Much touted space heater not all it's cracked up to be - KCTV5

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Much touted space heater not all it's cracked up to be

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FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) -

It's been downright chilly the last few days and those looking for extra heat will find clearance sales everywhere.

Before you buy, beware of direct marketing campaigns that could be selling you more than you get.

When the staff at KCTV5 saw a full-page ad in the newspaper, made to look like a news article, touting a space heater that could save you a bundle if you bought before a three-day deadline, we wanted to know what all the fuss was about. So we bought a model as a test and brought it to an expert to take it apart and see if the claims held up.

Jim Cianciolo is the training director with IBEW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the National Electrical Contractors Association.

“I'm a 37-year member of the IBEW and I've taken apart more complex things than this,” said Cianciolo as he began unscrewing elements of the Heat Surge Mini Glo.

The Heat Surge products are sold in several models. KCTV5 bought the smallest and least expensive model, the Mini Glo Efficiency Plus. A limited time offer knocked the price down from $259 to $129. It's currently being sold online for $119.

Cianciolo's first tests were basic and the Mini Glo passed. The manufacturer says it uses 1,200 watts of electricity to produce 3,685 BTUs. Watts are a measure of electricity used. BTUs are a measure of heat emitted.

“It is cool to the touch here and there is quite a bit of heat coming out here,” Cianciolo said.

An in-line watt meter showed the wattage within normal range. The “cool touch vent technology” was on spot. The glass front that shows what looks like a fireplace remained cool to the touch even while the heating vent was working at a toasty temperature. An infrared digital thermometer read 325 degrees at the vent and 85 degrees at the glass front.

One interesting feature of the Heat Surge Mini Glo is what the ad calls “the peaceful flicker of a real fire …without any flames, fumes, ashes or mess.”

Its appearance is prettier than most space heaters. Cianciolo's deconstruction found a circuit board running that feature and a rotating collection of reflective pieces that made that relatively realistic flicker.

What Cianciolo was most curious to look for was the innovative technology touted by the advertisement. The company calls the device “heating genius” that “uses super advance [sic] Hybrid-Thermic heat technology to keep the actual temperature in any room a bone-soothing 74 degrees.” KCTV5 asked the Ohio-based manufacturer, Heat Surge, to explain what makes the technology special. A representative responded with the following:

“Heat Surge Hybrid-Thermic heat technology safely heats a room faster and more effectively than typical space heaters. That's because it uses the same kind of heat energy as the sun, the far infrared rays of the light spectrum. Though invisible, this heat energy can be felt every day when standing in the sunshine. This new advanced heating system warms more than just the air, it heats objects like furniture, walls and people for a warm and comfortable home. The “hybrid” refers to the two different heating technologies that the heaters use convection heat and infrared heat.

When Cianciolo took a look inside he found the same kind of heating element people would find in any modern space heater.

“I wouldn't say there's anything extremely special about this that I can tell,” he said. “Just standard technology.”

He found the appropriate safety features and all the wires were properly wrapped, but the technology in Cianciolo's analysis is far from revolutionary or “genius.”

The company touts “zone heating” for its money-saving claims. But Cianciolo said this isn't a new idea. Large buildings use zone heating by using different thermostats for different parts of the building to heat only the rooms that are occupied. The concept can also be applied with a space heater.

“You turn down your central heating and air conditioning thermostat to a low setting and use a small space heater to heat a small space that you are staying in,” Cianciolo explained.

Cianciolo said how well it works depends on what temperature setting a person uses for their central heating, how well their house is insulated, and so on. The manufacturer's materials have similar disclaimers in the fine print. Cianciolo adds that a person would have to keep the rest of their house pretty chilly to save any money with the plan.

“It is a legitimate claim, but you can get there by using any space heater,” he said.

In other words, Heat Surge does a good job of marketing a concept that works just as well with much less expensive products.

A search on Home Depot's website turned up a product made by Crane. The high setting uses 1,200 watts and produces 4,000 BTUs per hour, nearly the same specifications if not a little better, and with a price tag of $34.99.

Cianciolo said people are paying for the stylish wooden case and pretty faux flames, plus the cost of marketing.

“It's more attractive than some space heaters, but if all you want is the use of a space heater and you don't care about the aesthetics, then this doesn't meet the need,” he said.

Heat Surge, the company that put out the full page ad, has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, however a representative with the company said the BBB's F rating is deceiving - based on the number of complaints - but not accounting for high volume of products sold. The company's legal team sent this response:

“Many reputable companies such as Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC and Microsoft have F ratings from the BBB because the BBB rating system does not accurately account for large volumes of transactions such as Heat Surge which has sold 1.2 million units. With only 214 complaints in the last 3 years, all of which have been resolved or responded to in good faith, that is a consumer complaint ratio of 0.018. Our BBB rating simply does not reflect the way we treat our customers.

In other words, 214 complaints sounds a lot worse than 2 percent of the products sold.

Along the same lines, Microsoft also has an F rating with the BBB.

Some ads also tout the Amish-made aspect. The most expensive model does have an Amish-made cabinet, but the heaters inside are made in China, or as the ad more eloquently says, “imported from the mecca of cutting edge technology in the Far East.”

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