Most fail grades ever: Heaters under fire after failing safety tests

A heater is your best friend when temperatures dip, but could be your worst enemy if not built with safety in mind.

A heater is your best friend when temperatures dip, but could be your worst enemy if not built with safety in mind. Photo: TND

Australians are struggling to stay warm as this winter’s icy weather shows no signs of letting up – but some of your favourite heaters could be putting you in danger.

Consumer group Choice recently reviewed 15 electric heaters, and found six failed their safety testing.

The following heaters didn’t pass the tests:

  • DeLonghi TCH8993ER ceramic tower fan heater
  • Goldair GCT330 ceramic tower fan heater
  • Goldair GCT270 ceramic tower fan heater
  • Click CPN2500 convection panel heater
  • Noirot DM73588TWIFI convection panel heater
  • Mill AUSG2000LED convection panel heater

Choice said the heaters failed tilt stability and ‘knock over’ tests, which show how easily each heater can be knocked over and how quickly they turn off once knocked over respectively.

Some of the heaters either didn’t have safety mechanisms to pass these tests, or the mechanisms didn’t work, creating a fire risk.

Three of the heaters also failed a ‘towel drape test’. This is when a towel is draped over the heater to simulate how some people dry their clothes, in order to make sure the heater shuts down before it overheats.

Choice heating expert Chris Barnes said this is the highest number of heaters to have ever failed Choice’s annual safety tests.

With a couple of months of winter left, Mr Barnes gave his top tips on how to choose portable electric heaters for your home, and how to save on energy costs.

1. Seek out the right features

Although you can’t fully test a heater’s electrical safety in stores, you can make sure it includes safety features such as a tilt switch, which will turn the heater off if it falls over, and a thermal cutout, which turns the heater off automatically if it senses that it’s getting too hot.

Mr Barnes said other than those features, your choice will come down to which type of heating you prefer and which type is suited to your lifestyle.

For example, a built-in fan can move heat around the room more effectively, while some people prefer radiant heaters for the “ambient” warmth they provide.

But you should avoid radiant heaters if you have small children or pets, as the exposed heating elements make these heaters more dangerous.

Mr Barnes emphasised you should never plug a portable electric heater into a power board or extension cord, as heaters require a lot of energy.

This could leave no energy for other appliances plugged into the same device, and the extra demand could trip your home’s power circuit or create a fire hazard, as experienced this month by a Sydney mum who found her baby’s room on fire after an overloaded power board caught alight.

“It’s also worth being wary of particularly cheap heaters,” Mr Barnes said.

“While a few cheap heaters do well in our tests, more often than not it’s the inexpensive models that perform poorly or have safety issues.This can be due to use of lower quality components, or less of a focus on optimal design.”

2. Consider investing in air-con

Portable electric heaters may be cheap to buy, but they may cost more to run over the long term than other heating options.

Mr Barnes said a reverse-cycle air conditioner is the most efficient form of electric heating.

“You get a lot more heat for the electricity they use than you will out of one of these portable models,” he said.

3. Leverage your fans

Ceiling fans are a summer staple for many Australian households, but their function is not limited to the warmer months.

Mr Barnes said many modern ceiling fans have ‘winter’ or ‘reverse’ modes, which help the warm air that’s collected near the ceiling circulate around the room.

In some cases, you don’t need to turn on your heater for the fan to be effective, as warm air gathers at the top of a room regardless of whether you’ve got the heater on.

4. Prepare your home wisely

Making sure your home is thermally efficient should be a priority when thinking about how to improve your heating, so Mr Barnes said you should find out whether you have insulation, and make sure you have good coverings on your windows to help trap heat inside.

Invest in a door snake to stop drafts sneaking in, and put a rug down if you have timber floors, he said.

“All these are old school-things – they all actually do help,” Mr Barnes said.

“And obviously, if in doubt, ‘Put on a jumper,’ as our parents used to tell us.”

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