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Do I have a cracked heat exchanger?

What is a furnace heat exchanger? In the simplest possible terms, your heat exchanger is the part of the furnace that heats the air. It’s a set of tubes or coils that are looped repeatedly inside your furnace. They must be fully sealed because the air we breathe has to be separate from the combustible air in that part of your furnace. It is a combination metal chamber and passageway that starts at the burner assembly and ends approximately where the chimney vent connects to the furnace. Air is heated as it is blown across the hot metal surface of the heat exchanger. The heated air is then distributed through the house to warm it.

Why is it so important to your furnace? If your heat exchanger is cracked, it can be dangerous for you and your family. There are dangerous gasses in your heat exchanger, the most dangerous being carbon monoxide. The most common pollutants that can enter your home’s air through a crack in your heat exchanger include:

• Carbon monoxide

• Carbon dioxide

• Soot

• Nitrogen oxides

How to Tell If Your Heat Exchanger Is Cracked Clue #2: How Old Is It?

Sooner or later your heat exchanger will crack or fail. That’s the very simple reality of it. Don’t blame me, blame metal fatigue. With that in mind, a key piece of info in this investigation is your furnace’s age.

Metal expands when it’s heated, that’s just physics. Then, when it cools, it contracts. Because of our climate, we run both our heaters and air conditioners quite a bit. This means the metal that seals the dangerous gasses in heat exchangers moves around. Like a paperclip that is bent in and out of shape over and over again, the metal eventually becomes brittle and breaks.

Heat exchangers are built to last 10 to 20 years, but that period could be shorter if an HVAC system is used more often than the norm. Not having proper maintenance performed by a skilled professional will also take years off the life of a heat exchanger.

How to Tell If Your Heat Exchanger Is Cracked Clue #3: Common Signs of a Crack

We’re getting close to discovering the answers behind the heat exchanger mystery. The final part of our investigation is knowing the signs and dangers of a cracked heat exchanger. Here are the most common signs that you may have a problem:

• A change in flame appearance: You know the flame in your furnace? It should be blue if you have a regularly-functioning gas furnace. If the heat exchanger is cracked (or if the burner is dirty), you’ll see a moving yellow flame. That’s a sign to immediately call an HVAC pro.

• Soot build up inside your furnace: Like I noted above, soot can leak out of your heat exchanger if there’s a crack. If you open up your furnace and see a black carbon buildup on the surfaces there, this is another sign that there’s a crack in your heat exchanger.

• Unusual smells: Cracked heat exchangers generally produce a strong, unpleasant smell, kind of like formaldehyde. This can give you headaches and other physical symptoms, so immediately call a local HVAC tech.

A good furnace tune-up will involve checking your ductwork, as well as the performance and efficiency of the HVAC system, which will help you avoid the multiple scenarios that lead to a crack in the heat exchanger in the first place. It will also be evaluated for cracks so that you can rest assured toxins aren’t polluting the air in your home. Here a Cassel Home Comfort we inspect every heat exchanger with a high definition camera, record the results and file that for future analysis.

If you have any concerns about your furnace or heat exchanger, my expert opinion is always to have a trusted HVAC tech out for a visit (which you should have had done for a pre-winter checkup anyway). Be sure to mention to them that you’ve done some investigating and found that your heat exchanger may be in danger. And go ahead and pay attention to what the tech tells you in return, so you can be a responsible homeowner.

So if you have an HVAC company tell you your heat exchanger is cracked call Cassel Home Comfort for a free second opinion and we will be right out to get you taken care of.

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