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30 comments

The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

Posted July 17, 2010 8:11 AM

The planet seems to be consumed by disasters these days, natural and man-made. From massive oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico to earthquakes to erupting volcanoes. Yet there's another potential disaster looming in either the frozen food section of your local mega-mart, or even the residential model refrigerator you keep inside your office kitchen (we have a basic GE model at my dad's commercial construction company).

The looming disaster? Exploding fridges.

How exactly do refrigerators explode? Gasses that become trapped and not allowed to properly vent can easily become ignited by a single spark. Or leaking isobutene can also cause both sudden explosion and fire.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. The probability of your home/workplace refrigerator exploding or the supermarket frozen food section going nuclear is about as likely as your winning the Mega Millions lottery. Yet some industry experts, like Neil Everitt of ACR News, view exploding refrigerators as a potential life threatening disaster in the making.

"The most worrying thing about… exploding fridge cases," he writes in his monthly column, "is what I see as a failure by the industry to take these events seriously. The chaos caused by an exploding fridge, its potential to cause injury and the ramifications for this industry, have not been fully recognized."

Everitt also makes a point of differentiating between actual explosions and fires. While a fire is usually preceded by smoke, or an alarm, or both, explosions happen spontaneously and without warning. They can cause serious injury or death, as was the case with a rash of explosions that occurred recently in England.

Do you see exploding refrigerators as a real threat? And if so, what should the industry do to make them safer?

The preceding article is a "sneak peek" from HVAC, a newsletter from GlobalSpec. To stay up-to-date and informed on industry trends, products, and technologies, subscribe to HVAC today.

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Guru
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#1

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/17/2010 1:05 PM

Not a threat. You are more likely to be hit by lightning or winning the lottery than becoming a victim to an exploding refrigerator. C'mon you must have better things to worry about.

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#23
In reply to #1

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

01/10/2012 3:15 AM

Now I'm gonna get another refrigerator for my beer in case my old one blows up.

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#2

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/17/2010 1:17 PM

I couldn't detect any provenance at all to this ridiculous story, within the story itself.

There does seem to be a minor blip in the UK over isobutane-refrigerant fridges.

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Anonymous Poster
#3

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/17/2010 5:53 PM

falling asteroids

global warming

volcanoes

exploding fridges

when you're born, you get just one guarantee

*sigh* what's the use?

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#4

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/17/2010 6:50 PM

Funny. I decided to do a little research, this, and this mostly about university labs, and, at last, one about the UK and domestic refrigerators. It comes from Fair and Balanced and suggests it is because they were making them "eco-friendly".

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/17/2010 11:47 PM

Well, butane can create an explosive mixture whereas Freon will not. Seems pretty clear-cut to me. Just another one of those inconvenient truths.

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Anonymous Poster
#6

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/18/2010 12:01 AM

Bull s...

Somebody trying to stir up problems when they should keep their mouths shut.

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#7

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/18/2010 12:51 AM

NO.............And you should be more (much more) concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning (from inefficient gas appliances at altitude, and improper installations) Because CO does not have BO it goes un-noticed, and in enclosed areas, is very dangerous indeed. Much more than exploding refers.

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Guru

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#8

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/18/2010 1:54 AM

This should be all over the green blogs in a day or two - presented as the 'hidden truth'!

Possibly it will even fall into the conspiracy area? Like 'who killed the electric car'?

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#9

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/18/2010 9:45 AM

This is a consequence of the enviro-scare fraud that preceded the Global Warming Swindle - namely the suppression of chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants in the name of protecting the ozone layer. This effectively brought back the combustible refrigerants that had been replaced by chemically inert CFCs in the Thirties, without changing refrigerator designs to reflect the restored fire and explosion hazard.

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#10

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/18/2010 12:37 PM

I ran an EA Falcon air con system for 7 years on LPG with no troubles.........and what's more I never had the system serviced in those seven years and it was still okay when it went to god.

LPG or like refrigerants are not searching gases like many other of the refrigerants used today..........including 134a. Yes, LPG and the like are flammable, however, lets say you need 1kg of 134a in your vehicle a/c unit, you only need 333g of LPG and when you carry 45-70 litres of petrol in the fuel tank...........who cares.

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#11

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/18/2010 5:48 PM

Friends,

I believe this one is bogus. Note the date of the original ACR entry, February 2009. Second, flammable refrigerant gases are forbidden in building codes (at least in the USA). Years ago, ammonia was used in domestic units and in multi-unit apartment buildings, but it was banned after fires and leaks.

--John M.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/18/2010 6:14 PM

I believe this is correct. Also used in the "old days" was sulfur dioxide as a refrigerant for group installations. (I vaguely recall an anecdote about a dead canary.)

Around 1990 I was surprised to learn of an ammonia plate-and-frame chiller being used for air conditioning in deep gold mines. Guess where.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/19/2010 8:11 AM

Hi Tornado,

You certainly are correct, sulphur dioxide was one of the early refrigerants, along with others like methyl ether, methyl chloride (I vaguely remember seeing one of those), methylene chloride and interestingly CO2, which quite a few European manufacturers are going back to rather than using the much touted "new refrigerants, many of them having a GWP between 1 500-3 000times that of CO2, hence the change.

