Seen from West River Parkway in downtown Minneapolis water vapor rises from the Mississippi River near the Hennepin Ave. Bridge.

Q Do those Amish Heat Surge heaters I see advertised in newspapers really work? They say they'll reduce heating bills. I'm looking to save on heating costs this winter.

A Sure, they work, but don't be fooled by claims that they will make your "heat bill hit rock bottom, " or that they're an "Amish man's new miracle idea." Such claims are misleading; they're simply electric space heaters. You can buy similar products for less at your local hardware, home or discount store.

Made by Ohio-based Heat Surge (, the Heat Surge Fireplace with Amish Mantel (also called the Roll-N-Glow Electric Fireplace) reduces heating bills just as other space heaters do: You turn down the home's thermostat and use the space heater in the closed-off room you are in. When you move to another location, you move the wheeled fireplace with you, according to the manufacturer.

The approach might lower your gas bill, but your electric bill will go up. The manufacturer claims that the Heat Surge heater uses as much electricity as a coffee pot. Of course, coffee pots can use a significant amount of electricity, but they do so for only a few minutes. It's likely that the fireplace will be on for hours at a time. In most locations, it's cheaper to heat with natural gas than electricity.

Despite the claim that it's breakthrough technology from an "engineering genius from the China coast," there is nothing new about these space heaters that I can see. Like the Heat Surge, other space heaters offer two settings (750 and 1,500 watts) and produce up to 5,120 BTUs of heat, the maximum allowed from a home outlet.

You can buy a plain space heater for about $100 (much less than the $249 listed on the Heat Surge website for its bare-bones model without mantel) or a decorative electric fireplace heater for about $450 (compared with $547 for the lowest-priced Heat Surge fireplace). And by buying locally, you save the expense of shipping.

Q Why does water run through my toilet at night? How do I make it stop? Rattling the handle didn't work.

A The most likely cause is a worn flapper or tank ball. Water leaking past the ball or flapper will cause the water level in the tank to drop. When the level drops to a certain point, the fill valve will open to fill the tank to its proper level.

Amish Made Electric Fireplace

To check the functioning of the tank ball or flapper, put two or three drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. (Be sure you don't have colored cleaning solution in the tank.) Wait a few minutes. If the water in the toilet bowl starts to turn color, the tank ball or flapper is leaking. Replacing the faulty ball or flapper often solves the problem. If it doesn't, call a plumber.

Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-7032, or e-mail

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