Gas Heater Safety

Gas Heater Safety

Gas heaters present a heath risk in the home if not adequately maintained. All gas heaters including central heating units, wall furnaces have the potential to leak carbon monoxide (CO) into the home.

Health Issues Linked to Faulty Gas Heaters

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas which can cause serious health problems.

While symptoms from carbon monoxide are non-specific, they may appear as a ‘flu-like’ illness.

Common symptoms include-

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

The Victorian Department of Heath has developed a guide ‘Could it be carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning‘ for more information. If you believe your symptoms may be related to CO poisoning from a gas appliance in the home there are 3 steps you should take.

  • Open windows/doors to ventilate the room.
  • Turn off the appliance and do not use until it has been serviced by a licenced gasfitter.
  • See your GP to discuss your symptoms and any links to CO exposure.

Maintaining Gas Heater Safety

Servicing 

All gas heaters should to be serviced at least every two years by a licenced gasfitter with an endorsement to service Type A gas appliances. In fact, new Residential Tenancies Regulations came in to force in March 2021 for rented properties. Gas safety checks are to be conducted every 2 years under these regulations. You can find more information on gas safety checks on this Gasfitter Toolkit from Energy Safe Victoria.

Ventilation 

When air is removed from a space more quickly than it is replaced, it creates a negative pressure environment. Negative pressure environments cause CO to be drawn into the home rather than being vented outside. It is imperative that there is adequate ventilation in the home to ensure there a negative pressure environment cannot be created by the use of extraction fans.

Installation of carbon monoxide monitors

Because you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide, installing a carbon monoxide monitor is can be a useful method of early detection. When installing a monitor, ensure it complies with either the US (UL2034) or European (EN50291) Standards. While beneficial, installing one of these monitors is no substitute for safe installation and regular maintenance of your gas appliances.

Safety Alerts 

Energy Safe Victoria maintains a safety alerts list for open flued gas heaters that have been identified as posing a serious risk to health. Do not use any heater on this list until it has been tested and serviced by a qualified gasfitter.

Mould

What is mould?

Mould is a organically occurring fungus and varies in its presentation. It can appear as a fuzz, stain or smudge commonly in shades of green black and white.

What causes mould?

Mould spreads and grows from tiny particles called spores which attach to surfaces conducive to their survival and reproduce. To survive and produce more spores to spread, it must have access to both food and moisture.

Most surfaces in the home, particularly organic surfaces such as timber will have an abundance of food to sustain the growth of mould. It is with the introduction of moisture that areas of the home become more susceptible to the presence of mould.

Wet areas such as bathrooms are among the most common areas of the home that attract mould due to high levels of humidity and moisture. There are some great advice on condensation management in the home to ensure at risk areas have adequate ventilation.

Compromised weather seals and plumbing leaks, poorly maintained gutters all lead to moisture in building elements of the home and create an environment that promotes the growth of fungi. It is important to address moisture issues as they arise; engage appropriate qualified plumbers to rectify plumbing issues and ensure gutters are inspected and maintained appropriately

It is also important that all areas of the home have access to adequate ventilation, particularly areas of poor lighting. Dark sub floor and roof space areas are an ideal space for mould to grow undetected and spread spores around the home. It is important these areas have adequate ventilation.

Will my building and pest inspection report on fungi?

During a Building and Pest Inspection, your inspector is specifically looking for fungi that damages timber. While mould is found on the wood surface only and does not decay the timber, it does indicate an environment conducive to timber decay.

Your home inspector will report on areas noted with heightened levels of moisture or poor ventilation. This commonly includes areas where mould is present.

What are the health affects?

The Victorian Department of Health advise that mould can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, wheezing and respiratory infections.

People with severe asthma, allergies, weakened immune systems and lung diseases are more susceptible to these symptoms.

You should always seek medical advice from your GP if you have any concerns about the affects of mould on your health.

How to remove mould in the home?

The first and most important step is to remove the source of moisture. Moisture is the cause of the presence of mould, if this is not rectified at the source, the mould will regenerate.

The second step is to remove the mould. Fabric items such as clothing and soft toys must be washed in a hot cycle in the washing machine. Fabric items that cannot be washed in a washing machine such as couches or carpet should be professionally cleaned. Hard surfaces such as walls and ceilings can be cleaned with a vinegar solution (one part vinegar, three parts water) and microfibre cloth.

