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Heat Exchanger Diagnosis: A Very Difficult Task (Part 2)

Posted by John Sims on Mon, Nov, 16, 2015 @ 14:11 PM

Diagnosing heat exchangers can be very 'gray'; with the risk of a carbon monoxide (CO) threat. If you get it wrong the consequences can be months of feeling sick all the time or even death. Imagine dealing with life or death situations on a regular basis

In Heat Exchanger Diagnosis: A Very Difficult Task (Part 1) we discussed 4 common outcomes of diagnosing a cracked heat exchanger

In establishing a company-wide policy, we have had to seriously consider all possible questions and situations that we've run into over the many years of work in the Battle Creek area . 

For many of these questions, there is no standard answer.  We approach these questions from the position of:  “What would I do if it were a family member's home”.  From this standpoint, first of all, we want to make sure we do our absolute best in looking for that crack that may be anywhere on the surface of the heating chambers of the heat exchanger.  The cracks may be very large and obvious, or they may be just beginning to show and develop.  The small ones cause all the controversy.  Once a crack is found, we do shut the furnace down.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the same policy that the gas company (Consumers Energy) follows. 

We do this for two reasons:  one for liability and legal reasons, and the second for homeowner safety.  We deal with the potential of life and death every day due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and I will do anything to avoid causing physical harm or death to anyone, even if I make them uncomfortable in the process.  I know that this may sound over dramatic, but the fact is that some of those questions about cracks and how they grow are unknown.  So we choose to error on the side of safety.  In our opinion, waiting until carbon monoxide is present in the home before shutting a furnace down is risky for the health of you and your family, we want to stop it before it starts. 

Shutting down of the furnace can be viewed by the homeowner in two ways, depending on how much they trust the company involved.  If there is minimal trust, it is usually viewed as a scare tactic, if there is a certain level of trust, it is viewed with understanding. That's why we encourage homeowners to build a relationship with an HVAC contractor for the life of home ownership.

What would you do if you were faced with this situation? 

We have the greatest respect for people's hard-earned money and being presented with an unexpected expense; and as we indicated these situations can become extremely frustrating  and folks can become very upset. Dealing with the safety of you and your family members from the threat of CO poisoning is a big responsibility.

I’ve tried to keep the above discussion as short and condensed as possible.  It is a topic that can be talked about at length.  I hope it gives you some sense of the safety, legal, and ethical considerations that must be considered in addition to customer relations.  The bottom line is that we as a company are very committed to doing what we believe is right and best for the homeowner.  I take it very personally when I hear that someone thinks that our company acted in a dishonest or unethical manner.  My name is on every truck we have on the road.  Our staff wear my name on their shirts and jackets.  I want them to be proud of where they work.  Sometimes mistakes are made.  We've inspected 1000's of heat exchangers over the years, so there will be instances that will need to be addressed on a case by case basis.

The bottom line is that there is great pressure on the honest technician to make sure he is right in his diagnosis 100% of the time without any room for error.  An error in either direction can result in an emotionally charged confrontation and damage to the company’s reputation.

If You Ever Have A Concern About This Subject Please Contact Me Personally!

Topics: Safety, Heat Exchanger, Furnace Repair, Furnace Failure

Heat Exchanger Diagnosis: A Very Difficult Task (Part 1)

Posted by John Sims on Wed, Nov, 11, 2015 @ 13:11 PM

I know we've gone through a stretch of record-setting warm weather, but we all know Winter is right around the corner and the heating season begins; your furnace gets a workout. Of course this is the time for furnace tune ups and service calls for "NO HEAT".

Let me begin the education about heat exchangers with this statement:

Diagnosing heat exchangers is a very difficult task for technicians to do. 

We have invested a lot of time and money into this area.  Out technicians have had extensive training on different models of furnaces, learning where they are prone to crack so that we can find them early. 

At Sims Heating and Cooling, our technicians are trained to run full combustion analysis before and after they clean and certify each furnace so as to provide actual tangible data to our clients.

This is the one of the most important reasons we've invested in combustion gas analyzers(they're not cheap), was to do the best job of finding a safety issue BEFORE it ever becomes dangerous.

However, heat exchanger diagnosis can still be a controversial item.  There are companies that can, and do take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners, condemning their furnaces knowing that the heat exchangers are not faulty, in order to “get the sale”.   I can assure you that we are not that company. Not Sure what a heat exchanger is? Read: (What Is A Heat Exchanger)

4 Common Outcomes of Diagnosing A Cracked Heat Exchanger.

Over the years, we have seen many different difficult scenarios play out regarding heat exchangers.  They usually fall into one of these four categories: 

  1. There is an actual crack in the heat exchanger: One company does not find anything wrong with a heat exchanger, and another company subsequently does find a crack.  Homeowners in this position are very angry, feeling like their lives have been in danger due to the “incompetence” of the first company.
  2. There is an actual crack in the heat exchanger: One company finds a crack, a second opinion finds nothing wrong, but then a return by the first company verifies and proves the crack does indeed exist.
  3. There is an actual crack in the heat exchanger: One company finds a crack, a second opinion finds nothing wrong.  The homeowner believes the second opinion and does not call the first company back to be accountable because they are not confrontational.  Homeowners will typically believe the second company even though there really is a crack in the heat exchanger.  They assume the first company was out to scam them and tell all their friends about it.
  4. There is NO actual crack in the heat exchanger: One company thinks they have identified a crack.  A second company cannot locate anything wrong, and is proven to be correct.  This leaves the homeowner very angry, feeling like they were being scammed and they tell all their friends about it.  Depending on the case by case situation, and the motives of the first company, they may or may not have been trying to scam the homeowner.

