Gas water heaters that have not been properly maintained are responsible for deaths and serious injuries. If you have a gas bath heater or flued instantaneous water heater in your bathroom or in your kitchen like any of the appliances shown here (see diagram) it could be dangerous. The following advice applies to both natural gas and LPG water heaters.
Flued water heaters
Flued water heaters, using natural or LPG gas, can be found 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.
Flueless water heaters
Balanced flued water heaters, also using natural or LPG gas, were designed to work without a flue pipe but they still need permanent unobstructed ventilation to operate safely.
If you’re not sure about the type of water heater you have in your home, contact the NSW Master Plumbers Association on 1800 424 181 (toll free) or the manufacturer.
The potential risk
If ventilation is obstructed in either a flued or flueless water heater, poisonous fumes like carbon monoxide can be forced back into the room contaminating the air you breathe. As carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless and tasteless, you won’t know it’s there. If you’re renting your home, it’s important to take 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 too much.
Reducing the risk
One 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 <licenced gasfitter> to carry out the work and make sure your water heater (indoor or outdoor) is serviced once a year.
Important safety tips
Here are some important safety tips to remember:
- Make sure your water heater is serviced once a year by a licensed gasfitter.
- Make sure your bathroom and kitchen heaters have unobstructed ventilation.
- Keep a written report of any maintenance work undertaken and be sure you receive a Certificate of Compliance from a licensed gasfitter.
- Look out for any signs of discolouration of the water heater or the walls near the heater, as this can indicate dangerous problems with the heater or its flue.
- Make sure heater flue pipes are free from all restrictions and holes
- Make sure that all new and replacement gas water heaters are installed outside the building.