Which is better, gas heating or infrared?

It's no secret that electric heating is more expensive than gas, in the UK the cost of electricity is 10-15p/kWh whereas the cost of gas is just 3.5-4p/kWh, that's at least 3 times cheaper. However, there are far more things to consider when drawing a comparison between home heating systems and you will quickly realise that electricity fuelled heating can, in fact, be much cheaper in the long run.

Maybe it's time to consider a more efficient way to keep warm and upgrade your home in the same way you would upgrade your flooring or insulation-for a better, cleaner, more modern and more efficient central heating system. Infrared heating is rapidly becoming a popular alternative to other conventional electrical heating systems as people recognise the many advantages Infrared has over other types of systems such as cost effectiveness, appearance, thermal comfort and the many health benefits.

Let's have a look at each heating system first, and then we'll compare the two, highlighting the pros and cons for each.

Gas central heating

Of the 27 million homes in Britain, over 22 million use mains gas as their main heating fuel - that's 84% of all homes, making gas central heating the most common heating system in the UK. By comparison, 2.3 million homes are heated by electricity (8.6%), over a million homes by heating oil (4.1%) and the remainder by solid fuel (0.8%) and LPG (0.7%).

Gas is far cheaper per unit of energy than electricity and gas has been up until now, considered the cheapest option if your house is connected to the gas supply network, but not all homes are connected to the national gas grid. When considering getting a gas supply connected to your home you need to consider the following things that might add to the cost of getting connected. If the property had gas at some point in the past, then it is usually pretty straightforward to reconnect your home with a cost of a few hundred pounds.

Are you close to the nearest gas line? If all is needed is a short extension from a neighbouring house, then the cost would be less than a thousand pounds. Getting connected in a rural area away for the existing network could cost thousands of pounds and likewise Apartments and flats above ground floor are expensive to retrofit with a gas line due to issues with gas pressure and having to run through other people's properties.

The average annual cost of using gas for heating and hot water in the UK is £542 based on an annual usage of around 12,000 kWh per year.

Infrared heating

An Infrared heating panel is a radiant heater that will heat both you and the objects in its path such as the furniture, walls and flooring, which in turn absorb the heat and release it slowly.

This also ensures that dampness and mold don't occur and is better in general for those of us that suffer from allergies or are affected by dampness.

The radiant heat produced by infrared heating feels dryer and cleaner, there is no dust circulation, unlike conventional heating like a radiator, a fan heater or a convector heater.

Heating panels can be powered by mains electricity, natural gas or propane with different heaters having different output levels and control systems. Infrared heating can also be powered by renewable sources such as solar panels to produce a more carbon friendly approach making it a fantastic sustainable heating system.

IR heating panels are undoubtedly more stylish and can have additional functions around your home as they come with different finishes such as artwork, glossy white, mirrored or glass which can be a dry-wipe message board, they take up very little room and are easy to install. Panels can also be ceiling mounted which take up no room and prevent the possibility of cold spots.

Let's look at each aspect worth considering when comparing gas and infrared heating systems:

How do they work?

Rather than heating the air by circulating it across a heating element by convection, infrared heaters emit a type of electromagnetic wave that is invisible to the human eye but we can feel as heat directly to the objects in its vicinity- that's you, the furniture, walls and floors. In fact, infrared waves are also known as heat waves, because when an object is encountered with infrared waves, it produces heat due to the vibrations of the atoms and molecules. We encounter infrared waves every day in remote controls, in the heat of the sun's rays and even humans emit infrared radiation! This also means that infrared heating is unaffected by open windows and doors, and can actually allow you to breathe fresh, cool, clean air while still feeling the lovely warm feeling on your skin.

Most people would be familiar with how gas fuelled central heating works. Gas is called a 'wet system' because a gas-fired boiler heats water that is then distributed around the home through radiators and to the hot water taps.

Gas may work well in an area that is well insulated, but infrared heats objects directly so insulation is not a concern, however some insulation will certainly work towards keeping the heat that is absorbed by the objects in the room.

