Officials target gas heaters in rentals
Portable gas heaters could be outlawed in rentals as the Government prepares to consult on new laws around heating homes.
Minimum heating standards for rental homes throughout the country – including the types of heaters landlords can provide – will be discussed later this year as a result of the new Healthy Homes Guarantee Act 2017, Housing Minister Phil Twyford said.
‘‘If a decision was made to not allow landlords to provide portable gas heaters for use in rental homes, it would not result in a ban on the sale of such heaters, only a prohibition on landlords using them to meet their obligations under the act,’’ Twyford said.
That wouldn’t mean tenants could not bring their own heaters but landlords would be able to write a clause into contracts which would ban their use, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Mbie).
But public health expert and Associate Professor Nevil Pierse said these cheap gas heaters were adding to respiratory problems and New Zealand should join the likes of Canada, Ireland and New South Wales by banning them altogether.
Portable, or unflued, gas heaters do not have fixed, attached vents to the outside, so they release nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide into the air, at levels high enough to aggravate, or even cause, asthma in children, he said.
‘‘No doubt’’ these heaters contributed to respiratory-related overnight hospitalisations which, in 2013, accounted for 1 in 10 of all overnight hospital stays.
Children in homes with unflued gas heaters missed more days of school, and homes which used these heaters had three times the amount of dangerous nitrogen dioxide, which could aggravate cases of asthma, Pierse explained.
He made these calls following research from Australia, which said gas stoves were responsible for more than 12 per cent of childhood asthma cases.
While a gas stove top emits about 40 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre of nitrogen dioxide, the levels from portable gas heaters were almost 10 times that – at 360mcg, Pierse said.
‘‘Studies have shown nitrogen dioxide at levels way lower than that is really bad for asthma.’’
World Health Organisation guidelines state short-term concentrations of nitrogen dioxide greater than 200mcg cause ‘‘significant inflammation of the airways’’.
Use of these heaters was declining but roughly 15 per cent of rentals had these LPG heaters, alongside some 6 per cent of owner-occupied homes, Pierse said.
Government officials said a blanket ban wasn’t on the cards but they strongly advised against such devices as a primary heating option.
WorkSafe and the Ministry of Health advise on their websites that people who use portable, unflued gas heaters should ensure ventilation is adequate and those with respiratory issues should take extra care.
‘‘The Ministry of Health alone wouldn’t have the scope to ban unflued gas heaters,’’ a ministry spokeswoman said.
WorkSafe said these heaters were more suitable for supplementary heating than as a primary heating source.
‘‘Energy Safety monitors information and research about these heaters but is not considering a ban on their use. WorkSafe has no plans to intervene in the issue,’’ a spokeswoman said.
Pierse, originally from Ireland, was ‘‘horrified’’ at the state of New Zealand homes when he arrived in Wellington 12 years ago.