What Is A Heat Exchanger?

What Is A Heat Exchanger?

Your furnace is extremely important, especially when temperatures get colder. When it's freezing outside, you need to know that your furnace is going to do its job and keep you warm.

You also need to understand your furnace, it’s various parts, and how it works in order to discover any issues that may arise and to ensure that it is functioning properly all winter long.

The heat exchanger is one component of a furnace that many people are unaware of. They wouldn’t know if the part was failing, let alone that it exists at all. However, it is an incredibly important part of the furnace and all homeowners should understand what it is and how it works.

The Heat Exchanger

The component that ensures that the heat from the gas in the burner is transferred to air that blows into the home is called the heat exchanger. Understanding that simple fact makes it obvious that the heat exchanger is an essential aspect for heating the home.

The heat exchanger is a long metal tube that is made from sheet metal and has openings at both ends. The heat exchanger works by allowing burning gas to pass through in order to vent toxic byproducts of the gas out before it disperses into your home. After the toxins are vented out, a fan will pass the air into your home over heated metal that warms the air, which is then blown through ducts into your home.

For homes with a boiler, the heat exchanger works by letting the heat energy from the gas pass safely to the water. Without a heat exchanger, the water would need to be heated directly from the gas, which would cause the flames to be extinguished.

The Importance of a Heat Exchanger

Understanding the various parts of the furnace is important because it allows you to ensure that your furnace is in proper working order, and that you will have an understanding of what needs to be done in the event of it failing.

The good news about heat exchangers is that they typically don’t need repair and can last for a very long time. While you will want to have an understanding of what they are and what they do, you can rest assured that they won’t require repair very often.

With a lifespan of at least ten years, you won’t need to worry about repair or replacement very often. However, when the time comes, you will need to hire a licensed professional to do the work.

The bad news is that because the heat exchanger is such an important component of the furnace, when they do fail, it matters a lot and needs to be repaired pretty quickly. In fact, one of the ways that the heat exchanger fails is by cracking due to repeated exposure to outside factors like freezing temperatures.

A cracked heat exchanger doesn’t just cause failure, it can actually cause very dangerous conditions. This is because when a heat exchanger is cracked, the dangerous gases can leak out into your home instead of just being vented out. Carbon monoxide can cause CO poisoning by leaking into the home through cracked heat exchangers.

We had them come out to do a heat adjustment and Manny noticed a gas smell that we had apparently gotten used to. A quick evaluation and he discovered a gas leak in our stove. Had he not spoken up and gone above and beyond, we could have been in danger. I’m so grateful he went above and beyond for us! Seriously some of the best service I could have ever asked for!
Lynn S.
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Do You Have a Cracked Heat Exchanger?

There are a number of signs that you can look for to either ensure that your heat exchanger is in good condition or to determine that it is time for repair or replacement.

  • Do you have an old system? If you are aware that your heat exchanger is old and you are noticing aging signs like loud noises and wear and tear, you should have your system looked at by a professional.
  • Is there soot around your furnace? Due to the fact that dirty soot around the furnace can be caused by incomplete combustion, it’s pretty safe to assume that your gas isn’t burning cleanly if you notice it. When you notice soot around your furnace, it’s likely that your heat exchanger is damaged, and you should get it checked out right away.
  • Do you have water near the furnace? Cracked heat exchangers can cause water to accumulate on the floor near your furnace. Although, it could just be basic condensation. You won’t want to take any chances though, so if you’re beginning to notice water on the floor, get your heat exchanger looked at.
  • Are you noticing any strange smells? As you know, if a heat exchanger is cracked, combustion gases can leak into your home. While some gases have no odor, others can present with a formaldehyde or sulfur-like stench. If you smell anything out of place near your furnace or air ducts, get it looked at immediately by a professional.
  • Look out for symptoms of gas leaks. If you have a cracked heat exchanger, you have the potential for a life-threatening gas leak. It’s imperative that you understand the signs and symptoms in order to keep yourself and your family safe. Gas leaks can cause flu-like symptoms, as well as dizziness, headache, and nausea. You will want to ensure that you have working CO monitors installed in your home that will alert you if any CO is detected.

How to Keep Your Heat Exchanger Properly Maintained

There are a number of things that you can do to maintain your heat exchanger, as well as to ensure that you are made aware as soon as a problem or failure may arise. With the potential for danger or life-threatening conditions, it is essential that you are intentional about being of your heat exchanger’s condition. You will want to make sure that all of your vents and registers remain open in order to keep air flowing and prevent excess air pressure.

You will also want to make sure and replace your air filter at most every 90 days to prevent dirt from clogging your system. Ensure that you have working CO monitors installed in your home that you check regularly. You will also want to have your furnace checked on at least once a year at the end of summer or early fall to make sure it is in great working order for the cold seasons.

Ensuring that your heat exchanger is working and in good condition can literally be life-saving. While it may seem like a small component of a much larger system, it truly is one of the most important components you have. Don’t hesitate to follow maintenance and safety precautions in order to keep you and your family safe and warm.

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