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FEBRUARY 22, 2009   

It's that Amish thing

I find the full-page newspaper ads for the "Heat Surge Amish Custom Built Mantle" strangely fascinating. They're in the Sunday Plain Dealer nearly every week and I can rarely pass them by.

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've seen the ads or the TV infomercial so you know what I'm talking about. They pitch a hugely overpriced electric heater (not built by the Amish) in a wood box—the aforementioned "Custom Built Mantle" that apparently is made by Amish. Right here in Ohio.

Much to my surprise the fake fireplace with its phony flame looks less cheesy than I expected— check out the video. But is it a scam anyway?

Both today's Plain Dealer article and an earlier one in the New York Times conclude that the wooden box is built by mostly Amish workers in Holmes County, not far from Cleveland. The heating element with its fake flames is built in China. So—and here's why I read the ads so closely—the "mantle" is in fact Amish-built, just like the ad says.

The heater is simply an electric heating element with a fan, not much different from the $29 one that sits next to me as I type these words. I could probably hire an Amish guy to build a box for it for a lot less than $300. But it wouldn't be a Heat Surge. And the box might not be any nicer than one built by a non-Amish carpenter. But it wouldn't be Amish-built.

So it's not a total scam—it's just an electric heater, no more energy-efficient than any other electric heater, in a decent-looking wooden box made by mostly Ohio Amish people. "Amish" is associated with craftsmanship, but I've seen many Amish construction crews in my neighborhood and I know that some are not all they're cracked up to be. But they've got good brand recognition.

And Heat Surge has good marketing, plus a nice fake flame, if that's your thing.


Reviewers at Informercialratings.com give it 2 stars out of 5. Two reviews at Infomercialscams.com are split pro and con. (As of Oct. '09 both sites have shut down —AW)

Find an extensive collection of buyers' comments at AlternativeConsumer.com, many negative but also a significant number from people who "love" their heaters.

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