The Causes of a Cracked Furnace Heat Exchanger

Posted on: December 9, 2020

How long should a heat exchanger last? The heat exchanger is an essential part of your furnace. It is responsible for separating the combustion process from the air you breathe in your home, protecting you from dangerous exhaust fumes. Unfortunately, heat exchangers can break down over time, developing cracks and other issues that may affect their ability to keep the poisonous gasses away from your air.

If you suspect your heat exchanger is damaged and may need a replacement, make sure to reach out to reliable experts for heating repair in Riverside. In this article, you will discover some common causes for heat exchanger issues and learn how to tell if your heat exchanger is broken. Keep on reading.

How long should a heat exchanger last?

Modern heat exchangers are typically made from stainless or aluminized steel and tend to last up to 15-20 years. However, many factors may decrease the lifespan of heat exchangers, causing them to break down prematurely.

Considering the heat exchanger protects you from dangerous fumes created during fossil fuel combustion, such as carbon monoxide, it is essential that you address any heat exchanger issues immediately. If a heat exchanger is compromised by rust or cracks, these gases can leak into your home, causing illness or even fatal harm.

What causes a heat exchanger to go bad?

Metal fatigue is one of the primary reasons why a heat exchanger may crack. When the metal heat exchanger is heated, it expands as all metals do when heated. When the heat exchanger’s temperature begins to cool down, it contracts. This cycle is a normal part of the heating process. However, the constant metal expansion and contraction will eventually cause the heat exchanger to break.

A prominent reason heat exchangers are prematurely damaged is overheating. The reasons why a heat exchanger may overheat include poor system design, poor installation, and poor maintenance. When a heat exchanger overheats, the natural process of metal expansion and contraction speeds up, causing premature failure. Here are some specific reasons why your heat exchanger may crack:

Dirty air filters

Dirty air filters are one of the most common causes of heat exchanger failure. This is because a clogged filter will restrict airflow, causing the exchanger to overheat and suffer excess expansion and contraction stress. The heat stress may cause cracks to develop in the exchanger’s welds, bends, and other weakened areas.

Oversized furnace

A furnace that is too large for the home it’s installed in can also cause the heat exchanger to break. Here’s why:

  1. Water is a byproduct of the natural gas heating process. When a furnace is first lighted, the produced flame heats the exchanger and causes the water vapor to condense inside of it. When the heat exchanger reaches its operating temperature, the condensation evaporates.
  2. If the furnace is oversized, it will heat the home too quickly for the condensation to evaporate. This causes the heat exchanger to stay wet and rust over time  Additionally, an oversized furnace can also speed up the expansion/contraction process and increase the heat stress.

Undersized ductwork

A furnace that is installed with undersized ductwork will have restricted airflow. This scenario is similar to that caused by dirty or clogged air filters: the lack of proper airflow will cause the heat exchanger to overheat and experience excessive heat stress, which in turn results in cracks.

How do I know if my heat exchanger is failing?

Since heat exchanger issues can seriously affect your health, you should be aware of the most common signs and symptoms of heat exchange failure.

1. Cracks

Naturally, cracks are one of the most common and basic symptoms of a broken heat exchanger. Unfortunately, they are often also the most drastic symptom of heat exchanger damage, as cracks can cause the harmful combustion gases to leak into your home.

These cracks typically appear along the seams of the heat exchanger. Since they are not always visible to the naked eye, it is best to have HVAC professionals inspect your heat exchanger using infrared light detectors to discover cracks during regular maintenance tune-ups.

2. Odd flame behavior

If a heat exchanger is cracked, it will allow the furnace combustion air to mix with the heated air that is distributed throughout your home. This may cause odd changes in the furnace flame behavior, which can be detected by professional technicians. For instance, a flame that jumps and dances around after the blower fan is engaged may be an indicator of combustion air escaping through the cracks in the heat exchanger.

3. Discoloration

Tiny cracks in the heat exchanger can be incredibly difficult to notice with the naked eye. However, the soot that escapes through the crack may cause discoloration in the surrounding metal, which may be more easily detected. Look for dark spots on your heat exchanger and contact HVAC professionals as soon as possible if you happen to notice any.

In general, the best way to prevent and deal with heat exchanger issues is to hire professionals for routine maintenance and inspection. This will help you resolve any problems with your heat exchanger before they get out of hand and keep your furnace in good condition.

Get your heat exchanger inspected by the #1 heating repair experts in Riverside

What causes a heat exchanger to go bad? Are you worried that your heat exchanger may be broken? As your go-to HVAC professionals in the Riverside area, Action can protect you and your family from carbon monoxide leaks and other issues associated with cracked heat exchangers. With us at your service, you won’t have to worry about the quality of the air in your home while you’re at home, with guests, or having fun at The Pechanga Resort & Casino with your loved ones!

Our certified technicians will perform all the inspections and tune-ups needed to keep your furnace running safely and efficiently. In addition to checking your heat exchanger, our team will also inspect your thermostat for issues, as well as check for delayed furnace ignition problems.

Ready to schedule your routine HVAC maintenance and ensure the optimal functioning of your heating system? Get in touch with us today!