Heating systems comparison (infrared, electric, gas, etc) - Safety, radiation, disadvantages

What you should know before choosing a heating system. What are the advantages and disadvantages of alternative forms of heating (infrared, electric, solar, geothermal, ions, etc.)? Which is more economical? What effect do they have on health, environment and economy? Which produce higher levels of electromagnetic radiation?

a house wrapped with a scarf

All heating systems have advantages and disadvantages.

Although for many the main heating systems selection criteria is economic, in our article we will try include other parameters as well and also focus on which heating systems produce more radiation and have a potential impact on health (which may cost more in the long run). Generally:

  • Systems that heat using electricity, produce more artificial electromagnetic fields locally and through raising the magnetic fields that are emitted through the electrical grid (low, medium and high voltage transmission and distribution cables) but also pollute the environment since still in many countries electricity production is still based coal burning.
  • Systems operating with fossil or "renewable" fuels produce carbon dioxide, microparticles etc. polluting the atmosphere and the house interior (when there is no adequate ventilation).
  • Systems that produce hot air, heat the space unevenly, lift dust, need regular maintenance / cleaning of germs so they create problematic comfort conditions, particularly for people with allergies or respiratory problems.

However, if you choose based on the budget:

  • In addition to the original acquisition cost, consider the operating and maintenance costs.
  • Be cautions when reading various operating costs calculations, which do not take into account the significant differences in the efficiency of each equipment and the actual conditions of use.
  • Beware of the return of investment times that manufacturers of heating systems give! If you live in a small house and / or do not have great need for heating / cooling then the payback times and may be much greater than those advertised.
  • Some systems can be used for cooling, so will save money from purchasing a separate cooling equipment.
  • All heating technologies become more efficient and economic over time, while new heating technologies a continuously presented. If you are in no hurry to invest in a new system, waiting some time could mean improved technological solutions with better economic terms.
  • Keep in mind that the prices of the different fuels which basically determine the operating costs of each system are constantly changing depending on the existing conditions and availability. Consider the prospects of each type of fuel in our country long term (eg are gas supplies in your country enough to last 5 years or 50 years?).
  • The only solution to reduce heating costs, with zero particles, radiation emission and operating costs is the thermal insulation of your home!

Other things to consider:

  • How much useful space of your area is occupied by the machinery each type of heating
  • How easily available and is storable the fuel is
  • What are the maintenance and cleaning needs of each heating equipment

Heating with electricity (electric)

Main types of electric heating are electric radiators, heaters, convectors, heating panels, electric boilers, fan heaters and air conditioners. The main advantages are:

  • There is no need to store fuel
  • The equipment normally occupies little usable space
  • Small equipment maintenance needs
  • Electricity is (almost always) immediately available

Electric heating and electromagnetic radiation

Switching to heating systems that use electricity has resulted in increased population exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields.

Low frequency radiation has been linked to miscarriages, leukemia, breast cancer and skin, insomnia, thrombosis, damage to DNA, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, neurotic disorders, depression etc.

Local high emissions

Locally, near each electric heating equipment we frequently record elevated low frequency electric and magnetic fields.

Magnetic fields are typically higher in equipment with high wattage, especially in systems using motors (eg. fans) or transformers.

Electric fields are higher when not the heating device is not grounded (has a bipolar plug) or the building has no functional grounding.

Typically the radiation values are reduced to normal levels at distances> 1 m, so we recommend that you avoid spending too much time in the immediate vicinity of any heat generating device that operates with electricity (some sources may anyway cause burns within walking distance).

Higher magnetic fields everywhere

low voltage power cables

The use of electric heating significantly increases the consumption of electricity, which means that all power cables of the electric grid (low,medium and high voltage lines) will emit much higher magnetic fields especially when there are extreme low or high temperatures.

Dirty electricity

Please note that the electromagnetic fields generated by the power cables today are different from those in the past, not only in quantity but also in quality.

The previously simple sinusoidal signal of the electric network (50-60Hz) is now distorted by higher harmonic frequencies (thousands Hz) due to the extensive use of electronic non-linear load devices such as fluorescent lamps, AC adapters, dimmer electronic switches, inverter air conditioners, plasma TVs, photovoltaic systems etc.

