Gas water heaters that have not been properly maintained have been responsible for deaths and serious injuries. If you have a gas bath heater or flued instantaneous water heater in your bathroom or a flueless water heater in your kitchen like any of the appliances shown here (see diagram) it could be a source of danger.
The following advice applies to both natural gas and LPG water heaters.
Flued water heaters, using natural or LPG gas, were often installed in bathrooms. They were designed to operate with a flue that vented harmful fumes outside – just like a chimney. If the flue pipe leaks or becomes blocked problems can occur.
Bathrooms are particularly tough on water heaters. The moist environment speeds up corrosion, which causes leaks. Lint, hair, fluff from towels, talcum powder, shampoo and aerosol residue can accumulate within the heater. This can block the airflow needed for the gas burner to operate safely.
Balanced flued water heaters, also using natural or LPG gas, were designed to work without a flue pipe. However, they still need permanent unobstructed ventilation to operate safely. They were sometimes installed in the kitchen.
If you are uncertain about the type of water heater you have in your home contact the NSW Master Plumbers Association on 1800 424 181 (toll free).
If ventilation is obstructed in either a flued or flueless water heater, poisonous fumes such as carbon monoxide can be forced back into the room contaminating the air you breathe. As carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless and tasteless, you will be unaware of its presence.
If you are renting your home, it is important to bring this safety message to the attention of the property owner, real estate agent or the landlord.
WARNING - Carbon monoxide can cause death or permanent injury if you inhale it in sufficient quantity.
The easiest way to reduce the risk is to replace the heater with a new, safer and more energy efficient heater, located outside the building. If you decide to do this, use an authorised gas service agent to carry out the work.
Make sure your water heater (indoor or outdoor) is serviced once a year by a licensed gas fitter.
Here are some important safety tips to remember: