Another danger from freezing weather

This past Sunday our department was paged out for an “explosion and fire” at a residence that demonstrated the incredible power of freezing and steam.

The owners were away and the plumbing Рincluding the heat exchanger in the wood stove Рhad frozen up. Some friends had come by and lit a fire hoping to defrost the place. A while after lighting the woodstove they heard a hissing sound,  followed by an incredibly destructive blast that demolished the stove, sending shrapnel throughout the house and yard, blowing out a number of windows and skylights.

One person was badly injured by the flying debris, and a number of small fires were started throughout the house from the stoves burning contents.

The picture above is of the remains of the heat exchanger from the woodstove, once a rectangular shape like the bottom section. The 3/16″ thick stainless steel was no match for the damage from freezing and then from the forces generated by the steam. For a mathematical perspective – a steam plant engineer has stated that 6 gallons of water heated to 350’F has the explosive force of 1 lb. of TNT. After seeing the damage to this home, I can say I have no problem believing those figures.


  1. J. Bird says:

    This is good information for anyone heating water with a wood stove.

    However, I think it is important to inform people the installation in this circumstance was not performed by a licensed professional, the house is in contravention of multiple bylaws, and was not supposed to be occupied.

    Building bylaws are meant to ensure the health and safety for all. Negligence to enforce them can result in injuries like those sustained by the victim of this most unfortunate incident.

    • Rick Jackson says:

      Thanks for replying.

      While I don’t disagree with your statements the main point I wanted to make is regarding the unforeseen dangers of a frozen water system.

      It is the opinion of myself and others that even a code installed and inspected system would very likely have experienced the same fate, given the fact that all of the components were thoroughly frozen.