February 21, 2009
"Amish heater" does a good job, but don't expect any miracles
When is an electric space heater more than just an appliance? When
it's an "Amish heater."
At least that's what those spread newspaper and magazine ads and
television commercials for the "miracle" Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow
Electric Fireplace would have you believe. The marketing for this
appliance says it will help reduce your heating bills and even touts
that the heater is free. There is the small matter of the wood
surround you have to buy for about $350 to $400—which is where the
Amish apparently come in, since the heater itself is made in China.
Heat Surge itself is based in Canton, Ohio. (Check out the TV spots by
searching for "Amish heater" on YouTube.)
"Miracle heater" is certainly an attention-grabbing way to describe
what is essentially a space heater with a lightbulb-powered display of
faux burning logs. Some checking in our labs confirmed that the Roll-n-
Glow and its built-in light show are no more miraculous than other
space heaters we've tested. Some specifics:
The Roll-n-Glow functions primarily as a fan-forced convection heater
like those we've tested. Heat Surge says its heater produces "an
amazing 5,110 BTUs," but that's just another way of saying it's a
1,500-watt electric heater (it has a 750-watt setting, too), like most
we tested. And while the oak surround on the model we bought appears
well-built, some pieces are actually veneers, and we saw some nail
holes in the trim. So much for that "superior craftsmanship."
The surround also comes in cherry and black and white. The list price
on the Web site for the oak surround and heater is about $550 and for
the cherry version it's around $590. A current promotion cuts $200 off
the price, and some newspaper ads list a price that's $50 lower still.
A bookcase and a hearth and mirror are optional add-ons.
How about those lower heating bills and Heat Surge's statement that
the heater "can handle a 325 sq. ft. room for about 16 cents an hour"?
Any similarly sized electric heater will do that, provided you use it
in one room and keep others chillier—that's just basic zone heating.
Note, however, that electricity costs roughly two and a half times
more than natural gas, which is what most homes use. So any electric
heater will cost you more to provide comparable heat unless you cut
down significantly on heating elsewhere in your home.
As for performance, we found using this heater reasonably convenient,
quiet, and safe. A remote control lets you turn the heater and its
display on and off, switch the heat between low and high, and choose
from more than a dozen brightness settings for the fake flames. But
the heater lacks a thermostat, a key feature that allows you to
regulate room temperature. The metal heater cabinet and its glass
front panel did make our version somewhat front heavy. That and wheels
recessed about an inch inward from the front increase its potential to
tip forward, though a built-in tipover protection switch, found on
many heaters these days, shut it off quickly when we intentionally
tipped it in our tests. After two hours of continuous heating on high,
most of its surfaces weren't hot to the touch, and even the center air-
discharge grille above the front glass panel wasn't extremely hot. The
Heat Surge complies with nationally recognized standards for safety
You'll find many less expensive but high-performing convection and
radiant space heaters that will do a good job in a small space. In
fact, David Baker, Heat Surge vice president, recently told The New
York Times, "If someone would come to me and say, 'I need a heater and
I want to spend as little as possible,' I would say go to a local big-
box store and buy one for $29.99. Our heater represents a fireplace
rather than just some space heater."
The Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow is not terribly overpriced compared with
other faux fireplaces on the market, which start at about $250.
Just don't look for any money-saving miracles.—Jim Nanni, Manager,
Essential information: As we reported in “Better Business Bureau
Complaints and ‘Amish Heaters,’” the BBB has looked into some issues
with the Roll-n-Glow. Use our advice to lower your heating bills this