Wildfires: What Happened to the Toilets?

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Metabunk 2018-12-07 12-45-33.jpg
Something the "Directed Energy Weapons" conspiracy theorists like to point out is how hard it is to find a photo of a porcelain toilet in the ruins of the houses. The only reason they can think of this is that the houses were destroyed by lasers or somesuch. But what actually happened to the toilets?

A big hit for this DEW theory is that if you look closely in the rubble there's lots of porcelain type stuff that survived just fine, like plates and bowls.
Metabunk 2018-12-07 12-47-57.jpg

Another big clue here is that it's all broken. Understandable in the case of the dishes as they were once six feet up in the air in a cabinet. Toilets are on the floor, but the broken crockery reminds us that the house collapsed. The walls, those cabinets, the ceiling, the rafters and the roof dis not gently turn to ash and then float to the ground - they burnt until they lost structural support, then they fell.

And the floor is not the ground. Many houses in California, especially cheap houses, are built over a crawl space rather than a concrete slab. So when that fails the toilet will fall down, maybe crack, but certainly fall over, and be lost in the rubble. Here are some prefab homes on a crawl-space foundation. Notice the height of the floor above the ground (look at the steps)
Metabunk 2018-12-07 13-41-56.jpg

After the fire only the steel foundation beams remain, albeit twisted, and the house is reduced to rubble in the crawl space.
Metabunk 2018-12-07 13-04-39.jpg
No toilets are visible, but you really would not expect any.


But would a toilet even survive an intense fire? It seems possible that simply sitting in an 1100°C house fire for a few minutes would cause the toilet (and bathtubs and sinks) to shatter. But porcelain kilns are actually in the range 1,200°C to 1,400°C. Perhaps the issue would be the speed and unevenness of heating.
 
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Mechanik

Active Member
According to Wikipedia on Ceramic, it can melt in temps as low as 1000 C. This article: https://www.hunker.com/12003089/can-porcelain-tiles-withstand-heat, says:
That’s not a toilet, but it tells me you can break porcelain in a fire.
 

Mechanik

Active Member
After spending nearly an hour attempting to find a video of someone putting a toilet in a campfire, I think that the porcelain dishes and toilets are cracking from temperature changes prior to their dropping and shattering. While it may possible for them to melt, cracking seems a more likely reason for the lack of an intact toilet after a fire.

This article talks about porcelain insulators cracking and falling apart due to cold weather: https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-2005-09-13-0509130822-story.html

This one from the National Institute of Fire & Safety Training titled "Do You Know What Will Not Burn In A House Fire?" omits toilets and dishes from the list: http://www.nifast.org/blog/07/do-you-know-what-will-not-burn-in-a-house-fire/

And finally, this one is an actual scientific paper on porcelain cracking at temperature changes of as little as 230C: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/je/2013/972019/
(scroll down to the Thermal Shock Tests section).

If I'm reading this right, this last one also points out that there are differences in cracking between the glazed and unglazed portions of the test pieces, which certainly applies to the unglazed bottom of a toilet.

So my hypothesis is that the rapid temperature changes as a result of a house fire cause extensive cracking of porcelain fixtures and dishes so that when the dishes fall out of the cabinet, or the toilet falls from the second floor, or the second floor falls on the downstairs toilet, it/they shatters.

Anecdotally, I also found several articles on accidentally melting the wax ring under the toilet by pouring hot water down the loo to relieve clogs. I can personally attest that if you put weight on a toilet with no wax ring, all the weight is transferred to the iron pipe interface instead of the toilet base and the entire base can shatter instantly. It appears there is a trade-off between hard and brittle in porcelain.
 

