With everything happening in the news today; the National Lock-down, panic buying and staying inside every day, we almost didn’t notice the first little chill in the air as winter seems to be crawling towards us again. The past couple of days have seen very welcome rain and a not so welcome drop in temperatures. It’s this time of year, when we start hauling out our gas heaters and fire them up for the first time in months!
This is where the problems start – a lot can happen to your gas heater whilst sitting unused for at least 6-7 months. Issues which, if not addressed, could not only make your heater not work, but could in fact be dangerous. Luckily, we always prepare ourselves at this time of year for an influx of heaters coming into our workshop for services and safety checks to ensure that everything is as it should be, ensuring that your gas heater works properly and, most importantly, safely.
Your 3-panel roll about heater is still the most efficient way to heat your home, using only 80g /hour per panel. Even running on a single panel, these little heaters can warm a significantly large space more efficiently than just about anything. They are very simple devices mechanically, making them incredibly reliable too – provided of course that you take care of them. Although manufacturers would recommend having your heater serviced once a year, we would normally recommend that you service it every 2 years, BUT a general safety check MUST be done every year when the heater comes out for the first use of the year. Some of these checks can be done yourself, some would require specialist equipment and therefore a professional hand.
It is a sad and disappointing statistic to note how many gas-related accidents happen with gas heaters, however, even MORE disappointing is the fact that almost all of these accidents are 100% avoidable by simply having your heater checked by professionals every year. Remember just because your heater works, does NOT mean that there is nothing wrong with it.
Here are some things that can go wrong on your gas heater, which we have seen countless times in our workshop through years of experience:
- Cracked Ceramic Panels: Over time, with repeated heating and cooling cycles, the ceramic material of the heater panels can crack or start to break away from the sides of the burner. When this happens, gas can come out in larger quantities in those areas causing further damage to that panel, adjacent panels and possibly other control mechanisms on the heater. Heaters are designed to cope with heat build-up in very specific areas and cracked panels can cause heat to build up on areas of the unit that were never designed to be heated.
- Blocked Jets: One of the most common problems we see on heaters when they come out of storage is blocked jets. The jet is a tiny hole in a brass fitting, through which the gas passes into the burner. The small hole increases the speed of the gas, much like putting your finger over the end of a hose pipe, in order to draw air into the burner and also to help it mix with the air for combustion. When your heater sits around for 6-8 months not being used, small bits of dust and ceramic debris from the heater panels can find their way into these tiny apertures and cause a partial or complete blockage. In most cases this will stop the heater from working, but in some cases it can cause a burner not to ignite properly, even though some gas is still getting through. This causes a build up of gas inside the burner, which could potentially ignite very quickly if exposed to an ignition source. It can also cause the burner to ‘run lean’ causing it to emit toxic Carbon Monoxide.
- Igniter Problems: The spark mechanism used to start your heater, can also break down whilst in storage. What we normally find is that the insulating materials around the igniter wire, or the ceramic insulation around the sparker itself, can crack or break. Electricity will always try to follow the shortest path, and with a break in the insulation, this means that often your spark is ‘leaked’ out of the wire or spark plug, before it reaches the sparking tip at your burner. This in itself is annoying since you can not start your heater. However, it can potentially be hazardous if you happen to have a gas leak at the back of your heater as well as a spark leaking from your wiring; you now have a situation where gas is leaked near a source of ignition.
- Perished Hoses: The flexible hose (usually orange) connecting your heater to the gas cylinder, can get brittle and crack with age – especially if it ever gets exposed to direct sunlight. Cracks and weaknesses in these hoses can cause gas leaks that could remain undetected for a long time.
- Leaking Compression Fittings: The aluminium tubing used to connect the control valves to the gas burners inside your gas heater, are connected at each end with a special type of fitting called a compression fitting. These fittings create a gas-tight seal by using a brass nut to literally squeeze the components together with enough force to cause the 2 metal surfaces to form a gas-tight seal. Through expansion and contraction and standing idle, sometimes these nuts can loosen ever so slightly – enough to cause a gas leak in the system. Since most of these leaks are hidden behind a panel, gas can potentially build up completely undetected inside the body of the heater. These leaks are usually extremely small and nothing much to worry about, but they will get worse over time, so checking that these fittings do not leak is probably one of the most important safety checks we do when servicing a heater.
