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Infra-Red Heaters

This style of heater works on the principal of infra-red radiation just like the sun only without the ultra-violet radiation, so you won't get a sun tan from working under one of these heaters. This style of heater uses a 4" diameter tube with a reflector over the tube much the same as florescent lighting. There is a gas burner at one end and an exhaust termination at the opposite end of the tube. Tube heaters can range in length from 10 feet to 70 feet and BTU ratings from 40,000 to 200,000 BTU's. At my last count there were about 12 different manufacturers fabricating their own version of the product which is testament to the popularity of this form of heating. There are two basic types of infra-red heaters. One uses an open flame visible from floor level and concentrates a large amount of heat in a small area. This unit is a "High Intensity" infra-red heater and does not have a chimney. The products of combustion from this style vent into the work space and are exhausted by a wall or roof fan that is interconnected to the heaters. The open flame of this style limits the applications and is therefore not as popular as the other style, referred to as a tube heaters. Tube heaters can be used almost in any application including requirements for closed flame or "sealed combustion" such as woodshops or spaces where volatile or combustible liquids are used or stored. This is a popular choice for landlords as it permits a wider range of possible tenants. Infra-red heat, heats objects, not air and therefore the opening of a shipping door does not cost you all the heat that is lost with a suspended unit heater. All the heat with tube heaters is concentrated in the floor slab, inventory stored in the area and / or the machinery at floor level and not up at the ceiling like with suspended unit heaters. The efficiency is higher with this style of heater and savings from 33% to as much as 50% can be realized over suspended heaters. Combustion air can be ducted directly to the burner from outdoors (required in sealed combustion applications) which means there is no wasted energy from chimneys and no change in the building pressure. Because this system operates like the sun, if you are outside of the area focused by the reflector it is like stepping into the shade outdoors. This fact means you can heat a tiny little area of a large warehouse to 70 degrees and have the rest of the area at freezing temperatures. In fact you can have many areas under the same common roof at different temperatures. You could not achieve this with suspended unit heaters that heat only the air as the heated air will migrate to the colder zones. This fact alone is why the savings are so great with tube heaters. A typical tube heater will use a motor rated for about 1/15th horsepower to propel the gas flame through the tube versus a motor rated for 1/3 to 1/2 horsepower for a unit heater. This saves a considerable amount of hydro costs. There is no air movement with tube heaters as there is no fan to blow the heat around like with unit heaters so dust control and air quality becomes easier. Tube heaters do not have to be installed in a straight line for the entire length of the heater. Once past the first 20 feet the tube can be turned 90 degrees or 180 degrees to concentrate more heat in one area such as a shipping bay. The exhaust can be terminated through the roof or a nearby sidewall. Tube heaters generate a fraction of the noise of unit heaters and are virtually maintenance free by comparison. The reflectors on tube heaters can be angled to increase the base area of coverage and are even used in arenas to keep spectators comfortable right at ice level. We have customers that cure manufactured concrete wall sections with infra-red heaters. Like sunlight, darker objects in the path of the light rays will absorb more heat than a lighter object, so floor coloring is important. The best example of this is a black car and a white car parked beside each other on a sunny day. The black car will get hotter and absorb more energy. The following is a recap of the benefits and features of tube heaters.

  • Higher efficiency, over 90% and fuel savings up to 50%
  • No air movement therefore reduced circulation of dust and odors
  • Reduced hydro costs to operate versus unit heaters
  • Greater ceiling clearance versus unit heaters
  • Sealed combustion for more applications in rental spaces
  • No change in building pressure
  • Reduced noise levels
  • Able to heat a small area versus an entire warehouse
  • Heat is retained in objects and floor not the air that reduces recovery time when overhead doors are opened
  • Payback in fuel savings over unit heaters
  • Reduced heat stratification, heat is at the floor not the ceiling
  • Virtually maintenance free
  • Will qualify for energy rebate from the gas company
Drawback... yes there is one. The up front installation cost is about 25% more in new construction and about 35% more in a retrofit when changing from unit heater to tube heater. Most of this cost is in adding a second roof opening for the exhaust or combustion air and rental cost of a scissor lift for the installation. It is this writers recommendation that infra-red tube heaters are the way to go for comfort, efficiency and long term economy.


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