Health experts call for unflued gas heater ban in New Zealand

Health experts are warning a heater could be putting people's lives at risk.
Health experts are warning a heater could be putting people's lives at risk. Photo credit: Getty Images

As the winter chill bites, Kiwis around the country will be looking for affordable and easy ways to heat their homes - but health experts are warning a commonly purchased heater could be putting people's lives at risk. 

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ on Tuesday put out a call for a complete ban on all unflued gas heaters in New Zealand, calling them "silent killers". 

Unflued gas heaters are commonly purchased due to their affordability and convenience, however the foundation said they can cause serious lung problems and - in severe cases - death. 

That's because, unlike vented gas heaters, they lack proper ventilation systems that carry exhaust gases outside, leading to the build-up of poisonous gases in homes. 

The Asthma Foundation's chief executive Letitia Harding said there's always a spike in hospitalisations in winter, and unflued gas heaters only worsen the situation. 

"It's time for New Zealand to follow the lead of other nations and ban these dangerous appliances." 

The heaters have been banned in Canada, some US states and parts of Australia due to health and safety concerns. 

While they're still legally sold in Aotearoa, many retailers have stopped selling unflued gas heaters due to mounting pressure. 

However, Harding said the second-hand market remains a significant issue. 

"While it's encouraging to see some retailers taking responsible action by discontinuing sales of unflued heaters, we cannot overlook the persistent threat posed by the second-hand market," she said. 

"Addressing this is crucial to our efforts in safeguarding the well-being of our communities. 

"While these heaters might be cheap to buy, the cost to your respiratory health could be high." 

Dr Lucy Telfar-Barnard, a member of the foundation's scientific advisory board and a researcher at the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago in Wellington, added that there was overwhelming evidence that unflued gas heaters pose serious health risks. 

"Unflued gas heaters have no redeeming qualities - they pose multiple health hazards," she said. 

"Whether you suffer from respiratory conditions or not, use of these heaters remains detrimental." 

Consumer NZ has also raised alarm bells over the "dangerous" appliance.  

"Unflued, portable gas heaters should not be used. They release harmful carbon monoxide into the room while also producing large quantities of airborne moisture," its website warns. 

"Unflued portable gas heaters are to blame for the reputation of gas heating as a hazardous way to keep warm. They're dangerous to use unless the room is well-ventilated, as they remove oxygen from the air and can produce carbon monoxide if there's a fault," it adds. 

"Even worse is they fill the air with moisture, contributing to dampness and mould. Don't buy them."