Tests find shocking rate of failure for electric heaters

Consumer group CHOICE has made the shocking discovery that six of the 15 electric heaters in its latest review failed safety testing.

The group tested portable electric heaters, a popular choice in winter as they are often cheaper to buy upfront than other heaters and can easily heat a small space. But the results were the worst CHOICE had ever seen.

“Of 15 current electric heater models we recently tested, six failed our safety tests, which is quite a terrible result we haven’t seen before,” says CHOICE heating expert Chris Barnes.

“Some of the heaters were so damaged after our safety tests that they were no longer operable – one blew a thermal fuse when we simulated knocking it over. Another became unusable after we tested how securely its power cord was attached.

Read: Cheap ways to keep your house warm this winter

“It’s a timely reminder that using heaters can be hazardous, so you need to ensure that you not only buy a safe model, but that you operate it safely as well.”

CHOICE subjected the heaters to four safety tests.

The tilt test and ‘knock over’ test

The tilt stability test determines how easily each heater can be knocked over. CHOICE laid each heater on its side, to simulate it being knocked over, and checked how quickly the tilt switch or thermal cut-out feature shut it off. This test ensures the heater will not damage your home, itself or cause a fire if it’s knocked over. In some of these cases, the safety mechanisms either did not work or the model didn’t have them.

Read: Heating systems that can make your home greener and save you money

The towel drape test

A towel is draped over the heater while it’s on full power. To pass this test, the heater shouldn’t overheat and its thermal cut-out feature should shut the heater off before the towel or the heater are damaged. This test simulates how people often use their heaters in their home – for example, draping clothes over a heater to dry them or warm them up, or if something was to accidentally fall over the heater.

CHOICE failed three heaters on this test because they buckled or were deformed or damaged after the test.

The cord anchorage test

This test determined how securely the cord is attached to the heater. A power cord that is not securely attached to the heater could result in various electrical faults that could cause damage or even a fire.

CHOICE performed a series of ‘pull and twist’ tests on the cord to see if it moves more than a few millimetres.

The heaters were also assessed on the type of electrical connection they had and their electrical strength to ensure the user was not at risk of electrocution.

Heat safety test

The testers also measured surface temperatures at various points on the heater.

All the heaters were within the recommended limits.

The heaters that failed the safety tests – and why

  • DeLonghi TCH8993ER ceramic tower fan heater – failed towel drape test.
  • Goldair GCT330 ceramic tower fan heater – failed towel drape test.
  • Goldair GCT270 ceramic tower fan heater – failed towel drape test and tilt stability test.
  • Click CPN2500 convection panel heater – failed cord anchorage test.
  • Noirot DM73588TWIFI convection panel heater – failed cord anchorage test.
  • Mill AUSG2000LED convection panel heater – failed cord anchorage test.

If you have one of these heaters, particularly those that failed the cord anchorage test, CHOICE advises to stop using it immediately.

Read: Winter’s hidden killer – houses that are too cold

CHOICE has referred any heaters that failed its safety tests to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which will work with manufacturers to determine whether a recall is necessary. 

CHOICE’s tips for buying a safe electric heater

  • Make sure it has a tilt switch (so it will switch off if it falls over) and a thermal cut-out (so it will power down when it gets close to overheating).
  • Look for heaters that have a timer and an automatic shut-off so you don’t accidentally leave it on overnight or when you’re not in the house. Some heaters now have wifi or smartphone compatibility so you can turn them on or off remotely.
  • Generally, you should never use a heater in the bathroom or allow it to come into contact with water.

Although some cheap heaters performed well in the tests, CHOICE says it’s often cheap heaters that end up being weak performers, have safety risks, or are recalled. This may be due to their having lower-quality components, for example, or less focus on optimal design. But even pricey (and safe) heaters occasionally turn out to be duds in terms of performance or energy efficiency.

Check CHOICE reviews to be sure you’re not buying a dud.

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Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

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