In the age of e-commerce, warehouses and other large industrial facilities are more important to the world’s economy than ever before. So it’s no surprise they’re springing up across the country. Consider, for example, that warehouse construction starts were set to increase 36 percent in 2021, with another 13 percent boost in 2022, according to an outlook in Engineering News-Record.

And with the proliferation of these large facilities — warehouses with 1 million-plus square feet are no longer anomalies — comes the challenge of heating a whole lot of space to ensure employee comfort and proper temperatures for inventory and equipment. That’s where infrared heaters shine.

How infrared heaters work

Infrared heaters work by burning fuel such as propane to heat a heating element that creates infrared radiant energy. This energy is then directed down to the area below, where people, objects, and floors absorb it as heat. “These surfaces absorb the heat and then re-radiate it back to the surrounding air to maintain a blanket of warmth within the heated space. This is known as working from the bottom up, which saves energy and lowers fuel bills,” says Paul Horne, vice president of Gas-Fired Products, which manufactures infrared and other types of heating equipment.

Propane infrared heaters create radiant energy that delivers heat quickly and efficiently directly to the people and objects that need it. Photo courtesy of Gas-Fired Products.

Unlike some other types of heaters, infrared heaters don’t directly heat the air, so the heat is delivered more quickly and efficiently to the people and objects needing it. It feels more like the warmth of sunlight. For people working in a warehouse or other large industrial space, that means comfort. “Your whole body feels warm, not just a specific area like your head or your shoulders,” says Kevin Morgan, energy sales director for manufacturer Rinnai.

“More and more engineers and installers are learning the benefits of radiant (infrared) heat, especially the energy cost savings,” Horne says. “As the technology expands and the drive for energy conservation increased, radiant heat has started to take the spotlight more due to the natural efficiency and effectiveness that it has over traditional convection heat.”

Infrared heaters can also heat large areas with minimal temperature stratification, Horne says. They operate quietly and don’t require extensive maintenance.

How to specify infrared heaters

Like many other types of industrial equipment, infrared heaters can be made to work off several different power sources, including electricity, natural gas, and propane. But propane stands out.

“Propane usually costs less than electricity and will cost the customer less money on energy compared to electric radiant heat,” Horne says. “Also, propane is an easier fuel source to supply to radiant heaters than electricity.”

In areas where the natural gas infrastructure hasn’t been developed yet, or might never be fully developed, propane’s ability to be delivered by truck and its abundance throughout the country are major benefits. Considering that warehouses and other large industrial spaces are increasingly being built in rural, undeveloped areas, propane stands out as a great fuel choice for infrared heating, not to mention many other industrial applications such as forklifts.

Beyond the power source, builders, owners, and operators of open-space facilities should consider several factors when specifying infrared heaters.

One factor is choosing between a low-intensity or high-intensity version, Horne says. Low-intensity models are generally used for covering large areas, and high-intensity ones are used for spot-heating applications. An industrial space like a warehouse will likely have a combination of low- and high-intensity heaters to cover larger, emptier spaces and high-traffic areas or spots where product, employees, and equipment are more concentrated.

Morgan says the most important factor is the size of the space that needs to be heated, which will determine the optimal number, placement, intensity, and features of the heaters. Also, it’s crucial to factor in the placement and number of windows and doors — where heat loss happens — type and amount of insulation in the building, and type of flooring (for example, concrete versus wood), he says.

Horne adds it’s important to consider the ceiling height of your application site and mounting height of the heaters. Having a higher ceiling and mounting height means the heater can cover a larger area but with lower heat on average, while an infrared heater that’s mounted lower will cover a smaller space but will provide a more intense heat to employees, inventory, and equipment below.

With their many advantages and the building boom for open-space facilities showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, infrared heaters are sure to be a hot commodity throughout the e-commerce age and beyond.

Learn more about propane’s benefits for warehouses and other industrial facilities.