What Is a Parabolic Heater? What to Know About These Space Heaters

updated Jan 10, 2024
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In cold winter weather, sometimes even staying indoors can leave you feeling chilled to the bone. While you may rely on your HVAC system to keep the cold away, it also makes sense to have a few space heaters on hand for places that need a bit of extra warmth. One option you’ve probably seen on the market is a parabolic heater.

Whether you’re considering purchasing a parabolic heater or have yet to hear of them, these efficient powerhouses are a sensible, efficient choice to add to your repertoire of winter heaters. Many can even go outdoors to provide heat in a she shed or keep cozy while stargazing. So, if you’ve ever wondered what a parabolic heater is or have one that needs cleaning, four heating experts weigh in on all you need to know about parabolic heat.

What Is a Parabolic Heater?

Thinking back on your high school days, you may remember terms such as trapezoid, rhombus, and parabola. Although you may have yet to recall what those shapes are, one of them is where parabolic heat got its name. By definition, a parabola is a plane curve or something bowl-shaped. But how does this relate to your home and what a parabolic heater is? 

HVAC technician Josh Mitchell puts this type of electric space heater in more relatable terms. He says, “What sets it apart is its parabolic reflector — a curved, bowl-shaped, reflective surface designed to focus and amplify the heat output.”

The parabolic shape — which looks a little like a portable fan — helps the heater concentrate infrared heat in a specific direction. Mitchell notes that this reflective property efficiently creates a beam of warmth not offered by other types of heaters that broadly disperse heat.

How Do Parabolic Heaters Work?

The design of parabolic heaters uses the principles of focused infrared radiation to create warmth. According to HVAC expert Ryan Collier, each parabolic heater contains a bowl-shaped reflector surrounding the heat source, which is usually a halogen bulb or ceramic heating element.

“When this element is energized, it emits infrared radiation, which is then directed and concentrated by the parabolic reflector into a narrow, directional beam of heat,” Collier says.

Collier also states that this focused beam is an innovative and efficient way to quickly warm up specific areas or objects. For this reason, parabolic heaters are popular for outdoor usage, such as in workshops and garages, and for activities like camping. Due to their portability, these heaters are an easy way to provide immediate, targeted warmth.

Are Parabolic Heaters Safe?

With any heat — from log-fed fireplaces to forced-air HVAC systems — it’s essential to consider safety and fire prevention. So, you may be asking, “Are parabolic heaters safe?” Dave Robel, the owner of an HVAC company, advises that they are safe when used correctly and with proper precautions. Here is what he says to consider when using a parabolic heater.

  • Positioning: Ensure that the heater is placed on a stable surface and is not at risk of tipping over.
  • Clearance: Maintain proper clearance around the heater to prevent overheating and reduce the fire risk.
  • Supervision: Do not leave the heater unattended while it is in operation.
  • Ventilation: Use the heater in a well-ventilated area to prevent the buildup of fumes.
  • Instructions: Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and safety instructions in the user manual.

However, Al Fagundes, the founder of a Massachusetts-based heating and plumbing company, says that many parabolic heaters have built-in safety controls to help prevent mishaps, making them safe. “Most models include safety shut-off controls in case the heater ever overheats or slides over,” he reveals.

How to Clean a Parabolic Heater

As with any electrical appliance, unplug the heater and let it cool down before cleaning it thoroughly. Robel recommends wiping the reflector and visible surfaces with a soft, lightly dampened cloth to remove dust and dirt. Use a can of compressed air to blow dust away from hard-to-reach areas. Also, check the airflow vents for obstructions and remove them to help air pass through easily. 

Mitchell cautions against using liquids or water to clean the heater as spills and excessive moisture can damage the electrical components. He also advises that using a brush can accomplish the same dusting goals as using a cloth.

If you need help cleaning your unit, consult the owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website for specific instructions. Regular cleaning will help your parabolic heater run efficiently and extend its lifespan.

Where Can You Buy Parabolic Heaters?

If you’re searching for a parabolic-style heater, you can find them easily online and in physical stores like appliance retailers and home improvement stores. Collier also recommends assessing where you’ll put your heater before you decide which one you’ll get. “When shopping for a parabolic heater, consider factors such as the size of the space you intend to heat, the heater’s wattage, safety features, and user reviews to make an informed decision that suits your specific needs,” he advises.