The Night Wind

New Member
Porcelain used in kitchenware has been treated to a higher heat-resistance than porcelain tiles and fixtures. Temperatures in cooking don't get as high as a house fire; but the average porcelain plate will withstand 2 or 3 times cooking temperatures. There's no point in treating bathroom fixtures or tiles to withstand high heat, so manufacturers don't do it. I've seen bathtubs and sinks with burn-marks from cigarettes---but porcelain ashtrays don't burn or melt at all.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I did a few experiments today with porcelain tiles. Under a propylene blowtorch, the tiles explode after a few seconds of direct heating in the center of the tile.
Metabunk 2018-12-30 21-12-48.jpg
The temperature probe was nearly 800°C, but I suspect the tile was a bit cooler.


I tried making a little stove fire
Metabunk 2018-12-30 21-14-43.jpg

But not really hot enough:
Metabunk 2018-12-30 21-15-41.jpg

So I made a larger burn pile (I had a bunch of old branches that needed burning anyway)
Metabunk 2018-12-30 21-16-33.jpg

Left the tile in it for around an hour. Closer to a typical house fire.
Metabunk 2018-12-30 21-17-43.jpg


The tile quickly ended up in the coals at the bottom of the fire. One getting it out it had several hairline cracks.

Metabunk 2018-12-30 21-20-51.jpg

And very easily snapped in two.
Metabunk 2018-12-30 21-21-25.jpg

Conclusion - porcelain is fairly heat resistant, but sustained hydrocarbon fire temperatures will cause it to crack.

Hence, a significant factor in the low number of observable porcelain bathroom appliances is probably that they were in pieces after both being heated until they cracked, and having the house fall on them.
 

Leifer

Senior Member.
I have not found ONE video of the (any) fire aftermath, that has shown melted ceramics in the rubble.
Several videos and people claim "we dont see any toilets or bathtubs, or granite counters...they disintegrated or were burned away by DEW". Most of these videos are of drone camera footage, 100 foot above. So no one can actually see these claims because of the distance of the drone "overview".
People are guessing based on what they want to believe, even if there is no evidence to support their beliefs.
 
I did a few experiments today with porcelain tiles. Under a propylene blowtorch, the tiles explode after a few seconds of direct heating in the center of the tile.
View attachment 35533
The temperature probe was nearly 800°C, but I suspect the tile was a bit cooler.


I tried making a little stove fire
View attachment 35534

But not really hot enough:
View attachment 35535

So I made a larger burn pile (I had a bunch of old branches that needed burning anyway)
View attachment 35536

Left the tile in it for around an hour. Closer to a typical house fire.
View attachment 35537


The tile quickly ended up in the coals at the bottom of the fire. One getting it out it had several hairline cracks.

View attachment 35539

And very easily snapped in two.
View attachment 35540

Conclusion - porcelain is fairly heat resistant, but sustained hydrocarbon fire temperatures will cause it to crack.

Hence, a significant factor in the low number of observable porcelain bathroom appliances is probably that they were in pieces after both being heated until they cracked, and having the house fall on them.

Mick, I work in the flooring dept at the Large Home Improvement Warehouse where you likely bought that tile, and I am pretty sure it is not porcelain, but ceramic, as most wall tiles like that are. Ceramic is fired to a lower temperature, is more porous, and less dense and tough than porcelain. Maybe a minor point, but accuracy is paramount.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Mick, I work in the flooring dept at the Large Home Improvement Warehouse where you likely bought that tile, and I am pretty sure it is not porcelain, but ceramic, as most wall tiles like that are. Ceramic is fired to a lower temperature, is more porous, and less dense and tough than porcelain. Maybe a minor point, but accuracy is paramount.

The tiles are "Restore bright white 6x6 ceramic wall tile". But when I look up "porcelain," it says "a white vitrified translucent ceramic." Toilets are not really "translucent"

Really the issue here is how this tile compares to what toilets are made of. I got it because it looked like the closest thing. It looked like vitreous china, but now I see the description says: "Non-Vitreous tile has water absorption of more than 7%"

I'm not sure the toilets are technically "porcelain" either, but they are waterproof vitreous china.

