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Roadrunner Air Conditioning, Heating & Plumbing Blog

What’s the Problem with a Damaged Furnace Heat Exchanger?


If you have heat in your home, there’s a good chance you’re relying on a furnace to keep you nice and toasty during those cold winter months. For years, furnaces have reigned supreme when it comes to heating because they work so well, cost-effectiveness, and their safe design. However, this doesn’t mean a furnace can’t be dangerous, especially if something happens to the heat exchanger.

What is a Heat Exchanger?

A heat exchanger heats up the air while keeping you safe from the toxic chemicals a furnace needs to heat up. Composed of hollow tubes, a heat exchanger works by heating up tubes via gas. These tubes get exceptionally hot, and this heat is transferred to the home by air running past it then releasing it into the duct system.

The air is warm and you don’t need to worry about inhaling the carbon monoxide (CO) the heat exchanger needs to work. However, when this system isn’t working correctly thanks to a crack or deterioration, there can be damaging and even fatal consequences.

What Does a Heat Exchanger Do?

When the tubes are heated up, they become extremely hot and cause the metal to swell followed by swiftly shrinking when the system isn’t in use. While the system is built with this expansion and contraction in mind, the metal weakens a little bit each time the system is used.

Think of how often your furnace is on during the winter. Probably daily, right? Each time the furnace is used, the cycle continues, eventually leading to corrosion and more weakened metal, even in the best-maintained system. Eventually, small cracks will develop in the metal (referred to as metal fatigue). Luckily, metal fatigue takes years, with most heat exchangers lasting between 10-20 years, depending on the frequency of use.

The Problem with Cracks and Damage

When cracks first develop in a heat exchanger, they’re usually invisible to the naked eye. However, gas molecules don’t need a lot of space to get out. When someone turns on the furnace and the heat exchanger warms up, these cracks expand, allowing more CO to enter the air stream. As the system is used, gas continuously pumps into the home.

CO exposure can lead to feeling nauseous or lightheaded, but large amounts of exposure can actually lead to fatalities. CO is odorless and tasteless as well, meaning people won’t know they’re slowly getting poisoned until they experience symptoms. Because of these dangers, many experts will recommend putting carbon monoxide detectors in homes.

While running your furnace in the winter is great, it’s important to properly maintain every component of your system, including the heat exchanger. An improperly cared for heat exchanger will eventually lead to the release of carbon monoxide into the air which can be fatal to anyone in the home.

To prevent tragedy from affecting your home, make sure you get your system examined. Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that because we live in the desert and don’t use our heating systems as often a system doesn’t need regular maintenance.  

For professional Las Vegas heating services, look no further than Roadrunner Air Conditioning, Heating & Plumbing. Contact us today!

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