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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.

CO poisoning

Carbon monoxide spillage can be lethal. It can cause death or chronic illness.

CO 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

The signs and symptoms of CO poisoning are non-specific and commonly misdiagnosed as the common flu. Symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and nausea are common.

If you are worried about symptoms of CO poisoning, contact Nurse-On-Call on 1300 60 60 24. For an emergency call 000.

Safety alerts

ESV has released safety alerts for the following gas heaters. Follow the links for more information on each alert.

People with these gas heaters in their homes need to contact the supplier and get them checked by a qualified gasfitter immediately.

Servicing your gas heater

ESV and the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) recommends that all gas water heaters, space heaters and central 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 CO leakage. Before you book, ask the gasfitter if they have the right equipment to test for carbon monoxide leakage.  To find a qualified gasfitter, search online or contact the VBA.

Negative pressure

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.

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 ⁠— ensure they have the right registration and equipment to test for CO.
  • 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 ⁠— a rangehood, toilet or bathroom fan can create a ‘negative pressure’ effect.
  • Consider back-up measures ⁠— 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.
  • 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.

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 CO, their effectiveness is limited to the location where they are installed, as CO levels elsewhere in the room may vary.

Installation

CO alarms can be purchased at your local hardware store.

  • Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions. This should detail where the alarm is to be located.
  • Regularly check and change the battery as advised by the manufacturer.
  • Hard-wired alarms must be installed by a licensed electrician.

Open-flued 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, contact the manufacturer or ask a qualified gasfitter during regular servicing.

Chimneys

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 CO into living areas.

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.

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.

Who to contact

Renters

  • DHHS housing: phone the Department of Health and Human Services on 1800 148 426.
  • Private homes: contact your landlord/property manager.
  • 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.

Homeowners

  • Contact a registered gasfitter or gas plumber.

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 gastechnicalenquiry@energysafe.vic.gov.au.