Heritage Open Flue Gas Heaters Banned from Sale in Victoria
Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) have just taken action against two old models of open flued gas heaters.
They withdrew the Vulcan Heritage and Pyrox Heritage open flue gas heaters from sale.
If you have one of these heaters, do not use it until it can be tested by a qualified gasfitter.
The manufacturer – Climate Technologies – has also ceased manufacturing these two old models.
All other models of open flue gas heaters are currently unaffected.
This is despite the misinformation posted by other media.
Why ESV Took Action
There was a tragic incident where a Victorian woman died from carbon monoxide – CO – poisoning.
ESV determined that the two banned models – the Vulcan Heritage and Pyrox Heritage – were unsafe.
The heaters were of an old design (as shown above).
The design is incompatible with newer homes that are well sealed and having less inherent ventilation.
They were first manufactured in 1977
Tests showed that under certain operating conditions, these heaters produced too much carbon monoxide.
This occurs when they are not well installed and maintained.
The use of various exhaust fans (bathroom and kitchen) creates negative pressure in the home.
This draws the CO out of the heater and into the living space.
The incident in question occurred in a Melbourne public housing unit.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was only servicing the units every 5 years.
They should service these heaters every 2 years, as recommended by ESV and almost all manufacturers.
To better explain the issues, let’s clear up some terminology…
Combustion and Carbon Monoxide (CO)
All gas appliances, domestic and industrial, produce water vapour, Carbon Dioxide and heat, and usually very small amounts of Carbon Monoxide.
If installed and maintained correctly, the operation of the gas appliance provides quick and efficient heating, cooking, hot water and more, and the products of combustion do not create any hazardous situations.
If an appliance is not correctly installed and maintained or has been modified, the products of combustion might change, and become hazardous to the people around the appliance.
Something as simple as a ventilation change (getting fresh air to the appliance to sustain complete combustion) may cause a gas appliance to malfunction, and create a hazardous situation for the people around.
Sometimes it is obvious when a gas appliance malfunctions.
Sooty smoke, red or yellow flames or poor performance are indicators, but sometimes no indicators are obvious.
If Carbon Monoxide (CO) is produced and escapes the appliance into the surrounding air, it will not be obvious (no smell and no taste) but will be very dangerous.
It is essential that gas appliances are correctly installed and serviced every two years, to maintain good combustion and safe, efficient operation.
Incomplete Combustion Generates CO
A dirty or malfunctioning gas heater can produce carbon monoxide – CO – through incomplete combustion
This is through is what creates CO.
If you starve the burner of air, because of soot or other build-up, the combustion process is incomplete.
The flame burns sooty red or yellow and at a cooler temperature.
The yellow colour is due to incandescence of the fine soot particles produced in the flame.
This type of flame only burns at around 1,000 °C.
Depending on the lighting, you may even see the soot rising from the flame.
What you didn't see was that incomplete combustion was also producing dangerous carbon monoxide.
Incomplete combustion results in hazardous carbon monoxide:
Gas + Insufficient Oxygen = Water + Carbon Dioxide + Carbon Monoxide + Heat
It also wastes money, as you are not getting all the available gas converted into heat.
A proper functioning gas heater operates with complete combustion.
This means it does not produce any significant amounts of CO.
Complete combustion requires air (oxygen).
Other gases required different amounts of air for complete combustion.
To burn, LPG (Propane) requires an air-to-gas volume ratio of about 24:1.
For Butane, it is about 31:1.
Natural gas (Methane) requires an air-to-gas volume ratio of about 10:1.
With complete combustion, an LPG (Propane) flame burns blue at a temperature of around 1,980°C.
For Natural Gas (Methane), the temperature is about 1,960°C.
Gas + Oxygen = Water + Carbon Dioxide + Heat
What are Flued Heaters?
Flued heaters offer the warmth of gas heating with no indoor combustion emissions.
The term “flued” refers to a fixed flue pipe through the wall or ceiling.
The flue directs the combustion gases, generated when the gas is burnt, out of your home.
Traditional draft flues go straight up through your roof.
In addition, a conventional gas heater draws the air used for combustion from within the room.
What is an Open Flue Heater?
The term “open flue” is not very common.
