Everything You Need to Know About Heat Exchanger

If you’ve ever dealt with an HVAC contractor, you know that the technical terms and part names they sometimes use can be a bit confusing, especially if you’re a first-time buyer or someone with no prior knowledge of the industry. Whether it’s due to habit when dealing with fellow contractors or, in unfortunate cases, trying to take advantage of the customer, we’ll help you brush up on the basics they’ll likely discuss so you won’t be lost in the conversation. To help you better understand what a heat exchanger is, how it works and why it’s important to have it inspected, we’ll break down the essentials.

What Is a Furnace Heat Exchanger?

Though it may sound technical, a heat exchanger does exactly what its name says: exchanges heat. In the context of a furnace, a heat exchanger is a series of tubes or coils that run through the air flow. Different models feature different shapes and sizes of tubes based on fuel type but they all perform the same task—the tubes heat up and, in doing so, exchange and transfer the heat to the air.

How Does it Work?


For a mechanism that performs such an important and integral part in heating your home, the way a heat exchanger works is actually rather simple. When the tubes or coils of the heat exchanger heat up through combustion and thus heat the air surrounding it, the fan then blows that hot air into the ductwork to be evenly distributed throughout your home. It’s actually a simple principle that we’re all familiar with. It might be helpful to think of it this way—imagine you have a bowl of hot soup. In an attempt to cool the soup, you blow on it. In this example, the hot soup is the heat exchanger. The hot air that you are blowing off and pushing away is a lot like the hot air that is blown by the furnace fan and circulated throughout your home in order to heat it.

Heat Exchanger Fuel Types

In order for combustion to take place, fuel is needed. A heat exchanger can take all types of fuel and the one that will work for your furnace will depend on a number of variables, such as location, climate, and access. While natural gas may be the most common type of fuel throughout most of America, for example, some areas may not have readily available access, instead requiring a different form of fuel. Other common types of fuel include propane gas, oil, and electric. Just because they can all fuel a furnace doesn’t mean they’re all equal, however.

Depending on the factors listed above, different homes will employ the use of different fuel types. When considering cost, for instance, electric is one of the most expensive fuel types. While is may be costly, it has the benefit of being 100% efficient. Making the decision of what fuel type to use requires more than answering one question, but it starts by first finding out which types are available to you.

The Safety of a Heat Exchanger

If it weren’t for the process of burning fuel in the heat exchanger, it would be impossible for your furnace to heat your home. While it’s a critical process in heating, if it doesn’t function properly, it can pose a risk to your and your family. A cracked or damaged heat exchanger, for example, can leak dangerous gases that should be contained in the exchanger, including carbon monoxide, into your home. Carbon monoxide is known as the “silent killer” and any potential risk of leak should not be taken lightly.


In order to keep your family safe from a cracked heat exchanger, there are a number of steps you can take. Not only should you have a dedicated carbon monoxide detector located in several rooms throughout your home, it’s also important to have your furnace inspected annually. If you would rather inspect it yourself or you simply want to equip yourself with the knowledge of an inspection, learning the process is as easy as watching informative how-to videos and following the step-by-step instructions.

The importance of your furnace’s heat exchanger cannot be understated. Without proper use or care, however, it can become dangerous and volatile. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a cause for concern, though. Most heat exchangers have built-in safety mechanisms, but it’s still important to do your part to ensure it’s up to the correct standards. By properly equipping yourself with the essentials of heat exchangers, filling your home with necessary carbon monoxide detectors and scheduling regulate maintenance and inspections, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you and your family are safe and sound.

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