The last step is to prevent mould regrowth. Small areas of regrowth can be treated with the same vinegar solution used in the second step. If large areas of regrowth appear, it is recommended that professionals are consulted.

There is a great community guide provided by the Victorian Department of Health on Removing Mould at Home.

Do I need smoke alarms?

Absolutely! Smoke alarms are compulsory safety devices in every residential building. There must be at least one working smoke alarm on or near the ceiling of each story of the home between the sleeping areas and the rest of the home.

Homes constructed before 1 August 1997 must have at least one battery powered smoke alarm per floor of the home while homes constructed after this date must have smoke alarms connected to 240V mains power. 

Where should smoke alarms should be installed?

It is important to always follow manufacturers installation instructions, there are also general recommendations for the installation of smoke alarms. Generally, they should be installed on or near the ceiling. 

On the ceiling means on the center of the ceiling (or at least 300mm from any wall or cornice).

Near the ceiling means 300mm-500mm off the ceiling.

On a cathedral or sloping ceiling the smoke alarm should be 500mm-1500mm of the highest point of the roof.

Maintaining a Smoke Alarm

It is important to familiarize yourself with your operation manual for specific maintenance guidelines.

Check your smoke alarm is working each month by pressing the test button until the alarm sounds, you can also use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust particles that may affect the performance of the smoke alarm.

A general rule of thumb is to replace smoke alarm batteries when we change our clocks for daylight savings. The CFA now recommends lithium battery operated smoke alarms which have a life of 10 years – removing the need to replace batteries every 6 months. They are becoming increasingly common and provide peace of mind that there is enough charge in battery operated detectors and battery backed up hard wired detectors for the life of the detector. 

Smoke alarms must also be replaced in accordance with the manufacturers recommendations which is generally 10 years. 

Requirements for rental properties 

On March 29, 2021, there were changes to obligations of rental providers under Residential Tenancies Act with regards to Smoke Alarms.

  • Annual smoke alarm safety checks are now mandatory, not just recommended.
  • Smoke alarms that are faulty are now an urgent repair.
  • Renters are now to be provided operation manuals for all installed alarms.

Venatic offer smoke alarm inspections to ensure rental providers comply with these new obligations. These inspections include a detailed report including photo and video evidence of testing, operation manuals of all installed smoke alarms, free replacement of expired and faulty units and free ‘urgent repair’ call outs for 12 months from inspection.

As part of any pre-purchase or pre-sale Venatic inspection, your inspector will perform a smoke alarm safety check and attach an operation manual to your report wherever possible.

What do the CFA Recommend?

While it is mandatory to have one smoke alarm per floor of the home between sleeping areas and the rest of the home, the CFA recommends that in addition to this smoke alarms should be installed in all living areas in bedrooms. 

 Legislation requires that all new homes built after May 2014 with multiple smoke alarms, all of the alarms must be interconnected so if one alarm activates, they all do. Beyond this requirement for new homes, the CFA recommends that all smoke alarms should be interconnected.

 

What to do when your smoke alarm sounds in the event of a fire?

Knowing how to react if a fire occurs in the home can be a matter of life and death. The CFA have put together 6 rules to practice with your family to escape a fire in your home. 

  1. Get down low and stay out of smoke
  2. If it’s safe, close doors on your way out to slow down the spread of fire and smoke. 
  3. Alert other people on your way out of the building 
  4. Get out and stay out 
  5. Meet at a safe place such as the letterbox outside of your home
  6. Call 000 from a mobile or neighbor’s phone. Ask for FIRE

You can find more information on smoke alarms on the CFA website here.

 

Gutters play a vital role when working efficiently by collecting and directing storm water away from the home and preventing damage to the structure of the home.

It is recommended that gutters are regularly inspected and cleaned at least twice yearly.

It is recommended that gutters are inspected and cleaned in early autumn prior to a wet winter period to ensure gutters can effectively direct water away from the home, as well as prior to summer when deciduous trees have lost their foliage, creating a fire hazard.

There are three major concerns with debris accumulating in gutters –  

  • Gutters overflowing into eaves and roof space causing damage.
  • Increased fire risk.
  • Deterioration of gutters.

