Electric heating is a process in which electrical energy is converted to heat energy. Common applications include space heating, cooking, water heating and industrial processes. An electric heater is an electrical device that converts an electric current into heat. The heating element inside every electric heater is an electrical resistor, and works on the principle of Joule heating: an electric current passing through a resistor will convert that electrical energy into heat energy. Most modern electric heating devices use nichrome wire as the active element; the heating element, depicted on the right, uses nichrome wire supported by ceramic insulators.
Alternatively, a heat pump uses an electric motor to drive a refrigeration cycle, that draws heat energy from a source such as the ground or outside air and directs that heat into the space to be warmed. Some systems can be reversed so that the interior space is cooled and the warm air is discharged outside or into the ground.
Electric radiant heating uses heating elements that reach a high temperature. The element is usually packaged inside a glass envelope resembling a light bulb and with a reflector to direct the energy output away from the body of the heater. The element emits infrared radiation that travels through air or space until it hits an absorbing surface, where it is partially converted to heat and partially reflected. This heat directly warms people and objects in the room, rather than warming the air. This style of heater is particularly useful in areas through which unheated air flows. They are also ideal for basements and garages where spot heating is desired. More generally, they are an excellent choice for task-specific heating.
Radiant heaters operate silently and present the greatest potential danger of ignition of nearby furnishings due to the focused intensity of their output and lack of overheat protection. In the United Kingdom, these appliances are sometimes called electric fires, because they were originally used to replace open fires.
The active medium of the heater depicted in this section is a coil of nichrome resistance wire inside a fused silica tube, open to the atmosphere at the ends, although models exist where the fused silica is sealed at the ends and the resistance alloy is not nichrome.
In a convection heater, the heating element heats the air in contact with it by thermal conduction. Hot air is less dense than cool air, so it rises due to buoyancy, allowing more cool air to flow in to take its place. This sets up a convection current of hot air that rises from the heater, heats up the surrounding space, cools and then repeats the cycle. These heaters are sometimes filled with oil. They are ideally suited for heating a closed space. They operate silently and have a lower risk of ignition hazard if they make unintended contact with furnishings compared to radiant electric heaters.
An electric underfloor heating system has heating cables embedded in the floor. Current flows through a conductive heating material, supplied either directly from the line voltage (120 or 240 volts) or at low voltage from a transformer. The heated cables warm the flooring by direct conduction and will switch off once it reaches the temperature set by the floor thermostat. A warmer floor surface radiates heat to colder surrounding surfaces (ceiling, walls, furniture.) which absorb heat and reflects all non absorbed heat to yet other still cooler surfaces. The cycle of radiation, absorption and reflection starts slowly and slows down slowly nearing set point temperatures and ceases to take place once equilibrium is reached all-round. A floor thermostat or a room thermostat or combination controls the floor on/off. In the process of radiant heating a thin layer of air which is in touch with the warmed surfaces also absorbs some heat and this creates a little convection (air circulation). Contrary to belief people are not heated by this warmed circulating air or convection (convection has a cooling effect) but are heated by the direct radiation of the source and reflection of its surrounds. Comfort is reached at lower air temperature due to eliminating circulating air. Radiant heating experiences highest comfort levels as people's own energy (± 70 Watt for an adult) (must radiate out in heating season) is in balance with its surrounds. Compared to convection heating system based on academic research the air temperatures may be lowered by up to 3 degrees. One variation is using tubes filled with circulating hot water as heat source for warming the floor. The heating principle remains the same. Both old style electric and warm water (hydronic) underfloor heating systems embedded in the floor construction are slow and cannot respond to external weather changes or internal demand/lifestyle requirements. The latest variant places specialized electric heating systems and blankets directly under the floor-decor and on top of additional insulation all placed on top of construction floors. Construction floors stay cold. The principle change of heat source positioning allows it to respond within minutes to changing weather and internal demand requirements such as life style being in/out, at work, rest, sleep, more people present/cooking, etc.
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