Defective Water Heater Puts Hole In Roof

Water heater blasts off from basement to sky

Johnna Bruner, 19, stands beside holes that an exploding water heater left in the floor and ceiling of her home on Greensprings Drive.
Wednesday, July 9, 2003 3:40 PM PDT
Published July 9, 2003

Johnna Bruner was fast asleep when an explosion ripped through her home on Greensprings Drive in the middle of the night.

It was a malfunctioning water heater, which built up pressure until it turned into a bomb that rocketed up from the basement, ripped a hole in the living room floor, and vaulted through the ceiling to land on the roof next to the satellite dish.

The explosion that occurred about 1 a.m. June 30 shook the house off its foundation and left its contents in tatters.

Bruner and her fiance, Casey McClin, considered themselves lucky to have survived.

“We were in a water bed at the time and [the explosion] sort of tidal waved us out,” said Bruner, who lives in the 2100 block of Greensprings Drive. “There was so much steam in the living room we thought there was a fire.”

Klamath County plumbing inspector Dennis Stone said he was surprised at the damage caused by the 20-gallon water heater.

“I’ve been in the trade going on 33 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Stone said “It looked like a bunker-buster bomb went off in there, like in Iraq.”

According to Stone, the pressure release valve on the water heater either corroded shut or failed altogether. When the thermostat continued to function, pressure built up inside the heater until it burst.

“We’d heard some godawful noises about an hour before it happened,” Bruner said. “So we went down and read the instructions on the water heater and it said to turn the water breaker off, so we did.”

Around 1 a.m., the water heater blasted off from its spot in the basement, tore through the living room floor and ceiling, just feet from the sleeping Bruner and McClin. The heater then landed above the porch, knocking down the chimney in the process.

The heater was hot enough to create steam, meaning it was at least 220 degrees. Melted insulation was found throughout the house.

When the heater initially exploded, a wave of pressure blew the garage door onto Green Springs Drive. According to Stone, this may have saved Bruner and McClin.

“They told us that if the garage door wasn’t there, we’d be dead,” Bruner said. “It was such a crappy garage door it blew out instead of blowing us up.”

“The two people in there were lucky,” Stone said. “Most of the pressure went out instead of up into the house. It still moved walls off the foundation.”

Damage estimates to the property have yet to be determined by insurance companies. Bruner said that she and her fiance lost more than $26,000 in the accident.

Exploding water heaters are rare but not unheard of, according to Stone.

“It’s not common, but when it does happen it’s pretty damaging,” Stone said. “It’s something that people just don’t think about. If the right circumstances hit, this is what happens.”

Homeowners can prevent their water heaters from exploding with proper maintenance.

“If somebody has a heater that’s 10 to 15 years old, they should check it’s condition and maybe think about replacing it,” Stone said. “A replacement is really pretty reasonable in cost. If people are leery about what they need to do, a licensed plumber can give them an estimate.”

Stone said that newer water heaters have more advanced pressure release valves. Any time a used water heater is resold, the release valve is replaced.

“Sometimes people see that their release valve is leaking, so instead of replacing it, they clog it,” Stone said. “They’ve just made themselves a bomb.”

Meanwhile, Bruner and McClin are staying with relatives until they can find a permanent home.

“Usually when you think of an water heater blowing up you think of some water flooding a basement,” Bruner said. “But this literally blew up.”

Reporter Rob McCallum can be reached at 885-4413 or (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at

Defective heater puts hole in roof


H&N Staff Writer