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HVAC 101: Cracked Heat Exchanger

If you have a gas furnace, you have a heat exchanger. If you’re unsure what it is and why it matters, read on. Learn what a heat exchanger is, how it develops cracks, why it’s a big deal and how to prevent it.

What is a Heat Exchanger

In the simplest terms, a heat exchanger is a device which transfers heat from one medium to another. They’re used in all sorts of applications where heat is collected or generated and moved to a second use or component. They’re used in engines, refrigerators and in HVAC systems.
For our purposes, we’ll focus on the heat exchanger found within a furnace. It is the component that heats the air. Composed of a set of tubes or coils looped repeatedly, the air flows through and is heated before moving throughout the ductwork in your home. The type of fuel and furnace model dictate the shape of the coils.

How Does a Heat Exchanger Work

A heat exchanger uses the fuel, in our example, gas, to combust inside it and create heat. Air passes over the heat exchanger when the blower motor pushes it. The air absorbs the heat and is blown into the ductwork. The ductwork circulates the warmed air throughout your home. That’s it.

How a Heat Exchanger Develops Cracks

Over time, the combustible heat generates cracks in the heat exchanger. This is inevitable and eventual wear and tear on this crucial component. Sometimes, cracks appear early, due to overuse or lack of maintenance.
If your air filter is clogged, it can strain the furnace to push the air through the system. This strain can lead to early cracks. Likewise, if there is excessive wear and tear on your furnace, due to short cycling, improperly-sized equipment and other stressors, a crack can develop early.

Why is a Cracked Heat Exchanger a Problem

Cracks in your heat exchanger present two major risks. First, a crack allows gases from the combustion process to escape. You may be familiar with the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO).  If not, it’s a colorless, odorless gas which causes illness and in large doses is lethal.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 400 people die each year in the U.S. from accidental, non-fire-related CO poisoning. Normally, it is vented safely out of the home. When there’s a crack, it can escape into your indoor air.
Symptoms include headaches, nausea and loss of consciousness. Tragedies often happen overnight, when residents are sleeping. Second, is the risk of a furnace fire.

How to Prevent Cracks in Your Heat Exchanger

The simplest method to prevent a cracked heat exchanger is to follow a regular maintenance schedule. Professional HVAC technicians have specific methods to inspect the heat exchanger for cracks.
During a regular service visit or tune-up, technicians perform comprehensive inspections. As part of the inspection, for example, techs check the burner flame. A cracked heat exchanger allows air into the combustion chamber when the blower turns on. This air causes a visual disturbance to the flame.
In addition to regular maintenance, check your air filter monthly. A clogged air filter strains your system. Most homeowners find it needs to be changed every two to three months. If you have a smoker or multiple pets in your household, monthly changes would be appropriate.
Finally, install carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke detectors. Unless they are a combo unit, install carbon monoxide detectors lower on the wall. It’s recommended for “knee-height” or the height of where your head would be while sleeping.

For Heat Exchanger Help in Georgia and Alabama, Call Energy Savers

Energy Savers has helped home and business owners achieve the best heating efficiency and comfort for more than 40 years. We also service and repair all brands of HVAC equipment and provide air quality solutions.
If you would like to schedule a tune-up or repair for your furnace, please call us or submit the form online. We also service heat pumps and ductless heating units. We are happy to help you keep your heating system in service, so you stay comfortable and warm all winter long. If you find you are ready to upgrade to a more modern energy-efficient system, we can help there too.
Energy Savers provides quality products and great customer service in and around Columbus, Georgia and Opelika, Alabama. For healthy air and better comfort in communities such as Fort Benning or Waverly Hall, Georgia, call us for help today.