What’s the difference between halogen / quartz / tungsten / infrared electric patio heaters?

There are many different types of electrical patio heaters, but you may be asking yourself, what’s the difference between them all? When looking at the plethora of heaters available on the market you may have noticed some are listed as either halogen, halogen-quartz, tungsten, infrared, far-infrared, quartz and the list goes on!

There are a few subtle differences between them all – but in essence quartz, tungsten, halogen offer near to medium infrared heat. They will glow in an off-orange or dim-orange colour and are very similar to each other.

When we’re talking about halogen heaters – we are referring to the gas used within the lamp or bulb to extend the life-span and increase the brightness of the bulb – halogen-quartz heaters tend to have a lifespan of 3,000-7,000 hours. These are ideal for large open spaces like gardens.

Quartz-tungsten heaters cost slightly more and offer a larger heating area. These will last between 5,000 and 7,000 hours – gold plated quartz bulbs extend the heating area and longevity of these lamps. Suitable for home and commercial users. They run at a lower temperature so should be used in partially enclosed or shielded areas like pub-gardens or patios with at least 1 wind-protecting wall.

Ceramic heaters do not glare and can offer short, medium or long-wave infrared heat. These will last upwards of 10,000 hours. Due to the cost of these heaters they are traditionally used in commercial spaces and are found indoors rather than outdoors due to the lower operating temperature.

Carbon fibre heaters are low glow infrared heaters capable of producing short, medium or long-wave infrared heat. They are traditionally slightly cheaper than ceramic heaters and in our opinion are the best patio heaters on the market – they are usually found in commercial and top-end home heaters. Because they can be found in free-standing as well as wall mounted or ceiling hung variants, they are suitable for all users but aren’t suitable for areas that are heavily exposed to wind.

Different types of Infrared Heating & Suitability

Element / Bulb TypeInfrared TypeGlare TypeSuitabilityHeating Area (sqm)Operating Temperature
Halogen / QuartzShort InfraredGlare or Low GlareHome & Commercial – Outdoors & In Exposed Areas (Open Areas / Middle of the Garden)3 to 15Up to 2,700C
Quartz / TungstenShort & Medium InfraredGlare or Low GlareHome & Commercial – Outdoors & Partially Enclosed Areas (Pub Gardens / Patios etc)5 to 15500C to 1,500C
CeramicShort, Medium & Long InfraredNo GlareCommercial or High-End Home Usage (Indoors & Shielded Areas)10 to 30300C to 900C
Carbon FibreShort, Medium & Long InfraredGlare or Low GlareCommercial or High-End Home Usage (Partially Shielded Areas – Veranda’s / Decks / Patios)15 to 35Traditionally less than 500C

Long Wave vs Short & Medium Wave

When we’re talking about infrared heating – we are describing the process of energy travelling in a straight line from the source which is then directed via optical reflectors. These must be distributed evenly to provide a comfortable heat otherwise we’ll end up over-heating in some areas and freezing in others. Choosing a heater with a good quality reflector can make the all the difference in distributing the heat evenly.

Short wave infrared heat

Halogen Quartz heaters offer high intensity short wave infrared heat. These are similar in the way that the sun has an instant warming effect when you step out of the clouds and into a sunny patch. It can be quite intense and hot so these heaters are best used outdoors where the you might be exposed to the elements.

Long and medium wave infrared heat

Long and medium wave heaters require some protection from the elements as they operate at a lower temperature and heat the air around around them.

Most budget heaters are provided with medium wave filaments and marketed as infrared however they won’t offer much in the way of heat and will have a lower heating area coverage than advertised.

Long wave heaters are ideally located indoors or heavily enclosed areas that require low levels of heat.

So which wave type should I get?

Infrared TypeIdeal For
Short & Medium

Large open spaces

Higher height installation

Coldest Temperatures

High levels of exposure to wind

Medium & Ceramic

Large open space to heat

Lower installations heights

Moderate Airflow

Partially exposed areas

Moderately cold temperatures

Far Infrared

Small or enclosed areas

Indoor installation

Closer to users

Infrared Heaters vs Gas Heaters & Convective Heaters

Modern day patio heaters are considered much more efficient than gas as they radiate up to 86% of their input as radiant energy. You may have seen claims that they are 100% effective, this is because nearly all the electrical energy input is converted into infrared radiant heat within the filament and this is then absorbed by clothing and skin.

Gas Heaters

In contrast, gas patio heaters heat up the air around them, wasting a lot of energy and producing a lot of unnecessary co2 emissions. We would recommend using a gas patio heater where electric isn’t an option as the cost implication for both home and business users is surprisingly high.

Convective Heaters / Resistive Coil Heaters

You may have come across a portable fan heater, usually sold in the supermarkets or discount stores (often consuming between 1000-3000W) – these work by running an electrical current through a resistive heating coil and then using a fan to blow the hot air around the room. Alternatively, they may heat oil or another filler to provide convective heat.

While these types of heaters are a great alternative to traditional radiators for heating a room when your boiler is on the fritz, they only work in contained and insulated spaces. Using them as a patio heater would be useless as you’d be wasting energy trying to heat up the space around you and a light breeze renders them useless.

Electric infrared heaters are by and large the most efficient patio heaters as they convert over 94% of the energy consumed into heat and produce up to 90% less Co2 emissions than their gas counterparts. They also cost substantially less over the course of time than gas heaters.

Curious how much a patio heater costs to run? Or how long a bottle of gas will last in a patio heater?

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