How Do Radiant Ceiling Panels Work?

Radiant ceiling panels.

Radiant ceiling panels are a type of heating system that is significantly different from forced-air or baseboard heating systems. Other heating systems use a convection heating process.

In a forced-air system, an air handler blows air across an electric resistor or through a heat exchanger exposed to a gas flame. The heating element warms up the air, which is circulated through the building's ventilation ducts.

The warm air gradually reaches occupied spaces, and cold air may be recycled back to the heater through a return duct. In a baseboard or radiator, a boiler pumps water or steam through a series of metal pipes. These pipes also gradually transfer heat to the air.

Radiant ceiling heating panels, however, rely on a much different heat transfer mechanism.

Operation of a Radiant Ceiling Panel

Radiant panels heat a room through thermal radiation rather than convection. That is, a radiant heat panel transmits energy as photons in the infrared section of the electromagnetic spectrum. On the other hand, a furnace or boiler transmits energy via the thermal excitation of air molecules. Although the example is unrealistic, a radiant heat panel could work in the vacuum of space where other heating systems would not.

A radiant ceiling panel does very little to warm the air, but will warm any object in its direct line of sight. Radiant heat panels usually operate between 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit but can go as low as 85 degrees Fahrenheit or as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal temperature is a function of the room size as well as the panel's surface area and wattage.

Composition of a Radiant Ceiling Panel

The frame of a radiant ceiling panel is usually a metal plate or high-density fiberglass insulation board. The inside contains a solid state heating element. A decorative textured surface coating is mounted to hide the heating element. The panel is about 1 inch thick and can range in size from 2 square feet to 32 square feet. The panels are wired into a 120 volt or 240 volt electrical line by a licensed electrician.

Benefits of a Radiant Ceiling Panel

Radiant heating panels offer significant advantages over forced air systems. They are easier to install, more responsive, and more energy-efficient in some situations. Installing a radiant panel is similar to installing a fluorescent light fixture, in terms of mounting and wiring. The panel is fastened flush to the ceiling, or suspended in a grid. The panels can generate noticeable heat within five minutes of activating and cool off quickly as well.

Sets of radiant ceiling panels are typically controlled by a single thermostat in the same room. Installing these panels requires less excavation, routing, and planning than installing air ducts or radiator baseboards. This makes it convenient to set up multiple heating zones in your building, and only turn on the panels in rooms that are currently occupied. This flexibility makes radiant panels more efficient than forced-air furnaces or boilers in some situations.