The dangers of space heaters

Consumer Reports recommends you replace an old space heater. Newer ones are safer.

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

One Consumer Reports safety test simulates what would happen if fabric, like a curtain, comes into contact with a space heater. With some, there's a little scorching. But in the latest tests, none of the fabric caught fire.

Another test uses an infrared camera to see whether the heaters get hot enough to burn you. Some can get hot enough to cause pain when you touch them, which can be a problem is you have children or pets.

In a third test, each heater is covered with a towel and allowed to overheat. That checks how quickly the heater will automatically turn itself off.

Most of this year's heaters earned high scores for safety. But you still have to be careful.

 Never use an extension cord. Plug it directly into the wall.

 Always keep it on the floor. Don't put it up on a shelf or other high area.

 Keep it away from water.

Of course, you also want a heater to keep you warm. The Dyson AM09 earned top scores for performance and safety, but it costs $450. Consumer Reports also recommends the Vornado TVH600. 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.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars and trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports' website.

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