This phenomenon is called "Dirty Electricity" because it causes overheating of neutral conductor and premature aging of equipment. Scientists believe that the new wave of power grid is particularly burdensome for humans [1] .

“Very recently, new research is suggesting that nearly all the human plagues which emerged in the twentieth century, like common acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children, female breast cancer, malignant melanoma and asthma, can be tied to some facet of our use of electricity. There is an urgent need for governments and individuals to take steps to minimize community and personal EMF exposures.” Samuel Milham MD, MPH, Medical epidemiologist in occupational epidemiology. [2]

To determine if the areas where you spend most of your time, there are high prices due to radiation from your heating system or your neighborhoods power cables you can buy a simple to use low frequency radiation meter.

Is electric heating "greener"?

nuclera power plant

Many have the impression that electric heating is ecological because the electrical heaters do not operate by burning fuel and produce no local carbon dioxide or other dangerous pollutants inside the houses.

However, power plants (which make powering the electric heaters possible) mainly use fossil fuels (lignite) and are responsible for a big percentage of greenhouse gases production in many countries.

For example burning coal to produce electricity produces carbon dioxide, microparticles, steam emitted from the cooling towers of the production units and other pollutants.

Some comparative Greenpeace tables [3] show that the production of carbon dioxide due to air conditioners heating (electric) is greater than that produced by oil heating.

It is no coincidence that the Nordic european countries have limited the use of electricity as a heating source and have turned to other systems [4].

Shouldn't we turn to electric heating anyway since fossil fuels will soon will be exhausted?

According to estimates, world oil reserves, natural gas and coal are sufficient to cover our need for 40 years, 70 years and 200 years respectively [5] .

Also, the burning of fossil fuels produces numerous harmful pollutants and the fact that most countries import oil and gas from foreign countries means that their prices are volatile and are influenced by many unpredictable political and economic factors.

The future of energy production for many is the generation of electricity from renewable sources (photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, hydro) and the European Union has set a target to cover 20% of energy consumption by renewable sources by 2020.

However, electricity production from renewable sources, means greater electromagnetic fields emission from the power grid with an even more aggravating waveform (with high frequency harmonics) than in the past.

Using renewable sources in a very local level, would limit considerably the transmission losses and the need for expansion of the electricity network.

Other solutions

Given the large financial requirements for infrastructure of renewable energy sources and the present economic crisis, some countries should at least temporarily consider other solutions.

Fossil fuels are still significant advantages in relation to renewable energy sources, like the fact that they can easily be stored and meet the fluctuations in energy demand.

Some great advantages offers the heating solution that utilizes the generated heat from existing thermal power plants (which would otherwise be wasted) to carry hot water through insulated pipes to the radiators of an entire city. In this case with only one burner and one boiler in power plants an entire city can be heated which means much less production of pollutants and zero production of artificial electromagnetic fields. Consumer will also save money from buying a burner, a boiler and other equipment (excluding radiators) and save on maintenance costs. This system is implemented in many countries.

Electric radiators, convectors, heating panels

  • Contain resistors which are heated
  • It is cheap but has high operating costs
  • They are quite and produce heat immediately
  • Better for more localized heating rather than for heating the whole house

halogen heater Halogen, quartz infrared heaters etc.

  • In addition to high operating costs they also require special attention to avoid burns and fire
  • Also the light produced is annoying to humans

Air fan heaters, air conditioners, fancoils

  • The main problem is that they produce hot and dry air that lifts the dust from the floor, creating problematic comfort conditions, particularly for people with allergies or respiratory problems
  • They are also noisy, they heat the spaces heat unevenly (cold floor - warm roof) and the space quickly cools after shutdown (unlike conventional radiators)
  • The inverter technology in air conditioners has reduced power consumption and noise levels compared to conventional older type ac units
  • Fancoils in combination with a heat pump offer reduced energy consumption
  • Air conditioners need regular maintenance of filters

Electric boilers

  • Electric boilers contain electrical resistors that heat the water they contain and get transferred to the radiators
  • They are quiet, have little maintenance and do not occupy much space, but have high operating costs

