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Question DetailsAsked on 3/22/2014

Could the installation of a generator cause a natural gas fireplace explode?

The generator was tied into the natural gas line to the house. 5 days later the fireplace which is regulated by a temperature remote exploded. The glass panel and frame blew completely off and the glass splintered into jagged swords. The fireplace manufacturer, generator company, and fireplace installer all say there is nothing wrong and have no explanation.

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I have been thinking over your case - two additional things came to mind:

1) generator should have had a flame arrestor on the exhaust and a flash preventer in the gas line, which should have prevented any kind of flashback through the gas line to the fireplace if there was a gas/air misture in there

2) unless the gas valve in the fireplace was blown off the pipe or the pipe ruptured in there (evidence of an explosion in the gas piping, which would be very rare), and assuming the generator installation was not right under or next to the fireplace (to allow gas leakage to accumulate in the fireplace), then I would give about 10:1 odds the problem was a leaking pipe or gas valve in the fireplace that gradually filled the fireplace with gas, which then ignited when the fireplace or other ignition source nearby was turned on.

Filing a deadly incident complaint with the CPSC will do two things - 1) start them investigating if they get a couple of complaints like yours, so other consumers are not endangered if there is a product problem. 2) The other thing it will do is get official attention from the fireplace manufacturer, which might lead them to replace all the gas/ignition components on your unit as a public relations measure.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD


To determine the cause, you would first need a certified fire investigator, assuming this is going to an insurance claim. The insurance company should supply one, because of the proximity of the installation of the generator and the explosion and because an explosion was involved, as they would likely be looking for a pocket to cover the cost if substantial. Even if they do not want to supply one for their cost recovery purposes, they may well do so to make sure you do not have a continuing risk in your home. He should be able to track it to the point of ignition and the extent of the flash explosion, showing where the combustible gas cloud reached to. Insurance company may also want to do depositions of each party, especially the generator installer, to capture memories before they fade. If insurance company will not pay for a fire investigator, you can hire one yourself though probably about $500-1000 - usually there is a retired fire department investiator or police/FBI arson/bombing investigator around who does independent invetigations in semi-retirement.

You don't say if the fire department had an investigator do a report - they should also have immediately sniffed around with a gas detector, which might have located where the gas leak originated if it was still leaking. Fire department might even do investigation now if you ask, if they did not before, to help ensure your safety.

You don't say how close the generator is to the fireplace, and how close its tap into the gas line is to the fireplace, and how close the gas meter is - those could be significant.

I would not disturb fireplace itself or rebuild anything until investigation is done and cause determined.

Possible causes I can see:

1) gas leak in fireplace the coincidentally happened when it did and had nothing at all to do with generator, which probably means piping or valve or ignitor in fireplace was bad - either valve or piping leaked gas in fireplace that blew when ignited, or valve let gas in before ignitor lit, or ignitor failed to ignite first few times and eventually did afgter a lot of gas had flowed, or ignitor failed but gas flowed (which shouldnot happen) and something else ignited the gas leak

2) leak in generator/ generator line that accumulated gas at the fireplace (unlikely unless real close) which then blew when fireplace lit or something else ignited it

3) generator installer tapped into gas line near the fireplace, cracking it or a joint, causing gas leak near fireplace that then blew when fireplace turned on

4) generator pulled the gas from the house system during testing/use, leaving a partial air/gas mixture in the lines, which then blew up in the gas line when the fireplace turned on because fireplace did not have a flame arrestor in the line before the valve like it should have

5) generator installer cut the gas line to tie into it and let air into it by leaving open while working, so air/gas mixture was in the gas line to the furnace, which then blew up when the fireplace turned on because fireplace did not have a flame arrestor in the line right before or in the valve like it should have

6) generator installer cut the gas line and let air into it, then properly bled the air out of the fireplace line, but left valve open or leaking when done

7) This one for certain - UL was stupid to certify (assuming it was UL listed) an enclosed gas device that can auto start when the glass doors are closed. I would consider this an inherent life-threatening defect justifying a recall and report it to the CPSC - Consumer Product Safety Commission. You should check their website and make sure there have not been recalls onyour brand of fireplace. Imagine if someone had been sitting or a child playing in front of it, or no one was home and it caught the house on fire. It is just palin dumb to have an auto ignite or remote ignite on a closed unit like that, which can explode if there is a gas leak in the fireplace when it lights. Large (commercial) closed-combustion devices have a gas detector that prevents electronic ignition if there is gas present - that should be required on small devices too if you don't have to open the door to light it, giving you the chance of smelling the gas before you light it.

Good Luck - this obviously could have been a lot worse than it was, from what you described, and I certainly would not use the fireplace till the cause is found.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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