Anhydrous ammonia is "verboten" in the maritime arena, however many of the fish factories in Port Lincoln, (used to be the largest fishing port in the Southern hemisphere), have very large ammonia plants.

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#18
In reply to #11

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

08/06/2010 7:05 PM

Friends,

I believe this one is bogus. Note the date of the original ACR entry, February 2009. Second, flammable refrigerant gases are forbidden in building codes (at least in the USA). Years ago, ammonia was used in domestic units and in multi-unit apartment buildings, but it was banned after fires and leaks.

--John M.

John,

Small point but ACR is a UK magazine, we put the day first, month second. So the blog is actually September 2009.

You are right, flammable refrigerants were forbidden as refrigerants in the USA, but not any longer:

http://www.acr-news.com/news/news.asp?id=2173&title=Hydrocarbon+refrigerant+gets+US+thumbs-up

In fact, further to that story, one domestic fridge manufacturer has now announced that it is to use this new refrigerant in the US.

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Anonymous Poster
#14

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/19/2010 10:36 AM

explosions happen spontaneously and without warning

Don't you wish that they at least knew the difference between "suddenly" and "spontaneously"

fire is usually preceded by smoke - what if the fire is spontaneous and the explosion preceded by fire and smoke?.

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Guru

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#15

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

07/19/2010 11:56 AM

If Neil Everitt of ACR News has anything real to say it would be interesting to hear something more than just the BS in the OP.

Most probably he is a bean counter though.

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#16

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

08/06/2010 6:21 PM

I am very pleased to see that our story has had such a wide circulation but not surprised to see that so many otherwise seemingly intelligent people are labouring under the misapprehension that domestic fridges charged with isobutane cannot and do not explode.

Considering that practically all fridges sold in Europe over the last 10 years are charged with hydrocarbons, the incidents of explosions are rare, but not as rare as many would have you believe.

Some of the disbelieving comments on here are evidence of how successful some within the refrigeration industry have been in suppressing these stories.

Leaving aside those that explode due to someone leaving a flammable substance or aerosol in the fridge compartment, there are a number from a number of different manufacturers which have been due to the R600a refrigerant leaking INTO the fridge compartment.

It is not a "disaster" as your headline suggests but is often due to poor manufacturing designs.

Fortunately, as far as we know, no-one has so far been hurt in such an incident, mainly because it tends to happen during the night or when the fridge door has not been opened for a while, such as when people are on holiday. It seems the leaking hydrocarbon needs time to reach its explosive limit, something which tends not to happen with people constantly opening and closing the fridge.

I would draw your attention to the following stories. The first and second relate to Samsung's worldwide recall of fridges, the following two are blogs by Graeme Fox, a refrigeration engineer and current president of AREA, the European association of refrigeration and air conditioning contractors:

http://www.acr-news.com/news/news.asp?id=1765&title=Fridge+explosion+sparks+worldwide+recall+

http://www.acr-news.com/news/news.asp?id=1787&title=Samsung+recalls+32%2C000+fridges+in+China+

http://www.acr-news.com/blog/view_entry.asp?id=152

http://www.acr-news.com/blog/view_entry.asp?id=155

While Samsung's response was a responsible one, other manufacturers have been less than fair. One couple I spoke to in the north east of England had had considerable damage caused to their utility room by an exploding fridge. The manufacturer offered them £100 as "a gesture of goodwill".

Happy reading

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

08/06/2010 6:44 PM

Sir,

Thank-you for the additional information and the polite tone of your post.

--John Mueller

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#19
In reply to #17

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

08/07/2010 4:07 AM

Thank you, John. There is no reason to be anything other than polite, particularly on a site which promotes the exchange of ideas between such learned gentlemen/women as yourselves.

Although the occurrences of exploding domestic fridges in the UK and Europe is small compared to the number of hydrocarbon refrigerators installed, it does happen. Many manufacturers and some within the refrigeration industry know this can happen as well but the general public is largely ignorant of the fact. Consequently, when something like this does happen, the manufacturer can quite easily hoodwink the householder into believing that the refrigerator is not to blame and offering a paltry sum of money in compensation for the damage.

The damage can be considerable. A case we are investigating now (which happened just two months ago) resulted in the fridge door being blown from its hinges, tiles being smashed from the kitchen wall, a panel on the inward opening kitchen door being blown out and the door and frame becoming dislodged on one side. From the photos I have seen there was also damage to the ceiling and the lights.

This amount of damage is typical. Other cases have also resulted in windows being smashed.

Let's not get too carried away, I live with a hydrocarbon refrigerator and realise that I am probably more likely to win the lottery than experience this phenomenon, so it doesn't unduly concern me. When a fridge does explode, though, I believe the householder should be properly compensated and that won't happen until people accept that the problem does exist.

In addition, by airing the problem and exchanging information manufacturers can work towards ensuring that it is less likely to happen in the future, because my fear is that sooner or later someone will get badly hurt.

