Radiant Heaters Versus Convection Heaters: What's the Difference?

When purchasing a space heater, the abundance of options can be overwhelming. Electric heaters and radiant heaters, also called infrared heaters, are the most common types of space heater. Portable space heaters can be used as an alternative or supplement to ordinary thermostat heating. Space heaters are becoming more prominent thanks to the recent "go green" ethos sweeping retail today. They are two classes of the same appliance, but the key difference is the way they heat.

Convection Heater

Radiant Heater

Convection Heater

Radiant Heater

What is a Convection Heater?

A convection heater (also known as a forced air system) is probably the most common type of heating system.  Most portable space heaters, including oil filled radiator heaters and ceramic heaters, are also considered convection heaters.  Convection heaters provide heat by blowing or pulling air over a heated surface.

What is a Radiant Heater?

A radiant heater (also sometimes called an infrared  or quartz heater) delivers the source of heat to the floor level, not the ceiling. Radiant energy is the oldest form of heating used to provide comfort and is the basis for all heating systems. Radiant energy is absorbed by an object without physical contact with the heat source or by heating the surrounding air, as is the case with convective, forced air systems.


Convection Heaters

Radiant Heaters

How They Work: Warm air circulates to fill the ambient air Emits warmth from a heated surface, which transmits to other objects via direct contact
Best For: Air tight, enclosed, non-drafty rooms and rooms with low/average ceiling heights Wide open spaces, drafty, or non-insulated rooms and rooms with high ceilings
Frequency of Heating: Best for rooms that need constant, long-term heat Best for rooms that need shorter bursts of immediate heat
Alternative Idea: If you live or work with people who run at a higher temperature than you, add an electric heater under your desk to keep toasty Use in a bathroom because radiant heat can't lost through the exhaust fan

Which Heater is Right for Me?

The benefits of getting radiant or convection heaters are even more apparent when compared to using a central heating system. They use less energy and can noticeably lower your heating expenses. In particular, radiant heaters are noted for being the most energy efficient of the two types.

Radiant heaters heat spaces by using electricity to warm a filament, which emits heat via direct infrared radiation. In a nutshell, they warm other objects by touching them. This means that radiant heaters aren't dispelling hot air into the ether which isn't needed.

What About Noise Levels?

Overall, convection heaters are louder than radiant heaters because of the way they heat air and because electric heaters often use fans. Especially if you are looking for a space heater for a bedroom or workspace, check the specifications which often list in decibels how loud their heaters run.

Energy Saving Tips

Whether you choose a radiant heater or convection heater, you can save money by making sure your heater has the right features.  To optimize energy/money saving opportunities, look at the following things when choosing your heater:

  • Output settings, which allow you to specify how much air is being released. Presets like low, medium, high are good, but for the best calibration choose a device with a thermostat.

  • Timers, to ensure heaters aren't left on when they aren't in use

  • Appropriate Strength, your heater should use 100W per square meter of floor. Anything more than that is overkill and wastes electricity.

  • Safety Devices, to prevent accidents. Look for a space heater that automatically shuts off when it's tipped over

Heater Buying Guide


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