Consumer Reports tests dangerous space heaters

CLEVELAND - Sales of portable space heaters start to take off this time of year. But be aware, space heaters can be dangerous. They cause around 1,700 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 the 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 simulates 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 at least three feet away."

"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," said Sawchuk.

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 Holmes portable heater a Best Buy. It's model HFH436.

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

Consumer Reports contacted Optimus and test results the company provided show a potential safety problem with the H5210 heater. A spokesperson says the company has fixed models manufactured in 2012.

The heaters Consumer Reports tested — 2011 models — were purchased earlier this summer.

Consumer Reports is asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall the Optimus H5210. It urges anyone who owns he heater to stop using it and ask the retailer for a refund.

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