Consumer Reports: Dangers of Portable Heaters

Space heaters can warm up a chilly room. But beware. They account for one-third of all home-heating fires each year, and more than 80 percent of home-heating fire deaths. Consumer Reports has just tested more than two dozen space heaters and says if you have an older one, consider replacing it. The new ones have gotten safer.

All of the heaters tested have a safety switch that turns them off if they overheat or tip over. And they all passed the safety check where testers place a terrycloth towel on the heater measure how hot it gets and see whether it burns or catches fire. None did.

Even so, Consumer Reports recommends placing space heaters at least 3 feet away from any flammable items, such as curtains, bedding, and newspapers. And always plug heaters directly into the socket; don’t use an extension cord.

To check for performance, a dummy is loaded with sensors to help measure how fast the heaters can warm you up or “spot heat,” say, just your desk area. Some heaters could raise the dummy’s temperature only 4 degrees in 15 minutes, but the best could raise it much higher.

Among large heaters, the Honeywell HZ-980 is excellent at spot heating and passed all of Consumer Reports’ safety tests. It costs $190. For far less, the compact Holmes HFH436 heater also passed Consumer Reports’ safety tests and is a Best Buy. For $40, it can heat a room quickly, though it’s not quite as fast at spot heating.

Be aware that the Whole Room Vortex VH110 heater from Vornado was recently recalled. It has been blamed in 29 instances of overheating and melting, including seven fires. The heaters were sold in stores and online from June 2013 through May 2014. For more information about the recall, go to

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports’ website.

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