Gas heater efficiency under question

10 June 2015 | Unregulated labelling and testing leaves consumers out in the cold.

Report exposes weaknesses in gas heater industry

If you've bought a gas heater to warm your home this winter, there's a chance it will use more energy than the manufacturer claimed, it will be poor quality, or, if tested, it wouldn't meet Australian Standards.

That's because the gas heating appliances labeling scheme is not currently government regulated, and is failing to meet the level of standards achieved by other appliances that are regulated by government.

The federal government's Equipment Energy Efficiency program (E3) has reported on its testing of 17 gas space heating appliances including flueless, flued, ducted and decorative fuel effect gas appliances.

Among the reports findings were "poor test outcomes, incomparable energy efficiency claims, Australian Standards methodology and/or interpretation issues and product quality issues".

What does this report mean for you?

The report findings confirm that the current scheme does not work for consumers. It leads to consumers making purchases based on inconsistent performance outcomes versus label claims. Ultimately, when you go into a shop, you can't confidently buy based on the label or packaging claims.

The gas heating appliances industry made sales of more than $65 million in 2008–09. It simply isn't good enough that consumers can't trust the information supplied with gas heating appliances by their manufacturers.

CHOICE wants gas heaters included in the E3 appliances area, where they can be regulated for better outcomes for the consumer. 

What are the report findings?

  • You can't trust the star ratings of gas heaters because more than half of them were found to be inaccurate.
  • Even if you were able to trust the star ratings, the way the labels are designed makes it hard to see which products are better than others.
  • If you were able to trust gas appliance star ratings and they were designed better, the label doesn't make it clear that a star rating used for a flued gas heater is different to the flueless star rating and so on for ducted and decorative gas heaters. The current star ratings use an almost identical rating which makes them seem comparable – but they're not.
  • Flueless products need ventilation to take away waste gases. This heat loss is not taken into account satisfactorily in labels – which means it makes labels less comparable and consumers see unrealistic heating capacities.
  • The Australian Standards methodology needs clarity so results are reproducible between test outcomes.
  • While flued and flueless products need to declare their heat output, ducted products don't, which makes it hard for consumers to assess what size they require for their needs.
  • Most flued and flueless gas heaters have high star ratings. This means that research and development into improving energy efficiency – which we see in other areas such as fridges, clothes washers and dishwashers – becomes stagnant.
  • Ducted and some flued heaters consumed more electricity than realised, possibly due to fan operation. On the appliance labelling, energy use is presented in megajoules only (the measure for gas), which means most consumers won't realise that fan operation will contribute to an increase in their electricity bill.
  • Decorative heaters that use a pilot light can add hundreds of dollars to a gas bill alone. Because there is little regulatory encouragement for improvement, there is no impetus to change this pilot light to an intermittent technology or other way of lighting.
  • There is no test for decorative heaters for thermal efficiency, so you won't know how efficiently they use the gas that you pay for.
  • Compliance with labeling requirements by manufacturers was poor for decorative heaters.
  • There were quality issues with two of 17 gas heaters tested, and five had problems with certification. This means a negative experience for consumers who buy these products.

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