Church Heating - the use of Infrared Heating Technology

28 February 2024

As church communities continue to take steps to reduce their carbon emissions to help tackle the effects of climate change, considering different types of heating provision may form part of any proposed changes.

Where the type of heating used is oil or gas-based this can significantly impact your carbon footprint and parishes may wish to explore alternative, lower carbon options, either now or in the future to replace the use of fossil fuels.

Alternative forms of heating will need to be carefully considered to select a system that meets the needs of your particular church. The Church of England has developed some helpful guidance to support parishes on this journey.

The pros and cons of alternative systems need to be considered to establish what works best for a particular church and church insurers should be consulted as part of the decision-making process to establish what impact a change in heating could have on insurance cover.

As the leading church insurer, Ecclesiastical supports customers to take positive steps to tackle climate change, including highlighting some of the key risk considerations when looking at alternative heating systems. This guidance focuses on the use of infrared heating technology which may be considered as a means of providing heating to members of a congregation.

As the need for alternative methods of heating buildings continues, the provision of infrared heating is increasingly being considered as a viable and cost-effective solution. Infrared offers an energy efficient alternative to more conventional types of heating systems.

The technology works on the principle of emitting infrared rays that transfer heat to persons or objects in their path, rather than heating the air space within a building. It is for this reason that they may be considered a suitable means of heating provision in large spaces where heating the entire space may be undesirable or extremely costly.

There are a variety of different types of infrared heating systems and products ranging from panel-type heaters to chandelier-type suspended fittings. There are also more commonly seen wall-mounted heaters that are increasingly seen in commercial outdoor dining areas.

The range of benefits to the installation of such systems include:

  • Simple to install and locate in key locations where occupants congregate
  • Energy efficient alternative to other more traditional means of heating
  • Limited heat loss as the technology heats objects rather than air
  • Quick to heat up persons/objects, as opposed to technologies that require the heating of large spaces
  • Can provide a cost-effective means of ensuring a comfortable environment for building occupants
  • No traditional combustion processes involved
  • Can be used to provide the sole means of heating, or to supplement other more traditional heating provision.

There are two main types of Infrared heating technologies, known as Near Infrared (NIR) and Far Infrared (FIR). While both operate using the same basic principles, the use of Near Infrared (NIR) is not considered appropriate or safe to use in an environment such as a church or public building for safety reasons. Only Far Infrared (FIR) heaters should be used in these environments.

Key risk considerations when considering the introduction of infrared heating devices include:

  • Select products that have the relevant CE Marking. This indicates it satisfies the legislative requirements to be sold in Europe. CE marking is still recognised in the UK.
  • Ensure heaters are installed by a competent person / qualified electrical contractor.
  • Do not use trailing electrical leads, which can create both a trip hazard and an increased fire risk in the event of damage to electrical cable insulation.
  • When positioning heaters, consider not only where they will provide the greatest benefit to occupants, but also such issues as provision of access for routine maintenance and inspection.
  • Ensure a safe distance from objects in and around the church building and that the heaters are suitably distanced from any combustible materials, contents, furniture or finishes to the building and any seasonal decorations.
  • Select heaters that include a thermal cut-out, isolating the power in the event excessive temperatures are detected.
  • Ensure products are installed according to manufacturer guidelines.
  • Such devices must form part of the routine and formal inspection and testing regimes for the premise.
  • Fire risk assessments for church buildings will need to be reviewed and updated to reflect the introduction of infrared heating, any change of risk this creates and your corresponding fire safety measures.
  • Consider the effects on the fabric of the building when considering any alternative means of heating provision.