Electric ion boilers

  • They have reduced consumption compared to conventional ones because they ionize water which makes it heat rapidly
  • There are several technical difficulties in their implementation (pipe and radiators corrosion etc.) so it is recommended to use specialized company for the installation

Underfloor heating with electric resistances

  • Underfloor heating systems using electric heating elements instead of water pipes, usually create high electromagnetic fields with which we come into direct contact
  • The exception is underfloor heating with armored power cables (zero electrical AC fields) and dual core cables (twin-core cables reduces the magnetic AC fields)

Electric storage heaters

  • electric storage heaters They contain heat resistors are powered during the night (with usually reduced electricity prices) and heating the high thermal mass materials they also contain (bricks)
  • The firebricks transfer the heat to the space in the form of infrared radiation which is considered the healthiest form of heat (similar to the heat of the sun)
  • Despite its use during reduced tariffs hours they still consume a lot of energy
  • Also many storage heaters do not heat the area quickly (the area might be warm after some hours)
  • The heaters emit electromagnetic radiation fields at night when they are charging so you should avoid placing them at a distance of <1 meter from beds

Infrared heating panels

  • infrared heater Electric resistors produce long wave infrared radiation which is considered the healthiest form of heat
  • The panels surfaces are coated with special materials (ceramics, carbon polyamide, graphite, quartz crystals, etc.) that absorb the generated heat and radiate it in space
  • Infrared radiation directly heats your body and objects without warming the air. Especially objects with high thermal mass (eg bricks, ceramic tiles) store heat and gradually attach to space
  • Because it does not heat the air but the building materials, it is important to have good wall thermal insulation or else as much of the heat stored in the walls and ceiling will be quickly lost to the environment
  • Because they do not heat the air, the feeling you get when you operate them in a cold house is like when you're out on a cold winter day and the sun warms your skin and your clothes but not the air. 
  • Also there must be visual contact with the panel to warm your body. For this reason, many prefer to use infrared panels for spot heating, not for heating the entire house
  • Compared to oil or gas heating, infrared panels have lower purchase costs and do not occupy much usable space
  • They have a reduced consumption with respect to the most electrical heaters
  • They help to reduce the humidity in the walls
  • They are simple to install and require no maintenance

Are infrared panels safe? Dont they emit dangerous ionizing radiation?

Infrared radiation is equivalent to the heat from the sun, the fire and the heat produced by the human body.

It is close to the spectrum of ionizing radiation, with a bit lower frequency than UV radiation and natural sunlight.

However, even the ionizing radiation (which exists in the environment since there is a man) in a specific amount has a beneficial effect on the human body (e.g., UV radiation helps to produce vitamin D hormones, radioactive baths around the world are used for therapeutic purposes). Read more in our article on ionizing radiation..

Infrared radiation is believed to help improve blood circulation, also in arthritic and muscle problems, detoxification etc. and is used in incubators premature babies.

In our opinion the modern man who spends small amount of time in nature and the sun may have greater need of the beneficial action of infrared radiation.

An important advantage of infrared panels is that they do not create unhealthy air currents carrying dust and microorganisms in space (as air conditioners do) and help to reduce moisture and mold growth.

There is research [7] claiming that acute and chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation could cause eye damage. For this we suggest that you avoid long exposure with direct visual contact with the panel (better to see the panel from the side or rear), especially in the case of cheap infrared halogen heaters that produce light which is also annoying for the eyes.

High temperature panels (~ 300 °C) must be placed high in order to avoid burns or other accidents.

Infrared panels also emit low frequency electromagnetic fields that are not considered biologically friendly to humans. Our measurements with infrared panels showed elevated magnetic fields at a distance of <1 meter from the panels.

Alternative infrared heating systems which produce wholesome natural infrared radiation without artificial radiation is the heat from storage heaters (charged and then unplugged) and from high thermal mass fireplaces.

chimney smoking

Heating with combustion

Burning oil, gas, wood, pellets, etc. for thermal energy produces carbon dioxide capture, micro particles and other pollutants that contribute significantly to air pollution and global warming.

