Heating your home with gas
Gas heating is generally a safe and efficient way to heat our homes. But if not maintained properly, these heaters can become dangerous, particularly in newer built homes or those that have been retrofitted to be better sealed and more energy efficient.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
All gas heaters have the potential to spill or leak carbon monoxide (CO). This includes central heating units, space heaters, wall furnaces and decorative log fires.
CO is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas caused by incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels.
ESV and the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) recommend that all gas water heaters, space heaters and central heaters are serviced at least every two years by a qualified gasfitter. You can find your local registered gasfitter by searching online.
Carbon monoxide spillage can be lethal. It can cause death or chronic illness.
ESV has stepped up our safety warnings in response to recent CO poisoning events.
Between 2010 and 2018, seven Victorians have died from CO poisoning, including brothers Chase and Tyler Robinson who died in their Mooroopna home in 2010.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen in any home or building with gas heating appliances, including newer ones.
Dirty, old and unserviced heaters operating in a sealed environment will increase the risk of CO spillage and smaller, poorly ventilated dwellings are at a greater risk.
Signs and symptoms of CO poisoning
The signs and symptoms of CO poisoning are non-specific and commonly misdiagnosed as the flu. Symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and nausea are common.
Read more on symptoms, diagnosis and the risks associated with CO poisoning via the Department of Health and Human Services.
Below are some actions you can take to manage your gas heater safely.
Get your gas heater serviced
ESV recommends all gas space heaters, central heaters and water heaters are serviced at least every two years by a qualified gasfitter.
A qualified gasfitter will inspect your heater and check its installation, including testing for carbon monoxide leakage.
The spring and autumn months are a good time to get this done ahead of the winter rush – however, contact a qualified gasfitter at any time if you have concerns.
Find a qualified gasfitter by searching online or contact the VBA for help on finding a local gasfitter.
Negative pressure – what is it? And how you can manage it
Negative pressure can occur when there isn’t enough ventilation in the home and an exhaust fan is operating. It has the effect of drawing air from any external opening in a house, including gas appliance flues and chimneys.
Find out more by reading our Negative pressure fact sheet.
Consider a carbon monoxide alarm
If you are considering purchasing one or more carbon monoxide alarms, remember to:
- select alarms that meet US or EU carbon monoxide standards, including recommendations for use and installation.
On the alarm it will indicate that it complies with one of the following standards:
- UL2034 (US) or
- EN50291 (EU)
- select alarms that provide visual and audible alarms indicating when the electrochemical sensor or battery has expired.
While these alarms may provide an indication of the presence of carbon monoxide, their effectiveness is limited to the location where they are installed, as carbon monoxide levels elsewhere in the room may vary.
If you are installing a battery operated CO alarm, ensure you follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions which should detail where the alarm should be located. Ensure the battery is checked and changed regularly as advised by the manufacturer.
Hard-wired alarms must be installed by a licensed electrician.
Where to purchase a carbon monoxide alarm
Carbon monoxide alarms can be purchased at your local hardware store.
Open flue heaters
Recent investigations into incidents involving open flued gas heaters have highlighted how vulnerable and sensitive these gas heaters can be in the environment they are operating in. In particular, ESV believes that open-flued technology is incompatible with sealed and energy efficient homes.
Open flued heaters draw air from the room to feed the fire. Inadequate ventilation and use of exhaust fans can draw carbon monoxide (and other exhaust gases) back into the room in certain circumstances.
To identify whether your gas heater is open flued, you must contact the manufacturer or a qualified gasfitter.
Find more information and tips on the safe use of common flues and ventilation, here.
While brick chimneys are designed to safely remove combustion products from the home, they can deteriorate over time. Any holes in the mortar or brick work may stop the chimney drawing properly. If the fault is significant, it may create back pressure and push toxic carbon monoxide into living areas.
Arrange a gas heater service today with your local plumber/gasfitter. Before you book, ask the gasfitter if they have the right equipment to test for carbon monoxide leakage.
Open flue heaters FAQs
ESV has compiled a list of frequently asked questions regarding open flue heaters and the servicing of gas heaters.
