Those who specify infra-red tube heating systems (ie., mechanical engineers) are particularly concerned that the brand they choose as the basis of their specification will stand the test of time and provide reliable, hassle-free performance for years to come. Simply put, they want to avoid potential complaints, costly callbacks and the responsibility of remedying a problem inherent in an inferior product they themselves recommended. To aid in your search for the best tube heater on the market, we offer the following:
Five Criteria for Choosing a Brand of Infra-Red Tube Heater
1) Reflector Design
2) Heat Uniformity
4) Construction Quality
Almost all tube heaters utilize a 4' dia. steel tube emitter. A burner on one end forces hot gases downstream through the tubes (between 10' and 70' in length - depending on burner size), emitting infra-red 'radiant' energy around its' circumference. An optical reflector suspended over the top of the tubes is used to force the infra-red energy downward. This energy is then absorbed by floors and objects below, which heat up to warm the surrounding air.
Superior Radiant offers the only 10-sided reflector among all manufacturers. Its multi-faceted configuration reflects virtually 100% of the infra-red energy out and away from the emitter tubing, putting the heat where it is needed - the people zone. Infra-red energy 'bounce-back' onto the tube is virtually eliminated and convective heat loss is minimized. Translation: more heat to the floor means less heat wasted at the ceiling - which means greater fuel savings and enhanced creature comfort.
By contrast, the poorest reflector consists of a flat top with two angled sides and may have a radiant effectiveness of only 50%. The Superior Radiant reflector is also the 'deep dish' style, which means that the emitter tubes are recessed up inside, with 0% exposed below the sides of the reflector. Compare some other brands which may have up to 30% or more the tubing exposed below the bottom sides of the reflector, resulting in a high amount of energy loss into thin air that could have otherwise been reflected to the floors as usable heat energy.
An added benefit of Superior's 100% efficient reflector design is that it helps eliminate the 'hot spot' effect. That's where back radiation of infrared energy onto the combustion tube can create excessive heat pile-up within the first several feet of the burner (where the flame is located and is at its hottest). A poorly designed reflector can cause the combustion tube to overheat and cause thermal breakdown of the tubing. The remedy - expensive tube replacement in as short as 5 years, usually at the owners' expense. Superior Radiant tube heaters eliminate that problem.
2) Heat Uniformity
The ideal tube heater would generate uniform heat temperatures along the entire length of the heater. Of course, simple fluid flow physics states that heat must dissipate as it travels away from the burner. However, Superior Radiant utilizes a patented 'jet stream' burner, which shoots hot gases farther downstream and distributes heat more uniformly. By contrast, poor burner designs have a 'lazy flame', whereby too much flame impinges on the top of the combustion tube, usually in the first 4 feet from the burner, resulting in an uncomfortable hot spot and adding to the aforementioned thermal breakdown of the tubing.
Ease of servicing is a primary concern with installers and building owners. Superior Radiant burner controls are easy to access through a simple drop down service cover, exposing the controls from three sides. Since the blower fan feeds air into a compartment separated from the pressure sensing controls, the service technician can make diagnostics while the blower fan is running. In addition, with controls isolated from the air stream, dust, moisture and other contaminants are less likely to corrode or adversely affect the operation of the heater over time. Superior Radiant tube heaters tend to withstand dusty and corrosive environments better than other brands.
4) Construction Quality
There is no substitute for actually seeing a product up close and 'kicking the tires'. This especially holds true for the variety of infrared tube heaters on the market today. The quality of Superior tube heaters is evidenced by a regard for design detail and an upgrade of materials wherever justifiable. Early on, Superior Radiant engineers designed and tooled components by analyzing the weaknesses and strengths of other brands in the industry. Primary components of an infrared tube heater consist of the burner/control box, emitter tubes, reflectors, couplings and hangers. Let's compare:
a) Superior's burner/control box is made of heavy-duty powder coated galvanized steel. It uses the most industry-proven name-brand controls. The innovative box design and layout of controls provides easy access for service.
b) 16 gauge steel tubing is the standard in the infrared industry. We suggest heat-treated aluminized. The aluminizing process alone provides corrosion resistance, but its silver color is a poor absorber of heat. Therefore, Superior heat-treats the tubes to create a nice gray/black color on the inside and outside of the tubes. This process dramatically increases emissivity (the ability of the tube to emit heat outward) while maintaining corrosion resistance. Some brands may choose to use non-heat-treated aluminized or even hot-rolled steel, which is subject to rust. The heat-treated tubes of Superior provide the best of everything. (Note that in extremely corrosive atmospheres, Superior Radiant offers stainless steel and a special protective coating called 'silkote' to enhance life and performance).
c) Superior's reflectors are constructed of 24 gauge aluminum sheet metal (aluminum having the best properties for reflectivity). The number of bends helps to make the reflector more rigid and less susceptible to warping through the heat-up and cool-down cycles. For added strength and rigidity, Superior provides two reflector support brackets for each 10' reflector section, helping maintain visual integrity.
e) Superior uses 12' long heavy-duty double band couplings for connecting the 10' tube sections. They cannot be over-tightened, yet they can be easily removed if the system ever needs to be re-located, unlike the couplings on some brands. Superior couplings are often used for field repairs when couplings from other brands fail.
f) The entire Superior tube heater is supported by heavy-duty chrome plated hangars, which are generally spaced 10 feet apart and suspended from the ceiling with chain. These rugged hangers are designed to carry the weight of the entire system and can be turned to point reflectors on a 45 degree angle if needed.
The burner, emitter tubes, reflectors, hangers and couplings are the main components of an infra-red tube heater. Superior's strengths are found in all its parts, not just one or two. While other brands may have some good points, we contend that they fall short of meeting all of the criteria specifiers and building owners want.
5) Local representation
Regardless of the infrared brand you choose, make sure you buy from a qualified distributor who has the expertise to assist you during and after installation. A reputable distributor will stock heaters, parts and accessories and will stand by the manufacturer's product warranty period. You'll have peace of mind knowing that you'll be taken care of long after the sale.