On-demand water heaters are safe, if installed correctly, says expert after CO death

A 12-year-old boy died on Sunday as a result of a tankless water heater that wasn't ventilated properly, say Airdrie RCMP, but heating professionals say if installed and ventilated correctly, the devices are safer than their traditional counterparts.

Investigation into Airdrie condo complex's carbon monoxide leak continues

Breck Chapman says tankless water heaters are a 'very safe option.' (Anis Heydari/CBC)

A 12-year-old boy died on Sunday as a result of a tankless water heater that wasn't ventilated properly, say Airdrie RCMP, but a heating professional says that if installed and ventilated correctly, the devices are much safer than their traditional counterparts. 

The child died from carbon monoxide exposure in his condominium complex. Levels in the building were measured at 2,100 ppm.

An apartment complex in Airdrie was evacuated Sunday morning after high levels of carbon monoxide were detected. A 12-year-old child died from the exposure. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Breck Chapman, owner of Hunter's Heating and Cooling, says it would be difficult for that much CO to be formed by a heater if it was installed and maintained correctly.

"The exhaust has to leak into the combustion air which then has to be re-burnt, probably twice, and then has to leak into the house to become high enough levels where it can become extremely dangerous," Chapman said.

Chapman said under normal circumstances, tankless heaters beat older tanks when it comes to safety.

A tankless hot water heater, like the one pictured here, may have caused the death of a 12-year-old Airdrie boy on Sunday after the device wasn't ventilated properly, say police. (Breck Chapman)

Not clear what went wrong

It's not clear what went wrong with the water heater or its ventilation.

Airdrie deputy fire chief Garth Rabel says gas appliances, like tankless heaters, should be inspected by a professional every year. 

"When you have someone that's certified that provides that maintenance, part of the checking that ensures its ventilating properly will be part of their ongoing maintenance assessment," he said.

Making CO detectors as important as fire detectors

Fire officials have also emphasized the importance of carbon monoxide detectors.

Heather Morigeau is a friend of one of the deceased child's mothers, and is a member of what she describes as a concerned group of women who have started a petition pushing for provincial legislation to require CO detectors in every home. 

Carbon monoxide detectors have been required for new single-family homes in Alberta since 2006, but not for older homes. CO units are also required for boiler-rooms and garages of multi-family homes, but not residential units. Only two provinces in Canada have passed laws mandating CO detectors — Ontario and the Yukon.

"We want to make carbon monoxide detectors as important as fire detectors, especially for rentals," Morigeau said. 

A petition is calling for the Alberta government to require carbon monoxide detectors in all homes. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The petition had over 6,200 signatures as of Thursday evening.

Morigeau said that Sunday's tragedy wasn't the first time a fire department was called to the condo complex for a CO leak — the building was evacuated after elevated levels were found in 2014.

She said she wants new legislation that would hold landlords accountable.

An investigation into Sunday's CO leak continues.

With files from Anis Heydari