Heater Dangers

Reporter: Georgia Main

As the temperature starts to fall, our use of heaters starts to rise.We all know that faulty heaters can be dangerous and deadly.But, as Georgia Main reports, there are new concerns about the safety of cheap, imported brands that don't meet Australian standards.Dangerous, faulty heaters, potential time bombs you may not see, hear or smell until it's too late.

We can't get through winter without them and now more than ever, imported heaters that don't comply with Australian Standards are working their way into electrical stores putting home owners at risk."Runs on metho that's all you need. No electricity, no gas, everyone's watching their pennies and what not and it wasn't an expensive outlay initially but it turned out to be quite expensive for us" says Kelly. Kelly Lyons bought an ethanol heater from an internet auction site, 2 weeks after it was installed.

"With the explosion it went straight past our eyes which is easy a metre and a half from where the metre was and it that split second from jumping up the couch to have a look at the heater the whole wall the whole section of the wall was on fire as well as the roof and the flooring it got out of control in 5 seconds."It took 4 fire crews to bring the fire under control. Kelly only found out later, the heater should not have been installed inside."To me the explosion still would have happened had it been outdoors. It was in a brown cardboard box strapped with strapping tape inside there was instructions on how to assemble it and that was all... nothing about indoor outdoor use" says Kelly.

"We have very high standards in this country and we cannot afford to let some of this equipment come into this country… if they don't have the right sort of fittings don't tamper with them" says Commander Frank Stockton from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. He has attended serious fires sparked from central heating units, gas heaters and electric heaters. He believes most are preventable."We leave them for 5 or 6 months of the summer and the first thing we do we turn them straight back on in winter and think everything's going to work fine. They do need to be maintained" says Stockton.

Across the east cost, nearly 300 homes went up in flames last year as a result of faulty heaters. What might come as a surprise is that in many cases, central heating systems just like this one were to blame. A build up of dust, a slipping fan belt or leaking gas can make these a deadly fire hazard.

"I had the heater here I was cleaning. Normally it's there it dries the towel when I'm out of the shower. This occasion I was cleaning, dust went into the bottom of the heater, it flamed up and smoked and I turned it off. The towel could have gone up, the whole house could have gone up" says Barbara.

The wiring in Barbara Irving's $39 Chinese-made portable heater was faulty."The heater is imported into Australia. It has a Qld number on it that allows it to be brought into the country … it's certainly not up to the standard of anything made in Australia" says Barbara.Sometimes cheap can mean dangerous according to Paul Feron the CEO of Energy Safe Victoria.

"If they buy direct over the internet the public need to be extremely suspicious of them and concerned to make sure that those appliances meet Australian standards" says Feron.While gas heaters may be the cheapest to run but they are potentially the most dangerous?"The likely cause is a malfunctioning gas heater and carbon monoxide poisoning that happened at the Mooroopna home over the weekend" said a Channel 7 News report.

Police believe 9 year old Chase and 7 year old Tyler Robinson were probably exposed to leaking odourless gas from a heater for at least two days before falling asleep. They never woke up."The first thing it does it makes you feel sleepy and drowsy … the indications on a person skin usually if they are affected by CO is a pinkish glow on a persons face" says Stockton.All heaters should be checked by a professional every 2 years. To spot a faulty gas heater, look out for:

  • A yellow or sooty flame
  • The pilot light goes out unexpectedly, pops when lighting
  • Heat damage such as discoloured walls or heater panels
  • Walls become too hot to touch while heater is on
  • Soot stains around the heater

For information on heater safety visit: www.homefiresafety.com.au