- Regulator Failure: The device at the end of your flexible hose is called the regulator. As the name suggests, its job is to regulate the pressure of the gas being supplied to the heater. Most domestic gas appliances run on a standard gas pressure of 2.8 kPa. The regulator’s job is to ensure that cylinder pressure of roughly 600 kPa is brought down to a usable and constant 2.8 kPa. Regulators can fail however, and in some cases this will allow FULL cylinder pressure of 600 kPa into your gas heater. With more than 200 times the required amount of pressure going into your heater, it can be extremely dangerous. Luckily this type of failure is very rare, and with regular checks there will be warning signs of impending regulator failure. We can pressure check your regulator to ensure it is supplying exactly the pressure that it should, and at a constant rate.
- Valve Failure: Valve failures are extremely rare, but can occur if the heater is not serviced regularly. The most common failure is for the valve to seize shut and become stuck in the last position it was used. It is extremely difficult to release seized valves without damaging the soft brass parts inside them. Replacement is also very difficult since sourcing the correct part for each individual heater model, especially if it’s a few years old, is virtually impossible. This is one of the most common reasons heaters get ‘written off’ since the valves can not be repaired, but it is easily avoided by servicing the heater regularly, at which point the valves get lubricated to prevent them from seizing during the summer.
- Safety Devices: Because the safety devices in your heater contain some of the very few moving parts inside your heater, standing around for months at a time without moving, can cause them to fail in a variety of ways. Luckily, for the most part, a failed safety device will default to it’s “off” state, and the heater simply will not work without it, however the topple switch can become stuck in its ON position and may not switch off your gas supply if the heater was to fall over for whatever reason. What makes this particularly dangerous is that a heater lying on its side, will also cause the gas cylinder to lay on its side. When a gas cylinder is on its side, it is possible for liquid LPG to enter the system rather than the LPG vapour normally drawn from the top of the cylinder. LPG in liquid form is obviously much more condensed and therefore will create much more energy and a much bigger flame, making the problem of your heater falling over even worse. With a well serviced topple switch however, all this danger is avoided since the topple switch will instantly switch off your gas supply if your heater is knocked over.
Hopefully the above shows, and explains why servicing your gas heater when bringing it out of storage, is extremely important for its safe operation. Just like your car, your heater needs periodic checks to ensure it stays safe and reliable, not only when it stops working, but even when everything appears to be fine it could have underlying issues that may be very simple to repair.
Eddlesgas provides both safety checks and full services on gas heaters of all makes. Given the cost of new heaters, and the potential cost of a heater malfunction, the cost of servicing your gas heater should hopefully feel like a very small price to pay.
Our entire business relies on the reputation of LPG being a safe energy source, and if used responsibly, LPG is as safe, if not safer than many other forms of heating you could use in your home. Because safety is such a huge concern for us, and the reputation of LPG’s safety is critical to our business, we always try to make these safety checks and services as affordable as possible to encourage servicing of gas heaters.
Current pricing of the Safety Check is R250 incl VAT and a full service is R450 incl VAT. The elements of each service is outlined below:
- Check heater panels for cracks.
- Check all pipes for leaks or signs of cracking.
- Check all compression fittings on valve for leaks.
- Check valve function.
- Check functioning of all safety devices (Oxygen Depletion Sensor/Flame Failure Device/ Topple Switch).
- Check flame for fluctuation and abnormal size that may indicate regulator failure.
FULL SERVICE: includes everything from the Safety Check PLUS:
- Strip back panel of heater to check compression fittings on burner jets.
- Clean, and clear all burners and venturi of debris.
- Clean and ream all burner jets.
- Strip, clean and reassemble pilot flame assembly if fitted,
- Clean and ream pilot burner and jet.
- Perform full pressure test on regulator.
- Check burner function and heat output.
- Perform extended heat cycle burn with leak testing throughout to ensure no leaks appear when all burners are at full temperature.
- Strip and lubricate control valve.
- Check function of ignition system.
- Clean all surfaces and back of heater.
If you have any questions about servicing your heater, or you would like to book a service for your heater, please contact us! Or simply drop in at our Retreat Store with your heater and we will do the rest.