How to Heat an Aircraft Hangar
Heating aircraft hangars has been a problem since …well, the dawn of the airplane. And for good reason. Airplane hangars are typically high bay open-air structures with one large hangar door on one end to accommodate the sheer wingspan of an aircraft. When large hangar doors are opened, heat is quickly displaced with cold outside air. When doors are closed, the heating cycle must start all over again.
In addition, hanger doors are not always well insulated and they allow a lot of cold air infiltration through gaps around the door’s perimeter. The process of regenerating that lost heat energy can take considerable time and uses up a ton of heat energy.
Solution? …. Infrared heating. What is infrared?
Infrared is electromagnetic wave energy that travels at the speed of light until it strikes an object. Upon striking an object, that energy converts to heat. Think of our own sun. The sun is a giant infrared heat emitter. Contrary to conventional thinking, the sun does not heat the air directly. The sun heats the earth and the earth heats the air.
In airplane hangars, ceiling suspended high intensity infrared heaters or infrared tube heaters emit infrared energy downward to the floor level, just like the sun. Floors and other objects, including aircraft, people, tools, workbenches, etc. absorb the infrared rays, which re-radiate to warm the surrounding air. Unlike the sun, however, infrared heaters emit only comfortable radiant heat energy - no harmful ultraviolet rays.
Over the past half-century or so, infrared heaters have been proven to be the most effective way to heat large airplane hangars. Nearly all new hangars in cold climates use some form of infrared heating system. Nevertheless, we’re surprised to see many older hangar facilities still using outdated and worn out forced air unit heaters, steam heating systems, old boiler systems and even oil fired and electric steam heating systems. Many of these systems are not only ineffective, especially as they age, but are extremely expensive to operate.
Numerous case studies have been conducted on large maintenance hangars using old heating methods. In one study, a 400’ x 800’ hangar was retrofitted with an infrared tube heating system, replacing an old oil-fired boiler system that cost nearly $700,000 per year to operate. Amazingly, the infrared heating system that replaced it is currently costing around $150,000 per year. At a savings of over a half million dollars per year, the new infrared system retro-fit easily paid for itself during the first heating season in use.
Now that’s quite a return on investment!
This kind of energy savings should cause all building owners to pause and think, “how much money can infrared save me”? “What could I do with that extra cash saved”?
In addition to dramatic energy reduction and savings, infrared heating systems provide users with unmatched comfort. With forced air systems, hot air rises and collects at the ceiling, which must stratify from the ceiling downward until it reaches the people zone (that’s a daunting task when ceilings are 30 plus feet high). We call this “hot air stacking”. In structures that are 25’ to 50’ tall, even if the convective heat gets down to the “people” zone, floors remain cold. Cold floors equates to cold feet and unhappy people. By contrast, infrared warms the floors first, not the ceiling. Hot air stacking from the ceiling downward is replaced by warm floors convecting upward.
Other benefits of infrared include quiet operation and quicker heat recovery. Infrared heaters are inherently quiet because they don’t blow air, as do forced air systems. Also, since infrared heats objects, heat is recovered quicker after hangar doors are closed. That’s because objects in the path of the infrared emitters (floors, aircraft, etc.) act as a heat sink, literally absorbing and storing heat in their surfaces. Once doors are closed, that stored heat energy helps re-heat the surrounding air more rapidly.
Many large open-air structures have the same characteristics of aircraft hangars. Warehouses, manufacturing facilities and auto service garages are perfect applications for a gas infrared radiant tube heating system or high intensity infrared system. An infrared heating professional can provide a no obligation cost analysis to determine what kind of energy savings and benefits infrared can provide for you.
Scott Workman is president of Infra-Red Products Supply, Inc. and an expert in infrared space heating systems.