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Electric heaters short on saving claims

Jack Brennan, 70, of Green Bay, bought two $350 EdenPURE electric heaters after seeing an ad that vowed to “cut your heating bill by up to 50%.” When his next bill came from Wisconsin Public Service, it was three times higher than normal.

“I almost died,” Brennan said. “A gal from WI Public Service called me and she said, ‘What are you doing? What did you buy?’ When I told her I bought two of those heaters, she said, ‘Well, you just answered the question’.”

Steve Kraus, spokesman for Madison Gas and Electric, said ads promising big savings “are very deceptive,” but spokesmen from two major electric heater companies said they stand by their products.

"If you read the ad, we say 'save up to 50 percent’," said Michael Giorgio, general manager of Suarez Corp. Industries, parent company of EdenPURE, whose heaters are endorsed by Vila. "We're a company that's been in business for 40 years so if you don't like it, we certainly will take it back and we'll pay the shipping."

Chris Pugh, multimedia communications specialist with Heat Surge, whose ads for electric fireplaces feature Amish-made wooden mantles, said in a statement that the heaters "when used in conjunction with zoned heating allows you to heat selectively and save money."

No complaints related to the heaters have been filed with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, according to spokeswoman Donna Gilson.

But the Better Business Bureau has received 281 complaints about Heat Surge LLC in the past three years. During that period, the BBB received 299 complaints about Suarez Corp. Industries. All complaints were either resolved or closed. The companies are based in Canton, Ohio.

"Some people save a great deal of money and some people don't save a great deal of money, depending on what their heat source is," Suarez's Giorgio said. "If you're an all-electric house ... you'll save on your electricity."

Wisconsin utility officials estimate around 10% of residents, most of them apartment dwellers, use electricity as their sole heating source.

People who use a space heater and turn down their thermostat will likely see savings on their natural gas bill, but their electric bill could skyrocket.

And this winter, natural gas prices are down, meaning the potential for savings goes down for most residents, too. Kraus said that statewide, natural gas prices are expected to drop 15% to 20% compared to last year, while electricity prices are expected to increase by about 4% or 5%.

"For most people, the only way you really could save what the ads claim is to let your house go cold for most of the winter and just carry your heater everywhere you go," said Jonathan Beers, residential services manager at Madison Gas and Electric.

Consumer Reports has reported that to save 50% by using a space heater, residents would have to lower their thermostats by about 17 °.

William Acker, a Green Bay energy efficiency engineer and former president of the Wisconsin chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers, said his late father bought one heater and saw his electricity consumption increase 85%.
"What got me the most about this electric heater is it's preying on our elderly people," Acker said. "When they read '50% savings,' they immediately believe it. My dad did."

Beers said the expensive heaters that Brennan and Acker's father bought produce no more heat than a $30 space heater found at any hardware store.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.Wisconsin collaborates with its partners - Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication - and other news media.

By Kryssy Pease
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
Publication: Wisconsin State Journal
December 12, 2009

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Posted on Saturday, Dec 12, 2009