Costs: operating and installation

Gas central heating requires your whole gas boiler system to fire up even if you just need to heat up one room. Even with thermostatic valves on your radiators, the boiler is still required to produce full output just to heat up a few radiators, obviously that simply doesn't make much sense to do.

Infrared heating is highly energy efficient because you can specify which rooms you want to heat, and switch on the panel heater in that room or rooms. This is called Zone heating, whereby you heat certain zones within your home, when and where you need it. Downstairs when only one of you is home, perhaps working in the study or living room, and later upstairs when you are putting the kids to bed.

Zone heating is a very effective way to limit your overall heating cost and it's made possible because infrared heating can be programmed to be whatever temperature at any time in any part of your home. Unlike with gas, where you will typically have one for the whole house.

This means that operating costs are especially lower when compared to other types of home heating, especially gas that needs to be on for a while before you feel real warmth throughout your home.

Compared to another electric heating system, infrared heating panels have a much lower power requirement and therefore lower running cost per hour. A fan or convection heater has a running cost of 28p per hour (on a standard meter) with a 2kW/h heat output compared to an infrared panel which costs 4-11p per hour with a 0.29-0.8 k/h output.

Installation costs are also low, with no plumbing, gas pipework or radiator installation needed. Simply find your nearest plug socket and mount your panel on the wall as you would do your flat screen TV.

What about maintenance?

This leads us to maintenance. An infrared panel heater is virtually maintenance free with no filters or exhausts to keep clean. It is also very durable with excellent life expectancy, on average 100 000 hours or 30 years. A lifespan in which you will probably have replaced your gas boiler a number of times, and had it serviced at least once a year as is recommended, at a cost. Radiators are also a source for issues, can often have air trapped inside them, leading them to be noisy, to be cold in the upper part and hot in the bottom and therefore need to be bled, not a job to be relished.

How soon can you start to feel the heat?

A far infrared heater or panel takes on average 10 minutes to heat up. The warmth is felt in the room relatively quickly, but it's a gradual temperature build-up rather than instant heat. It's best to use a thermostat and also set the Panels can be controlled individually, and some models have wireless programmable controls that allow for areas to be zoned for optimum efficiency and so you can manage what panels are being used when needed.

With convection heating, such as radiators, the air around them has to heat up, rise to the ceiling by convection and is replaced by the lower lying cold air. So, there is a constant movement of cool and warm air which can leave you with inconsistent heat until the entire room has reached a thermal equilibrium. With infrared, because the air does not have to be heated, the heat distribution is consistently the same temperature throughout the room, so no more cold feet!

Furniture placement is a consideration as infrared heaters project heat outwards so it's best not to place furniture directly in front of your panels or too close to them. The best option in many cases is to place them on the ceiling or at picture height, where the infrared rays can be beamed uninterrupted in the direction necessary.

Health Benefits

The level of thermal comfort with infrared heating is very high. Because radiant heating doesn't use the surrounding air to transmit heat, there is an improvement in the air quality within the home. It is a non-drying out type of heat, it doesn't dry out the air in the room but still acts to reduce mold formation because condensation doesn't occur and no dust circulating as can happen with convection heating from a radiator. Infrared heating also improves blood circulation by penetrating our skin and making blood vessels expand which can lead to lower blood pressure.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is always a threat with gas heaters as you are burning fossil fuels, and a detector is essential when using gas to heat your home. Regular maintenance is a must to ensure your gas boiler is operating in the safest possible way with good ventilation. With Infrared panels the only danger is from burning if a panel is touched when it has been running for a while, placing them at picture height on the wall eliminates this risk almost fully as it is out of reach from children and vulnerable people living in the home.

Appearance and noise levels

Infrared heating panels can be discreet or as decorative as you like. Panels are slim and therefore take up no room at all when mounted on your wall at picture height or better still on your ceiling. The panels themselves can blend in with your home décor and be glass, glossy, plain white, mirror or a decorative looking piece of artwork. They are also silent to run so can be placed in a bedroom or office space with no noise. Radiators can make clanking, banging and hissing noises that usually mean your radiators need to be seen to!

