Comparing Radiant and Convection Heating

Comparing Radiant and Convection Heating

When choosing a heat source for your small space, it's easy to get wrapped up in the technical details like fuel source and BTU output, and overlook how your heater is going to make your home feel.

Talk to anyone who grew up in a cold climate with a wood stove or radiant oil heating, and you'll get an earful about how certain heat sources just "feel" better.

"It's just so much cozier!"

"It feels so much warmer!"

Like a cup of hot chocolate or a warm bowl of soup.  Fuzzy socks and sweaters.  There's something about certain kinds of heat that just feel better than others.  And it's not just a certain "je ne sais quoi."  There's actually a physical, scientific reason why few people rave about their furnace the way people fall in love with their wood stoves.

THe Dwarf 4kw heating the homestead
THe Dwarf 4kw heating the homestead

Radiant or Convection Heating

The difference in the "feel" of a heat source comes down to the way it distributes heat into the room.

Convection heaters are designed to heat air that circulates around the room.  Examples of convection hears are forced air furnaces, ceramic space heaters with fans, and pellet stoves with blowers.  Since convection heaters depend on air movement, they feel "cooler" and lack the powerful warmth that a radiant heater provides.

A radiant heater distributes heat by directly heating any surface in its line of sight through infrared radiation.  Examples of radiant heaters include wood stoves, heat lamps, and the Sun.  When you stand in the Sun on a clear day, the sensation of warming on your skin is the same sensation you get from any radiant heater.  The feel of powerful warmth directly on your skin is a welcome comfort on a cold Winter day.

Benefits of Radiant Heaters

Aside from improved feel of radiant heating, there are other benefits for including a radiant heater in your tiny space build.

Feel Warm Faster

Radiant heaters can make a cold room feel warm much faster than a similar sized convection heater.

Since a convection heater has to heat the air first, which in turn heats the surfaces in the room and the people inside, heating can be slow.  On the other hand, a radiant heater will directly heat surfaces and people in a room.

Sitting in front of a hot wood stove in a cold room will warm your body much faster than the room around you.

Better Heat Distribution in Tall Spaces

Many tiny homes are built tall to maximize interior space.  But a convection heater that only heats the air can cause all the heat in the room to gather near the ceiling.

While the air in the room will behave the same way regardless of the heat source, a radiant heater will also directly warm any surface in its line of sight, including people sitting in front of it.  So, having a radiant heater on the lower level can help keep your space more evenly heated.

Dwarf 4kw heating an Airstream
Dwarf 4kw heating an Airstream

Unmatched Ambiance

Wood stoves in particular provide a benefit that convection heaters and some other radiant heaters lack.  Sitting by a real wood fire can make any small space feel more like home.

As a focal point in your living space, a small wood stove is a place to gather with family and friends, and share the warmth of the fire and one another's company.

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