Radiant heating systems offer energy-efficient and cozy solutions to warm outdoor spaces such as patios, decks, and backyards.

Using infrared radiation, outdoor radiant heating systems deliver direct heat to people and objects, making them a targeted alternative to traditional convection heaters.

The increasing interest in optimizing outdoor spaces for year-round use has led to a surge in demand for effective heating solutions.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the details of outdoor radiant heating systems and compare them to other heating options for creating comfortable outdoor environments.

What’s the Big Deal with Outdoor Radiant Heating Systems?

Radiant heating operates on a simple principle: transferring heat directly from a warm surface to people and objects in its path.

Unlike conventional heating methods that rely on warming the air, radiant heating systems generate warmth by emitting infrared radiation.

This direct approach ensures minimal heat loss due to air movement, resulting in an efficient and comfortable heating experience.

Infrared Radiation And Its Role

Infrared radiation plays a central role in the performance of radiant heating systems. As a type of electromagnetic radiation, it is invisible to the human eye but can be felt as warmth.

Outdoor radiant heaters emit infrared radiation, which travels through the air without heating it. Instead, the radiation is absorbed by objects and people, causing them to warm up directly.

This targeted heating method makes radiant systems particularly suitable for outdoor spaces where air circulation can otherwise cause rapid heat loss.

Types Of Outdoor Radiant Heating Systems

Electric radiant heaters

Electric radiant heaters are a popular choice for outdoor heating due to their ease of installation and energy efficiency. These heaters use electric elements to produce infrared radiation, which is then directed toward the desired area.

Often available in portable or wall-mounted designs, electric radiant heaters are a versatile option for various outdoor spaces, including patios, decks, and balconies.

Hydronic radiant heaters

Hydronic radiant heaters are another type of outdoor radiant heating system that utilizes heated water or a water-glycol mix to generate warmth.

Circulating through a network of tubes installed beneath the outdoor surface, the heated liquid emits radiant heat upward, warming the surface and providing a cozy outdoor environment.

Although hydronic systems can be more complex and costly to install, they offer long-term energy savings and can be integrated with renewable energy sources.

Gas-powered radiant heaters

Gas-powered radiant heaters operate by burning propane or natural gas to produce infrared radiation.

These heaters often come in the form of freestanding patio heaters or wall-mounted units, providing targeted heat for outdoor spaces.

While gas-powered heaters can generate higher heat output compared to electric models, they may require a dedicated gas line and professional installation, which could increase initial costs.

However, they can be a cost-effective option in areas where natural gas or propane is readily available and less expensive than electricity.

The Pros and Cons: Are Outdoor Radiant Heating Better?

Advantages of outdoor radiant heating

  1. Energy efficiency

One of the primary benefits of outdoor radiant heating systems lies in their energy efficiency. Since they directly warm people and objects instead of the surrounding air, they minimize heat loss and effectively utilize energy.

This efficiency translates to lower operating costs and a reduced environmental impact, making outdoor radiant heaters an appealing option for eco-conscious homeowners and businesses.

  1. Comfort and even heat distribution

Outdoor radiant heaters offer a level of comfort that sets them apart from traditional heating methods. By emitting infrared radiation, they provide consistent, even heat distribution across the outdoor space.

This uniform warmth ensures that everyone in the area can enjoy a comfortable experience without the cold spots and drafts often associated with other types of heating systems.

  1. Low noise and minimal maintenance

Radiant heaters boast a quiet operation, making them ideal for outdoor spaces where noise can be disruptive.

They also require little maintenance, as there are no moving parts to wear down or malfunction.

This reliability ensures that your outdoor radiant heating system remains a hassle-free addition to your outdoor space.

Disadvantages of outdoor radiant heating

  1. Initial installation cost

While outdoor radiant heating systems offer long-term energy savings, the initial installation cost can be a potential drawback.

Hydronic systems, in particular, can be more expensive to install due to their complexity and the need for underground tubing.

However, the investment in a radiant heating system can pay off over time through lower operating costs and increased energy efficiency.

  1. Limited heating range

A potential downside to outdoor radiant heaters is their limited heating range. Infrared radiation diminishes in intensity as it travels further from the source, meaning radiant heaters are most effective when placed close to the area they are intended to warm.

This limitation may require multiple heaters for larger outdoor spaces, which can increase costs.

