Infrared vs Convection Heaters: Pros, Cons, & Recommendations

Researched & Written by Craig

We all know the fear when it comes to space heaters.

You turn it on, everything gets warm, and it feels great… until you see the electric bill!

A good space heater can make all the difference to our comfort – but it’s important to get the right one for your space. After all, you’ll likely be using it for months.

Infrared heaters silently warm up objects and people. They’re more expensive to buy but cheaper to run. Convection heaters warm up the air; this heat can be lost through a draft or open door. Convection is cheaper upfront, but expensive to run. See below for comparisons and recommendations.

Infrared vs Convection Heaters: Pros & Cons

Sometimes the best way to compare two options is to weigh up their pros and cons. I’ve listed all major points for both heater types below.

Pros Cons
Electric Convection Heaters
Cheaper - With such a mass-manufactured product, there's tons of competition which means cheap prices. Great if you're looking for a quick bit of extra heating power. Quick Heat Loss - Since these heaters rely on spreading heat through the air, any bad insulation or drafty windows will make you lose the heat fast.
Faster - Electric fan heaters heat up a room in minutes. Their fans quickly spread the heat throughout the air of the space. Higher Bills - Due to the quick heat loss, standard electric heaters need to provide higher heat for longer - costing more energy.
More Options - There are thousands of thousands of models to choose from. You're more likely to find a model that is perfect for your taste. Noisy - Especially for heaters with fans, there's always some level of noise associated with standard electric heaters.
Safer for Kids - Most standard fan heaters aren't overly hot to the touch, and the noise makes it more obvious that it's on (and hot!) Inaccurate - Unless you've got a real high-end model, standard convection heaters aren't as good at keeping one constant temperature. They typically end up going a bit too hot or not hot enough, and need you to fiddle with the controls every so often
- Bad for Allergies - Lastly, all that air movement brings up dust and allergens into the air.
Infrared Heaters
Cheap to Run - Infrared heaters are typically the cheapest type of heater to run. They use less watts in general, and don't need to work extra hard if a space is draughty. Only on/off - One downfall of infrared heaters is you can't quiet control the temperature. It's typically either just on or off, and with only 2 or 3 power settings. This can make things tricky if you're really looking for a perfect room temperature.
Silent - Aside from some heating noise on start-up, infrared heaters are mostly silent. Perfect for bedrooms. Can get hot / kids touch - Lastly, these guys do get really hot when on high power. If you've got any kids or curious pets, be careful! A great alternative is having them on the wall, out of reach of inquisitive hands/paws.
Heat Lasts - Since they heat objects and not the air, a cool breeze or an open door won't mean you lose all of that heat.
Wall Options - There's tons of creative options for infrared heaters. The latest take are simple, minimalistic panels that sit on the wall and gently heat the whole room. They can even come as art pieces, or mirrors!
Gentle, instant heat - One of the most satisfying things about these heaters is that they're both instant, but gentle. When you turn them on you feel the heat immediately, but that same heat doesn't then get too much (since the objects are warm, not the air).

Infrared vs Convection: Detailed Comparison

Let’s dive into some details. Below I’ve compared each heater type for each of the main aspects of a good heater. Try to consider which aspects are most important to you. By knowing this, it can make it clearer which type of heater will be better for you, personally.

Price

Typically, a standard convection heater will cost less than a standard infrared heater. For a basic model to ‘get the job done’, you’re looking at $40-$70 for a convection heater, but $60-$140 for an infrared.

Cost to Run

Running costs is where things go beyond the basics. Out of all space heaters, infrared are the cheapest to run. The type of heat produced uses much less electricity than that of a convection heater.

So while they may cost more upfront, infrared heating will save you money in the long run.

Want to know more? Check out our guide to the cheapest type of electric heaters to run.

Type of Heat

These two heaters produce heat differently.

Convection heaters heat up the air. They use a heating element to diffuse heat into the air around them, and a fan to circulate the warm air throughout the room. This is great for an enclosed, insulated space with minimal ventilation. However, it’s very easy to lose that heat through drafts or open doors.

