It’s cold, and bottled Jurassic farts keep us from freezing to our desks. We’ve got three Calor gas heaters, very basic, with 15kg butane/propane bottles that we get refilled by a local company.
Yesterday after a long day trying to figure out ARM programming, I switched the heater off to leave. I do this by turning the valve off at the regulator which fits onto the bottle. Only the heater didn’t stop. Not just the pilot light, but the convection heater element stayed on, burning bright.
Bit of gas in the pipes, I thought, and waited 10 seconds. 20 seconds. Still burning.
Damn, I thought, the valve must be faulty – what do I do now?! I waited another minute or so, and then with great trepidation released the regulator from the bottle, hoping it wasn’t going to blow through the ceiling. I pulled the bottle out and away to a safe distance, and came back to the heater. And guess what? It was still burning!
At this point I really didn’t know what was going on – surely there can’t be that much gas still in the pipes? Had the bottle been overfilled, and therefore pressurised the heater components to the extent that it was storing a huge amount of gas? On the other side of the regulator?!
I googled: gas heater doesn’t switch off, gas running detached, gas panic HELP! et c.
No answers, obviously, and I realised that, were I to survive to tell the tale, no-one was going to believe me. So I got the camera out and filmed it:
As you can see the footage runs to over 3 mins. Then I got bored and turned the camera off – the gas burned for a bit longer. The skeptics out there (I salute you) will want to skip to 2:40 where the camera shows the back of the heater. That’s where in a normal, sane world the gas bottle would be.
I apologies for the poor camera work – nonetheless you should be able to see some of the frost that formed on the regulator. This happened after I detached it from the gas bottle – its metal surface suddenly went really, really cold!
You might notice that the flame sparks up when I move or lift the regulator. At times it seemed to overflow, burning much higher that under normal use – causing me to take a cautious step back. I was frankly terrified.
So what’s the explanation? Have I stumbled on the ultimate source of free energy? Or inadvertently created a home fusion reactor? Probably not. The closest thing to a rational explanation that I have heard is that some gas in liquid form (No that doesn’t makes sense! Read: some butane/propane mixture in liquid form) somehow made it into the tube or regulator, and was slowly boiling away, releasing gas which kept the flame burning. The phase change would also explain why the regulator was so cold.
For those who would rather believe the free energy version, maybe you’d like to buy my heater?