It refers to a flued heater that draws air from inside the house to use for combustion.
What are Room Sealed Heaters?
“Room Sealed Heaters” is also an uncommon term.
These are more commonly called direct vent or balanced flue heaters.
These flued gas heaters draw the combustion air from outside your home.
So, there are less drafts and the fireplace is unaffected by closed doors, etc.
The amount of air drawn in equals the volume of exhaust gas sent out.
Coaxial Flue Heaters
A coaxial flue is a pipe within a pipe, providing the exhaust of combustion gases and the intake of fresh air for combustion.
The outside air intake can also be a completely separate pipe.
Once again, the amount of air drawn in equals the volume of exhaust gas sent out.
Powered Flue Heaters
Powered flues give you many more design options.
The exhaust gas is fan forced in a horizontal or vertical direction, depending on the model.
Additional possibilities include 90° bends and the allowable flue length may also be longer.
This allows for wall outlets as well as roof exhausts.
Action Taken by ESV
Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) banned further sales of the two models in question, in Victoria.
This is not a recall and the ban is only effective in Victoria.
Furthermore, ESV has urged owners of these units to stop using them until checked by certified gas fitters.
ESV also published a list of other open flue gas heaters imploring owners to have all gas heaters serviced every two years.
This ESV program was announced on 28 May 2018.
Manufacturers’ Comments – Rinnai & Cannon
Both Rinnai and Cannon have responded to the media reports.
Neither company had products affected by the ban.
Rinnai commented that “Rinnai open flued gas heaters are safe when installed and commissioned in accordance with Rinnai instructions and local regulatory requirements, including mandatory testing for spillage of combustion products in accordance with AS/NZS 5601 “Gas Installations”.”
Cannon stated “Cannon opened flued space heaters, when installed by a qualified gasfitter in accordance with manufacturer’s installation instructions and Australian Standards AS/NZ5601, are safe in their operation.”
Both manufacturers reiterated the ESV call to have all gas heaters serviced every two years.
What You Should Do
Any homeowner with a Vulcan Heritage or a Pyrox Heritage gas space heater should stop using it immediately.
Then have it serviced by a qualified gas fitter or technician.
Contact the manufacturer, Climate Technologies, to arrange for a test of the heater and the installation environment.
Climate Technologies will appoint a qualified gas fitter to perform this test.
Climate Technologies will also provide a $150 rebate towards the cost of this test.
If they detect a problem, Climate Technologies will discuss a range of options with you.
These include servicing or maintenance of the heater, or increasing ventilation.
If the heater needs decommissioning, Climate Technologies will contribute to the cost.
Phone Climate Technologies on (03) 8795 2462 for more information.
Gas Appliance Maintenance & Service
Owners of all gas heaters should have them serviced every two years or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Check that the qualified gas fitter is endorsed to service Type A gas appliances and has the training to detect carbon monoxide spillage.
In Victoria, their photo ID includes this information.
Detecting Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless and tasteless.
CO is a bit less dense than air, so it rises.
It is considered toxic when encountered in concentrations above about 35 ppm.
It is lethal in 30 minutes at 4,000ppm. It drops to 5 minutes at 5,000ppm.
Health symptoms of CO poisoning include:
Shortness of breath
Loss of consciousness
If you experience any signs of carbon monoxide poisoning:
Immediately stop using any gas appliances
Move to an area where you can breathe fresh air
Seek medical attention
If you smell gas, it is not carbon monoxide, it is the odourant added to natural gas or LPG.
You should immediately deal with the leaking gas.
Turn off the gas and ventilate the room, if safe to do so.
The best way to detect carbon monoxide is with a CO detector.
You can buy these from hardware stores, as well as from online merchants.
At the time of this writing, at least one major hardware chain and various online merchants had a choice of models, for under $50 each.
This ESV action affects only the Vulcan Heritage and Pyrox Heritage.
ESV may take additional action in the future, with regard to open flue gas heaters.
Let this serve as an important reminder to have your gas heater serviced every two years.
Good maintenance is important for gas appliance safety.
Comments, questions or feedback?
The information in this article is derived from various sources and is believed to be correct at the time of publication. However, the information may not be error free and may not be applicable in all circumstances.