Radiators could hardly be described as decorative or discreet, with pipework coming out of them and usually sticking out from the wall in the most inconvenient places, taking up valuable space that could instead accommodate a nice piece of furniture or a bookshelf.

Environmental benefits

The way we are generating, and consuming energy is changing as Britain's climate goals for a net zero target looms. Heating is the largest single source of carbon emissions in the UK, making up more than one third of the total. Mains gas is expected to be gradually phased out as the UK boiler ban comes into effect from 2023 for all new builds in the UK.

In the advent of the search for more green technologies, infrared heating is starting to appear high on the list of heating options. Infrared heat can help to reduce your home's carbon footprint, it is more energy efficient and consumes a lot less power than other types of heating systems. New types of heating systems such as infrared are likely to become cheaper as providers scale up their production in the lead up to the UK's net-zero climate target.

So what are the pros and cons of Gas central heating versus Infrared?

Pros of gas central heating:

  • If you are on the piped network straight to your home you don't have to worry about fuel storage- gas is supplied via the national transmission network.
  • Gas is cheaper per unit of energy than electricity.
  • A standard gas boiler can easily be upgraded to a modern, more efficient condensing boiler, improving your cost efficiency.
  • Gas boilers are more suitable for heating larger homes as they are more powerful than electric boilers.
  • Thermostat- gas heating can be controlled by thermostat to limit heat output when necessary but an infrared heater can also be used in conjunction with a thermostat.

Pros of Infrared Heating

  • Infrared heating is energy efficient with proven savings as much as 50% compared to other conventional heating systems, it is, in fact, proven to be the cheapest type of heating available. Panels can be powered by electricity, but also by renewable resources such as solar energy to produce an even more carbon friendly heating system.
  • Infrared panels are very easy to install, simply need to be mounted on the wall and plugged into a power socket. Once switched on, the heat produced by infrared panels is almost instant.
  • They produce no noise when running so are also perfect for the bedroom and home offices.
  • No annual maintenance costs.
  • No fan or convection circulating dust in the air so are better for your health and particularly for those who suffer from allergies and asthma.
  • They are ideal for poorly insulated spaces due to the fact that the heat produced is not affected by draughts or open windows. In fact, the level of thermal comfort is the same even if you are sitting next to an open window, allowing the air to remain fresh unlike the stuffiness of a room heated by other heating methods.

Cons of gas central heating

  • The initial installation of a gas central heating system for your home can be expensive, particularly if your property is one of the four million UK homes not on the gas network. Plumbing for the radiators is needed, a condensing boiler, heating controls and thermostat, radiators and pipework, not to mention the time involved and the labour cost. The annual cost of running a gas-fuelled system has also to take into consideration an annual service charge and any maintenance that may arise.
  • The price of gas is affected by global supply so can be variable. The UK relies on outside suppliers for around half of its demand.
  • Gas is not considered a clean source of energy; it is a fossil fuel that produces carbon dioxide when burned. Out of the 29 million homes in the UK, only 1 million are currently heated using low-carbon systems. In an attempt to improve the eco standard of housing across the UK, the government is phasing out gas as an option for central heating and plans for eliminating gas heating in new builds completely by 2025.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors should be used with gas heating systems and regular maintenance is recommended in order to ensure they are running safely.

Cons of infrared heating

  • It is necessary to keep the space around the heating panel clear in order for the heat to travel directly to the objects and people in the room. This is also true, however, for conventional heaters whereby you wouldn't ideally place a couch or a bed directly alongside a radiator. The ability to mount the panels on the ceiling or picture height on the wall means that this issue is solved perfectly.
  • Initial cost can be a barrier compared to other heating systems, but in the long term running costs and maintenance are lower and is a cost saving investment like any other.

    The future of home heating

    The UK government is banning gas heating in new build houses by 2025 and has recently announced that the boiler ban date will be brought forward to 2023, to align with its bold net-zero plans for 2050. New homes will be built to the Future Homes Standard and use heat pumps and more energy efficient systems such as infrared to replace gas boilers. So why not get ahead of the curve and install your home with the latest in home heating technology, while at the same time know you are investing in the most cost effective and energy efficient system currently on the market.