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What do I do now that I know that my heat exchanger is bad?

Vincent’s Heating & Plumbing’s

Heat Exchanger Handbook

1. What is a Heat Exchanger?

The heat exchanger in a furnace separates the combustion process from your breathing air. It is a combination metal chamber and passageway that starts at the burner assembly and ends approximately where the chimney vent connects to the furnace. Air is heated as it is blown across the hot metal surface of the heat exchanger. The heated air is then distributed through the house to warm the house.

The heat exchanger must have an air (and gas) tight seal to separate the gasses in the flue products inside the heat exchanger from the breathing air passing over the outside surface. This is because the flue gasses can be poisonous – such as deadly carbon monoxide – and contamination of the breathing air by these gasses pose a health risk and can be fatal.


2. Why do Heat Exchangers fail?

All heat exchangers fail eventually. This is because of metal fatigue. Metal when it is heated up expands, and when it is cooled off contracts. This expansion/contraction cycle is part of the normal furnace heating process. Over time this constant expansion and contraction has the same effect on a heat exchanger that bending a paperclip back and forth:   it breaks. And when that happens contamination occurs and it is no longer safe.

While heat exchangers are typically manufactured to last between 10 – 20 years, many factors can accelerate the process of heat exchanger failure. These factors usually fall under the categories of poor maintenance, poor initial system design and installation, or poor equipment design by the manufacturer. Any one or a combination of these factors can result in a heat exchanger failing in a few short years.


3. How can you know when a Heat Exchanger has failed?

A heat exchanger must be visually inspected on a regular basis. Visual observation of light or water passing through the breach is positive confirmation of a crack or hole in a heat exchanger.


4. What tools are needed to determine if a Heat Exchanger is bad?

The only absolute way to determine if a heat exchanger is bad is to see it or visually confirm it. The old stand-by method of a mirror and a flashlight has been replaced by high tech infrared video inspection systems. This new technology has advanced the heating industry like arthroscopy has advanced medical surgery. The technician can now see places that are impossible with a mirror alone.


5. What about a Carbon Monoxide Test?

A test for carbon monoxide (CO) can be inconclusive. A test for CO reveals whether a furnace is producing CO. A furnace creating CO is a symptom of bad combustion in a furnace because unlike a car, CO is not a regular by-product of the furnace combustion process. Therefore, a heat exchanger can be breached and if the furnace is not producing carbon monoxide the breach will remain undetected.


6. What are the options if a Heat Exchanger is bad?

There are only two options if a Heat Exchanger is bad:

  1. Replace the heat exchanger or replace the furnace. If the heat exchanger is under warranty, this option is a good way to go unless it is unavailable in the time frame needed, which can be immediate in cold weather.

  2. The other factors are energy efficiency and cost of service which can make replacing the furnace a preferable option even if the furnace is under warranty and available. If a furnace is out of warranty the preferable option is to replace the furnace.

7. What about a Carbon Monoxide Alarm?

Relying on a CO Alarm is not an acceptable solution for a bad heat exchanger. This would be as unsafe as driving a car that has a leak in the brake line – you might be able to brake a few times but you wouldn’t want to bet your life on it.   Further it is against the Mechanical Code, Fire Department regulations, and SEMCO policy to allow a furnace to operate that has a bad heat exchanger. A representative from any of these organizations would shut the furnace down.


8. Is a Heat Exchanger inspection foolproof?  

Use of a mirror and a flashlight is adequate for the accessible spots, however the majority of the heat exchanger can’t be seen. If the technician uses an infrared video inspection system you get as close to fool-proof as possible short of totally dismantling the furnace and removing the heat exchanger.


9. How does Vincent’s provide the highest level of confidence possible?

There are two areas where a high level of confidence is vital for you:

  1. To have the assurance that if there is a breach in the heat exchanger that it is discovered.

    To give you this assurance Vincent’s Heating & Plumbing has made a substantial investment in video inspection systems for all of their service technicians to eliminate any uncertainty about the integrity of your furnace and to give you maximum peace of mind about your safety.

