What can consumers do about carbon monoxide?
The VBA takes the safety of Victorians very seriously. It’s our most important objective.
The best way to make sure your heater, or any gas appliance, is safe is to get it serviced every two years. Remember to always use a registered or licensed gasfitter or Type A Appliance Servicing plumber, and to keep the room where the gas heater is located well-ventilated.
Appropriate ventilation is important. A negative pressure test will help your plumber understand if a room has enough ventilation. If it doesn’t, more ventilation should be added as a priority, but until that is done, you should not use your gas heater and exhaust fans at the same time.
If you’re worried about your safety or the safety of your friends and family, contact an appropriately registered or licensed plumber and get your heater serviced.
Renters, tenants and landlords
Landlords have a responsibility to get all gas appliances installed in their rental properties serviced and tested every two years by an appropriately registered or licensed gasfitter. This service should include testing for carbon monoxide spillage and negative pressure.
If tenants are concerned about the safety of gas appliances in their rental property, they should immediately contact their landlord or real estate agent.
Gasfitters and Type A Appliance Servicing plumbers
Not all plumbers are licensed to install, service and maintain gas appliances. Plumbers who do this work have completed extra training that allows them to install, service and maintain gas appliances.
If you are looking for a plumber to service your gas heater, make sure they are registered or licensed in gasfitting and/or Type A Appliance Servicing. You can ask plumbers about their qualifications and check the back of their ID card to make sure they are correctly licensed or registered in these fields of plumbing.
These practitioners have expertise and are best suited to this type of work. If you are having problems ensuring you have the right type of plumber, visit the VBA website to help you Find a Practitioner.
What is a negative pressure test?
Negative pressure is created when extraction fans (including kitchen rangehoods) remove air from a building more quickly than it can be replenished. When this happens, air can be drawn back down your space heater’s flue, causing carbon monoxide and other gases to enter the room (instead of being vented outside as they should be).
The negative pressure test deliberately creates a scenario to test the power of your heater’s exhaust against the pulling power of your exhaust fans.
Your plumber will close all external doors and windows, and then create a path to all exhaust fans in your home by closing all relevant internal doors. In other words, your plumber will close all doors not leading to a room with an exhaust fan in it.
After turning on all exhaust fans, your plumber will use a smoke pen to create a small source of smoke and watch where the smoke goes. If the smoke moves towards the heater, then your heater’s exhaust is functioning as it should. If the smoke moves towards the extraction fans, you have a negative pressure situation. Basically, what that means is that the pulling power of your exhaust fans is too strong for your heater’s flue exhaust.
This may not be a fault with your heater.
Fixing a negative pressure situation
Negative pressure situations can be fixed by ensuring ventilation openings in your home or building are clear (older homes can have flywire mesh behind the vents) and, where necessary, installing additional ventilation. Your gasfitter should be able to carry out the work required.
Can I keep using my gas heater?
If your plumber finds that negative pressure is causing your heater to spill carbon monoxide, but there is no other fault, we strongly advise you stop using your heater until additional ventilation can be installed. But if you do choose to keep using your heater, there are two options:
- Leave a window open in the rooms where your extraction fans are located; or
- Switch off all your extraction fans while your heater is operating.
I don’t want ventilation installed.
Your plumber must notify the VBA of a failed negative pressure test if you refuse to allow them to rectify the negative pressure situation. They will also pass your details on to the VBA.
After the referral, the VBA will contact you directly, due to the potential safety risks to current and future occupants of the home if the negative pressure issue is not permanently rectified.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that can cause death or chronic illness. Several recent incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning from open-flue gas space heaters have led the Victorian Building Authority and Energy Safe Victoria to launch safety awareness programs for all Victorian households and gasfitters.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur in any home or building with gas heating appliances, including newer models. Sadly, in the past decade, nine Victorians have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
What is a carbon monoxide spillage test?
Carbon monoxide is one of the by-products of natural gas combustion – the process that occurs in a gas heater. Carbon monoxide should always leave a house through the heater’s flue. In appliances with an open flue, negative pressure can draw the carbon monoxide from the flue back into the room, rather than allowing it to escape to the outside.
If this effect continues, the levels of carbon monoxide increase in the air – and this is where things can get dangerous if the spillage is not rectified quickly.
The carbon monoxide spillage test checks the key areas of your gas heater and room for spillage. Your plumber will use a probe to check different parts of the heater and the room it is in to make sure there is no carbon monoxide in the air.
If your plumber detects carbon monoxide, they will take specific action to check whether the problem is caused by negative pressure or a fault with your heater.
What happens if there is carbon monoxide in the room?
If the carbon monoxide spillage cannot be stopped, because there is a fault with your heater, your plumber must disable its operation. This might make you cold for a few days, but will keep you safe.