What every homeowner should know about their heater

Every year, people fall victim to carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a heaters’ combustion byproducts silently entering the home instead of going out the chimney. The silent enemy is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. The tragedy? In most cases, early detection and regular maintenance could have prevented the problem. It often boils down to whether or not you have a bad heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is the metal passage the heater’s combustion products pass through, separating the flame’s harmful gases from the indoor air being heated. 

In fact, 1 out of every 10 heaters over 15 years old, where annual maintenance has been neglected, will probably have a breached heat exchanger and potentially dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning. The odds increase as the equipment ages. 

Even though most heaters don’t have a problem, you can’t afford to guess. If you truly have a cracked or failed heat exchanger it is serious, and in some cases, can be fatal. This is why your heater should be regularly maintained and have the heat exchanger inspected annually- especially if you’re not absolutely sure of its condition. Unfortunately, this is where trusting homeowners can also be misled into replacing their heater, without accurately verifying their heater even has a real problem. Knowing up front what a bad heat exchanger is, and how to verify this problem may someday save you from unnecessary expense and grief. 

Here are the top questions we get, and what you need to know about bad heat exchangers:

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 1. How long will my heater last? 

 First, it is important to know that every heater, no matter what the age, can become unsafe – but the average life of a heater is about 10 – 15 years. If a heat exchanger has cracks and holes, it can be dangerous. Many are surprised to find out some heat exchangers that Wighton’s has inspected over the years contain cracks and holes — even those that were installed within the last ten years.

2.  What causes a heat exchanger to fail? 

Homes now retain more humidity and airborne pollutants, which cause longer life-spans and more productive cycles of microbial activity within the home, such as mold, germs, bacteria and viruses.

 3. Is there a foolproof way to verify a heater is still good?

 The only true way to know for sure if your heat exchanger is cracked is to visually see the crack. This can be accomplished by either removing the blower housing or cutting an access into the ductwork on the top of the heater and then inserting a light into the burner area where the flame usually is. If the heat exchanger is cracked, you will see light shining through the cracked heat exchanger. 

If you don’t feel confident checking your own heat exchanger, the surest & safest way to know if you have a breached heat exchanger and potentially dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning is to hire a professional. A reputable company will always personally show you the crack or hole, so there is no doubt in your mind about their integrity or honesty. Mr. Schorer of Wighton’s Heating and Air Conditioning agrees that people should always be cautious when this diagnosis is given because the repair or replacement can be quite an investment. Your heater should be regularly maintained and your heat exchanger should be inspected annually — especially if you’re not absolutely sure of its condition. 

 Wighton’s goal is to keep you and your family healthy! We encourage you to have your Heating, Air Conditioning & Indoor Air Quality checked by one of our professional technicians.