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  • Writer's pictureBilly O'Nair

Ammonia refrigerators in RVs

Why do RVs use ammonia refrigerators? RVs are designed to be self-contained. Because RVs are made to move around, the refrigerators must handle motion; the absorption refrigerator is most common for this demand. Ammonia gas is used in these refrigerators. For this article, I am only addressing the concern of flammability.

An ammonia explosion blew out the windshield

Flammability of ammonia in RVs Fires in RVs caused by leaking ammonia are rare. I work with trailers every day. I have experienced an ammonia leak only two times. The gas is detectable; you know when you smell it. Ammonia is flammable at concentrations of approximately 15% to 28% by volume in air.

Can you take my RV? One day I received a call from an older man asking if I would take his motorhome. He indicated the unit had fire damage from an ammonia explosion. This I had to see.

Enclosed spaces I included pictures of the unit that nearly took the life of the man’s son. The son had determined that the refrigerator was not working; a typical scenario when refrigerators have not been used for a long time. He cut the lines to the refrigerator to free it from its space. Setting it aside, he then attempted to light the propane stove and see if it was working. Upon igniting the stove pilot an explosion occurred sending him many feet backwards and burning his body.

An RV is a small enclosed space, even at thirty-five feet long. The explosion expanded the sides of the motorhome, blew out the front windshield, set small fires and lifted the roof on one side. One picture shows a beer mug which was blown upward and jammed into the gap where the roof lifted.

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