29th May 2018
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Do not turn on one of these potentially deadly heaters
Author: Janelle Ward
Do not turn on one of these heaters

Hundreds of thousands of homes across Australia are fitted with open-flue heaters. If yours is one, do not turn it on until it has been checked by a qualified gasfitter.

Why? Sonia Sofianopoulos, 62, died last July from carbon monoxide poisoning and authorities told the coroner’s court in Melbourne yesterday they believed the deadly gas leaked from the government-issued Vulcan Heritage open-flue gas heater in her unit.

Regulators in Victoria are seeking a ban on the sale of 33 models of open-flue gas heaters – from faux-log gas fires to more traditional space heaters and including popular brands Rinnai, Regency, Coonara and Braemar.

Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) issued a recall for Vulcan Heritage and Pyrox model heaters after Ms Sofianopoulos’ death and is urging regulators in other states and territories to also ban open-flue gas heaters.

ESV chief executive 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 told abc.net.au.

“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 use air in the immediate vicinity to feed the flames. The carbon monoxide produced should go up the flue and outside.

But in certain conditions, it can leak back into the room. And if it leaks into a well-sealed space, the consequences can be deadly.

"There are many, many factors that can come together and 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."

Mr Fearon said the best way for people to ensure their heaters were safe was to have them serviced by a gasfitter trained in the latest carbon monoxide testing techniques and repeat the process every two years.

"What we're finding is there is still 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."

If you have a Vulcan Heritage or Pyrox Heritage heater, ESV says you should not use it until it has been tested.

If you have one of these heaters, call the manufacturer, Climate Technologies, on (03) 8795 2462 to arrange testing. If you live in Department of Health and Human Services housing, call 1800 148 426.

Were you aware of the issues relating to open-flue heaters? Have you had any problems getting your heater tested?

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    COMMENTS

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    JoJozep
    29th May 2018
    11:21am
    What's the ESV Department (Energy safe Victoria) waiting for? Another death?. They should immediately force these guilty companies to replace all faulty heaters ASAP. They have identified three major brands guilty of emitting deadly gases so far and more to come, (Carbon Monoxide is a tasteless, odorless and otherwise undetectable gas that quickly puts the brain to sleep and causing death).

    Are they scared the companies may take these gutless useless government department to court?. Aren't they supposed to be all about energy safe Victoria? Andrew step up to the plate and sack these useless bureaucrats. In fact sack the whole department.

    Come on people, The elderly are the most likely to have one of these heaters, and have been breathing carbon monoxide for years. It's cumulative - ask any doctor. Would you commit your mother to certain early death or let her freeze over winter? She doesn't have much choice. Cold is not something old people can cope with , if at all.
    JoJozep
    29th May 2018
    11:37am
    Let me add to the above. The reason these heaters were designed this way was cost savings. Instead of air being drawn in from the base, into the fire, then out through a sealed flue to the atmosphere, with no or close to zero back draught, Instead, they mix air from the room with the deadly exhaust gases before it goes up the flue, making it possible high winds. blowing down the flue can cause blow-back. I have a wood burning Coonara heater, where any carbon monoxide formed is captured and released into the sealed fire box, that is, it has a form of after burner, re-burning carbon monoxide before any is released to the atmosphere. You can see the CO gas burning slowly from the fire by watching a hollow bar at the back corner with holes slowly delivering the gas.

    I have lived with this heater for 35 years, and have never felt any gas poising or suffered any ill effects. Good design is not that difficult to produce an efficient burning heater. It just needs companies to be honest and counteract the bean counters in the top management by blaming them for a death, and jailing the bastards.
    SuziJ
    30th May 2018
    7:15am
    What happens if you have no choice but to use them? If the landlord is too stingy to replace them, then you have no choice.

    I'll never have a gas heater again. I lived in one unit, and when the power went out, the gas heater still worked until we had to go out in the bucketing rain just to turn the gas to the unit off. Had to contact the real estate agent and let them know, but as far as I know, nothing was done about it.
    JoJozep
    30th May 2018
    10:32am
    To SuziJ

    I am no lawyer, but I do know basic human rights whether you are a tenant or not.

    The first responsibility is by the manufacturer. They cannot manufacture a product that is unsafe and could cause death. A Class action will soon change the corporate mind. Note similar to car manufacturers.
    The second responsibility lies with the landlord. The landlord must not place you in a life threatening situation. Remember, the Landlord owns the faulty heater. Check this out with the Tenant's Union.
    The third responsibility lies with Energy Safe Victoria. Don't tell me they just found out these heaters were dangerous, they have been produced for well over 30 years. That's because someone died from CO poisoning. Departments tread very carefully in case they get sued by manufacturers. They (The head of departments), like to make out they are not at fault for being caught napping on the job if this was and is the case they could lose their gold privileges or heaven forbid, be sacked. But when someone dies in their sphere of influence, they can foresee the threat of serious court action looming, so they play the game it's not my fault and I was innocent. Sometimes the rules and regulations are lax and have loopholes that allow these products on the market. Often it's a case of It's not my problem! Take the supposedly fire rated wall cladding that killed over 60 people in the UK. What have we done about it here. They have identified thousands of buildings with this CHEAP Chinese product in Australia. So a Chinese business man falsifies records and signs off that the product meets Australian Standards. Where is the Authority that oversees building regulation compliance in all this? Why have they not properly tested the product for compliance? before allowing it's use. They are putting people's lives at risk. Big Builders are known to take every shortcut known to make a profit, so if they can get away with it, they'll do it. I have had to personally light a match to test fire ratings of a product insulation proposed for use in most houses in Victoria. There were times I was lucky I had a metal rubbish bin as the product burnt fiercely in my office. The expression on the salesman's face said it all. Why should I have to do this? How can these products comply if they had not been thoroughly tested? I bet my last dollar they weren't. Let's not go down the path of asbestos insulation, another ugly product the big end of town pushed on to thousands, if not millions of houses in Australia, with thousands of asbestos related diseases forty years later.
    I do back my statements and probably should state that I was Chief Architect with DVA War Service Homes for decades, and Chairmen of the Long Term Lending Authorities Sub Committee writing the Standard Brick Veneer Specification for all Victorian new homes in the 70's and 80's.

    Sorry to digress Suzi, if I was in your shoes I would do the following. Firstly write down the model number and brand of your heater. As it is owned by the landlord, advise him/her first of the problem and what is he/she doing about it. The least the landlord should do is contact the manufacturer and arrange for rectification, even if it means a new heater to be installed at his/her expense or by the manufacturer. IT IS NOT YOUR PROBLEM. If the landlord refuses, check the lease carefully as he cannot kick you out as you have not committed any wrong doing. Then ring, followed by a letter the ESV Department and find out what they are doing about it. Send copies to Tenant's Union. If all else fails, contact the news departments of the ABC, SBS, Channel 7, 9 10 and 11. If naming and shaming doesn't work, see a lawyer. Landlords must not be left off the hook, as they are the primer owners of these lethal appliances.
    Finally, please do NOT use the heater any longer, see if you can obtain an efficient electric heater instead. If the landlord is honest, he should provide you with alternative heating.

    Joe.


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