Space heaters are fantastic solutions to heating any space, from small to large, and even in the great expanse of the outdoors. Deciding between a quartz and ceramic space heater will be important: here’s a guide to all the ins and outs.
To begin, let’s understand what each option is, and how they work. The respective histories and technologies of these heating methods are surprisingly fascinating! We’ll also go through all of the factors to consider in deciding between the two, like Efficiency, Power, Safety, Cost, Speed, and Portability. Then, finally, we’ll outline all of the alternatives and their respective pluses and minuses. There are many societal, environmental, and personal factors involved in choosing the best kind of heating for you. At the end, we’ll discuss the current state of the environment and economy to help you understand the impact of your choices.
Quartz heating is a type of radiant heating, commonly referred to as short-wave infrared heating.
Radiant heating as a general form uses infrared waves to directly heat the surfaces of objects. All objects emit and absorb infrared heat, and different materials have very different qualities of absorption and retention. Heat is on the electromagnetic spectrum with a frequency below visible light. Infrared heat, and its potential uses, was discovered in the early 19th century by William Herschel, who named the invisible light as ‘infrared’ because he believed it was ‘below the red light,’ as ‘infra’ in Latin translates to ‘below.’ As he discovered a form of light beyond red light in the electromagnetic spectrum, which was the first time in history that it was shown there were types of light that cannot be seen by the naked eye. This is actually a pretty big discovery, with many different applications other than infrared heat. The very first quartz heaters used what is known as ‘near infrared’ or ‘short wave infrared,’ which is closest to red in the light spectrum and able to contain large amounts of heat. Herschel’s discovery is the basis of the technology used in most quartz heaters.
Electric infrared energy travels in straight lines from the heat source. This energy is directed into specific patterns by optically designed reflectors. Infrared, like light, travels outward from the heat source and diffuses over a distance. Think of it like the sun’s light, travelling in parallel lines, and able to traverse distances if not interrupted by objects. Quartz heating, therefore, is not affected by wind and able to directly heat people and objects. This makes it particularly suited to outdoor heating.
A quartz heater, specifically, releases heat from an element that is enclosed in a quartz tube. Quartz is a mineral of many varieties that consists primarily of silica, or silicon dioxide (SiO2). Many varieties are gemstones, including amethyst, citrine, smoky quartz, and rose quartz. Sandstone, composed mainly of quartz, is an important building stone. The purpose of the tube is to protect the heating element and also to stop the escape of convection heat. Quartz as a material is well suited to this job!
When the tube reaches the right temperature, the heat is emitted out of the tube. Because the infrared spectrum is almost outside the absorption spectrum of air, the infrared heat is directly absorbed by the people and objects near the heater and very little heat is absorbed by the air. This makes it an extremely efficient form of heating.
Ok, now moving on to Ceramic Heaters.
While ceramic and Quartz heaters may not seem that different on the surface, the technologies they are harnessing to emit heat are vastly different.
Ceramic heaters work using the principle of resistive heating. In simple terms, this is a process that passes an electric current through a conductor to produce heat. In this case, the conductor is a ceramic plate. Ceramic offers excellent thermal conductivity as it offers more resistance to the current. As the current struggles to pass through the ceramic, it produces more heat in doing so! This is a principle we all learnt in grade school: friction creates heat!
Ceramic heaters have ceramic plates attached to coils of metal that conduct heat. The ceramic plates then absorb the heat and release it into the air. More broadly, this form of heating is called convection heating, which uses currents that circulate throughout the body of the appliance and across its heating element. This process, following the principle of thermal conduction, heats up the air, reducing its density relative to colder air and causing it to rise.
The technology and concept date back to Ancient times. Heating systems, including hearths, furnaces, and stoves, operated primarily through convection. Fixed central hearths, which were first excavated and retrieved in Greece, date back to 2500 BC, while crude fireplaces were used as early as the 800s AD and in the 13th century.
Now that you understand the histories and technologies used in these two different forms of space heaters, let’s do a comparative analysis to help you understand which option will be right for you.
If energy efficiency is your number one priority, the quartz heater is the one for you. Quartz heaters are one of the most efficient heating element available on the market. They convert 100% of the electrical energy used into heat. All parts come fully encased in a steel housing, which prevents heat from escaping from the back of the device. Like discussed above, this form of heating does not go wasted in the surrounding air, it really efficiently reaches the people and things in the surrounding area at a rapid pace. Ultimately, for outdoor heating this option is the most efficient: it doesn’t make much sense to use anything else.
