Space Heaters and Radiators Overview

Space heaters and radiators provide an efficient way to heat small spaces or entire rooms, depending upon their size and capabilities. Space heaters are commonly used to heat smaller spaces and, in some cases, may even be used to heat only one person and keep them comfortable. Radiators are generally mounted to walls or ceiling and may provide heating for an entire room. With the addition of hardware to the radiator, it is possible to expand its heating capabilities and to increase its efficiency. Radiative heaters take the basic radiator design and operation and deliver it in a portable package.


Basic Radiator Operation

In the broadest sense, a radiator is a device that uses a circulating fluid to add heat to a room. Some of these devices use convection to transfer that heat, and they are sometimes called convectors for this reason.

These types of heaters do not expose the user directly to the source of heat. In some of these designs, the surface of the device never reaches a particularly high temperature, so there is very little risk of accidental fire or burn from the device. The circulating fluid is kept warm enough to provide the desired temperature to the room, but there are no filaments or other hot hardware that people or items could come into contact with.

There are permanent and portable versions of radiators available. The permanent models tend to be mounted to the wall or to the floor. The fluid flows between the radiators and a boiler. In some cases, steam is used.

Fans can be added to a radiator to improve its performance. The function of the fan is to blow the heat off the radiator and allow it to circulate through the room in a more efficient fashion. These do not have the advantage of the silent operation that a standard radiator has, but they are a bit more efficient and they can be made in smaller sizes. Portable radiative heaters, described below, are based off this design.


Space Heaters

Space heaters are portable devices intended to heat a small area or one person. They come in radiative and convective designs, some of which include fans.

These devices need to be plugged into a socket or directly added to mains power. One of the advantages of the radiator designs is that, even though they are using electric energy, there is no electric element that the user is exposed to. These heaters do not pose the risk of having a flammable material fall into them and subsequently causing a larger and more dangerous fire, which makes them safe choices. Most such devices are equipped with safety enhancements, such as switches that shut them off if they should happen to fall and switches that shut them off if they reach a temperature that is too high for safety.


Radiative Heater Operation

Radiative heaters are different from what are typically termed radiators. These heaters have filaments in them that are heated up by electrical energy. They also have a reflector that directs the heat energy out of the radiator. The radiator’s heating elements are made up of tungsten and quartz.

Radiative heaters are generally used by a single person to make them more comfortable. They do not heat the air around the heater, but they project heat directly onto the person, increasing their level of comfort if the room is cold. Some of these designs use infrared light as their main means of providing heat.


Convective Heaters

Convective heaters oftentimes look very similar to a radiator. They are usually filled with oil and they heat up much more slowly than other types of space heaters. These heaters, however, provide a very stable source of heat to the air without ever reaching temperatures that are particularly dangerous to people or flammable objects.

Some of these heaters are efficient enough that they can actually be used as the main source of heat in a room. If they are not distributing heat evenly enough throughout the room, they can be augmented with a fan, which provides that advantage.


Differences and Applications

The primary difference between radiative heaters and convective heaters is that they heat the space much differently. A convective heater actually heats the air around it, bringing up the temperature of the entire room. A radiative infrared heater only heats up the person that the space heater is actually pointed at.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. With a convective heater, the entire room gets the benefit of the heat given off by the device, allowing it to be kept comfortable for everyone who enters. The trade-off is that the entire room may not actually need to be heated and may only be occupied temporarily, meaning that only a single person in the room needs to be kept warm.

This is where the radiative heater design comes in. The infrared light only heats the person who is sitting in front of the device. Because of that, energy is not wasted heating the entire room. Some people find this solution to be more environmentally friendly, as no energy is being put into heating space that is not occupied.

Each of these different devices has its own specific applications for which it is ideally suited. There are also safety considerations that need to be taken into account where space heaters are concerned.


Space Heaters and Safety

Any electrical appliance that has a filament exposed to the air does pose a danger of fire. This is why most radiative heaters have a switch on them that will turn them off if they fall over or if the heat level becomes too high. There is always the danger that something flammable could come into contact with the filaments, as well. This is usually controlled by having a grate in front of the filaments.

Some heaters have a heated element through which a fan blows air, distributing heat to the entire area around the heater. Like radiative heaters, these pose a danger of fire and are usually equipped with the same type of safety equipment that radiative heaters have.

