February 22, 2010

Don't Waste Money On Overpriced Infrared Heaters

A few weeks back my father bought up the idea of buying an infrared heater.   I didn't know what that was really.   At the time I didn't recall having heard of an infrared heater before, but I had probably just not been paying attention.   Since he mentioned it and I started paying attention I've been seeing ads for infrared heaters all over the place.   They are in print, on TV, on the radio and almost anywhere that ads can be bought.

What are they?

The models being pitched are generally 1000 Watt to 1500W infrared heaters housed in a nice looking wooden cabinet that might look ok in your living room.  They often have a remote control.  Most of the infrared heaters on the market seem to be in the $300-$500 range.  From what I've seen it seems that they are always being sold at a step sales price or factory direct discount.   There are a few vendors out there including Sunheat, Edenpure and Amish heaters to name just a few.

Whats so special about Infrared Heaters?  How do they work?

Infrared heaters are basically large space heaters that heat by radiating infrared light.  The idea if infrared heating is similar to how the suns energy can heat you through its light waves.  The heaters use infrared energy to heat you by radiating invisible infrared light waves. Heating with infrared heat can be more efficient than a standard electric heater because you aren't having to heat the air and are directly heating the occupants and objects in the room.   So theoretically at least an infrared heater should be more efficient form of heat than a traditional electric space heater. 

Can infrared heaters save you money?

The makers of the infrared heaters claim you can save 50% on your heat bills.   That may or may not be true.   Heating with a space heater can save you money.  The idea is to turn down your furnace to something like 50F and then use the space heater to keep your immediate area warm.  I've done this myself in the past.  I would hang out in my study and heat that single room with a space heater and keep my main furnace off.   By doing this you can save money on your heat bills.    But if you have a large house with a few people moving room to room or you yourself frequently visit multiple rooms then attempting to heat one small area with one small heater won't do the same job as a furnace.

Before I stated that infrared heaters should theoretically be cheaper than standard electric heaters.  An irony of the advertising claims of the infrared heaters is that they don't actually benefit from the infrared heat.  The  design of these heaters actually  negates the benefits of infrared heat.   For infrared heat to be beneficial the infrared heat source has to be visible and direct line of sight to what you want to heat.  Think of it like the sun, you want to be in the sun so you don't want the sun to be hidden.   However the way the infrared heat boxes are designed they actually have the heat source inside and then use a fan to recirculate the heat.   That is basically no more beneficial than a standard electric heater.

Another thing to consider is that electricity is often not the cheapest form of heat.  In some markets electric heat can be twice as expensive as gas heat.  So you may be better off using your natural gas heater in general.
While electric heat or electric space heaters may technically be more efficient it is not necessarily less expensive.

These high end infrared heaters seem to provide no special energy saving value over standard electric space heater.   While there is potential energy savings from using a space heater there is no special benefit from using the high priced infrared heaters.

Some Infrared Heaters Have Poor Reviews

I did a quick search for reviews on infrared heaters and the first result I got was for a model called the EdenPURE GEN3 Model 1000 Quartz Infrared Heater at Amazon.    They have 51 reviews and 24 (or 47%) of them are 1 star.  Another 7 reviews (13%) are for 2 stars.   So altogether 60% of reviewers gave the heater 1 or 2 stars.   That is bad.   The complaints from the reviewers generally seemed to deal with low reliability and poor quality.   Consumer Reports also reviewed the EdenPure Gen3 Model 1000 and they didn't seem very impressed with it either.

On the other hand the Amish Heater brand comes out looking a bit better.   The Consumer Reports review title sums up their finding: "Amish heater" does a good job, but don't expect any miracle.   I do think the Amish Heater brand heaters look nice and if a nice looking wood cabinet is worth paying a couple hundred dollars extra then this might be your choice.

The Bottom Line

The infrared heaters that are typically advertised run $300 and up.  Other than having an attractive cabinet they offer no special energy saving benefits that a traditional electric space heater would offer.   On top of that certain models have very poor reviews.  So, I would conclude that the infrared heaters are not worth the cost.

Consider Cheaper Alternatives

The Optimus H-5210 Infrared Quartz Radiant Heater is only $30 and its reviews are very high.   Over 50% of owners gave it 5 stars and 80% of people gave it 4-5 stars. 

They also have an oscillating dish model with remote control:  Optimus H-4438 14-Inch Energy-Saving Oscillating Dish Heater with Remote Control.  It runs about $60 and 4 of 7 reviewers gave it 4 or 5 stars.

Those are just a couple examples.   You can undoubtedly find other low cost infrared heaters on the market.  Or just run down to Home Depot and find yourself a standard electric heater.    

Keep in mind with space heaters that there are safety concerns.   Look for a unit that has automatic safety off and especially look for models with a switch to turn it off if it tips over.

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