In comparison, a ceramic heater is not quite as efficient, but still boasts a 96% infrared energy efficiency, reaching high temperatures for a minimal cost. The convective heater can warm up the whole room easily. It has a blowing fan attached that spreads the hot air rapidly, so if you want to heat up the air in the room quickly it will do a good job.
In terms of energy efficiency, in comparison to central heating, space heaters use less energy, yet in the end are not as efficient for larger spaces. For any smaller spaces, using either a quartz or ceramic heater is a great idea
Quartz heaters convert 100 percent of the electrical energy used into heat but lose their range after 10 to 15 feet. They are perfect in a space like a sauna, where the room is extremely small, and you really want to just heat the bodies inside of it. Infrared saunas have been all the rage lately. Studies have looked at the effects their use has on chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, headaches, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and found some evidence of benefit. On the other hand, A good ceramic heater offers 85 percent efficiency, and is able to heat up an entire room. This means it is strictly speaking more powerful. The range can be a lot higher than quartz heaters, while the latter is more powerful at a closer range. S0, pick your poison! Depending on your purpose, either one could be the more powerful option. ~I have a little bunkee at my cottage that we heat with a ceramic space heater, and it is perfect. Even on cold nights, we can comfortably sleep in this minimally insulated structure on the water.
There are different safety concerns for each type of space heater. For quartz heaters, because of the direct heating method, you need to keep the heater at least 3 feet from any object or wall to avoid overheating, or risk of fire. Ceramic heaters tend to be safer, because they operate at lower temperatures. With Ceramic space heaters, there is an exterior plastic covering that should remain cool at all times, even while it’s running and keeping the room warm. This should make it safer but even so, a malfunctioning unit can still be a fire hazard and present a potential safety risk. The nature of the material that is the heat conductor, ceramics, makes it very safe: it cannot overheat. They are easier to clean and keep safe, where quartz heaters can be susceptible to breaking.
The cost of these heaters are relatively similar, and will mostly depend on the size, quality and source. For both ceramic and quartz, they can range from twenty five dollars, to two hundred. This is for personal use, if you’re buying for commercial purposes, there are options around 400 dollars, and you’ll most likely need to buy multiple.
The quartz heater will immediately heat your body, and objects around you. Imagine hurrying to leave before skiing, and wanting to heat your socks and mittens: a quartz heater would quickly and efficiently make them toasty, setting you up for a warm and comfortable ski session. On the other hand, for quickly heating an entire room, and reaching further corners, the ceramic heater is much quicker. The fan feature blows the warm air through the room, quickly distributing it through the space. Imagine arriving at a cabin where you haven’t turned on the central heating yet, and turning on a ceramic heater, quickly getting the rooms warm enough to comfortably take off your coats.
Both the ceramic and quartz heater come in extremely portable options. They can come with handles, be super light weight, or can come larger, to be installed in one place. Think of those large tall lamp-like metal heaters you see a lot outside at restaurants. They are most likely quartz heaters, and would be tricky to move. We’ve probably all had the experience of trying to be as close as possible to the heater while seated outside at a restaurant; the waiters are usually pretty reluctant to move the thing, because it’s heavy and extremely expensive to replace if damaged.
So, you have a sense of the different uses, strengths and weaknesses of the quartz and ceramic heaters. If you still don’t feel like either option is right for you, or just want to understand what else is on the market, keep reading to find out about all the alternative space heaters.
1. Oil Filled Space Heater
Similarly to ceramic heaters, oil filled space heaters are in the family “radiator heaters”. They also have aesthetic similarities to traditional radiator heaters found in old homes. These heaters are portable, like the others, and run on electricity.
The mechanics on the inside are different than ceramic heaters, though. The material used to conduct heat is diathermic oil. This oil gets heated up and circulates through the columns (or fins). As the fins get hot, the surface temperature rises and heat is released into the air.
The major difference in terms of the effect of this type of heater, however, is that the oil filled space heaters do not come with fans. Since oil filled space heaters use an internal fluid to heat up a large exterior metal surface, a fan cannot be used to help distribute the heat. The heat can only radiate off of the unit through the process of convection.
Pros of the Oil Heater:
- Heat is long-lasting and continues even when the heater is turned off
- Very efficient and doesn’t have to continuously run to provide heat
- Some include a digital thermostat
- Easy to move around if it has wheels or
Cons of The Oil Heater:
- Speed of the heat can’t be controlled
- Can’t heat large rooms as most max out at 150 sq. ft. as a primary heat source and 300 sq. ft. as a supplemental heat source
- The housing gets very hot
- Heavier than other types of heaters (around 16-20 lbs.)