The effects of induced air pollution are individually larger when combustion takes place indoors with poor ventilation.

Oil burners - boilers

Oil is burned in the burner and the boiler heats water which through pipes reaches the radiators.

Benefits

  • oil is in most countries availiable
  • no radiation emissions

Disadvantages

  • High purchase costs (burner, boiler, piping, radiators etc.)
  • Occupies much usable space
  • High operating costs
  • High and constantly changing fuel costs
  • Needs maintenance
  • Oil is not a renewable energy source
  • Needs supply through tankers

How to reduce your operating costs

  • Regular boiler burner maintenance (at least annual)
  • Repair defective piping insulation
  • Replacing old boilers which have very low efficiency (30-40%) with new, more energy-efficient systems that operate with an efficiency of> 80% (eg condensing boilers or high efficiency boilers that recover the lost thermal energy from the combustion of fuel)

Gas burners -boilers

Benefits

Natural gas compared with oil:

  • is usually cheaper 
  • is availiable continuously available and does not need to be prestored
  • typically uses younger generation boilers with better performance
  • it has faster response to temperature setting

Disadvantages

  • need a developed distribution network that brings gas to your neighborhood
  • Monthly fee for gas supply
  • High purchase costs (burner, boiler, piping, radiators)
  • High operating costs
  • Constantly changing fuel costs
  • Needs maintenance
  • Natural gas is not a renewable energy source

Biomass burners boilers (wood, pellets, etc.)

Biomass are materials of organic origin like wood, pellets (compressed pieces of various plant products, sawdust, etc.), bioethanol (alcohol produced from plants such as sugar beet and corn) etc.

Benefits

  • Biomass is considered a renewable energy source because whatever is cut can be replanted
  • There is possibility of domestic production
  • Lower cost consumption of oil and natural gas (depending on the efficiency of the boiler and fuel)
  • Relatively small operating costs

Disadvantages

  • Takes up large useable space (burner-boiler + storage)
  • High maintenance when used low quality wood or pellets
  • Continuous feedback need (depending on the type of biomass and the burner)
  • Regular cleaning

Is biomass really ecological energy source?

Biomass is considered not to contribute to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (CO2 neutral) because the carbon dioxide produced had already been removed from the atmosphere during growth of the tree or plant from which it originated or because a new tree or plant will be planted in place of the cut.

But is this really what happens? Alex Scrivener policy officer at the World Development Movement, claims that [6] :

“Substituting biomass for fossil fuels sounds like the easy solution to climate change. But in reality, it leads to land grabs, the destruction of rainforests, and severe food shortages where land is used to grow fuel instead of food. And the idea that biofuels are ‘carbon neutral’ is a myth."

In reality, biomass is mainly imported from third world countries (imported CO2 without local replenishment) were large areas often never replanted.

Even if replanted, the new trees take year to replenish the lost oxygen.

Also the use of biomass as fuel leads to the rise of illegal logging and monoculture for biofuels (which may have an impact on local biodiversity and soil).

However our opinion is that biomass can be a good alternative to fossil fuels, provided the production is controlled and permitted only when the necessary conditions are met.

Fireplaces and stoves, biomass (wood, pellets, vioaiathanolis)

fireplace Benefits

  • Biomass is considered a renewable energy source if replanted after cut.
  • There is possibility of domestic production
  • Lower cost that oil and natural gas
  • Aesthetically beautiful

Disadvantages

  • It is necessary to have ventilation and also supply fresh air
  • The existence of a burner inside the house is dangerous
  • Temperature control weakness
  • Regular and difficult maintenance
  • Continuous feed need
  • Various weather conditions (high outside temperature, windy, etc.) can make the evacuation of the combustion gases difficult (chimney smoking)
  • Storage need

Oil stoves, kerosene, gas, wood, pellets etc.