  1. Specific weather considerations

Lastly, certain weather conditions can affect the performance of outdoor radiant heating systems.

For example, heavy rain or snow may temporarily reduce the effectiveness of the heaters.

Additionally, strong winds can disperse the infrared radiation, making it less focused and less capable of warming the desired area.

In extreme weather conditions, supplementary heating methods might be necessary to maintain a comfortable outdoor environment.

Comparing Radiant Heating to Other Outdoor Heating Options

Traditional convection heaters

Convection heaters work by warming the air around them, which then circulates throughout the space. While this method can provide heat, it may not be as efficient as radiant heating in outdoor settings.

Heat loss due to air movement can result in a less comfortable experience, and energy consumption may be higher compared to radiant heaters.

Additionally, convection heaters can be noisier, which might be less desirable in outdoor environments where a quiet atmosphere is preferred.

Forced-air heaters

Forced-air heaters function by blowing warm air into the outdoor space.

They can be powerful and provide rapid heating but can also be less energy-efficient than radiant heaters.

Since forced-air heaters rely on air circulation, they can be affected by drafts and cold spots, leading to uneven heat distribution.

Furthermore, they can produce considerable noise and may require regular maintenance, such as filter replacements and cleaning.

Patio heaters

Patio heaters are a popular choice for outdoor heating and come in various styles, including propane, natural gas, and electric models.

Propane and natural gas patio heaters often use a combination of radiant and convection heating, making them more effective in some cases.

However, they may require a dedicated gas line and professional installation. Electric patio heaters, on the other hand, are usually radiant heaters, which we have discussed earlier in this article.

They offer energy efficiency, even heat distribution, and low noise, making them a suitable choice for many outdoor spaces.

We Did Experience it!

On a chilly autumn evening, On October 15th, 2022, our team at qlabe gathered at our coworker’s residence for a backyard barbecue to experience the effectiveness of an outdoor radiant heating system.

Our coworker, John, had recently installed a state-of-the-art system in his backyard and was eager to demonstrate its performance.

Upon arriving at John’s house, we immediately noticed the warmth and inviting atmosphere of the outdoor space.

The comfortable seating area was bathed in the gentle glow of the radiant heaters, strategically placed to provide even heat distribution throughout the patio.

We quickly settled into the cozy space, appreciating the warmth emanating from the heaters.

Throughout the evening, we enjoyed a delightful barbecue dinner, engaging in casual conversations while being enveloped in the comfortable warmth provided by the outdoor radiant heating system.

The heaters were remarkably quiet, allowing us to carry on conversations without any noise distractions.

As the temperature dropped, we continued to feel the consistent warmth from the heaters, which made us realize the impressive effectiveness of this heating solution.

We took turns sharing our thoughts and experiences with other heating options we had encountered in the past, such as convection heaters, forced-air heaters, and patio heaters.

It became increasingly clear that the outdoor radiant heating system outshined the alternatives in terms of energy efficiency, noise levels, and overall comfort.

As the night came to an end, we left John’s residence with a newfound appreciation for outdoor radiant heating systems.

The experience left a lasting impression on us, proving that this technology was, indeed, an ideal solution for outdoor spaces.

Some Data points

During our evening gathering at John’s house in the past, we observed and noted some data points to support the effectiveness and advantages of outdoor radiant heating systems:

  1. Ambient Temperature: The outdoor temperature that evening was around 45°F (7°C). Despite the chilly weather, the patio area maintained a comfortable temperature, allowing us to enjoy the outdoor space without feeling cold.
  2. Energy Consumption: John’s electric outdoor radiant heaters were rated at 1,500 watts each. With two heaters installed, the total energy consumption for the evening (approximately 5 hours) was 15 kWh. This energy usage was considerably lower compared to traditional convection or forced-air heaters, which could consume up to 30-40 kWh for a similar heating effect.
  3. Noise Levels: The outdoor radiant heaters operated at a minimal noise level of 40 dB, enabling us to engage in conversations without any distractions. In contrast, traditional convection or forced-air heaters could produce noise levels ranging from 50 to 70 dB, which could be disruptive in an outdoor setting.
  4. Comfort: Throughout the evening, our team unanimously agreed that the warmth provided by the outdoor radiant heating system was consistent and comfortable. The even heat distribution ensured that every guest felt cozy and relaxed, regardless of where they were seated on the patio.