  2. To have the assurance that if the heat exchanger is diagnosed as bad that it really is bad.

To give you this assurance, Vincent’s has adopted a policy and procedure that gives you 100% confidence that their diagnosis is correct:

‘The right stuff’ – as mentioned above, all Vincent’s technicians have been equipped with state of the art equipment.

‘Trust but verify’ – even if it the hole or crack is readily apparent, a manager is dispatched to the job site to confirm the technician’s diagnosis, letting a second pair of eyes confirm the breach.

‘Reverse the risk – even after having a company manager provide a second opinion, Vincent’s provides you with absolute assurance with their incomparable

100% Free Heat Exchanger Warranty*:  

If a heat exchanger condemned and replaced by Vincent’s Heating & Plumbing, proves upon further inspection to be good after removal, the replacement is 100% FREE!


10. Should I get a second opinion from another company?

If you are still uncertain after understanding Vincent’s policy and procedure to give you 100% confidence in their diagnosis, then by all means have another company give you a second opinion. Just be aware of the following items:

  1. Vincent’s is the only company in the St Clair County that has made the investment in the state of the art video inspection system.
    If the company providing the second opinion does not have the tools necessary to do it, then how valid is this opinion? It would be like getting a chest X-Ray from a specialist, and then going to a general practitioner who only has a stethoscope to give a second opinion.

  2. If they contradict Vincent’s diagnosis, have them put it in writing.
    There is a spot for their warranty on the bottom of the ‘Safety First’ sheet that the technician from Vincent’s gave you to inform you of the hazardous condition. All they need to do is sign.   After all, if Vincent’s has given you their word and ‘put their money where their mouth is’ (with the 100% Free Heat Exchanger Warranty), then the contradicting company should be willing to do no less.  

If they won’t do this, consider:  

Ø Vincent’s is willing to risk a free furnace or heat exchanger replacement.  

Ø The only thing the second company is willing to risk is your health and safety.

The reason that Vincent’s is willing to put up such ‘high stakes’ is because of the confidence in their equipment and their procedure.


If you are concerned about your furnace's Heat Exchanger, here are some great companies we can recommend.

Alabama
 
Fuller Heating & Air Conditioning Inc
Muscle Shoals
Arkansas
 
B & J Heating & Air
Fort Smith
 
Comfort Air Conditioning Co. Inc.
Pine Bluff
Arizona
 
Mason Mechanical
Mesa
 
Northern Arizona Refrigeration
Tolleson
California
 
Marthedal Solar Air & Heating
Fresno
 
Big Mountain Heating & Air
Sacramento
 
Greiner Heating & Air Conditioning
Dixon
 
FisherAir Heating & Air Conditioning Services
Brea
 
Rare Service Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.
Clovis
 
Advanced Refrigeration Heating & Air of Western Colorado LLC
Grand Junction
Colorado
 