Where convective heaters are concerned, the safety concerns are not so extreme. In wall and ceiling mounted models, timers, thermostats and other electronics provide a means to control the amount of work the heater is actually doing. These are also made in designs that are splash proof, so they can be used in areas where it might be dangerous to use a regular space heater.

Portable convective heaters are also generally a bit safer from fire and fall hazards than our radiative heaters. These heaters can generally be touched while they are operating without burning the user, though this is never entirely safe. These heaters can also be left on a low setting for a long period, allowing them to gradually heat up a room and to do so more efficiently.


Industrial Considerations

Space heaters and other types of heaters used in industrial settings need to be more durable than those used in consumer settings. They need to be protected against dust and other environmental threats, which could diminish their efficiency or, in some cases, increase the level of danger that they pose to people and property.

Industrial space heaters and radiators tend to be more durable, more reliable and able to handle harder work than standard space heaters. The two types of equipment, as is the case with a great deal of consumer and industrial equipment are not interchangeable. This is particularly the case in two situations.

Space heaters intended to be used in industrial settings oftentimes have protection against splashes and other hazards that are likely to be present. These mishaps could end up causing serious injuries or worse if the space heater used is not adequately protected against them.

Industrial sized space heaters also tend to have quite a bit more capacity than their smaller consumer cousins do. Sizes up to 2000 W are available, providing a solution for heating very large spaces with a highly efficient and easily mounted device.



Some of the devices available for industrial use have modifications made to them that make them much more convenient and, at the same time, very easy to set up in an industrial space.

For example, tubular heaters can be mounted to the walls or the floor and provide a very compact, effective solution to heating. These generally wire directly into the mains voltage and are quickly mounted with a provided bracket. These are durable devices and they provide heat without any noise from fans or other equipment.

Other heaters might be designed for specific situations. For example, in industrial settings, heating may be needed around doors that are open to the outside air and that cannot be regularly closed. In these cases, ceiling mounted fan heaters provide excellent solutions to keeping heat in the room. These generally allow the user to adjust the direction of the airflow quite precisely and to adjust the amount of heat that the device is actually putting out. Some of them even provide a fan only function, which allows them to be used as cooling devices when the weather is hot.

Likewise, wall mounted fan heaters provide an easy solution to getting heating into areas where it may be otherwise difficult. These heaters are usually designed to direct the heat downward and can be mounted discreetly and are operated by simple on-off switches, allowing a user to turn them on when needed. While the fan heater design may not be the most efficient, being able to turn the heat off and on as needed adds an entirely other level of efficiency that can save money and energy.



For space heaters and other types of portable heaters, it’s necessary to ensure that there is some way of regulating the amount of heat that they are putting out. For some heaters, it is easiest to provide the user with an on and off switch and to just let them engage the heater whenever they need it. For others, however, such as those that are left running in rooms that aren’t always occupied, other solutions are required.

Some of the heaters have thermostats attached to them that allow them to be used much like a home heating system. A heating level can be selected and the heater will automatically turn on or off depending upon the temperature around it. Where portable heaters are concerned, however, they will measure the temperature of the air directly around them, which means that the room may be inconsistently heated. Adding other units or using a unit with a fan can more evenly distribute heat.

Simply being able to control the level of heating via controlling the power to the device is also an excellent option for increasing efficiency. This provides an easy way to determine how much energy a room really consumes. When it is mostly unoccupied or when it doesn’t need to be heated as much, the power can be turned down, reducing energy consumption but still keeping the room pleasantly warm. If the room needs to be heated up more quickly, the power level can be turned up as needed. Between this feature and a thermostat, it is easy to ensure that these devices operate in an efficient manner.


Choosing Space Heaters and Radiators

When choosing these devices, the capacity to heat, the type of heating it delivers and other options are all specified by manufacturers so that an accurate and suitable selection can be made. The maximum output power gives an idea of how much actual work the heater can do in terms of warming up a large or small room. The type of heating it provides can help guide a decision based on whether one person simply needs to be kept comfortable or an entire room needs to be heated.

The noise level also needs to be considered in units with fans. These generally have a noise level of at least 50 dB, but this can be offset by mounting the heater high on the wall or on the ceiling, which has the effect of keeping the noise levels down.

Wall-mounted and floor-mounted heaters are excellent solutions for facilities that need something more permanent but that still offers the convenience of a radiative heater.


Resource: /web/c/hvac-fans-thermal-management/air-conditioning-climate-control-units/space-heaters-radiators/