What Should Contractors Look For When Diagnosing a Failed Heat Exchanger?
If you suspect that something is wrong with the heat exchanger on your furnace, you’re going to want a thorough assessment before you pay for a costly replacement. The only problem is, most contractors aren’t as reliable as they should be when they come to diagnose a potential issue. The honest contractors at Capital Heat are here to change that with some insight into what a thorough examination looks like, and what you should be on the lookout for when a contractor diagnoses your heat exchanger.
The typical scenario goes a little like this. A contractor comes to inspect your heat exchanger. They tell you to leave the basement while they conduct a single, inherently cursory visual assessment. When you reconvene, they inform you that your carbon monoxide levels are high (without actually performing a safety check) and tell you your furnace needs to be replaced to the tune of $8,000. They insist that if you don’t act immediately, the price will go up. They’ll also use scare tactics—like telling you your failed furnace is dangerous and must be turned off, leaving you in the cold if you don’t do something. This prompts you to panic. Your furnace is broken and you have the break the bank to fix it or else you’ll go without heat? Of course you feel distressed!
Debunking False Information
Before you shell out an exorbitant amount of cash, Capital Heat is here to answer your SOS. We don’t work on commission, so we conduct every inspection with your best interest—not our bottom line—in mind. When we inspect your furnace for any issues, we’ll show you proof if your heat exchanger has indeed failed and offer honest solutions to the problem.
You should know that a contractor who performs one insufficient test before sending you into a panic and trying to sell you a brand-new system is most likely trying to get your money. You can only see about 10% of a heat exchanger, making it nearly impossible to come to a definitive conclusion about its functionality based on a visual assessment alone.
You should also know that another contractor cannot leave you in the cold to pressure you into a sale—in New York State, only utility companies are permitted to disconnect your service and disable units like the one in question. Additionally, it’s not necessary to shut down your furnace if there is no carbon monoxide present. This is the case with a majority of heat exchanger failures, though most contractors won’t even bother to conduct the requisite safety check before scaring you into spending your savings on a costly replacement.
The Three-Part Test
Capital Heat substantiates each diagnosis with a three-part test, and instead of sending you away while we conduct them, we’ll walk you through each one and discuss what the numbers mean.
1. Flame Test
First, we watch the flame in your furnace when the blower motor turns on. We check for any erratic flame patterns, as the blower should not affect the pattern.
2. Oxygen Test
During this process, we measure the oxygen levels directly. First, we set the combustion analyzer to zero. Then, we place it in the correct position in your furnace for the best test results. We start the furnace and observe the oxygen reading for stability, which usually takes one to three minutes. When the blower motor turns on, we watch for changes in the oxygen reading.
If the number starts to increase above the acceptable levels as the exchanger heats up, we know that it has failed. This means that air is being sucked into the heat exchanger through a crack or defect, thus causing the oxygen levels to rise. If the number remains stable, the heat exchanger has passed.
3. Visual Inspection
We conduct a visual inspection of the heat exchanger using a camera. In units with 90% efficiency or more, if water is leaking into the blower area, it could be the result of a failed secondary heat exchanger. Due to the shape and design of most heat exchangers, not all defects or cracks can be seen, hence our emphasis on a thorough three-part assessment.
Your Safety is Always First
If we find that your heat exchanger has failed, we’ll perform a safety check to measure the carbon monoxide levels in your living space and around the furnace to verify that nothing is leaking into the air stream. It’s not necessary to shut the furnace down if there’s no carbon monoxide present, as it’s likely that the heat exchanger has been out of commission for a while without causing harm to you or your family. You aren’t in danger and you don’t have to go without heat.
We’ll only recommend you replace your heat exchanger if we’ve confirmed that it’s failed after our thorough assessment—never before and never just by looking at it, like other contractors might. At that point, we’ll work with you on practical solutions that meet your needs and budget.
We understand that the thought of a failed heat exchanger is scary, and we believe it’s important that you can trust your contractors to be honest and thorough during moments of uncertainty. If you ever find yourself panicking because of the scare tactics used by the other guys, call Capital Heat for a free second opinion and peace of mind. If you suspect something might be wrong with your heat exchanger, trust Capital Heat for a detailed assessment, an honest diagnosis and expert solutions.