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The heat exchanger is one of the most important components in your home heating system. Unfortunately, many Cherry Hill residents don’t know much about heat exchangers until they get damaged or fail. Understanding the job that your heat exchanger does can make it a lot easier to identify developing problems. It will also help you acknowledge the serious health risks that insufficient furnace maintenance creates.

Defining a Heat Exchanger

Much like their names imply, heat exchangers are designed to transfer heat. Whether your home furnace burns propane or natural gas, the resulting byproducts or combustion gases pass through your heater’s heat exchanger. When they do, these hot gases warm up the metal heat exchanger before passing into the flue and out of the home. The heated metal then warms up the air that circulates over in. This is the air that will be distributed throughout your home to create and maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

Primary and Secondary Heat Exchangers

Low- to moderate-efficiency furnaces have a single heat exchanger. In fact, any furnace that’s 78% to 80% efficient or less has only one. However, modern, high-efficiency furnaces always have two heat exchangers. Together, these components minimize heat losses so that more of the fuel consumed by heating equipment is used to produce warm air for building residents.

In a high-efficiency furnace, the primary heat exchanger is located closest to the furnace burners. As such, this heat exchanger holds the hottest flue gases. Secondary heat exchangers in high-efficiency furnaces capture warm combustion gases as they exit the primary exchanger. In a secondary heat exchanger, flue gases release additional heat. More importantly, water vapor begins to form. This change to condensation results in the release of latent heat. It’s what makes high-efficiency furnaces more efficient, and it’s also why they’re frequently called condensing furnaces.

The Health Risks of Having a Damaged Heat Exchanger

Given that both primary and secondary heat exchangers contain combustion gases, it’s important for these components to always be completely intact. They should never have cracks, holes, or any other structural issues. When heat exchangers sustain significant age-related wear, progressive deterioration can lead to incomplete combustion. This is how carbon monoxide is formed. Worse still, it allows carbon monoxide to mingle with the heated air being circulated throughout the home. Even in limited amounts, carbon monoxide exposure can cause residents to feel nauseous and fatigued, and it can result in the development of symptoms like headaches and confusion. When carbon monoxide exposure is prolonged, this combustion gas can even prove fatal.

How to Identify Problems With Your Heat Exchanger

There isn’t any sure way to identify problems with your furnace’s heat exchanger without scheduling a professional inspection. If the carbon monoxide detectors in your home are going off, problems with the heat exchanger or with the venting system for your furnace are the most likely culprits. During routine furnace maintenance, HVAC technicians can identify developing issues with these components before they create any health risks. This is one of the best reasons to schedule preventative furnace maintenance at least one each year.

It’s also important to note that heat exchangers are more likely to fail in furnaces that are nearing or at the end of their projected lifespans. Although an older furnace may continue to reliably turn on and produce warm air, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s still safe to use. When heat exchanger problems are suspected, your HVAC technician will likely recommend a complete furnace replacement if your current heating equipment has already supplied a decade or more of service.

Performing a Visual Inspection

When investigating potential problems with heat exchangers, HVAC technicians can use special tools to thoroughly inspect this component no matter where it’s located in your home heating system. When necessary, these inspections can be performed with cameras that have flexible shafts and that are capable of entering hard-to-reach areas. HVAC technicians can even identify issues inside of heat exchangers that initially appear to be in good condition and that might otherwise go unnoticed.

At Cardwell Heating & Air, we’ve been serving residents of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and the surrounding areas for quite some time. We offer heating and air conditioning services, preventative maintenance contracts, and water heater installation and repairs. If you have yet to schedule your yearly furnace service, call us today. We’ll make sure that your furnace’s heat exchanger is in good condition and that your entire heating system is working exactly as it should.