Image: Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow Fireplace
Photo courtesy of Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow Fireplace
The Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow Fireplace mantles are made by Amish workers in Ohio. But the heaters are made in China.
By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/11/2010 2:20:46 PM ET 2010-11-11T19:20:46

It’s an amazing offer: “free miracle heaters” that will keep you warm and “slash your heating bills” this winter. Maybe you’ve seen the TV infomercials or the full-page color newspaper advertisements for the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow Fireplace. They show Amish men and women in a barn building the wooden mantels.

In order to get your free fireplace (which is described as “a home decorating sensation”) you have to buy the wood mantel for $298, plus shipping. The ads call it “a real steal” at that price. (The ad also spells mantel incorrectly, spelling it mantle.)

“Quite frankly, it’s a rather incredible price for something that is nothing more than a space heater that you can buy for hundreds less,” says Bob Markovich, home editor at Consumer Reports.

Cut heating bills

Consumer Reports tested the Heat Surge last year. The editors found that it was “reasonably convenient, quiet and safe.” But they said the Roll-n-Glow is “no more miraculous” than other space heaters they’ve tested.

“The product has been very successful,” says David Baker, president of Heat Surge. Baker tells me his Ohio-based company has made more than a million of these faux fireplaces in the last three years.

Baker wants everyone to know that the mantels are made from solid American wood by Amish workers in Ohio. But the heaters are made in China, something the ads don’t mention.

What makes the Heat Surge a “miracle” heater? Baker says it’s the patent-pending Fireless Flame technology which makes the fireplace display “look so much like real flames, flicker and all.”

Can the Heat Surge save you money?
A good space heater can help you reduce your home heating bills. But only if you use it to warm up a small room and you turn down the heat in the rest of the house. It’s a concept called zone heating and there’s really nothing miraculous about it.

Remember, while you might be warm sitting in front of the Roll-n-Glow, the rest of the house will be mighty chilly. And unless you turn the thermostat way down, your energy bills could be higher than before.

“That’s because an electric space heater is a pretty expensive way to heat,” says Consumer Reports’ Bob Markovich. In many parts of the country, electricity costs two-and-a-half times more than natural gas to create the same amount of heat.

And then there’s this: The ads say the Heat Surge uses about the same amount of electricity as a coffee maker. That may be true. But the comparison is meaningless. Your coffee maker might be on for an hour or so. Odds are that space heater will be on for many hours each day.

Unhappy customers speak out
The president of Heat Surge tells me he is “very proud” of the Roll-n-Glow. He says the company is contacted by thousands of customers each month saying how happy they are with the product.

But it didn’t take me long to find complaints from dissatisfied customers posted online. Some say the units came damaged or broke very soon after purchase. Others report soaring electric bills. Here is a small sample of the comments I found:

  • “These heaters are a ripoff. Customer service is horrible. Purchased them less than 6 months ago and they already quit working.”
  • ”I really like the looks, the size and portability of this item but shouldn’t they be honest about what it costs to run?”
  • ”I have one small room (10X11) that is always cold. I was so excited to have something that would warm that chilly room up. I am disappointed to say, I am still wearing a sweater when I’m on the computer and my fingers are still cold.”

My two cents
It might be nice to have a flickering fake fireplace in your house, but don’t think for a minute that you’ll be able to turn off your furnace for the winter. Like any space heater, the Roll-n-Glow is only meant to heat a small area for a short time.

I also have a problem with the way these heaters are marketed. If the company wants to boost sales, why not run a sale?  Quite frankly, the idea that you are getting a free heater when you buy the wooden mantel is silly. And yet I worry that this strange sales technique could mislead some people.

Imagine if a car dealer advertised free cars with every $20,000 set of floor mats. Everyone would laugh at such a ridiculous offer.

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