If you have any further queries, contact our Gas technical line at email@example.com or phone 1800 652 563.
Certified open flue space heaters
Energy Safe Victoria has compiled a list of certified open flue space heaters based on information provided by the five certification bodies.
At this time, the Vulcan/Pyrox Heritage is the only model of heater for which a safety alert has been issued.
However, anyone who has any one of the models of heater on this list should have it serviced and tested for carbon monoxide (CO) spillage at least every two years.
There are several ways to determine whether your heater is open flue:
- Contact the manufacturer
- Ask a qualified gasfitter during regular servicing.
Safety alert – Heritage gas space heater
ESV has issued a safety alert on Vulcan Heritage / Pyrox Heritage gas space heaters.
All Victorians with a Vulcan Heritage or a Pyrox Heritage gas space heater in their home need to get them checked by a qualified gasfitter immediately.
For people living in DHHS housing
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has a program in place to have all Vulcan Heritage gas space heaters or Pyrox Heritage gas space heater in their properties tested.
Phone DHHS on 1800 148 426 for more information.
For private homes
Contact the manufacturer – Climate Technologies – to arrange for a CO spillage test of the heater by a qualified gasfitter (to be appointed by Climate Technologies).
Phone Climate Technologies on (03) 8795 2462 for more information.
Safe heating tips with gas
- Get your heater serviced once every two years: this will ensure your heater runs safely and efficiently.
- Only use a qualified gasfitter: ask your gasfitter for a Compliance Certificate on completion of any installation work.
- Don’t leave the heater on overnight: avoid using your gas heater for extended periods or when not required.
- Don’t operate exhaust fans at the same time as the heater: your rangehood, toilet or bathroom fan can create a ‘negative pressure’ effect where carbon monoxide that should escape out the flue is drawn into living areas.
- Consider back-up measures such as a carbon monoxide alarm: carbon monoxide alarms can be a useful back-up precaution, but should not be considered a substitute for the proper installation and maintenance of gas heating appliances. See more on carbon monoxide alarms below.
- Ensure you have adequate ventilation: while it is not necessary to have windows and doors wide open on a cold day, ventilation is important to ensure your heater operates correctly.
- Consider replacing old appliances: avoid buying second-hand appliances. Find more on Buying safe gas appliances.
Portable gas appliances
Never bring portable gas appliances designed for outdoor use inside your home, caravan, car or tent. In an enclosed area, carbon monoxide can build up quickly.
Appliances such as portable gas heaters, patio heaters, BBQs, water heaters, LPG-powered lights, fridges and ring burners are designed for outdoor use only.
There are some exceptions, but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and take note of the warning label attached to your appliance.
What to look for
All portable LPG appliances approved for use in Australia will carry a warning, such as:
- Carbon monoxide hazard – using this appliance in an enclosed space may cause death. Do not use in caravans, tents, marine craft, cars, mobile homes or similar locations.
- Use only in a well ventilated space.
Appliances designed for outdoor use only will also display the following warning:
- Use outdoors only – indoor use may cause death. See operating instructions.
Certain gas appliances have been prohibited within the home, including:
- Flueless space heaters operating on Natural Gas, where combustible products are released less than 2.5 m above floor level.
Vanessa Robinson knows carbon monoxide is a silent killer
After losing her two sons from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2010, Vanessa Robinson has worked closely with ESV to continue raising awareness of the dangers around the silent killer to help prevent such tragedy happening to other Victorian families. You can find more information on her work through The Chase and Tyler Foundation.
See more of Vanessa’s story HERE.
Who to contact
- For people living in DHHS housing, phone DHHS on 1800 148 426 for more information.
- Contact your landlord if you have any concerns about your gas heater.
- In certain situations Consumer Affairs Victoria can assist with disputes between tenants/residents and landlords/operators in private rentals, such as houses, apartments, caravan parks, residential parks, and rooming houses.
- Contact a registered gasfitter or gas plumber to service your heater and check for CO spillage.
- If you are worried about symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning contact Nurse-On-Call on 1300 60 60 24 or call 000 for an emergency.
If you have any queries in relation to gas safety in the home, contact ESV’s gas technical line on 1800 652 563 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.