Your Venatic inspector will inspect the gutters of the home during their inspection and may comment on the overall efficiency of the gutters.

Gutter Overflow

To ensure water does not overflow from gutters back into the structure of the home, overflow measures must be designed to accommodate a 1 in 100-year rain event.

When gutters or downpipes become obstructed or are designed and installed with inadequate drainage provisions, gutters will overflow. No gutter system should allow water to enter the walls or internal structure of the home when overflowing occurs. 

Examples of accepted overflow measures for high fronted gutters include a 10mm gap between the gutter and fascia or a flashing that prevents water ingress behind the fascia as depicted in Figure G1. 

Installation of gutters must be completed by appropriately licensed Plumbers with overflow provisions in accordance with the Plumbing Code of Australia.

diagram of gutters

Fire Risk

Debris left in gutters from the autumn and winter periods present an increased fire risk once dried out in the warmer summer months. 

Flying embers can easily ignite the dry debris in the gutters and spread fire to the roof cavity of the home. The CFA recommend on high fire risk days to check gutters for debris and when fire is in your area to plug downpipes and fill gutters with water. 

When filling gutters with water it is important that gutters are installed to prevent overflow entering the structure of the building.

Deterioration of gutters

If dirt and debris are allowed to build up in gutters, it can lead to the gutters retaining water and remaining moist at the built up areas. This can often lead to an increased rate of deterioration of the gutters, particularly around joins and penetrations. 

Even when gutters appear relatively clear, it is a good idea to flush gutters when inspecting to remove any dirt which may be retaining moisture in the gutter.

Prevention

Regular inspection or cleaning of gutters can be completed as a DIY project or by hiring a professional. There are a number of licensed plumbers who provide gutter cleaning services in the Gippsland area with industrial vacuums who can also assess and repair gutters as required to ensure they are operating efficiently and without risk to the home should they overflow.

To reduce the amount of debris built up in gutters, appropriately installed Gutter guards can prevent larger debris such as sticks and leaf litter entering the gutter system of the home. Homes with gutter guards installed still need to be inspected and cleaned regularly to ensure they continue to operate effectively, and dust and dirt debris are not causing and obstructions to drainage.

Consideration should be made to having an appropriately qualified roofing plumber install a gutter guard system to your gutters as inappropriate installations often inadvertently cause obstructions to build up.

 

It is a legal requirement for any stored heated water to be kept at a minimum of 60ᵒC to prevent the growth of bacteria such as Legionella. However, storing water at this temperature poses scalding risks to users should the water temperature not be reduced before reaching facets and shower heads. 

For example, it takes as little as one second for a full thickness burn from contact with water at 68ᵒC while if the temperature was reduced to 50ᵒC it takes 5 minutes. This risk can be minimised by installing tempering valves in your home.

The recommended bathing temperature is 37-38ᵒC, this should also be considered as a maximum temperature for young children. 

As part of your Venatic inspection, your inspector will measure the temperature from the outlets in the bathroom areas of the home and report on any temperatures over 50ᵒC with a recommendation to seek further advice from an appropriately qualified plumbing contractor. While your system may have been installed in line with regulations at the time of installation and remains compliance, it is worth considering improvements to increase the safety of your home. 

Water supplied to kitchen and laundries is not required to be reduced as appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines may require hotter temperatures to operate efficiently. 

The Regulations 

The Plumbing Code of Australia sets standards that aim to protect residents from illness caused by bacteria such as Legionella while also significantly reducing the risk of scalding.

As mentioned above, all stored heated water must be stored at above 60ᵒC to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Tempering valves are now required for all new builds, bathroom and ensuite renovations to reduce the delivery temperature to a maximum of 50ᵒC for personal hygiene purposes (typically in bathroom areas). It is not a requirement for tempering valves to be installed during replacement of a hot water service or replacement of parts of a hot water service.

For early childhood centres, schools, nursing homes and similar facilities for young, aged, sick or disabled persons the delivery temperature for personal hygiene purposes must not exceed 45ᵒC and be controlled by a thermostatic mixing valve.

Tempering Valves and Thermostatic Mixing Valves 

 Tempering Valves are typically found in the home as a means of reducing the temperature of stored water. 

Thermostatic Mixing Valves are similar in design and can be found in residential settings however, they are more typically found in commercial environments as they are more accurate (within 1ᵒC) and respond more quickly to variations in temperature and pressure. 

