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Your Furnace’s Heat Exchanger – Truths and Myths

Heat exchangers are the “heart” of any gas or oil furnace. It is where the heat is generated and allows heat to be blown throughout your home and keep you comfortable. If the furnace does not operate correctly, and if there is a failure in the heat exchanger, the by-products of this “malfunction” can be carbon monoxide (CO) getting into the air you breathe in your home.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas and it can be deadly. Sometimes flue symptoms mask the real problem of carbon monoxide poisoning. This is why a very reliable, low level CO monitor is suggested on each floor of your home in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. These detectors should be replaced every 5 years as a smoke detector should be, as the sensors fail after that time.

For as long as I can remember, our heating industry has been a leader in customer safety by finding “cracked” heat exchangers and either replacing them or the entire furnace. Many furnaces have heat exchanger warranties or either 20 years or even Lifetime. It is very good to diagnose a bad heat exchanger, but be careful of some in our industry who take advantage of this situation and use either scare tactics or outright lies to get a customer to replace their furnace. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Make sure your contractor shows you the failure and explains why it is a problem.
  • Some furnaces are not completely sealed from having leaks by design. This is a good reason why you should have a furnace maintained each year.
  • Ask the technician to take a carbon monoxide reading of the flue gases in the exhaust as well as the air in the plenum – If he does not have the equipment to do this, call someone else.
  • Ask the technician if he can use a “dye-test” to confirm his findings.

There are often reasons to replace a furnace due to a bad or rusted heat exchanger. However, this decision should never be made out of fear or pressure. If you feel uncomfortable with the direction of the work the technician is performing, tell them to stop and call their management or another contractor.

Kris Knochelmann*

* not affiliated with Knochelmann Service Experts

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