If you can get past the oxymoronic (or is that Ironic) pairing of "Amish" and "Electricity", you'll see that the sellers of the "Amish Mantle and Miracle Invention" represent capitalism at its worst.
As a person with a keen interest in energy, I read all claims of energy or cost savings carefully. A week ago Sunday, I was flipping through the Parade magazine and came across a full page ad for the "Amish Electric Heater." After reading the ad (and looking at the badly staged photographs), I dismissed it as yet another piece of junk for sale in the Parade magazine.
Imagine my surprise when a slightly altered version of the ad showed up on the back of the Sunday comics this Sunday. I immediately thought, "there are some serious marketing bucks behind this"
As I read this second ad, I noticed that someone must have called the sellers and complained that their ad was misleading because the heater was no longer "Amish". Instead, only the heater's cabinet was Amish.
However, in this week's ad the heater got a promotion. Now the marketers are calling it "Amish Mantle and miracle invention."
I have no data to dispute the origin of the Mantle (though I'm willing to bet a lot of money that it was not made by Amish craftspeople) but right in the ad, they gave me data that clearly indicates that heater within is no miracle invention. In fact, an electric heater should only be a miracle to someone who lived more than a hundred years ago. Electric heaters have been around a long time.
The ad claims that their heater will "help home heat bills hit rock bottom." But keep reading and you'll see how. You have to turn down your thermostat - duh. The only difference is that if you put one of their "miracle" devices in the room you spend your time in, you won't notice that your furnace or boiler is not heating the room or the rest the house..
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking the idea of turning down your thermostat and only heating the room you are in. That's smart - you will use less energy but you don't have to buy a $249 (plus shipping) "Miracle Invention" to do it.
Now about the "Miracle"
The ad claims that on "standard" setting, their "miracle" device uses 8 cents per hour in electricity. Doing a bit of back calculating, we can figure out the size of the heater.
Starting with the the known cost of electricity here in New England of about $0.16 per kilowatt-hour, and the 8 cents per hour mentioned in the ad, you can quickly calculate that to use 8 cents of electricity in an hour on the heater's "standard" setting, you need a 500 watt heater. (8 cents/hour X 1 kilowatt-hour/16 cents = .5 kilowatts = 500 watts). So, on the "standard" setting, the "miracle" device is a 500 watt heater. Oh, and using the well known constant of 3,400 BTUs per Kilowatt-hour, we see that the heater, on "standard" generates about 1,700 BTUs
But wait, later in the ad, they tell us that their heater will generate an "amazing 5,119 BTUs on high setting." Is it really so amazing? Let's see.
If a 500 watt heater makes 1,700 BTUs, what size heater will make 5,119 BTUs? 5119/1,700 = 3. 3 X 500 = 1,500 watts. So the truth is, their "miracle" device, on its "high" setting is a 1,500 watt heater.
A quick scan of Amazon.com and I found a number of 1,500 watt electric heaters. The most expensive was approximately $60. The least expensive was $21. The "Amish" heater is $249. No wonder in this week's ad, they are "giving" you two free heaters if you buy one. I'm betting that with their "Amish" cabinets, you are probably getting $100 of "stuff" for $249 (plus shipping). What a bargain.
If you've already bought one, sorry. Try and get your money back. Worst case, you'll have lost your shipping costs. If you have not bought one yet and are thinking about it, save your money and get a "non miracle" 1,500-watt electric heater for under $30.
And as always, be skeptical.
What is a BTU?
A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is a unit of measure for energy. Specifically, 1 BTU will raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
The BTU (and its metric equivalent the Joule) provide us a simple way to compare heating methods. For example, burning a gallon of heating oil will generate 140,000 BTUs. Burning a cord of Oak will generate about 21,000,000 BTUs (150 gallons of oil). Running one kilowatt-hour of electricity through a space heater or electric water heater will generate about 3,400 BTUs, and a 4' x 8' solar hot water panel will collect about 30,000 BTUs on a cool sunny day.
Each method of generating heat has different efficiencies. For example, oil furnaces run at about 85% efficient. That means that of the 140,000 BTUs generated from burning a gallon of oil, 21,000 go up the chimney as waste heat with the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide combustion byproducts. Electric heaters are nearly 100% efficient when converting electricity to heat (however generating electricity from fossil fuels is about 35% efficient so electricity can be quite inefficient). Gas furnaces usually run about 90% efficient.
Comparing Energy Costs
Here is a comparison of the cost per BTU from various sources of energy. To make the numbers reasonable, I'll use 100,000 useful BTUs. That means that I'll apply efficiencies in the cost calcualtion. Without the 100,000 multiplier, the results are tiny and hard to compare. (By the way, 100,000 BTUs = 1 Therm)
New England Cost of Fuel:
Electricity: $0.16 per kWh
Home heating oil: $3.10 per gallon
Natural gas: $1.40 per Therm.
Electricity: $4.66 per 100,000 useful BTUs
Oil: $2.65 per 100,000 useful BTUs
Natural Gas: $1.55 per 100,000 useful BTUs
Yes, electricity is the most expensive source of heat BTUs down to about 9.5 cents per kwh, when compared to Oil and Gas. Another reason to be skeptical of the "Amish Electric Heater." Only heat with electricity when the other options are not practical.
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