  • Used mainly for spot heating
  • They are usually a cheap option but their quality varies considerably from model to model
  • Exhaust ventilation necessary
  • Beware of leakage in gas stoves

Regular fireplaces

They are open and not at all recommended because:

  • They have very poor yield 10-30% and consume much fuel
  • They produce many pollutants
  • They consume much oxygen so you must have an open window
  • They need constant supervision

Energy efficient - thermodynamic fireplaces / stoves

  • Such fireplaces close with some fireproof glass. Thus, the wood burns with less air and the degree of efficiency reaches 70-75%
  • They need les fuel and reduce the pollutants and air loss from the house
  • They do not need constant supervision
  • In thermodynamic or ecological fireplaces an additional mechanism that reburns the exhaust gases further increases the efficiency of the fireplace and minimizes pollutants
  • May have vents at the bottom, were cold air enters and then is heated (through airways - not in contact with the exhaust gases of the outbreak) and comes from the top vent hot
  • By using fans and air ducts you can also warm other rooms. This duct system inside the houses is not recommended because it produces hot and dry air that lifts the dust, creating problematic comfort conditions, particularly for people with allergies or respiratory problems. Also it is difficult to purify the airways from dust and germs
  • However, if you choose to have hot air from the fireplace, choose a fireplace in which the air is drawn from outside (fresh air) and not from inside the house
  • A better solution is to connect the fireplace to radiators through water pipes

Bioethanol fireplaces

  • The fireplaces that burn bioethanol (fluid) do not make smoke and only emmit small amounts of carbon dioxide so it is usually open-ended and does not work with chimney
  • Low selling price compared to other fireplaces and is aesthetically very beautiful

High thermal mass fireplaces

masonry heater

  • High thermal mass fireplaces (masonry heaters) are built with ceramic materials, bricks, marble and other high heat capacity materials
  • The combustion takes place with closed hearth, with a small amount of fuel and minimal exhaust gases are produced from the chimney
  • The hot air which is generated heats the bricks which store the heat and emit it in the form of healthy infrared heat for several hours after the fire goes out
  • Usually the large thermal mass fireplaces occupy a large area and are placed in the center of the room
  • Their problem is that after you start the fire it takes a while for the room to get warm
  • Also, after you turn the fire off it takes a while for the room to get to normal-low temperature
  • It is in our opinion one of the most hygienic ways of heating that exists from antiquity (Roman hypocaust) and is very popular in the Nordic countries

Heating with heat pumps

Heating with heat pumps are maybe the heating system with the lower operating costs since they produce heat which they derive from the environment with a relatively small use of electrical power (depending on conditions).

They save space (no boiler and fuel storage), do not generate combustion pollutants in housing and can also be used for cooling.

What determines how economical their function is, is their coefficient of performance (C.O.P.), which is usually high (3-6). For example C.O.P. 5 means practically that for every kilowatt of electricity consumed, they produce five times the thermal energy.

The smaller the temperature difference between the heat pump source (air, water, earth) and the heat medium of the terminal units (for example, water in radiators) the less the electricity needs to be consumed.

Therefore, heat pumps are ideal when there are low temperature systems (eg radiators with large panel-type surface or floor heating or fan coils). Low temperature systems (30-40 degrees) require less energy to heat the room in relation to traditional radiators panels (70-80 degrees).

Air Pumps

  • air pump external unitThe most common heat pumps are the pumps that use outside air. They are an economical type of pump, however their performance degree drops significantly increasing power consumption, when there is a large temperature difference with the outside air
  • That is, the air heat pumps are spending much power with very low outside temperatures, or when you adjust the thermostat at very high temperatures inside
  • Also the outdoor units of air pumps occupy space outside, aesthetically damage and are vulnerable to theft
  • The air-to-air pumps produce hot air via fancoils or airways. Air-to-air pumps are air conditioners. The inverter type have more economical operation
  • Like all corresponding systems that heat the air, they are not considered healthy because they produce hot and dry air that lifts the dust from the floor, creating problematic comfort conditions, particularly for people with allergies or respiratory problems
  • They are also noisy, heat the space unevenly and require regular maintenance of the filter
  • We recommend to look for systems that also offer moisture regulation as well as entrance of fresh air in the room
  • The air-water pumps heat water. If you have traditional radiator panels you will need a high-temperature heat pump. If you have large radiator panels or floor heating you will need a low-temperature heat pump (most economical operating costs)

Geothermal pumps

  • geothermal radiation The pumps with the highest degree of performance and the lesser operating cost is geothermal, which harnesses the heat in the ground several meters below the surface of the earth or the heat of groundwater (underground temperature shows small variations in contrast with the outside air)
  • The disadvantages of geothermal pumps is the high cost of installation and the need for space 40-100 sq.m. for drilling

Our suggestion!

