Another health and safety gone mad

I’m not a fan of electric fires, but a relative lives in some flats where they’re the only option. So off we went shopping.

Bar fires seem to be long-gone – now they’re either fan-heaters, or fan-heaters dressed up to look like real fires when viewed with a great deal of imagination. This is the type that was required, as it was to fit into a traditional fireplace.

A fan heater is a fan heater. They convert electricity into heat, so a 2W heater produces 2W of heat and that’s about all there is to it, other than aesthetics and noise level. This means that in order to choose the best one for your purposes you really need to see them set up and running. So we worked out where we could see as many on sale as possible, and set off to Watford.

B+Q had a large selection screwed to the walls, but none were running. The same was true of Homebase and a couple of other shops. Still, brochures were collected and an interim decision was made on the assumption that the unit would look okay in action. Finally we got to Wickes, where there were a few fires available but not in that store. The assistant was kind enough to call another branch to check as to whether they had a display, and confirmed that they did – but none were connected.

By now I’d had enough of this, so asked why they didn’t bother wiring them up. The displays were obviously substantial, with fire surrounds built in, and there was power available for display lighting. After all, you don’t need to run the heating element, just the visual effects – it’s just a fancy lamp!

The reason was a stunner – they won’t wire them up for health and safety reasons because they’re dangerous. Now let’s get this streight – the idea of an electric fire is that it is not dangerous. There are no hot surfaces, the elements are inside the works, with only hot air blown out. There shouldn’t be any live wiring anywhere on the outside. That’s the point. You can have them on the floor with children in the room without worrying, and they should not spontaneously burst into flames.

Do all these shops sell fires that are too dangerous to leave on display?

I realised I was on a looser at this point and ordered a Valor Dimension from an Internet dealer based on its brochure. We’ll see when it arrives, but the photo looked just as good, if not better, than anything we saw not working in the shops.

If retailers are worried about customers switching to the Internet they’re not exactly going out of their way to lure customers back. It’s not going to end well for them.

Update: The Valor Dimension was spectacularly good – I can thoroughly recommend it. As a fan heater, it’s a fan heater, but the flame effect has to be seen to be believed.

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