A lot of southern California households can get really nippy this time of year, especially in the morning or late evening. You may have never heard of the term heat exchanger, but it is a device inside of your furnace that is able to transfer heat between one or more fluids and create “conditioned” air to improve interior climate. It’s said to be prone to breakage, and given its important function. The most common breakdown with this part usually comes with longevity of your furnace. No homeowner should ever delay having a broken heat exchanger fixed, and here are the top five things you need to know as a homeowner with a furnace. 

What happens when your heat exchanger has an issue?

Typically an inspector with your local utility company or an HVAC technician have the tools to detect a problem with your heat exchanger. It is not always obvious to the naked eye and requires a skilled technician to detect an issue. Now, if your carbon monoxide detector has gone off, then you know you have an urgent issue. But, that is not always the case. You see, cracks in your heat exchanger do not happen overnight. They develop over time and can start with a tiny breach and develop into a gaping hole which is when your carbon monoxide detector will kick in. Regular furnace inspections should prevent this from happening.

Here are five facts you need to know about your furnace’s heat exchanger:

  1. If a heat exchanger is cracked or rusty, the danger to look out for is flue gases and carbon monoxide leaking into the home. This can result in respiratory illnesses and even death in some cases. It is the law that all California home have a carbon monoxide detector installed. If you don’t it is best to have your HVAC maintenance technician install one.  They need to be strategically placed but are fairly easy to install. 
  2. Overheating caused by dirty furnace filters typically causes cracks. Overheating happens when the furnace doesn’t get enough airflow. Therefore, it’s important that the air filter is cleaned regularly to ensure proper airflow. A clean air filter will prevent the device from being overworked and getting stressed from the contraction and expansion of the heat exchanger. 
  3. Using the right size furnace can prevent damage to the heat exchanger. To determine the appropriate furnace size for your home, it’s best to consult heating technicians who can properly assess or evaluate the heating needs of your household. Both over-sized and undersized furnaces are prone to cracked heat exchangers.
  4. A mature crack in your heat exchanger allows air from the furnace blower to interfere with the flame. This can cause flames to roll out, which then will trip the safety switch and shut down the furnace in most models. However if your furnace is more than 12-15 years old, this safety feature may not be available for your model. It’s best to ask your HVAC technician. 
  5. Real cracks on a heat exchanger (which normally can be found around seams or welds) that affect combustion are not always visible to the naked eye.An experienced technician with the right tools can detect the beginning stages of a cracked heat exchanger. It’s always best to consult with a reputable company. Many companies will invest in heat exchanger safety training for their employees, so be sure to ask if they are safety certified.

With these five facts, you can determine if your furnace really has a cracked heat exchanger or not, and at the same time, ensure that you’re maintaining it properly so it will serve your home for a long time. As always if you live in Ventura, Santa Barbara, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles or anywhere within our service area, we will be glad to schedule a furnace safety inspection and tune up to ensure everything is safe and clean. 

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  1. I didn't know that carbon monoxide could leak if the heat exchanger is having problems. I should probably get one of those detectors because you can't smell that stuff right? My parents have them, and we've never had any carbon monoxide problems, but I guess it's better safe than sorry. Thanks for the info.

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