Consumer Reports: Danger of portable heaters

Space heaters are to blame for one out of three home-heating fires and more than 80 percent of the deaths. Consumer Reports just tested nearly 40 space heaters and says that if you have an older one, consider replacing it. Newer heaters are much safer.

This is what's left of Karen Bell's house. A fire started right here where a space heater was plugged into an outlet.

"I'm very leery of ever using a space heater again," Bell said.

Her family got out safely, but the blaze destroyed her home.

Consumer Reports' Peter Sawchuk tests space heaters and says today's heaters are safer than they used to be.

This test simulates what would happen if fabric, say a curtain, comes into contact with a space heater.

With some, there's a little scorching. But in these latest tests none of the fabric caught fire.

Consumer Reports also uses an infrared camera to see whether the heaters get hot enough to burn you.

"They can get hot enough to cause pain when you touch it, something you wouldn't want for a child or pet," said Peter Sawchuk, Consumer Reports.

In this test each heater is covered with a towel and forced to overheat. This checks how quickly the heater will automatically turn itself off.

Most of the heaters earned high scores for safety. But you still have to be careful.

"First, never use an extension cord. Plug it directly into the wall. Secondly, always keep it on the floor. Don't put it up on a shelf or high area. Third, keep it away from water," Sawchuk said.

Of course you also want a heater to keep you warm. This Dyson earned top scores for performance and safety, but it costs $450.

Consumer Reports also recommends this Vornado. It doesn't spot heat as well as the Dyson but at $200, it costs far less and is just as safe.

Consumer Reports says another great feature to look for on a space heater is a timer. Not only can that save you money on energy bills but it also offers another layer of safety protection in case you forget to turn the heater off. Both the Vornado and Dyson heaters have timers.

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