The ideal choice in our opinion for new homes is the combination of geothermal heat pump with underfloor heating and undefloor or underceiling cooling. If additionaly there is a combination with a photovoltaic system you can annihilate operating costs for heating. A system of water pipes in the floor:

  • creates optimal conditions of thermal comfort in relation to all systems and evenly distributes the heat to the space
  • does not occupy useful space inside the house and gives you freedom in the layout of the house
  • has silent operation
  • works even more economically when the floor has large thermal capacity ceramic tiles (as opposed to the wooden floor)
  • does not lose heat quickly after you turn it off
  • takes long to heat the room after it becomes operational (unsuitable for vacation homes)
  • if there is damage the is repair difficult (although installation companies give many years guarantee and damages are rare)
  • It is the ideal system for cooling a space

Heat from the sun

  • solar water heater Solar heating systems are functioning similarly to the water heaters, however, require much larger collector area
  • the water is heated by solar panels used on radiators
  • they have high installation cost
  • they have economic operation mainly where there is good thermal insulation and low temperature radiators (large-area radiator type panels or underfloor heating)
  • the system is problematic on days where there is not enough sunshine so it is anyway necessary to have an auxiliary boiler

Insulation: The best solution to reduce heating costs

The inner or outer insulation of a building is the most reliable and ecological solution to reduce heating costs.

It restricts the entry of cold in the house and also reduces the heat losses to the environment.

In building with no thermal regulation you can achieve up to 50% reduction in heating and cooling costs.

Basic insulation solutions are:

  • Thermal insulation of external walls and roof  : This is done internally or externally with materials such as glass wool, cork, rockwool, polyurethane, perlite etc.
  • Double glazing or thermally insulated windows : In this case do not forget to ventilate your room regularly during the day.
  • Thermal insulation of pipes and radiators : The insulation of pipelines going through outdoors or spaces not required for heating is necessary. Also use reflectros (eg aluminum) for radiators in contact with the outer wall.

Alternative proposals for reducing heating costs

Dress warmer

It is not necessary to dress with t-shirts at home even during the coldest winter days! Try to dress warmer before turning on any heat source.

Use a thermostat

Use thermostats (where feasible) to avoid unnecessary operation of heat sources. Set the thermostat at normal temperatures (20 to 22 day and 16 to 18 hours). Don't ask for 25 degrees when outside the temperature is 5 degrees!

Take advantage of the sun's heat

If your house has an opening to the south (for the northern hemisphere - the opposite for the southern hemisphere), leave it open during the day so that abundant infrared heat enters from the sun. Especially if you have floors with high heat capacity (eg ceramic tiles) this heat will be stored and transmitted after dark.

Other passive solar systems are more easily incorporated into new homes are solar patios (indoor spas with windows in the roof) and solar walls (glazed outside the walls which function as greenhouses accumulating heat from the sun and transferring it inside the building). In such cases it is advisable to have the possibility of selective shading so that there is no unwanted increase in temperature during the summer months.



[1] Havas M, (2006) Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: Biological Effects of Dirty Electricity with emphasis on diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis.

[2] Camilla Rees- Magda Havas, Public Health SOS - The Shadow Side of The Wireless Revolution

[4] THE GREEN ELECTRICITY ILLUSION, David Olivier

[5] INTRODUCTION TO THE ENERGY SECTOR, TECHNICAL CHAMBER OF GREECE

[6] http://bioenergyaction.com/

[7] Impact emitted from thermal sources of infrared radiation to factors of extracellular matrix of the cornea and the crystalline lens of rabbits and the effect of inhibiting cyclooxygenase, Dadoukis, Panagiotis I.., Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, HTTP: //invenio.lib.auth .gr / record / 127833

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