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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Written by Janelle Ward

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