What Exactly Is a Heat Exchanger, and How Does It Work?

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Your Home’s Heat Exchangers

Many homeowners have no idea what a heat exchanger is or where it is located until something goes wrong with theirs. When your furnace is in good operating order, it’s easy to overlook the heat exchanger, which is the furnace’s main component. Heat exchangers, like other man-made equipment, deteriorate over time and can develop cracks or holes. When this occurs, the consequence might be a furnace that generates incomplete fuel combustion and intolerable quantities of carbon monoxide (CO), posing a possible safety hazard. Carbon monoxide can cause serious disease or even death if it enters your house through inadequate ventilation or gaps in the heat exchange.

Heat exchangers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Their function is to safely transport heat, and they have a wide range of uses, including space heating, refrigeration and cooling, power plants, chemical plants, and other operations. This blog is about the sorts of forced-air furnaces found in many Twin Cities houses.

What Is the Function of a Heat Exchanger?

Heat exchangers, which are made of metal shells and tubes, function by transporting heat from one location to another. When a furnace consumes natural gas or propane fuel, combustion byproducts (also known as flue gas) enter and travel via the heat exchanger. The hot flue gas warms the metal as it travels to the furnace’s exhaust exit. As this happens, the heated metal warms the air that circulates around the outside of the heat exchanger.

Heat Exchanger Primary

This section of a furnace contains the hottest flue gas, which is situated closest to the burners. As a result, the flame and heat put the most strain on it, which can lead to cracking and heat stress over time. One heat exchanger is used in furnaces that are 70-80% efficient.

Heat Exchanger Secondary

If you have a high-efficiency furnace (90 percent or higher efficiency), it will feature both a main and secondary heat exchanger. As the combustion exhaust exits the first heat exchanger, it passes through a secondary heat exchanger, where more heat is liberated from the flue gas and water vapor begins to develop. This transition from a vapor to a liquid state of water releases latent heat in the secondary heat exchanger, increasing the furnace’s efficiency even further. This is why high-efficiency furnaces are sometimes known as condensing furnaces. Secondary heat exchangers are often made of stainless steel or a coated steel substance that can endure heat, moisture, and acid.

Health Dangers

Because the heat exchanger carries the flue gas, it must be free of any holes, cracks, or other degradation. This sort of degradation, which allows flue gas escape and mixing with the heated air, can result in incomplete combustion and the creation of carbon monoxide and other dangerous byproducts. Although your furnace may not instantly leak carbon monoxide into your home, excessive CO levels make it unhealthy to use. Something as simple as a clogged chimney or a broken exhaust pipe might lead to a deadly situation.

Identify Heat Exchanger Issues

Without a physical examination or testing for CO, it’s practically hard to discover whether your heat exchanger has developed issues unless your furnace is failing or your carbon monoxide alarm is going off. This is why routine maintenance and inspections are critical. The best technique to evaluate if the furnace is running safely is to do an examination and a combustion analysis/CO test.

Visual Examination

Some heat exchangers can be visually examined. Others need the use of specialized instruments in order to conduct a more thorough examination of the unit. To provide a comprehensive check, our professionals are equipped with a camera with a flexible shaft that can look into inaccessible sections of your furnace. Internal faults in heat exchangers that would otherwise be masked and seem in good condition from the exterior are occasionally discovered.

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