Electric heaters: function, types and applications

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Vitoplanar EC4 electric heater

Hardly any heating system is as suited to the decentralised heating of living spaces as electric heaters are. Whether as direct heat like a rapid heater or as radiant heat like an infrared heater. Among other things, an electric heater can be installed almost anywhere to supplement an existing heating system. After all, electric radiators are available in numerous output ranges, shapes and colours. They can also be put into operation very quickly, are easy to install and do not require any time-consuming or costly planning. In addition, most models score points with their practically maintenance-free operation.

How electric heaters work

Heat from electricity is generated by allowing electric current to flow through a resistive conductor (the resistance heating component is also called a heating conductor or heating resistor) so that the conductor heats up. The term "resistance heating" refers to electric heating. It heats the building using electricity. Additional energy sources are not required. When combined with a PV system, such a heating system works in an environmentally responsible way. The resistance heater can be used as a centralised or decentralised solution.


Straightforward installation

However, it is not only the function that is easy to explain. Installation is also very simple and quick thanks to the plug & play system. Plug & play in this case means that the electric heaters only need to be connected to domestic power. Furthermore, plug & play means the connection between the infrared panels and the radio receiver can be established in just a few simple steps.

The different types of Viessmann electric heaters

There are many electric heaters to choose from. Depending on the application, they can be combined and customised. They are best categorised by two criteria: heat emission and type of installation. In addition to direct heaters and storage heaters, there are also infrared heaters, which will be discussed separately here. The manner of installation also plays a role: can the electric heater be mounted on the wall or might underfloor heating be a better option for you? Viessmann has products in its portfolio for all the types mentioned. 

Electric heaters such as fan heaters, radiant heaters, wall convectors and infrared heaters belong to the direct heating category. As the name suggests, these units emit thermal energy generated directly into the room. However, there is a distinction here too: this is because a fan heater, for example, works like a hairdryer and uses air as a heat transfer medium.


The heat transfer is completely different with an infrared heater. Primarily, it does not heat the air, but itself and surrounding objects. The latter then pass the thermal energy to the room as radiant heat. Being very similar to the sun's rays, radiant heat is pleasantly enjoyed by many people.

Vitoplanar infrared heater

Heating with electricity is also possible with a storage heater such as a night storage heater. This has a storage medium that is first heated with the help of electricity and then releases the thermal energy to the room where it is installed over the course of the day. Unlike a direct heater, such a heater still radiates heat even when it is no longer charged with electricity.

Direct heating systems such as Viessmann rapid heaters and wall convectors can be quickly and easily fitted to the required wall. They are just as suitable as electric heaters for the bathroom as they are for heating little-used rooms, such as converted garages or conservatories. Thanks to their low installation depth and the large output stages, they always remain discreet. Mirrored electric radiators (infrared panels) provide a special feature. The polished glass surface is not only pleasantly eye-catching. Similar to a conventional mirror, such electric radiators also make the room they are installed in appear larger. You will find detailed information on this on the  Vitoplanar wall heater page.

An electric heater does not necessarily have to be mounted on a wall. The decentralised and centralised heating of rooms can also be achieved from below – even out of sight. This is made possible by electric heating mats that are suitable for parquet/laminate floors and ceramic coverings. Heating mats from Viessmann are characterised by their overall height of just 1.3 millimetres (Vitoplanar EF3) and can be easily laid under flooring. Such mats are the ideal solution if, for example, screed is not renewed during a modernisation project. You can read what sets the devices apart on the thin-bed heating system page.

Flexible application options for electric heaters 

In newly built low energy and passive houses, the energy demand for heating is extremely low. The application options for Viessmann electric heaters are therefore very diverse. Nevertheless, there are also living areas where it is advisable to install a Vitoplanar panel heater, for example, to quickly heat tiled floors in the bathroom and kitchen.

When modernising existing buildings, you also have various options for having a Vitoplanar product installed. In addition to electric underfloor heating mats for laying on screed and below laminate, parquet and tiled floors, Viessmann's comprehensive range also includes infrared heaters with variable output levels for wall and ceiling installation. Let our partners advise you in detail about the options to find the best possible variant for you. 


A choice of different surfaces depending on the application

A variety of surface finishes can be selected to suit the respective application area. This includes the radiant surface being either finished in a RAL colour or supplied with a white glass front. For bathrooms or hallways, our infrared panel heaters with a mirrored surface are also available. Of course, all devices can be operated in an environmentally conscious manner with sustainably generated electricity, which you can obtain via a green electricity tariff or generate yourself.

"I used to have to go to a gym to lift weights for strength training. Now I don't need to use the car, I have more time for my family, and am helping protect the environment." The Vitoplanar electric underfloor heating system in the fitness room and shower is also efficient and environmentally compatible. Space saving infrared area heating is additionally installed.

"Since I only train here at certain times, the house is heated quickly and doesn't use energy unnecessarily." A sauna in winter helps make the body more resilient and recover more quickly from a competition or a strenuous training session. A large PV system can be seen on a neighbouring barn roof. The electricity is still fed into the grid, "but we want to use it ourselves in the future and install a battery storage system for this purpose".

What about the economic viability of an electric heater?

Regardless of whether you want to buy an infrared radiator or plan to operate a fan heater: Several factors need to be considered for the units to work economically. They include the energy quality of the building, the duration of use of the electrical appliances and the heating output.

To ensure that the use of electric heating remains economical in the long term, the building to be heated should be well insulated. This is the case for new buildings and buildings that have already undergone energy efficient modernisation.

To supplement an existing heating system

Electric heaters show their strengths best when used as supplementary heating or in buildings with low heat demand. This is because they are uncomplicated to put into operation and emit the heat required to the room in the shortest possible time. They are only suitable as the sole heat generator in very well insulated houses.


An oversized radiator takes up an unnecessary amount of space. A radiator that is too small, on the other hand, takes longer to heat the room to the temperature required. Since the appliances come in numerous output stages, it is advisable to choose an electric heater that is the best fit in terms of both size and heating output. To find the right radiator for your application and wishes, we recommend conducting a heat demand calculation. We are also happy to help you choose the right heating system.

In our advice section, you will find more tips on Purchasing a new heating system.

Is the operation of an electric heater sustainable?

The share of renewable energies in the electricity, heat and transport sectors has been growing steadily for years. The largest increase can be attributed to the electricity sector. In concrete terms, this means that more and more electricity comes from wind farms, photovoltaic systems, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal systems. According to government figures, the share of renewable energies is 36.2 percent of total gross electricity consumption. By 2035, the share is expected to rise to up to 60 percent. This sustainably generated electricity can be used in many ways, including for heaters such as heat pumps and electric heaters.

Sustainably generated electricity: If you want to buy electric heating and reduce the burden on the environment, you can take out a tariff for sustainably generated electricity. This does not come from conventional power systems and is therefore 100 percent environmentally responsible.