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  • Writer's pictureJustin Leach

Bad Heat Exchanger? Give us a Call!

Here's a Before and After photo of a Carrier Heat Exchanger Replacement

Before I go into my rant about why it’s ok to just replace the heat exchanger instead of getting a new furnace, I should probably preface it with describing what a heat exchanger is. A heat exchanger is the thing that separates toxic exhaust gasses from the air we breathe, while simultaneously heating the air we breathe. I typically liken it to a car muffler. A car muffler gets hot because there is exhaust gas inside it from the motor. If we were to blow air over that muffler, it would heat the air up. This is basically what a heat exchanger is…. It’s a large rectangular shaped muffler that transfers the hot gasses of the fire inside the furnace, to the outside, while transferring heat to the air we breathe in the house. Occasionally, these “mufflers” plug up with soot and other impurities in the exhaust gasses. This happens naturally to an extent, but can be exacerbated by the air/fuel mixture being improperly balanced. The brand that we see this very commonly in, is the Carrier/Bryant variety from the early 2000’s—I’ll talk more about that down the road.

I generally hold strong to the notion that a 20 year-old furnace is par for the course. Years beyond 20 definitely get into the “nickel and dime” phase, where you can reasonably expect a decently expensive repair every few years. That said, I’d like to discuss the years prior to the 20 year mark in this blog.

Here's a side profile of a full heat exchanger pulled out of the furnace.

Almost all furnaces have a 20 year heat exchanger warranty, and many will even extend a little beyond 20 with a year or 2 of grace period. The reason this topic is on my mind, is because we’ve been hearing from quite a few new customers that are told that their furnace is shot when its 15 years old and the heat exchanger is bad. This is simply lazy tech work from the other company. This is particularly the case with Carrier & Bryant furnaces installed in the early 2000’s.

In the early 2000’s, Carrier and Bryant (they’re manufactured by the same company), tried a new style of heat exchanger that didn’t go too well for them. Pretty much every one of these furnaces needs a new heat exchanger at least once within the 20 year warranty cycle, with some of them even getting 2 new replacements during that time. It’s a very chronic problem, and pretty much ever technician with a little experience is well aware of the problem.

This a a picture of the back of a Bryant heat exchanger... it's certainly plugged up!

The problem is, most technicians don’t want to replace them. They’re a pain in the butt! Essentially, you darn near disassemble the whole furnace and reassemble it. Because of this, it’s not nearly as lucrative as just installing a new unit. On top of that, it is also one of the more difficult tasks we do as technicians, requiring a certain amount of skill that not all newer technicians possess.

I guess the point of this article, is I just want to get across that if other technicians are telling you that you should replace the furnace, there might be another option. Yes, it’s always better to buy a new furnace, but the heat exchanger replacement could easily be a 1/10th of the cost of a new unit; and money is tight these days for many people!

Long story short, if an HVAC technician tells you your heat exchanger is bad so you need a new furnace; give us a call for a second opinion. If the heat exchanger is out of warranty (beyond the maximum age), then yes, you probably do need a new furnace. However, if you can get a new heat exchanger from the manufacturer for free, it might be a great way to breathe a little extra life into your old furnace to buy your a few more years. Give us a call with any questions you have!

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