Wintertime is the time of year when our heating systems are truly put to the test. Because of the strain they go through this time of year versus in milder weather, it tends to be when problems arise. Since you need your system to function at its best this time of year, this is obviously not ideal. It pays to ensure you schedule routine maintenance each year, and to keep a watch for signs of trouble with your heater.
There are few furnace problems more insidious than that of a cracked heat exchanger. If your furnace shows signs of this problem, it’s likely that it needs to be replaced altogether, as this tends to only happen in older furnaces. Repairs are often not worth the cost even if they’re possible. So, what is a heat exchanger and why is it such a problem if it cracks? Read on to find out!
How a Heat Exchanger Works
Forced-air, gas-powered furnace systems are among the most common heating system types in our area. They rely on a set of burners to provide heat, fed by natural gas that’s piped into the home from a municipal gas line. These burners themselves, however, don’t transfer the heat they generate into the air to provide you with warmth. They do, however, generate toxic gases as a byproduct of their operation, and those toxic gases need to be safely vented out of your living space.
This is where the heat exchanger comes into play. It’s essentially a piece of clam-shaped metal that shifts the gas generated by the burners safely out of your household. Additionally, as the burners ignite beneath the heat exchanger, the heat warms the metal, which then passes the heat into the air above it. This heated air will then be blown through the ductwork.
When Something Goes Wrong
Heat exchangers are designed to last a long time—the lifespan of the system itself. Because they lack moving parts, they typically don’t require any repair. However, the process of heating up the metal then cooling it down when you turn off your heater takes its toll over the years, and cracks can develop. This is particularly true if your heater isn’t well maintained. The problem with this is so much more than just an inefficient heating system—it’s a dangerous furnace.
Today’s furnaces have safety features that automatically shut the system off if the flow of gas is detected from the heater. But if you have an older furnace and you suspect you have a cracked heat exchanger, it’s important to have it inspected right away. It’s also important that you not rely on the fact that your heater is new. Even newer systems can experience problems if not properly installed or cared for. If yours is making a clicking sound, or if your CO detector goes off, it’s time to shut off your heater and call in the pros right away!