The simplest thing would be to get a free toilet on Craigslist, and build a larger burn pile :)
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
The simplest thing would be to get a free toilet on Craigslist, and build a larger burn pile :)
ew. no. don't do that. :)

but if you do get more tiles, maybe heat them up then spray them with the hose. just curious, i'm wondering if they would shatter. you could build a little house like mythbusters do and put the tile inside, does an open air fire get as hot as inside a house?

conspiracy theorists like to point out is how hard it is to find a photo of a porcelain toilet in the ruins of the houses.
come to think of it, i dont remember seeing any toilets in the ruins of tornados either. hmm..
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I just happen to have a toilet to experiment with.


Excellent. Looks like it's spalling (the explosive flaking off of the outer layer) and them eventually cracking. Hmm, I should try heating my tiles a bit longer, see if they spall.

Based on this, it seems quite likely a similar toilet would be reduced to small pieces in an intense house fire.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
No spalling here. Full blast for a minute. A crack developed after 10 seconds, then nothing.
Metabunk 2019-01-01 12-25-24.jpg

"Thermal Shock" is the term for this type of failure, a common problem in ceramics.

https://digitalfire.com/4sight/glossary/glossary_thermal_shock.html
 

M Bornong

Senior Member.
Excellent. Looks like it's spalling (the explosive flaking off of the outer layer) and them eventually cracking. Hmm, I should try heating my tiles a bit longer, see if they spall.

Based on this, it seems quite likely a similar toilet would be reduced to small pieces in an intense house fire.

I've got the BBQ heating up. See how it does over charcoal.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
@deirdre pointed out that thicker ceramics are more prone to thermal shock than thin ceramics (you get a more abrupt temperature gradient as heat flows slower in thick objects.) So toilets (and sinks, etc) might well be more prone to fracturing in a fire than tiles.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
@deirdre pointed out that thicker ceramics are more prone to thermal shock than thin ceramics (you get a more abrupt temperature gradient as heat flows slower in thick objects.) So toilets (and sinks, etc) might well be more prone to fracturing in a fire than tiles.
and based on what i'm reading in your link, porcelain is more prone to thermal shock than non-porcelain ceramics. am i reading that info right?

so basically your tile, if it is ceramic as @Charlesinsandiego pointed out, is stronger than a toilet bowl in 2 different ways. Materials and [less]thickness. yes?
 

M Bornong

Senior Member.
Take care, it sucks up a deceptive amount of heat. I burnt my welding gloves when I picked up a piece.

I found that out after I used my torch on the chunk in the first video. It only took a second or two and my glove was smoking. I'm used to how metal cools down when soldering. Never try an experiment like this without proper protection, the chips while BBQing the toilet were flying more than 5 feet.
 

M Bornong

Senior Member.
ew. no. don't do that. :)

but if you do get more tiles, maybe heat them up then spray them with the hose. just curious, i'm wondering if they would shatter. you could build a little house like mythbusters do and put the tile inside, does an open air fire get as hot as inside a house?


come to think of it, i dont remember seeing any toilets in the ruins of tornados either. hmm..

I still have plenty of pieces, I'm a plumber, I have a few toilets in my dumpster, none are whole, I do break them up to save room. Do you want to see a good sized chunk heated and exploded with water?
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Shortly followed by cold water. No cracking from the water.
yea but you got super thermal shock resistant ceramic tiles. :)

I still have plenty of pieces, I'm a plumber, I have a few toilets in my dumpster, none are whole, I do break them up to save room. Do you want to see a good sized chunk heated and exploded with water?
i think you need a full face mask (and a baseball catchers chest protector) before you blow up glass like shards.

(PS. i was going to put an old porcelain teapot with a broken handle in my oven, but after seeing your barbecue i decided with my luck it would crack my oven glass... so thanks for stopping me!)
 

M Bornong

Senior Member.
Who could possibly not want to see such a thing?!

Fine, challenge accepted. Early days of my plumbing experience, I learned that during a copper repair if a drop of water runs down the pipe at the wrong time, you get a steam blast and molten solder will spray resulting in burns, if unprotected, and the repair won't hold.