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

08/07/2010 4:35 AM

Whatever may be the problems here, the actuarial base is yet small. From what I can glean so far, your remarks are right on target.

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Anonymous Poster
#21

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

09/17/2010 2:49 AM

Nope, never had a refrigerator explode on me in all my 27 years of Las Vegas air conditioning repair and refrigerator repair - but I'm not saying it can't or won't happen.

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Anonymous Poster
#22

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/13/2011 7:28 AM

For a flammable substance to give explosion you must have big enough leak to give adequate concentration in a confined space (the inside of a fridge is OK) and small enough to give the time window to your bad luck for a spark to ocuur. Unfortunately most fridges do have more than one "spark plugs' i.e. switces that could potentially give ignition, the door switches for the inside light, the thermostat , the starter winding switch and the overcurrent protection switch that even in most modern models are mechanical. But still the time window is small because 100 to 300 gr of flamable refrigerant won't last long on a relatively big leak and won't give enough concentration in air if leak is small(unless the fridge is in a really air tight environment, and then the suffication danger is bigger than explosion danger) Conclusion: I would't know what to say for someone that was hit by an asteroid but I would'n spent my life looking up.

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#24

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/02/2013 11:59 AM

So at 5am on Tuesday morning... My fridge exploded... It blew the fridge door into the dining room, has broken untold items in my house and blow the loft hatch up which is up the stairs and in the bathroom... It was very scary... My query is... Is there a governing body to alert? Will there be long term damage to my house and should I get an engineer out? - I have plaster cracks forming in the ceiling. Are the gases that were released still present in my house? I ask this as when I light the gas hob there is a strange smell..!! Any help would be most welcome

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#25
In reply to #24

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/02/2013 4:02 PM

Sorry to hear of this incident Manerlive. It sounds like a similar incident to others I have heard of but without the full facts it is difficult to say. You do not say where in the world you reside. Although virtually all domestic fridge/freezers in Europe run on isobutane other parts of the world still use the non-flammable HFC 134a. Also, I'm assuming there were no flammable substances left in the fridge. The evaporation of a flammable substance within the fridge can produce the same effect. Some aerosol cans also use a flammable hydrocarbon as the propellant. A faulty leaking valve on the can and, again, you potentially have the possibility of an explosion. The operating instructions of hydrocarbon fridges do carry specific warnings not to store flammables within the fridge. What type of fridge do you have? There should be a sticker on the compressor (the pot at the bottom rear of the outside of the fridge). It will either be marked R134a or, if its a hydrocarbon, R600a. Older fridges may even be marked as R11, a non-toxic, non flammable CFC. To put your mind at rest, there will be no subsequent danger from the gases that were previously in the fridge. There is only a very small amount to begin with - about the same amount of hydrocarbon as you would get in a couple of disposable cigarette lighters. If I can be of any help, please feel free to contact me through the website www.acr-news.com

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/03/2013 9:13 AM

Friends,

Regarding the toxicity topic. It is true that R134a, R11 and similar non-flammable CFC refrigerants are non-toxic. However, when they are exposed to a flame there is a very significant risk of conversion into phosgene, a gas that is very harmful to the lungs if inhaled. I suspect the reported strange smell when the burner was lit may have been this gas.

By now, any remaining gases in the home should have dissipated, however a period of ventilation would be wise. If there is some difficulty in breathing, an urgent check with medical authorities would be wise.

--JMM

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#27

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/03/2013 9:21 AM

I live in the uk. There were no flammable items in th fridge.. Not even a bottle if wine..!! No flammable items kept in our house really other than matches but these were nowhere near the fridge. There were only scorch marks on some plastic packaging, I suspect this is from the heat created by the explosion. Do you think there is an authority that I should contact?

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#28
In reply to #27

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/03/2013 9:43 AM

Hi Manerlive, I'm assuming that you didn't call the fire brigade when it happened. A lot of the regional fire brigades are aware of these explosions and would have provided you with an incident report. Don't tell me the manufacturer's name on this website but approx how old was the fridge? You should have a claim against the manufacturer but the manufacturers and many in the refrigeration industry, refuse to accept that it happens. By not accepting it they can avoid all claims. Have you checked the compressor to see what refrigerant it contained? Was it a fridge/freeze and was the main damage caused to the fridge compartment on the top? I would like to help but need you to contact me through the website www.acr-news.com or, as you are in the UK, at my work on 01342 332001

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#29

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/03/2013 9:48 AM

Ok.. Will email. I rang fire brigade and they just said to ventilate te property and get the appliance out of the house. Fridge/freezer - yes. Also yeas main damage to the fridge. Fridge was 14 yrs old. Some van came along and took it without my permission so I don't know what types of gasses and other things you are asking me. I'm making a claim against my insurer as there is a lot of damage.

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#30
In reply to #29

Re: The Ignored Disaster: Exploding Refrigerators

02/03/2013 10:54 PM

You have no record of the original purchase of the 'fridge? Most people at least keep the owner's manual and the warranty registration card...

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