- Heat can’t be oscillated
2. Propane Space Heater
The propane space heater is unique within its class! It is the only type of space heater that does not use electricity as its power source. It uses liquid propane to fuel it, meaning that you cannot simply plug it into the wall. On the one hand, this truly makes them more portable than any other option on the market. There is no cord required, and they can operate even in a power-outage. On the other hand, you do need to buy liquid propane in a canister to fuel this heater. The propane comes in a few different sizes, determining how portable it will be.
These heaters really are the highest power option as well. They are about twenty percent cheaper to run than any other space heater that runs on electricity. A propane space heater work similarly to an infrared heater in order to heat up a room: it emits electromagnetic waves into the air to heat up objects close by. This design makes them the other great choice for outdoor areas like a patio, with the added bonus of being cordless.
Propane heaters come in two varieties: with a fan and without a fan. This also makes them versatile! The fan is not necessary to distribute heat, but can be helpful to speed up the process.
Pros of the propane heater:
- Most portable and not restricted by a power cord
- Doesn’t require electricity to run
- Hottest heat available
- Cheapest type of heater to operate
- Inexpensive to buy
Cons of The propane heater:
- Requires fuel to operate so you must have enough available to keep the heat going
- Higher risk of fire and explosion risks due to a flame and burning fuel
- Not every type can be used indoors safely
- Some types of propane space heaters emit carbon dioxide and must be well ventilated
3. Fan Space Heater
Fan space heaters have many similar qualities to ceramic heaters, but have one distinguishing feature: the heating element. Instead of using ceramic plates, fan space heaters heat up a metal coil. The coil is what transfers heat into the air. As you could probably tell by their name, they always come with a fan. The fan is actually more central to their functioning, however, as it blows air over the metal coil which pushes heat into the room. The fan space heater is really he most compact and easy to use and handle, as the housing stays cool.
Pros of the fan heater:
- Compact size
- Instant heat
- Heat can be oscillated
- Cool-to-the-touch housing
- Easy to move around
Cons of The fan heater:
- Heat stops being transferred as soon as the heater is turned off
- Must constantly run (and use electrical energy) to deliver heat
- Doesn’t heat a very large space (best for smaller areas)
- Most of these types of heaters only include turn-dial thermostats, so you can pick a precise degree
- Heat transfer can be blocked by physical objects
During the pandemic, oil prices have skyrocketed. So, many people have turned to space heaters to try to efficiently heat their homes. The main distinguishing feature between different types of space heaters is radiation versus convection: heating objects directly, or diffusing hot air throughout a room. The question remains, is it more efficient to use a space heater room-by-room, or to heat your entire home with central heat? In terms of both cost and energy efficiency, the answer seems to be dependent on many factors, and so not easy to answer.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that more than 50 percent of energy used in American homes goes to heating and cooling. Recently, places that are usually extremely warm all year round, like Texas, have experienced cold snaps that have left residents freezing without the infrastructure in their homes to stay warm. In these cases, space heaters are the obvious and necessary solution. It is a sad twisted situation, where we are in a positive feedback loop: the more energy we consume, the more we accelerate climate change. Then, the rapidly accelerating effects of climate change create crises where we need intervention, like mass heating infrastructure in a place that never needed it before. So, energy efficiency is an extremely important issue in choosing heatin systems for your home.
We turned to the voice of experts to answer the question of debate between centralized and space heating. Dr. John Haymaker, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford says that “It depends on . . . how warm [it is outside], where is the house, how efficient are the heaters, et cetera.”. There is no consensus across the board for which option is more efficient and cheap. It seems that regardless of the heating method you choose, insulation is really the key factor for efficiency in heating indoor spaces. Being diligent about closing doors and windows, and sealing cracks is also an important step in the process.
Providing temporary heat outdoors is a whole other ballgame, and between propane and quartz heaters, you can’t really go wrong. These heating options are all great extra comfort, and can be worth the purchase. If your ultimate goal is efficiency, for your wallet and the planet, then a wool sweater and long johns may be your best option! Our invention of technologies like all of these various heating implements have helped us, as the human race, to survive in the colder parts of the world. We hope this guide has provided you with a thorough understanding of the mechanics behind, and applications of the quartz and ceramic heaters, so you can go forth and choose the right option for you with confidence!