Hold On…What Exactly Is a Heat Exchanger?To understand the ways a heat exchanger keeps your family healthy, you should first understand what it is. A heat exchanger is a set of coils or tubes that loop inside your furnace and, in the simplest terms, heat the air. It takes some sort of fuel, oil or gas usually, but in rare cases also propane, which combusts inside the heat exchanger to create hot air. That hot air is then blown into your HVAC system’s ductwork, and out into your house. The heat exchanger, and its combustion process, is enclosed in metal. It’s also a line of defense between you, your family, and the chemicals the furnace needs to create heat. For the heat exchanger to defend you properly, the metal case around the tubes and coils must have an airtight seal. If this seal gets cracked, well, that’s not good. That’s when your family’s health gets put at risk.
Your Heat Exchanger Will FailNot to bring you bad news, but sooner or later your heat exchanger will fail. That’s the very simple reality of it. Don’t blame me, blame metal fatigue. Metal expands when it’s heated. When it’s cooled, it goes the other way and contracts. In Rocklin, and the rest of the Sacramento area for that matter, we have harsher summers and colder winters than those top 10 cities in the Bay Area. Because of our weather, we run our heaters and air conditioners quite a bit. This means the metal that seals the dangerous gasses in heat exchangers is moved 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. Not having proper seasonal maintenance performed by a skilled professional will also take years off the life of a heat exchanger. If you bought an oversized furnace for a smaller Rocklin home, this can create problems such as short cycling, which can also tax the heat exchanger. Furnaces come with a check that stops them from overheating. When a furnace is too big, it runs hotter and shuts itself off more often. This damages the furnace’s parts because there is too much stop and go, kind of like how city miles hurt a car engine worse than highway miles. And, if you go too long between changing air filters (remember to check your air filter at least once a month), the airflow to the furnace will clog, and too much heat will remain inside the exchanger, forcing the metal to expand too much.
Keeping Your Air CleanThere are dangerous gasses inside your heat exchanger, and the most dangerous is carbon monoxide. Now, not every cracked heat exchanger will release carbon monoxide into your house and make your family sick. However, since carbon monoxide is so dangerous, if you have a cracked heat exchanger, you should not delay in getting it fixed. The pollutants that can enter your air through a crack in your heat exchanger include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Carbon dioxide
- Nitrogen oxides