Dangerous Space Heater

Sales of portable space heaters start to take off this time of year. But be aware, space heaters can be dangerous.

They cause around 1700 house fires a year and some 70 deaths. And Consumer Reports has an important safety alert on one widely-sold heater.

Consumer Reports just tested 19 portable electric heaters. Peter Sawchuk checked to make sure they have adequate safeguards.

This test assesses whether the overheat sensor shuts the heater off before it poses a fire risk.

With this Optimus space heater, the sensor did not activate in time. The test fabric caught fire in a matter of minutes.

The Optimus heater also failed a second test. In this one, a folded cloth that stimulates a drape was placed on it.

Like most heaters, the Optimus carries a "Warning: Risk of fire-keep combustible materials, such as furniture, paper, clothes and curtains a least three feet...away."

Sawchuk says, "Drapes and fabrics can easily contact any heater in a typical home. And was the only electric heater to ignite the fabric in our test."

Because of the potential risk of fire, Consumer Reports judges this heater a Don't Buy: Safety Risk. It's the Optimus Model H5210.

Consumer Reports also uses an infrared sensor to measure surface temperatures.

The bar on this heater gets hot enough that it could burn you if you grab it. It's the Sunbeam space heater model SQH310.

Other tests measure performance in a chamber outfitted with temperature sensors.

Testers measure how quickly each heater can comfortably warm a room.

In the end, Consumer Reports named the 40 dollar Holmes portable heater a Best Buy. It's model HFH436.

It passed all of Consumer Rpeorts' safety tests and can quickly heat up a room.

Consumer Reports has notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission of its test findings, as well as the American distributor of the Optimus H5210.

While Consumer Reports does not know of any fires caused by this Optimus heater, it urges anyone who owns it to stop using it and ask the retailer for a refund.

And no matter which portable heater you use, Consumer Reports says it's very important to keep furniture, bedding, and curtains at least three feet away from the heater.

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