Energy crisis: heating with infrared instead of gas?

Status: 09/10/2022 06:20

Because gas and oil are so expensive, many homeowners are considering alternatives for their heating. The installation of infrared heaters is relatively easy. Are they good substitutes?

The walls of his salesroom in Saarwellingen in Saarland are covered with the flat units. Dominik Schmitt from the Saar Energy Center exhibited infrared heaters in all possible versions. Depending on the design, either inconspicuous or strikingly colorful. From photo motifs and a slate look to discreet white panels that are attached directly to the ceiling. There they are almost imperceptible.

Unlike heat pumps, according to Schmitt, the devices are cheap to purchase and can also be delivered quickly. The panels, which weigh three to a maximum of 16 kilos, can also be attached anywhere using a simple bracket. There is no need for water pipes throughout the house, a power connection is sufficient. Depending on whether you use individual panels for additional heat generation, they can also be operated simply via the socket.

A different kind of heat

Unlike a traditional convection heater, which heats the surrounding air, infrared panels radiate their heat throughout the room – similar to a campfire or red light. More and more customers are interested in the systems, says the dealer. Many ordered not only individual elements, but also equipped several rooms with them.

This is also confirmed by Fabian Digel, CEO of Digel Heat. The family business from Baden-Württemberg started producing infrared heating elements in 2006. This year, demand has increased by around 25 percent, he says.

Whether infrared heat can pay off as an alternative to traditional heating systems depends on many factors. It depends on the right number and placement of the panels. Ideally, Digel explains, the systems would be operated in conjunction with their own solar system. But even then, the entrepreneur will be honest, the conversion in some buildings is not worth the effort. Especially in poorly insulated old buildings, the heat loss is too great.

Energy consultants advise against

Efficiency, operating costs, ecological balance – this is where the many unanswered questions about infrared systems begin. Stiftung Warentest recently described the electrically powered heaters as an “emergency solution” should the gas supply fail. To keep power costs under control, it is also recommended to only run the devices when there are people in the room. The Federal Association of Building Energy Consultants, Engineers, Craftsmen (GIH) is also generally skeptical. As a supplement, for example in the bathroom or in highly insulated houses, the electric heaters could still be useful, says Arne Kruft from technical director at GIH. However, they can only be used as a complete replacement for a heating system in rare cases.

Modern heat pumps can generate three to four units of heat from one unit of electricity. With pure electric heaters, the ratio is one to one. The current rising electricity prices have a correspondingly large effect on operating costs.

He can understand people looking for an alternative, especially to gas heating, in the coming winters, says Kruft. However, he personally sees the risk of a power failure as higher than the risk of a gas shutdown. Especially when more and more people use infrared systems or even heater fans to generate heat.

Life cycle assessment depends on the electricity mix

In addition, the CO2 balance is problematic. In the case of infrared heaters, this depends on the energy mix. With the current increasing share of coal as a replacement for natural gas, Kruft even believes that it makes more ecological sense during the winter months to run propane or butane gas heaters on a transitional basis.

The industry association IG Infrared counters this: There is at least a recommendation to integrate infrared heaters into an overall ecological concept, for example with electricity production from a solar cell plant. The energy consumption is also difficult to compare with traditional heating systems. Previous calculation formulas and measurement methods are tailored for convection heat, not radiant heat. It is therefore not yet possible to calculate precisely in which buildings infrared heating is worthwhile and in which it is not.

If you want to use them, you have to take many factors into account, especially in terms of operating costs and the ecological balance. Choosing the right design, as in Dominik Schmitt’s store within the store, should be the least of the problems.

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