What’s a Heat Exchanger and Why Is It Important?

December 20, 2021
Heat Exchanger in South Charleston, WV

An HVAC system is designed to maintain a safe and comfortable temperature in the home no matter the season. Many homeowners today are familiar with the process of switching out filters or calling for professional services but may not know much about the inner workings of their HVAC systems. A heat exchanger, for example, is essential to how air conditioners and gas furnaces work, but its existence and operation aren’t common knowledge to many people. Knowing about a heat exchanger and how it works helps dispel questions about how HVAC systems function and helps identify potential issues.

What Is a Heat Exchanger?

A heat exchanger is a way of transferring heat between fluids and mediums that can be separated by physical objects or be touching. They’re helpful in both cooling and heating in refrigerators, air conditioners, heating systems, and more. Heat exchangers allow machines to move heat from one area to another. Instead of attempting to create cold air or energy, the heat can be conveniently moved to a different area.

Air conditioners, for example, use a chemical called refrigerant to move the hot air inside the home outdoors. The refrigerant begins in the evaporator coils as a liquid until the heat from the home is blown across it and changes it into a gas. As the refrigerant moves through the air conditioner, it ends in the condenser outside, where air cools it back down into its initial liquid form. It moves back through the machine to the evaporator, where it starts the process over again. This heat exchange is key to how air conditioners maintain cold inside environments. Rather than turning the hot air into cold air, the hot air itself is taken out of the home.

Gas furnaces are another great example of how important heat exchangers are in HVAC systems. The flue is a sealed container in the furnace with two holes for entering and exiting. The furnace heats up gases and pushes them into the flue. Outside air is pulled in and heated by the gases inside the flue. This heated air is what comes out of a home’s vents once the furnace kicks on. The gases are released outside, and the process begins over again. This is a relatively simpler process than with air conditioners and shows how the gases warm up the air through the flue.

Heat exchangers allow air conditioners and gas furnaces to exert less energy when creating an ideal temperature in a home.

Is My Heat Exchanger Broken?

Heat exchangers are incredibly important to maintaining comfortable home temperatures, and when they become damaged or cracked, the system will need a new part immediately. There are several easy-to-spot signs that a heat exchanger may need to be replaced by professional and experienced technicians.

A furnace’s heat exchanger may be broken or cracked if there is water present or accumulating at the base of the furnace, if the gas fire is a strange color, or there are strong smells around the furnace. There can also be signs of excessive soot or corrosion, which could be caused by a broken part that needs to be replaced as soon as possible before using the furnace. A broken heat exchanger is dangerous and can be the cause of carbon monoxide poisoning. Homeowners should avoid being in the area if there’s any sort of abnormal smell and call a professional HVAC servicer.

Heat exchangers have maximum lifespans of about 10 to 15 years before they will naturally wear down due to regular use. If the furnace isn’t maintained frequently and has slow airflow or a build-up of dust, the exchanger may become overheated and crack. Corroded metals can cause damages as well as alternate between hot and cold temperatures too fast. All heat exchangers in gas furnaces will eventually need to be replaced.

Call Now

Mullen Plumbing, Heating and Cooling is an HVAC company in South Charleston, West Virginia, that offers a variety of services to those in the area. We provide clients with professional air conditioning installation and maintenance. We can also address any issues with the furnace in both commercial and residential systems. Replacing faucets, checking ductwork and air quality, and all other plumbing and HVAC needs has never been easier when relying on Mullen Plumbing, Heating and Cooling. Call to schedule an appointment with one of our professionals at Mullen Plumbing, Heating and Cooling to get an experienced opinion on all of the home’s HVAC needs.

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