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Carbon Monoxide in rental properties

Carbon Monoxide in rental properties
Carbon Monoxide in rental properties
CateLawrence

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When was the last time you had your gas heater in your rental property serviced? How many of you just said, 'never'? You could be at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

What is carbon monoxide and what are the risks?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, poisoness gas that can be produced by appliances that use gas, wood, oil or coal such as a gas heater. The gas can also permeate through brick walls and plaster of shared walls within apartment blocks and carbon monoxide poisoning can take hold without warning -potentially being fatal. 

Signs of poisoning can often be confused with the flu and even low levels of the gas can cause lasting damage. The symptoms of CO poisoning include:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Mild or severe headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and sleepiness

If the poisoning is extreme, it may lead to confusion, loss of consciousness and death. Loss of consciousness can occur quickly if the CO concentrations are high.  Some people are especially sensitive to CO., this includes people with: 

  • Heart disease
  • Anaemia
  • Young children 
  • Unborn babies
  • The elderly

Carbon monoxide poisoning claimed nine Victorian lives between 2000 and 2011, while dozens more people have been treated in hospitals.

What is being done about this and by whom?

On 3 March 2011, the Federal Parliament passed a motion introduced by Dr Sharman Stone MP to explore options to mitigate the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning following the deaths of two young boys in Victoria. There's been lots of research and recommendations. For example, a report by the Allen Consulting group last year to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism recommended the Mandatory maintenance of appliances every two years in rental properties. 

How can you be safe?

Have your gas heating appliances serviced by a registered gasfitter a minimum of every two years. This applies to every type of gas fuel burning heater, including central heating units, space heaters, wall furnaces and water heaters. This is the only reliable way of reducing your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by gas heaters.

Only some gasfitters are qualified to take carbon monoxide readings. When booking a gasfitter, you need to ask if they are registered and if they have a carbon monoxide analyser. This is special equipment that will take a reading and detect any CO emissions from your gas heater. 

You can also buy a carbon monoxide alarm for about $30 at hardware stores (and other shops which sell smoke alarms and the like) which alerts you to otherwise undetected carbon monoxide leaks from faulty appliances.

But what about us renters?

It's not until you look a little bit deeper beyond the basic rental property conditon reports that you realise how inadequate the respective state and territory Residential Tenancy Acts are.  Although the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (VIC) requires a landlord to ensure that rented accommodation is maintained in “good repair” including all gas and electrical appliances provided by the landlord, there are currently there are no laws mandating annual or biannual safety checks for gas appliances fitted in homes, nor for gas detectors to be fitted. (Similarly in NSW  if an appliance is included with the property, the landlord is obliged to maintain and repair).It is the responsibility of tenants report any fault or malfunction to the landlord but this assumes that they are aware of the fault in the first place. 

In a submission to the Standing Council on Energy and Resources  NSW Dept Family and Community Services identify the need to

'better control the gas appliance design, selection, installation and maintenance'

but in regard to CO alarms concede

'a risk assessment in conjunction with a cost and benefit analysis be carried out'.

Sounds like it might be a bit of a wait for renters in Housing NSW properties.

What your situation like in your rental? Have you had your heater serviced? Do you have a carbon monoxide alarm installed? Fill in our poll and have your say.  

Resources

The Chase and Tyler Foundation Energy Safe Victoria Government of South Australia

Tags

gas, heating, rental, safety, winter