These valves can be installed at the water heater itself or can be installed further downstream to reduce the water temperature in specific areas of the home.

Instant/Continuous Flow Hot Water Heaters

As instant hot water heaters do not store heated water, there is no requirement to heat the water above 60 . 

Water heaters complying with AS 3498 are designed with a maximum temperature of 50 C and do not require further tempering. It is worth noting that if the entire home is supplied for this unit, the kitchen and laundry temperature of 50 C may not be appropriate for the appliances in the home. 

Continuous flow water heaters with electronic temperature control are typically supplied with a set default maximum delivery temperature of 55 C or 60 C, if this default setting cannot be reduced to 50 C, installation of a Tempering Valve may be necessary. Alternatively, if the unit is supplied with a set default maximum delivery temperature of  C, it must be marked as such by the manufacturer.

Balustrades

Balustrades are a safety feature of decks and balconies which are important to inspect and maintain on a regular basis. Your Venatic inspector will look at various aspects of balustrading in the home from compliance in construction to general condition of each component.

The Standards

The Building Code of Australia requires balustrades to be installed on decks, verandahs and balconies wherever the distance in height is greater than 1 meter from any adjoining floor or surface.

Please see figure 3.9.2.1 below from the National Construction Code as an example of when a balustrade is required.

 

  

 

 

 

Regulations also state that –

  • Balustrades must be no less than 1m in height from any finished floor surface (or 865mm for stair treads).
  • Openings between nosing line and rails must not exceed 125m
  • Openings between a lower rail and the finished floor must not exceed 100mm
  • Vertical openings must not exceed 125mm
  • Balustrades on balconies that are more than 4m from ground level must not have horizontal elements that enable climbing.

Please see Figure 3.9.2.3 from the National Construction Code depiction of an approved construction method

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspecting Balustrades

Height

As mentioned above, balustrades must be at least 1 meter higher than the finished floor surface. When tiles or paving are applied after the installation balustrading, the effective height of the balustrading from the new finished surface is occasionally reduced below the 1 meter standard.

Tensioned Wire

Balustrades on balconies and decks under 4m in height often use tensioned wire. It is essential that the size, spacing and tension of the wire meets the building codes below and that the supporting steel or wood structure is in an appropriate condition to support tensioning.

 

 

 

Please see table 3.9.2.5 from the National Construction Code regarding the Safe Movement and Access of wire tensions.

 

Please refer to Table 3.9.2.3 of the National Construction Code regarding wire barrier construction:

 

 

 

 

Toughened Glass

Where toughened glass panels are utilised in balustrading, the general guideline for minimum thickness is 10mm toughened safety glass. As mentioned above, the minimum height of balustrading is 1m above finished floor height. A handrail must be fitted when non panels exceed 1m to act as a barrier preventing people falling or walking through in the event of glass failure unless Toughened Laminated Safety Glass is used.

It is important to regularly check fittings of the balustrading are well secured to the balustrade structure and any cracked or broken glass panes are replaced immediately.

Condition of Building Components

Balustrades and handrails using steel rails or posts can be susceptible to rust or corrosion. Ensuring steel is appropriately treated or painted and inspected regularly may prevent components becoming unsafe due to rust

Balustrades and handrails using timber posts and handrails are more susceptible to the elements. Ensuring timber is coated with appropriate weather protective paints and stains and is inspected regularly for weathering, rot or timber pest attack is essential to maintain the safety of the balustrade.

Regularly inspecting fixings such as metal stirrups, bolts and screws is also important as loose post, handrails or balustrade fixings are unsafe and could result in serious injury if they were to fail completely.

What to do if your balustrade is in an unsafe condition

If, after an inspection you find your balustrading is in an unsafe condition or otherwise does not meet the required standards we suggest you restrict access to the area of concern and contact a registered builder to further assess and offer a solution to rectify the issue.

Asbestos

Does your home contain asbestos? Is asbestos in the home safe? Here is our guide on how to detect and deal with asbestos in the home.

Washer

Poor ventilation in the home can lead to structural degradation and timber pest attack. Check out our guide to ensure your home is protected.

What is a TPR Valve and why is drainage for your TPR Valve important? Read our guide on this critical safety device.

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