The Coffman and Companies Group
Wheat Ridge
Florida
 
Munn's Sales & Service Inc.
Fruitland Park
Georgia
 
JN Electrical Temperature Control Inc.
Bowersville
 
DeKalb C.A.R.E.
Doraville
Illinois
 
American Family Heating & AC
Hanover Park
 
A Professional Heating & Cooling Inc.
Mokena
 
Barrett Heating & Cooling Inc.
Alton
 
Besco Air Inc.
Chicago
 
Pure Air Inc.
Spring Grove
 
Top Notch Plumbing Heating & Electrical Inc.
Galena
Indiana
 
Edge Guys
Fishers
 
Irish Air Heating & Cooling LLC
Indianapolis
Kentucky
 
Aire-Com of KY LLC
Louisville
Louisiana
 
A-1 Air Conditioning
Port Allen
Maryland
 
Albright's Mechanical Services
Baltimore
Michigan
 
Adams & Son Inc.
Benton Harbor
 
Burton & Sons Inc.
Garden City
 
The Furnace Guy Inc.
Kalamazoo
 
Custom Temperature Control Inc.
Clawson
 
Dunrite Heating & Cooling Systems Inc.
Plymouth
 
First Choice Heating & Cooling
Fenton
 
Hartford & Ratliff Co. Inc.
Farmington
 
Kotz Heating & Air Conditioning
Waterford
 
Lakeside Service Co Inc.
Brighton
 
Adkisson Air1 Heating and Cooling Inc.
Holly
 
Northern Lights Heating & Cooling Inc.
Cedar Springs
 
Pousho Plumbing & Heating Inc.
Highland
 
Satisfaction Heating & Cooling LLC
Fenton
 
Superior Plumbing & Heating Inc.
Waterford
 
Vincent's Heating & Plumbing
Port Huron
Minnesota
 
Comfort Matters Heating & Cooling Inc.
Hanover
 
Custom Refrigeration
Golden Valley
 
Kelly's Heating & A/C Inc.
New London
 
Scandia Heating & Air Conditioning
Scandia
Missouri
 
Air Services Heating/Air Conditioning & All Services Plumbing
Springfield
 
Al-Don
Creve Coeur
 
Classic Aire Care Inc.
St. Louis
Nebraska
 
Flynn Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.
Valley
 
Indoor Comfort Heating & Cooling Inc.
Omaha
New Jersey
 
Campbell Comfort Systems Inc.
West Deptford
 
Maxie Heating and Cooling
Clarksboro
 
Pipe Works Services Inc.
Chatham
 
Tom Rostron Co. Inc.
Manasquan
New Mexico
 
Wagner Mechanical
Albuquerque
Nevada
 
Priority Services of Las Vegas Inc.
Las Vegas
New York
 
Bell Heating & Air Conditioning
Mahopac
 
Total Air Comfort
Bohemia
 
Cullins One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning
Lewis Center
Ohio
 
Fry Heating / Cooling / Plumbing
Toledo
 
Shamy Heating & Air Conditioning
Toledo
Ontario
 
Handy Bros. ClimateCare
Blenheim
Pennsylvania
 
Homer Nine & Sons Inc.
Beaver
 
JC Heating & Cooling
Levittown
 
Kennihan Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning
Valencia
 
John O'Donnell & Sons Inc.
Glenside
 
T. E. Spall & Son Inc.
Carbondale
Tennessee
 
AirMasters Inc.
Bartlett
 
Dale's Heating & Air - Ooltewah
Ooltewah
Texas
 
Schneider's - 72 Degrees Air Conditioning & Heating
Fredericksburg
 
Aloha Aire
Texarkana
 
Amarillo Air Conditioning Inc.
Amarillo
 
Barbosa Plumbing and Air Conditioning
Dallas
 
Brazos Valley Services
Sealy
 
The Lee Thompson Company
Houston
 
Lewisville Air Conditioning & Heating
Lewisville
 
Mike Graham Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.
Burkburnett
 
Texas Air Doctors
Colleyville
Utah
 
Bush Mechanical Heating and Air Conditioning
Sandy
Virginia
 
Arctic Sun Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.
Haymarket
 
Howell's Heating & Air Conditioning
Ashland
 
HYBRID AIR INC.
Virginia Beach
 
Mack Morris Heating & Air Conditioning
Ruckersville
 
Terrell E. Moseley Inc.
Lynchburg
Wisconsin
 
Air Quality Systems Inc.
McFarland
 
Clark Heating & Cooling Inc.
Stoughton
 
Champion Air LLC
Cedarburg
 
Haak Heating Inc.
Appleton
 
H & N Plumbing Heating & Electrical Inc.
Fennimore
 
Johnson Mechanical Systems
Portage
 
Liberty Mechanical Inc.
Genoa City
 
Rozga Plumbing & Heating
West Allis
 
Southport Heating Plumbing & Geothermal
Kenosha
 
Stop's Refrigeration Inc.
Land O' Lakes
 

*Note:   The 100% Free Heat Exchanger Warranty is one that has never had to be invoked.   But other companies that swore that there was no breach in the heat exchanger that Vincent’s discovered have learned recipes for ‘preparing crow’ when they were later shown by the Vincent’s tech where the breach in the heat exchanger was.

  Copyright 2003 Vincent’s Heating & Plumbing ,Inc

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