1. A controlled rise in temperature of the porcelain to prevent early shattering.
2. Remote control of the water from a safe distance away.
3. Minimal shielding for my camera.

Anything else? I should be able to set this up, and scale it up within a day or two.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Anything else?
are the tanks a seperate piece? if you ever do get a tank, i'm curious about the effect of water in the bowl/tank. 2 tanks would be best, 1 with water and one without. :) you know, if you ever find yourself in the position of having 2 tanks.
 

M Bornong

Senior Member.
are the tanks a seperate piece? if you ever do get a tank, i'm curious about the effect of water in the bowl/tank. 2 tanks would be best, 1 with water and one without. :) you know, if you ever find yourself in the position of having 2 tanks.

I'm sure water in the tank and bowl affect how the porcelain heats up, and contributes to uneven heating. At the moment, I only have chunks of toilets in my dumpster. I really wasn't thinking about this experiment the last time I changed a toilet. Also, bonfires are frowned upon in Bakersfield, we have the worst AQ in the United States. I'm still up for exploding the biggest chunk I can find. I'll try to find multiple layers.
 

M Bornong

Senior Member.
Who could possibly not want to see such a thing?!

My first attempt. I thought a 3/4 inch copper pipe with a T to provide circulating air would allow a slow enough rise in temperature to minimize spalling and cracking.

DSCF1012.JPG

I started applying heat from my map gas torch just above the T, and slowly raised the torch along the copper until I was on the porcelain. I heard no cracking and saw no spalling. Once I was able to ignite a piece of paper on the porcelain, I applied a stream of cold water from a garden hose.

DSCF1015.JPG

A couple chips, a little pitting in the glaze, and a small crack in right corner. I can't be sure if this damage happened during the heating or the cooling.

If anybody has any suggestions, I can try again. It looks to me like we are not going to get an explosion. Maybe soaking an unglazed piece to maximum saturation and more rapid raise in temperature? I've got a chunk soaking in food coloring. Let's see how far it will penetrate?
 

Mechanik

Active Member
Jumping back a bit: I saved a bunch of Paradise Fire photos a while back when this thread was just starting and went back through them today.

This first photo appears to show a toilet in a burned out house:
upload_2019-1-6_17-10-26.png
Sewer pipe on left, downward facing toilet bowl to it's left. Probably fell from an upper floor based on the elevation of the fireplace. Not destroyed, but the tank is missing.

This looks like a piece of a toilet tank.
upload_2019-1-6_17-12-54.png
Based on proximity to dual-sinks situated just behind the fragment, this seems a likely location for a bathroom.

And last, a bathtub buried in wreckage (red arrow):
upload_2019-1-6_17-14-50.png
My point with this last one is that the wreckage is at or near the level of the top of the bathtub. A toilet bowl could easily be buried completely by wreckage, even if it wasn't broken to bits.
 
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deirdre

Senior Member.
My point with this last one is that the wreckage is at or near the level of the top of the bathtub. A toilet bowl could easily be buried completely by wreckage, even if it wasn't broken to bits.
i think it is just a pipe
Capture.JPG

i don't know what this thing is, but it doesnt really look like a toilet to me. Possible of course it's some weird model, but it looks strange.
upload_2019-1-7_10-30-17.png
 

M Bornong

Senior Member.
Who could possibly not want to see such a thing?!

I soaked a chunk from the toilet tank in blue dye, the outside is glazed the inside is not after a couple of days there was definite penetration on the unglazed side. I let it soak 2 weeks, I don't think that long was necessary, but the days I had time to try the experiment, we had 30-50 mile per hour winds, I didn't think it was a good idea to light a fire. Today weather was nice.

explosion1.gif

The full video:

I'd have liked to have seen it blown into smithereens, such is life. I do now have an intact porcelain wall mount sink. Maybe I should fire up my deep pit?
 

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