Radiation Sensation

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, September 30, 2009 1:53pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Infrared radiant heat isn’t like most other sources of warmth.

Instead of heating the air, it heats objects, such as furniture, flooring, countertops and, most importantly, people.

It’s not a concept everyone understands easily, said Joel Pemberton, who owns Anacortes-based Island Green Heating, which sells infrared radiant heating panels.

Pemberton usually asks customers to think about the warmth of the sun.

“The sun is not heating air. It is heating the surface of the Earth,” Pemberton said. “It is one of the most amazing feelings of comfort that you could possible experience from a heating system. That’s what we hear from all our customers. They love the way it feels.”

Pemberton and Jim Youngsman, owner of Comfort Glow Heating of Mount Vernon, which also sells electric-powered panels, will let consumers decide for themselves at the Everett fall home show, which begins its three-day run Friday.

They’ll have one of their panels running to simulate a residential environment so consumers can experience the heat firsthand.

“It will be making our booth very nice and warm,” Youngsman said. “We will have a small panel that you can handle and feel and touch.”

Youngsman discovered infrared heat as a commercial heating option more than 30 years ago when he was searching for a way to heat the large greenhouses and, later, an 8,000-square-foot office building at his wholesale nursery business, Skagit Gardens in Mount Vernon.

He tried it and saved dramatically on his heating bills.

His plants loved it, too.

He became so enchanted with the technology, he eventually sold his botanical enterprise and started pursuing infrared heat as a new business.

Like the sun, infrared heat is primarily a line-of-sight system, which means users need to be in view of a panel to experience its maximum heat.

“If you’re in the shade, it feels cooler than if you’re in the direct sunlight,” Pemberton said, adding that panels are spaced 6 to 8 feet apart to ensure even coverage in larger rooms.

Objects in infrared-heated rooms, including typically cool things such as leather sofas and bathroom floor tiles, help heat rooms, too, by re-radiating some the infrared heat.

Infrared heat is particularly useful for warming covered outdoor decks and patios because it warms only objects, namely people trying to enjoy the outdoors on a cool evening, and not the air, which is impossible to heat efficiently, Pemberton said.

The U.S. Department of Energy describes infrared radiant heat as an energy-saving heating option, especially in additions because the panels can provide warmth to the new area without taxing the home’s existing heating system.

Infrared heating panels, according to the Energy Department, have the quickest response time of any heating technology, which can result in energy savings, particularly in rooms that are rarely used.

Youngsman said infrared panels can easily replace space heaters, especially those used in an office environment.

Unlike other electric space heaters that use 1,600 watts or more per hour, infrared underdesk heat panels, which cost about $100, use only 100 to 200 watts per hour.

“You can turn it on with a flip of a switch at your desk,” Youngsman said, adding that he just sold a small model to a woman who needed a cozy garage space for her chinchillas.

Pemberton said infrared systems can be more efficient than many other sources of heat, including heat pumps and baseboard heat.

Is infrared radiation safe?

“It’s not like ultraviolet. It can’t give you sunburns. That’s at the other end of the spectrum,” Youngsman said. “If anything, it has health benefits. Anecdotally, people tend to feel better.”

Pemberton said the invisible rays of infrared, perceived by humans as warmth, emit virtually zero electromagnetic radiation.

“Your microwave will put off more,” he said.

Youngsman said consumers’ biggest objection to infrared heating systems is the panels, which are typically 2 feet wide and up to 8 feet long.

He solved the aesthetic challenge in his home by making the panels an architectural part of his wood ceiling, giving them a look similar to skylights.

Pemberton said the recycled-aluminum panels, which can be painted, take up less than 10 percent of ceiling space.

Youngsman said he likes the near-silence of his home system.

“It’s quiet. If you have a good thermostat, you are not even sensitive to when it is going on or going off. If you’re sitting in a room or just walking around the room, you’ll be unaware of the heat source,” Youngsman said. “It is the most comfortable heat I’ve ever lived under.”

Installation, which should be done by a licensed electrician, requires wiring to each panel. Most panels, however, don’t need more than a 110-volt power source, the type typically used for light fixtures.

Pemberton said the average cost for panels to outfit a 2,000-square-foot new construction home would be about $8,000. Wiring costs could add 50 cents to $1 per square foot of living space.

Both Pemberton and Youngsman sell the Enerjoy brand heating panels, made in the United States by the Connecticut-based Solid State Heating Corp.

Youngman believes the panels, popular in other parts of the world, are reaching a tipping point in the Northwest.

“As more and more people experience this method of heating and realize the savings, economy and comfort, they’re going to start saying, ‘Where have we been all these years?’ ”

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037, sjackson@heraldnet.com


Comfort Glow Heating

Jim Youngsman

Mount Vernon



Island Green Heating

Joel Pemberton




Solid State Heating Corp.


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