I do research before I buy things.

I do research after I buy things.

I do more research than is necessary or practical.

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Entries in scam (1)


The Amish Heater – An Absurd Scam

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, a guy who works in the marketing department of a solar energy company. He mentioned a product that is selling like the proverbial pan-fried discs of batter – the so-called Amish Heater. It is a free-standing heater that runs on electricity. We had a laugh about it, but I thought I should write something about it and its clones.

The ads for the Amish Heater show Amish people in their traditional clothes assembling the wooden cabinets for these devices. What the ads don’t mention is the obvious fact that the Amish don’t use electricity, and that the guts of the thing are made in China. The unit sells for $400, so the profit margin on these must be remarkable. Consider that if you are less concerned with Amish ambiance you can buy a perfectly good 1500 Watt electric heater for $15-$30.

Ok, so the Amish did have a hand in part of it. That’s not really the scam. The fraud is committed when they use the phrase “Slash your heating bills!” Electricity is the most expensive way of creating heat. Unless you lower the temperature of your house to 50 F and huddle next to the heater you are going to be paying more money at the end of the month.

Here’s some basic math on the subject. A BTU, or British Thermal Unit, is the amount of energy it takes to raise a pound of water (roughly a pint) one degree Fahrenheit. How much does it cost for a million BTUs? That’s roughly the amount of heat you’d need to bring 1200 gallons of water from well temperature to 145 F.

Electricity at 14 cents a kilowatt-hour would cost $41.18

#2 fuel oil at $2.75 a gallon would cost $23.97

Natural gas at $15.80 per thousand cubic feet would cost $22.59

Propane at $2.75 a gallon would come closest to electricity at $38.19

Hardwood at $220 a cord would cost $16.18

(All these numbers account for the varying efficiencies of the appliances using the fuel.)

If you have an oil or natural gas fired furnace you’d be nuts to plug in an electric heater. Fuel oil would have to reach $4.75 a gallon (with no increase in electricity prices) before you would break even on that deal. For those of you with differing electric rates, fuel oil would have to be 34 times the price of electricity for you to break even.

If you feel you must get an electric heater as a stopgap spot of comfort, buy the $20 model, put it somewhere inconspicuous, and spend the other $380 on energy efficiency - insulated curtains and tubes of caulk. The pricey heaters advertise “patented” heating elements, but they all are about shoving electrons through a resistor and they all put out the same amount of heat per kilowatt hour.

(Wearily shakes head and rolls eyes)