While looking up heating and cooling methods, I came across far-infrared heating panels. These panels could be significantly more effective than other types of home heaters because of the heating process they use, and could have timing advantages that help cut energy costs as well. Several manufacturers are making these panels, but they don’t seem like they’re well known to homeowners right now; however, it does look like the transportation industry is aware of their advantages.

The main benefit of far-infrared heating panels stems from the difference between conduction and convection. Typically, heaters use convection to heat up the air. But this results in heat losses because hot air rises, and hot air can also leak through gaps in insulation and open windows and doors. Conduction, on the other hand, involves direct heat transfer between two objects. The far-infrared heating panel beams infrared energy at couches, chairs, and other objects in the room, heating the objects instead of the air. Prestyl USA, a Simi Valley-based heating panel manufacturer, explained in a brochure that convection heating can result in losses of as much of 50%-70% of the heat energy in tall buildings.

In addition to this, a major issue for conservationists right now is peak electricity demand. When lots of people get off work at the same time, their cars jam the freeway and energy use spikes when they get back home and turn on their appliances. Dealing with the energy spike is challenging for power companies, so they charge higher rates for power during peak demand periods. Some consumers may find it worthwhile to pay higher rates for electricity to turn on the heater on a cold day. But far-infrared heating panels can help homeowners deal with demand-based pricing as well. The Prestyl brochure also explains that the panels can heat up furniture and other objects at night, when electricity rates are lower, so they’re warm in the morning.

ThermIQ, a Dutch heating panel manufacturer, explained a few other benefits of far-infrared heating panels. On its website, the company explained that the heating panels are good for stable owners because they can maintain a steady temperature for the horses, and since the panels heat the horse directly instead of heating up the air this limits the growth of harmful microorganisms as well. This benefit seems like it deserves much more attention – if far-infrared heating panels result in less growth of harmful microorganisms versus traditional heaters, the panels could appeal to homeowners as a health product in addition to reducing the electricity bill. ThermIQ also explains that the panels work well with solar panels and other home-based power generation equipment, since the panels can convert electricity to heat for other appliances, providing an alternative to selling electricity back to the power company.

The panels are also easy to set up and last a very long time; they don’t have moving parts and are often installed in train cars, some of which remain in service for several decades. Other mass transportation vehicles, such as passenger ships and airplanes, also use far-infrared heating panels. So widespread commercial adoption has already happened. Far-infrared heating panels also serve as room decorations; several manufacturers sell panels with overlays that look like paintings, and it’s possible to customize panels with artwork selected by the buyer. Deshine Technology Corporation, another panel manufacturer, has a variety of panel overlays on its website.

So what’s the catch? Far-infrared heating panels carry a significant upfront cost. After looking at price listings on several websites, the panels were frequently selling for $300-$500 each, with larger panels costing as much as $1000. So installing enough panels to heat up an entire house could cost several thousand dollars, while a low-end space heater might cost $15. Upfront costs might not be a big deal for airlines and passenger train operators, but for a homeowner paying several hundred dollars for each panel could be an issue. A search for rebates on far-infrared heating panels didn’t turn up anything, but going by the rationale for rebates on Energy Star appliances like washing machines and refrigerators, rebates could be justified here as well.

Even without rebates, it seems like far-infrared heating panels will pay off in the long term, although they do come with a sizable upfront cost. The decorative aspect also holds appeal, as wall paintings look much better than space heaters. And if the lack of air heating results in less harmful microorganism growth in the home, panels could gain significant attention as a health product.