaters that claim to be infrared. That’s about as simple as it gets. If the heater you’re looking at has an air-flow grill, a fan, and a heating element, it’s convection forced-air. End of story. How the air gets heated, whether it’s a quartz lamp, or a ceramic-copper hybrid, or a metal coil, it doesn’t matter. The hot components heat up the air inside the unit and then that heat is pushed out through the grill and into the room. A little bit of infrared may leak out – you can take a IR heat gun, point it at the top end of a in-wall heater, and register around 200F – the right temperature for generating far infrared heat. But that’s such a small surface area, and generally located in a poor location, such as in a wall in the room, that, let’s face it, it’s not the primary component of the heater.
The manufacturers of these fake infrared heating systems know it too. That’s why they talk about the fans in their units and how good they are. One fake infrared site talks about their “ball-bearing scroll fan”, designed to be the “quietest and most durable” on the market. It’s “designed to move the most amount of air possible with the least amount of noise.” Boy, that sure sounds like a convection heater to me!
Here’s the heart of it: Infrared heating works like any other electromagnetic wave – in a straight line from the source. We mount lights on the ceiling because the light (a electromagnetic wave with just a slightly shorter wavelength than infrared) is able to reach everywhere in the room without blockage. This is the same reason that we recommend installing our infrared panels on the ceiling – they’re able to reach everywhere in the room. You’ll notice that fake infrared heating sites usually show their units in the standard cadet wall heater installation location.
Over The Top Claims
Another common thread between many manufacturers of infrared based heating systems (and this includes fake infrared heating and true infrared heating alike) are a whole host of wild claims, such as:
- the infrared rays cause “…toxins to be dropped off into the blood stream and excreted in sweat, feces, and urine.” Our searches of medical research databases like PubMed don’t find anything backing these claims up, nor do their proponents offer any such proof or mechanistic explanation.
- “FIR rays promote bioprocesses such as increased metabolism and blood circulation” – our metabolism and blood circulation increases when we are warmer versus when we are colder. Has nothing to do with FIR – just means you’re getting warmer! A thorough review of medical research papers finds nothing that supports this idea, at all.
- Claiming more BTUs than possible for the wattage – This one is a bit rarer, but we do see it. Unless the company has found a way to make energy from nothing, they’re lying. If it’s the truth, they should be receiving a Nobel Prize for turning physics on its collective head!
Stretches of the imagination aside, we think it’s better to focus on what we know infrared radiant heat really does.
What’s the Real Deal Behind Infrared Heating
True infrared heaters will have large surface areas that get hot and emit infrared, or feature some sort of collector dish (eg parabolic heaters). Infrared heat in the range of 6-15 microns is especially good for transferring heat to people, because at that level it’s intense enough reach us, but not so much as to be damaging. Additionally, human tissue absorbs the energy effectively in this range of the spectrum. Our heaters, depending on their specific watt density and environment, reach surface temperatures between 170 and 240 F. Here’s that range spectra:
And yes, getting your heat from an infrared source as well as a convective source is more similar to our natural environment – outside! That’s likely a big part of the reason why you feel your most comfortable when you get your heat from both an infrared source and a convective source – it’s more similar to the environment we evolved in. And being more comfortable is a pretty good result, on its own.
Moving on from the heat-human connection to efficiency concerns, there are good reasons infrared is more efficient than convection based systems. Primarily this is because you heat the people and objects in the room, not the air, reducing your heat loss through the building envelope (see my other blog posting on efficiency that goes into this in more detail). It also lends itself very well to zoned systems, since its localized installation and rapid response time combine to make it very effective in a zone configuration. The heat is more evenly distributed and there are no losses due to duct-work.
One of the other great features of infrared is the fact that it doesn’t rely on moving air around. As a result, there are some great benefits that follow from this fact. Infrared systems don’t circulate air through dirty ducts, helping with indoor air quality. There’s no sound from a fan or moving air making for a quieter environment. And since you aren’t trying to heat up a bunch of air, you get the warming effects much more rapidly than with convection heat – once the panel is at operating temperature in a few minutes, you’ll be feeling warmer!
What’s the take away?
Infrared isn’t a panacea – like most technologies, it has its weaknesses. Its environmental impact is tied to where you get your electricity from, and it doesn’t perform its best when there are significant line of sight issues (bed lofts with desks underneath come to mind as a challenge). Those quibbles aside though, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s easy to get excited about infrared heat – there are so many positive aspects to it! And anyone who has had the opportunity to spend time in a room heated via infrared panels will attest to how fantastic the quality and feel of the heat is. Still, we try and keep a level head on our shoulders about our technology because making wild claims can be harmful to our industry. Nobody likes to find out they’ve been lied to and companies spreading misinformation about infrared end up hurting the entire industry when they do so, as it casts doubt on the veracity of the real benefits.
Ducoterra’s technology, and our claims, are grounded in a solid, science and evidence-based approach that leverages scientific principles in the design and production of our heaters while confirming assumptions with rigorous testing. We consult with PhDs in materials sciences when looking at new components. We use our own heaters to heat our manufacturing facility and offices. We test and compare our heaters with market alternatives in a calorimetric test chamber. We listen to our customers feedback and incorporate that information into the product updates. We do all these things to help insure that we are producing a fantastic product that will benefit you and your family.