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Radiant vs. Heat Circulating Fireplace

When choosing your fireplace, you'll need to think about whether you want a radiant or heat circulating model. If you’re not sure of the difference, the following information should give you some help while you’re making your decision!

Radiant heat is infra-red radiation, emitted by a hot surface, which strikes objects in its path. A radiant fireplace is a fireplace that heats by emitting infra-red radiation. Fire heats the fireplace and the fireplace emits infra-red radiation, which in turn heats you.

With heat circulating fireplaces, heat is transferred to air moving across the hot surface. As the air heats, it rises. The rising air draws more air up after it, causing circulation of air (hence: a circulating fireplace!). A circulating fireplace uses panels spaced out from the firebox allowing air to circulate between the firebox and the panels. Some models need optional louvers to complete the unit. If young children are in the family, consider the circulating stove; its surface temperature is much cooler than that of the radiant stove – thus reducing the risk of a burn.

Also weigh the improved efficiency, and thereby lower wood requirement, of airtight versus non-airtight. Airflow requirements are important because a certain level of airflow must be maintained to support adequate combustion. Much lower flow is needed for the more tightly constructed stoves and fireplaces than for the loosely constructed ones. Because recently-constructed and well-maintained houses are tighter than those built 25 or more years ago, problems sometimes occur when ventilation air is not adequate to operate a fireplace or open stove.

What's the difference?
The fact is, all stoves produce both radiant and circulating effects. There are always air currents around any hot object and hot objects always emit infra-red radiation. The distinction is that a stove in the radiant category does not have panels designed to increase air circulation around the firebox, while a circulating stove does.

Which is better: radiant or circulating? 
One advantage of circulating stoves is that the temperature of the outer panels is much lower than the surface temperature of a radiant stove because air is circulating between the firebox and the jacket, drawing heat away. The amount of infra-red radiation emitted is lower as well, because the outer jacket absorbs some of it. This allows for closer clearances to combustible materials in the home such as Sheetrock or wood walls. On the other hand, many people prefer the look of more traditional, cast-iron stoves, which tend to be designed as radiant heaters.

Both types are effective heaters. In the final analysis, installation safety and personal style preferences are more important factors than radiant vs. circulating design.