Victorian regulators will move to ban the sale of open-flue gas heaters, currently believed to be in hundreds of thousands of homes in Australia, following serious concerns about several models, the ABC understands.
- 33 models of open-flue gas heater to be phased out
- Brands affected include Rinnai, Regency, Coonara and Braemar
- Hundreds of thousands of open-flue gas heaters believed to be in Australian homes
The move by Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) follows the death of Sonia Sofianopoulos, who was killed last July when carbon monoxide leaked from her Vulcan Heritage gas heater in her Greensborough public housing unit.
A coronial inquest into the 62-year-old’s death begins today.
Thirty-three open-flue gas heaters are currently being sold in Australia, from faux-log gas fires to more traditional looking space heaters.
Brands that will be affected by the phase out include Rinnai, Regency, Coonara and Braemar.
Vulcan Heritage and Pyrox model heaters have been subject to a safety notice from ESV since Ms Sofianopoulos’s death.
ESV will likely recommend the ban to other state and territory regulators.
People are being urged not to use the heaters until they have been checked by a qualified gasfitter.
ESV CEO Paul Fearon said at least one other model of open-flue gas heater was causing concern.
“We have done further testing — detailed testing — of three other models, one of which is giving us cause for concern and we’re in further discussions with the manufacturer,” he said.
“If we find that there is a systemic safety risk issue for the public, I am very prepared to use my powers to put in place a temporary ban and make the necessary recommendations to government.”
ESV would not disclose the model it was most concerned about.
Open-flue heaters work by using air from the room to feed the flames.
The carbon monoxide that is then produced should be drawn up the flue and outside the home.
But in certain conditions it can leak back into the room.
The heaters are meant to be used in large, draughty spaces, where the carbon monoxide can dissipate.
But if they are installed in smaller, well-sealed spaces, and in homes where powerful exhaust fans are present, they can become potentially deadly.
“There are many many factors that can come together that can make [open-flue gas heaters] a vulnerable technology with potentially fatal outcomes,” Mr Fearon said.
“The bottom line is that there is a growing consensus that … open-flued heaters are incompatible with modern energy-efficient homes.
“There are many other good alternatives: closed room systems, and split systems … and I think industry also are starting to come to that conclusion as well.”
Lack of compulsory training for gas-fitters
Another risk factor is the lack of compulsory training for gas-fitters on how to carry out carbon monoxide testing on gas heaters in Victoria.
The ABC found contractors from the Department of Health and Human Services conducted carbon monoxide tests on Ms Sofianopoulos’ neighbour’s Vulcan Heritage heater nine months before she died.
Eileen Kelly was told her own heater was safe, but it is alleged the contractor’s had been doing the test incorrectly.
Ms Kelly’s heater was condemned by ESV after Ms Sofianopoulos’s death.
Still, Mr Fearon said the best way for people to ensure their heaters were safe this winter was to have them serviced by a qualified gasfitter, who was trained in the latest carbon monoxide testing techniques.
“What we’re finding is still there is a great level of complacency in the community about servicing,” he said.
“The servicing is critical not only so they can identify issues with the heater but the installation, the ventilation and negative pressure from fans.”
ESV recommends gas heaters be checked every two years.
There is no way of knowing how many open-flue heaters are in Australia, but ESV estimates it to be hundreds of thousands.
It said there was about 50,000 Vulcan Heritage and Pyrox heaters in Australia.
ESV said its move to stop the production of open-flue heaters would not involve a recall of heaters already in homes, unless the particular heaters were found to be faulty or dangerous when placed under certain conditions in laboratory tests.
It defended the decision not to recall the Heritage Vulcan and Pyrox heaters, saying its widespread advertising campaign about the safety risks had achieved the same outcome.
“There is no more decisive action that you can take other than to be inspired in knowing where every single heater is, and we don’t. That is the problem,” Mr Fearon said.