In this image (source), you can see the heat from a standard convection heater. Much of it is lost to the ceiling, since hot air travels up!

Infrared heaters heat up objects. Just like the sun, they provide heat through radiation – heating up whatever is directly in line of sight of the heater. Including us! This means infrared heat doesn’t get lost if there’s a cold breeze – it’s a much more durable heat.

This alternatively, this image shows the infrared heater (white) heating up the actual area where you’d relax.

Does ‘radiation’ sound scary? Don’t worry – it’s not! Check out our guide to ‘Are infrared heaters safe?’ if you’d like to find out why.

Noise

Convection heaters circulate their heat around your space using a fan. For this reason, they produce constant noise – which gets louder the more heat you demand from the heater.

Alternatively, infrared heaters are totally silent. Sometimes you’ll hear a kind of ‘humming’ sound as they warm up, but in full operation infrared heat is entirely silent.

Safety / Child-Proof

One issue with infrared heaters is that they can get very, very hot. This heat is applied whatever is infront of the infrared heating element… including the grill of the heater itself! This can be dangerous with kids or pets around. Thankfully, good modern models often have heat-proof exteriors (like Vornado’s infrared heater) or can be mounted in out of reach places.

Convection heaters are much less likely to cause a burn. They are more recognizable as ‘that’s gonna be hot, don’t touch it!’ – their fan noise helps send out this message, too. Since they heat the air, the actual heating element is tucked inside the heater’s case – which stays relatively warm, but not fiery hot.

Installation Options

Have you ever seen infrared panel heaters? They’re incredible.

Appearing as wall-art, mirrors, or even a minimalistic wall panel, they can be installed on the wall and blend into your surroundings. It’s as if you don’t even own a heater. Other options are, of course, standard wall/ceiling mounted grill types of heaters.

These wall-mounted options are so prevalent with infrared because the type of heating relies on good line of sight. They only heat what’s in front of them, so they’re naturally focus around being mounted higher up.

On the other hand, convection heaters are much more traditional. It’s rare to get a model which doesn’t take up some of your floorspace – and they always look like standard heaters.

Ease of Use / Control

Despite infrared being wall-mounted and interesting, they don’t offer much control. Their heat is typically limited to just ‘on or off’, and not controlled by a thermostat like convection heaters are. Infrared heaters typically have less features like timers or programmable settings.

On the other hand, a good convection heater has as many settings as a car! (Which is great if you have the time to learn them all, or a bit frustrating if you just want a simple heater).

What’s Best For…

Let’s do a quick recommendation for different situations. If you’re needing a heater specifically for one of these types of cases, the answer is (mostly) quite clear.

  • Large Rooms – There’s no way of getting around that larger rooms need a lot of heat. You can target one area of the room to keep warm – in which case an infrared heater is much better – but otherwise you’ll typically need a strong convection heater, combined with good insulation and low ventilation!
  • Small Rooms – A smaller room can be comfortably heated using either type of heater. I’d personally consider infrared if there’s a good place to put one (especially a wall panel option), but small convection heaters can work just fine, too. Do bear in mind the higher running costs though.
  • Bedroom – (oil filled) Bedrooms are all about the noise factor – so infrared typically wins out. However, there’s a third option which I think is the hands-down bedroom king. And that’s oil-filled heaters. Totally silent, these guys hold their warmth for hours – perfect to switch off as you go into bed, but stay cost until you’re asleep. Check out our full guide to bedroom heaters for more.
  • Garage/Workshop – These types of spaces typically have minimal insulation but plenty of airflow; meaning a convection heater will just burn through money. Instead, infrared heaters really shine here – any other option just doesn’t make sense.
  • Patio – As above, patios have infinite air ventilation, so convection heat practically does nothing. Instead, infrared is the way to go. It keeps you and your loved ones warm, without destroying your electric bill to do it!

Conclusion

I hope this guide’s helped clear things up for you, if you’ve been stuck between choosing which heater is right for your space!

Overall, both are good options – and you can always return an option after trying it out for a few days.

If you’re open to considering other options or want to learn more, be sure to check out our related posts below.

Best wishes, and have a great day!

-Craig