The Pitch: "The best and easiest way to save money on gas bills"
April 2009. The Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace -- probably better known as the "Amish Heater" in the as-seen-on-TV infomercials -- is a small heater with two power levels (750 watts and 1,500 watts) that uses fake flames (from two light bulbs behind the "logs") to simulate a traditional wood fireplace. The fireplace's wooden cabinet is on wheels, making the unit easy to move. A remote control adjusts power, heat output, even the brightness of the "flames" -- but there's no thermostat to fine-tune temperature.
The heater's advertisements claim that the cabinets for the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace are made by Amish craftsmen -- an aspect that has attracted considerable attention from professional reviewers and consumer advocates. We found quite a few comments online from people who said they'd bought the fireplace or considered buying it "to support the Amish." Although the manufacturer's assertion appears to be generally accurate, some owners express dissatisfaction with the quality of the cabinets nevertheless. (Note that the actual electric heater isn't made by the Amish; only the cabinet.)
The infomercial ads also emphasize that the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace will save you money, but reviewers agree that the electric heater unit (which is made in China) is no better or worse than most electric space heaters, most of which cost far less. Electricity can be an expensive way to heat a house, so the only way to save money with an electric space heater is to turn down the central heating and heat just one room. The price of the Heat Surge is competitive with other electric fireplaces, except that it's much smaller than most. The whole unit is only about 2 feet high and 2.5 feet wide.
The Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace can only be purchased from the manufacturer (online or by phone), so shipping costs for returns can be expensive. We found many complaints from buyers who wanted to return it, either to replace a defective unit or for a refund. There have been hundreds of complaints to Better Business Bureaus about the Heat Surge; the company's rating at the Canton, Ohio, BBB is a D+ at the time of this writing.
We found the best review of the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace at Consumer Reports, where both a blog entry and a video discuss their tests and evaluation, including an examination of the manufacturer's ads and claims. A review at KABC (Los Angeles) includes a video interview with a man who bought the Heat Surge, focusing primarily on the company's claims that the fireplace saves owners money.
A review in The New York Times covers several aspects, including a probe into the actual involvement of the Amish in making the wooden cabinet. The Better Business Bureau in the Canton, Ohio, area rates the company's practices, while Good Housekeeping evaluates the heater itself. We found several bloggers discussing the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace; two of the most useful are WalletPop -- for its credible information -- and The Alternative Consumer, which includes over 500 comments, many from buyers of the Heat Surge.
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Consumer Reports, which tests and rates space heaters in its reports for subscribers, reviews the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace in this article, and editor Bob Markovitch reviews it in a video here. (The blog is free for anyone to view.) Consumer Reports tests the heater for safety and performance as well as evaluating its features, energy-efficiency and value. The video even shows how the fake flames are produced. The print review goes into more detail in evaluating the manufacturers' claims in its ads.
Review: "Amish Heater" Does a Good Job, but Don't Expect any Miracles, Jim Nanni, Feb. 21, 2009
2. KABC (Los Angeles)
Reporter Ric Romero discusses the manufacturer's claims about the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace, particularly about its performance as a heater and that Amish craftsmen make the cabinets. Romero interviews a disgruntled customer in Southern California, whose electricity bill went from $20 to $125 after he started to use the Heat Surge. The reporter quotes the local electricity provider, Southern Edison, as estimating that it costs about $23 per month for each three-hour period a day that a space heater is run. Romero also reports that the Southland Better Business Bureau has received hundreds of complaints about the Heat Surge electric fireplace about misleading ads and circuit breakers tripping.
Review: Consumer News: Can an 'Amish Heater' Cut Your Bills?, Ric Romero, March 31, 2009
3. The New York Times
This article probes into the question of how involved the Amish really are in making the wooden mantles that surround the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace. An eyewitness -- Ohio state Sen. Bob Gibbs -- reports seeing Amish workers in the Heat Surge workshop, along with non-Amish workers. The article also reports that the Heat Surge heater ads no longer claim that the unit is "an Amish man's miracle idea" or that the heater uses no more electricity than a coffee maker. The Better Business Bureau in the Canton, Ohio, area, where the units are assembled, reports about 240 complaints since the product was launched.
Review: Amish Space Heater: Is That an Oxymoron?, Steven Kurutz, Feb. 11, 2009
4. Better Business Bureau of Canton, Ohio
The Better Business Bureau has raised the rating of Heat Surge from F to D+, citing improved customer service and a decrease in the number of consumer complaints. The report notes that Heat Surge is not a Better Business Bureau "approved" business, but that the company met with the bureau in September 2008 to discuss ways to improve its customer service -- including the refund policies and access to phone support.
Review: Heat Surge, Better Business Bureau
5. Good Housekeeping
The Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace earns the Good Housekeeping Seal, which means it's been tested and approved here. The Good Housekeeping Seal also adds an independent two-year warranty against defects.
Review: Home Heating and Cooling Products, Editors of Good Housekeeping
This brief, skeptical review of the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace includes a video of the original as-seen-on-TV piece -- which indeed claims that the heater can heat the home and save money, and that the heater is free. (You just pay for the Amish-made mantle.) Most of the other information in the review comes from Consumer Reports and The New York Times reviews listed above.
Review: Don't Fall for That Amish Heater If You Want to Save Money, Aaron Crowe, Feb 13, 2009
7. The Alternative Consumer
Almost 600 readers add comments to this skeptical review. The original review isn't based on personal experience with the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric fireplace, but questions the infomercial ad's claims. The unnamed reviewer notes that all 1,500-watt heaters produce the same number of BTUs, and that natural gas produces those BTUs at much lower cost. Reducing heating costs by using a space heater also depends on users' lowering the heat in unused rooms. Some user comments are positive, praising the attractive and relaxing fireplace effect, but one reader reports that a spokesperson for Heat Surge admitted that some positive online comments have been planted. Many of the comments here are quite negative. One reader complains about the high cost of returning the heater (even during the 30-day money-back guarantee period). The quality of the cabinet's wood, finish and craftsmanship earn criticism from several buyers.
Review: Heat Surge Fireplace: What's Up with That?, Editor of and contributors to AlternativeConsumer.com