Fair Go: How safe is your hot water system?

An Auckland couple are feeling left out in the cold after a bad experience trying to buy a hot water cylinder online.

A mix-up - followed by mixed messaging - has got a family questioning the safety of their gas cylinder. Source: Fair Go

Mark Love and Melissa Sutton purchased a Rheem Stellar LPG unit from Hot Water Cylinders NZ earlier this year. 

"Everybody wants to save money and getting this system meant that we could save money on our water bills and our heating," said Mark.

They found the product listed on Hot Water Cylinders NZ's website - but what they didn't know was that the cylinder hadn't been sold for more than two years after concerns over its safety. 

The LPG version of the Rheem Stellar was put on 'stop sale' in 2015 after reports from Western Australia that gas could accumulate in the combustion chamber, which could lead to a more "aggressive" flame. 

Shortly after, Rheem also stopped recommending the use of conversion kits that could turn a Stellar natural gas unit into an LPG one - although spare parts are still available for customers with existing units.

But Mark Love wasn't told any of this, and when his gas fitter noticed a natural gas Stellar had been delivered instead of an LPG one, he rang Hot Water Cylinders NZ to complain. 

"I thought they just sent the wrong product," he said.

He was shocked to hear the company blamed him for the mix-up. 

"They said to me that I ordered wrong."

Mark Love says Hot Water Cylinders NZ then offered to get him a conversion kit for the unit so it could run on LPG.

He rang Rheem to clarify the situation, and was told he shouldn't be able to buy a conversion kit as they weren't supposed to be used on new units and that the LPG unit itself had stopped being sold two years prior. 

He was also sent a copy of the stop sale, which to him looked like a warning.

"They (Rheem) won't service or have anything to do with it if it is converted over," he said.

Not wanting to put his family at risk, Mark asked Hot Water Cylinders NZ for a refund - but it refused because wall brackets and pipes had been threaded to the machine.

The company says it has never seen the notice from Rheem - which only supplied the bulletin to authorised re-sellers of its product. 

"We have not seen a safety bulletin that you refer to. We have not been informed of any safety issues," said spokeswoman Huhaana Marshall. 

Hot Water Cylinders NZ does buy its stock from an authorised re-seller - Mico Plumbing - which says it didn't pass on the 'stop sale' notice because it wasn't a product recall.

Hot Water Cylinders NZ says Mark was always aware he needed a conversion kit, and the company claims the couple knew they were getting a natural gas unit but deliberately asked for the invoice to be changed, so that it read 'LPG'.

Mark Love disputes this, and says it would make no sense to take delivery of a product that wasn't going to work for him.

"I know what I want, and I haven't got it" he says.

After being approached by Fair Go, Hot Water Cylinders agreed to offer the Loves a refund, but won't pay for the now-redundant pipework the couple installed.

"There's no way - we would imagine - that they would intentionally order the wrong product. Any more than we would supply the wrong product," said Huhaana Marshall.

Rheem has since said it made a mistake in telling Mark there were concerns around the unit's safety, and have offered to help find him an alternative product to purchase.

Hot Water Cylinders maintains there was a "miscommunication" with the Loves.

Huhaana Marshall said the company still advertises the sale of a Rheem 'LPG Stellar' so that when customers ring up, staff can tell them the unit has been discontinued but can be converted or an alternative product can be offered.

"People know it was available up until a couple of years ago - if they're looking for it, they'll find it and we can explain, we can educate, we can tell them it's not available".