The Warmth Wave
A dog curling up and napping under the rays of the sun shining through a windowpane is one example. People gathering for a quick sauna or flipping a switch on a zone heater to warm a room’s cold spots are other examples. While these three applications are very different, in this case, they have at least one thing in common, far-infrared wavelength technology.
Far-infrared waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum ranges from high to low frequencies (or short to long wavelengths) and includes: gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light (from violet to red), infrared light, microwaves, FM radio waves, television, short wave, and AM radio.
Infrared light falls between the visible and the microwave. Within the infrared spectrum, wavelengths range from the near infrared to the far- and extreme far-infrared. Far-infrared heat, which is generated when the wavelengths are between 7 and 14 microns, penetrates the water molecules in the air to provide soft, comfortable heat. This is an efficient way to convert electrical energy into heat. The infrared heat stays evenly distributed and is retained longer in the room without dissipating as compared to conventional heating sources.
These far-infrared, thermal waves produce what has been described as a very gentle warmth. This sensible heat has the ability to penetrate the human body up to 1.5 inches (some studies suggest as much as 2 inches), permeating the hypodermic layer of a person’s skin. This capability can provide numerous health benefits. Just as the far-infrared waves react with water molecules in humid air, carrying heat throughout a room, the waves also react to water molecules in the body and cause them to resonate. Medical experts say this can release toxins and increase circulation and metabolic activity.
Health Benefits from Appliances
Many studies have supported this, and the Journal of the American Medical Association went so far as to say that infrared saunas can burn calories and provide as many cardiovascular benefits as does running. Dr. Aaron Flickstein, an industry researcher, in his white paper, “Research on Far Infrared Rays,” says that infrared saunas’ health benefits include heart health, cancer therapy, musculoskeletal improvements, and more.
Timothy Jahnigen, a long-time industry expert and co-founder of Wavemaker, a Berkeley, Calif., manufacturer of saunas for animals, agrees. “Infrared is completely safe and is the most soothing, comforting, and healing heat there is. Research shows that radiant heat, where the heat source never touches the body it is heating, is superior to conductive heat, such as heating pads, for health, healing and comfort.”
Fauna Sauna Heated Spa Beds from Wavemaker are a first radiant heat-enhanced fine furniture for pets. Jahnigen says the Fauna Sauna combines far-infrared warmth with fine furniture appeal, and blends design, science, and therapy into pet furniture.
Jahnigen has dubbed the wavelength technology the Wellness Wavelength. It uses far-infrared heat emitters located in the side and top panels of the sauna. The emitters are composed of a carbon and ceramic hybrid. The technology produces far-infrared rays in the 8 to 9 micron range, the optimal range for healing and cell regeneration, Jahnigen says.
Far-infrared technology has been a boost for Finnleo, Cokato, Minn., one of the largest sauna producers in the world. The company is a leading provider of traditional, rock-based saunas, and in recent years has become a leading seller of infrared saunas, says Mark Raisanen, national sales manager for Finnleo.
Previously, Finnleo’s infrared saunas used Incoloy rod emitters for about eight years. It gave them relatively good performance, but the saunas still had problems with cold spots. As the distance from the rods increased, so did the likelihood of cold spots. Site lines are key with this technology, which is why reflectors are often used.
Materials Impact Efficiency
Infrared heaters can be made with materials with varying emissivities. The higher the emissivity, the more efficient that surface is going to be at emitting infrared heat. For example, ceramic, which is a heating element staple, has an emissivity rate of 85 to 95 percent. Carbon has an emissivity of 70 to 90 percent. Incoloy rod heaters have emissivity levels in the 50 to 60 percent range.
When redesigning its infrared saunas, Raisanen says they considered ceramic infrared heaters because of the emissivity rates, but they worried about breakage. They settled upon a carbon system, which they call CarbonFlex.
When converting from Incoloy rod emitters to the carbon system, one of the biggest benefits was the longer wavelength. The new heater produces wavelengths in the 8.4 to 9.4 micron range, considered the sweet spot for health benefits. This compares to the wavelength range of 4 to 6 microns created by the Incoloy heater, considered mid-range.
The transition happened quickly. While the company still supports the legacy technology, Finnleo converted its product line in months. The effects on the company’s bottom line were equally fast. In three years, Finnleo went from a bit player, Raisanen says, to a dominant seller of infrared saunas.
Also helping the company’s bottom line was a new product called the InfraSauna that gives customers the choice to switch between a traditional heater and the CarbonFlex far-infrared heater. Additionally, the company recently earned an ETL safety mark for custom-sized rooms. The ETL listing is proof of safety compliance. Historically, infrared heater ETL listings were limited to fixed sizes and heater models. Now, Finnleo, working with ETL, is able to test whole rooms and get rooms safety certified up to 420 cubic feet.
Zone heating is one of the biggest markets for another company that uses far-infrared technology. BioSmart Technologies, Helm, Wash., offers in-wall and portable far-infrared heaters for commercial and residential applications.
Water Instead of Air
The ceramic heaters feature a heat exchanger that incorporates a copper-ionization panel for efficient ionization of water molecules in the air. The water molecules act as a carrier for the infrared heat that is expelled, which more evenly distributes the heat throughout a room then do air molecules.
The copper heat exchanger modulates the frequency wavelength of the infrared heat waves. As the IR waves pass over the copper plates in the air flow chamber of the heater, they are modulated in the optimum far-infrared wavelength range.
On its portable heater, the company has added an improved proprietary heating chamber that features a 300 percent increase in the copper surface area, insulating ceramic liners, ultra quiet fan, and 120 V quartz far infrared elements. This combination produces infrared energy that can heat up to a 1,000 square feet. These uses for far-infrared technology in appliances might just be the beginning.
The technology is already in use in astronomy, lighting, and even clothing. In the last couple years, researchers at the University of Utah have announced breakthrough research to turn far-infrared technology into advanced communications and counterterrorism technology. Who knows what the future will bring? To paraphrase the old song: “Cats do it, dogs do it, even human’s with fancy saunas do it, why don’t you design appliances to do it, too?”