Blue Flame vs Radiant Heating – Differences Explored

As energy prices continue to be ever rising many people are now taking a greater interest in how they heat their homes. Rather than heating the whole home with a traditional heating system, using a targeted heat source in a chosen room can be a means of keeping the bills down. Gas heaters can be a good option, however, there are a lot of different considerations when it comes to picking one.  In this article we will help you get to grips with one of the main differences, choosing between a blue flame and infrared heating approaches.

Blue flame and radiant are both variations of vent-less heaters that can be run on gas or propane. Blue flame models heat the air in the room while radiant heat options transfer their heat energy into the objects around them to increase temperature.

What’s the difference between Blue Flame and Radiant Heat?

Both radiant heat and blue flame heaters are very efficient, 99.9% for good models, they just work in different ways.  Both operate on liquid gas or propane and don’t need an external flue or vent.

Radiant heaters, sometimes referred to as infrared heaters, provide direct heat. This method is achieved using electromagnetic radiation, the same way the sun generates heat, and transfers it into objects rather than the air around it.

Blue flame heaters by comparison have a visible flame and provide heat to the air in the room they are operating within.  This means it can heat wider areas as the heat can circulate around a whole room.  The flame has a blue tinge as it comes from burning gas rather than organic fuel such as firewood.

How safe are Blue Flame Heaters?

It is understandable that some people may feel a bit of trepidation around a blue flame heater. This visible flicker of a flame is a more apparent reminder of fire than infrared heaters that glow.

There are some basic safety precautions to take to use a gas flame heater safely, but these are relatively minor, and they are being used daily across the world with a very low rate of injury.

The risks with a blue flame heater normally result from a fault with the unit, so making sure your unit is in good condition and is being used as per the manufacturer’s guidelines is essential. A faulty heater can be dangerous if it begins to overproduce carbon monoxide. Having a carbon monoxide monitor in the room where you will be using the heater is a way to keep everyone safe and is recommended. Ensuring you do not use a blue flame heater in a very confined space or without adequate ventilation is also a consideration.

The other risk associated with blue flame heaters is the risk of fires or burning if someone or something gets too close to the lit flame. Most models come with some sort of grille or screen. However, the surrounding area can get extremely hot. While most adults know not to touch this, pets and children may not be as careful.

Is Radiant Heat more efficient?

By a very narrow margin, radiant heat is technically more efficient than blue flame heating. However in reality the difference is negligible. The reason that infrared heaters are seen as slightly more efficient is due to the direction of heat that can be achieved.

In a blue flame heater, the flame heats the air around the flame which then rises upwards and circulates into the room raising the overall temperature. This can take slightly longer than an infrared heater where the heat radiates out from the level the heater is at, less heat is lost upwards.

It is worth remembering though that both radiant and blue flame heaters are considered incredibly efficient with very little wasted heat output.

Do Blue Flame Heaters produce carbon monoxide?

Yes, but they are designed to produce very minimal amounts when working correctly. Carbon monoxide is the by-product of combustion. This occurs in traditional coal and wood fires. However, they are vented to the outside via flues or chimneys, which means the carbon monoxide can escape that way and not build up to dangerous levels. A blue flame heater is not vented to the outside so the carbon monoxide dissipates back into the room it is being used in.

This is the reason that the manufacturer’s advice recommends using a blue flame heater in a reasonably sized room with good ventilation. Blue flame heaters should be avoided in very small spaces like small workshops, sheds, or outbuildings.

Do Blue Flame Heaters produce moisture?

Blue flame heaters do not introduce additional moisture into the environment. Blue flame heating is actively heating the air circulating around the room. This means that rather than adding moisture the air quality can feel dryer. This is due to the chemical reaction of burning gas to create the blue flame, which doesn’t create the same moisture products that occur in burning organic matter like wood.

What are the disadvantages of Radiant Heating?

We’ve discussed some of the drawbacks of blue flame heaters in terms of carbon monoxide and fire risk but there are also some drawbacks to consider when thinking about an infrared or radiant heater.

  • Risk of burns

Any heat source presents a risk of burning. The heated coils or elements in an infrared heater get incredibly hot. They will always be behind some sort of guard but there will still be hot points on the casing of the heater and care needs to always be taken that no items brush against it for fear of igniting.

  • Loss of heat quickly when it turns off

As infrared heaters are not heating the air in the room, the minute the heater is turned off you will feel the temperature begin to drop.

  • Excessive light

Infrared or radiant heaters exude a reddish-orange glow, when they are turned up to full power this light source can be bright. Depending on the situation the additional light source may not be preferable and could impact the ambient lighting levels negatively.

  • Only provides targeted heating

The nature of radiant heating means the unit will only heat the objects in the range of its infrared wavelength. It will often be that you need to be in direct line with the heater to benefit from its warmth. 

Our Conclusion

In conclusion, both blue flame and radiant heaters are great, efficient options for heating on a smaller scale within your home. Essentially, they both excel slightly over the other depending on the specific circumstances.

If you are looking to heat a well-insulated,  small to mid-sized indoor area, then a blue flame heater is the preferable option. The ability to circulate heated air will be effective up to this size. This will help the room hold heat even once the unit is turned off. Particularly large or poorly insulated spaces will be too much for their heating capacity.

Radiant infrared heaters, on the other hand, can be helpful if you plan to move them between one or more rooms as they work well in both well-insulated and poorly-insulated spaces. This is because the design warms up the objects rather than the air. If you need very quick heating the radiant option is effective as soon as it turns on.  Radiant heaters are unlikely however to be able to heat larger spaces or create the encompassing warmth to envelope a whole room.

No matter what approach there are some safety concerns, that are universal.

  • Ensuring that the heater is not too close to any soft furnishing or flammable materials.
  • Ensuring that the heater is not easily touched by pets or children.
  • Ensuring that the unit is in good order and being used to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Ensuring that a heater is not left unattended.

In addition, a carbon monoxide detector is also indicated when selecting a blue flame heater option.