Convection Versus Radiant Heating What’s the Difference?

Throughout North America, people will soon turn on the heat for the first time this season. While many of these heating systems use radiant heating, convection is another commonly used system that allows for much faster heating.

What’s the difference between these two popular forms of heating systems?

Radiant heating

Maybe you’ve sat by a fireplace on a cool evening already this fall; fireplaces are a great example of radiant heating. Heat radiates outward from a source in a single direction—it’s why when you sit next to the fireplace, your face gets warm but your back might feel cold. The sun is another great example of radiant heat.

With radiant heat, objects or people directly within the path of the heat source are first to receive heat. Once those objects reach the set temperature, they also emit heat. When radiation is used as a primary heat source, it might take longer for the objects in the room to room to reach its desired temperature and for optimal thermal comfort to be achieved.

Examples of radiant systems include panel radiators, infrared heat or hydronic radiant floors.

Convection heating

What happens when you pour yourself a cup of hot coffee and get pulled away to do something else before you can drink it? It gets cold. That’s because the heat of the coffee is primarily lost to the surrounding air. This is a great example of convection heat.

When it comes to heating spaces, a convection heater uses natural air flow to transfer heat throughout a room. Heat is generated within a particular source, such as a convector. Inside a convector, hot water circulates through the tubes within the unit, which has small fins that increase surface contact with the surrounding air.

Warming the air is easy and fast, which reduces the reaction time for convective systems. This allows variable set points and quick responsiveness when indoor and outdoor conditions change. For example, if a cloud front comes through on sunny day, the convector can provide quick, supplemental heat.

Heat from the convector rises, displacing cooler air and pushing it downward. This cool air warms and circulates upward, with the process continuing until the space reaches the desired temperature.

When this natural process of heat transfer is assisted by a fan (also known as forced convection), the convection process speeds up the warming process. When coupled with our supplemental Dynamic Boost Hybrid technology (low-voltage fans), the convection process becomes even faster, creating more heat transfer—with lower energy consumption.

Examples of convection heating systems include convectors, radiators (misnomer) or fan coil systems.

Is one better than the other?

Using a radiant or convection based system isn’t an either/or decision. Both types of heat can be coupled together to create an effective, low-energy heating solution. Many of our convectors provide supplemental heating around the perimeter of a room or space that uses a radiant system as its primary heat source.

In practice, the Chihuly Glass Museum in Seattle uses a radiant floor system, but it can take several hours to reach the desired temperature. In this system, Jaga perimeter convectors provide immediate heat to help the room get up to temperature more quickly. It also helps reduce energy loss from the large windows, by as much as 35 percent as they create a curtain of air between the interior space and windows. This also helps prevent condensation buildup on the glass structure.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to your heating needs. Does it make sense to run your heating system all day or would you benefit from a system that allows variable set points while providing optimal comfort when required? Do you want a system that works in conjunction with renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind? Do you need a system that reacts quickly due to internal energy loads from people gathering in a space?

Let us know if you would like to talk through the specific needs of your space and a solution that might work best.

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