 
Comfort or Safety?  Unfortunately It's Not Black & White

This brings up the question of why isn’t a heat exchanger inspection more “black and white” – I mean, it’s either cracked or it’s not…right?  At the core of this question are many other questions:   What constitutes a crack and when is it dangerous?  Is a crack only something large enough so that carbon monoxide spews out of the opening all the time the furnace is running?  Does a hairline crack pose a danger to the homeowner?  Do cracks change over time - if so, how fast? Do cracks open up when a furnace fires up due to the expansion of the metal and then close again when the furnace is cool?  Should a furnace be shut down only when a large gapping crack is found verses a smaller more benign looking crack – or should a furnace never be shut down unless there is actual carbon monoxide leaking regardless of what a crack looks like?  Who decides how big a crack has to be before it warrants the furnace being shut down?  How do we communicate to the homeowner how much danger they are in without being viewed as trying to scare them into a sale – and, the other side of this – how do we tell the homeowner there is a problem in a way that they take what we tell them seriously?  What liability does a company assume once a crack is found?  And, above all, what is the safest thing for the homeowners - allowing the furnace to continue to operate keeping the homeowners comfortable or shutting down the furnace to ensure their safety when a crack is identified?  Should we error on the side of comfort or safety?  These are all questions we have had to answer in establishing a company -wide policy for technicians to adhere to.  Some of those questions are hard to answer.

This may be a great time to have your furnace checked!

Up Next Part 2:

Topics: Heat Exchanger, Furnace Repair, Diagnostics

How Much Does It Cost To Repair A Heat Exchanger?

Posted by John Sims on Fri, Nov, 06, 2015 @ 10:11 AM

This is number three in our 'common questions homeowners ask series'. We know you're searching online for an answer that gives you a rough idea. Of course In today's world, you can just Google your questions.

At Sims Heating & Cooling, it's our goal to be the ones to answer the questions the best we can with the amount of information we have to work with.(i.e. not being able to look at your HVAC System.) This is a very common question homeowners ask and one they're searching online for an answer that gives them an idea.

Hey, is it more than $100 or $1500..., there's a big difference.

There's a feeling we've all experienced if you've owned a car or truck long enough when you need something repaired and in your mind you're thinking the repair is probably $200 - $300, but the actual bill ends up to be $1100. Uuh... the feeling stinks!!

Unless money is no object that causes an increase in stress when personal cash flow is tight today for most people. It can be stressful. Having transportation to get to work or heat in your home when it's cold, fall into the similar categories; rather high on your 'importance meter' in life.

Let's first define Heat exchanger - Inside your gas furnace you have two separate areas. On one side there is the fire, and on the other side is the air that carries the heat through the house. When the gas burns, it gives off carbon monoxide and obviously you do not want this to get into the air that goes into your house. This is where the heat exchanger comes in. It is a metal chamber that heats up from the ignited gas, gives the heat to the air being blown across it, always keeping the air and the fire apart. During a furnace tune up, the most important thing that a well trained technician with the proper equipment, checks for are holes and cracks in the heat exchanger, these can allow air to be blown on to the flame, or carbon monoxide to get into the air flow. These cracks are usually formed due to lack of maintenance. When the heat exchanger heats up and cools down it expands and contracts. When the heat exchanger is dirty or not heating evenly, the expansion and contraction is uneven. This stresses the metal and will eventually cause it to crack.

(Here's another helpful article about heat exchangers)

Obviously, it takes a well trained technician to be able to correctly diagnose the problem, how to install and test the new part to make sure it works properly. In addition, the costs associated with trucks, diagnostic equipment and time for the tech to get to your home.

Most homeowners are looking for ranges, we can deal with that. Remember, it depends on your specific situation.

Replacing a cracked heat exchanger falls in the range of $550 - $1500. In this situation it's time to take into account the age of the furnace and you might be better off considering furnace replacement.

As you can see it's a fairly wide range; which leads to the question, When should I replace my HVAC system?

Hope this helps.

Topics: Furnace Pricing, Heat Exchanger, Furnace Repair

What Is The Best Way To Inspect A Furnace Heat Exchanger?

Posted by John Sims on Mon, Feb, 16, 2015 @ 09:02 AM

We think we do one of the best heat exchanger inspections available.  For years the best that we could doCombGasAnalyzer2 was a visible inspection of the exposed areas of the heat exchanger with a flashlight and a mirror.  This was effective in finding larger holes in easily accessible areas.  Several years ago we learned of a new method which we now employ as necessary, based upon the observed conditions of your furnace and its age.

At Sims Heating and Cooling, our technicians are trained to run full combustion analysis before and after they clean and certify each furnace so as to provide actual tangible data to our clients. Our clients can see the improvements that our techs made during the cleaning process. 

One of the most important reasons we've invested in combustion gas analyzers(they're not cheap), was to do the best job of finding a safety issue BEFORE it ever becomes dangerous.

In the Battle Creek area, there are 2 types of HVAC contractors: those that use state of the art combustion gas analyzers (10%) to determine energy efficiency, performance & health threats and those who don't (90%). That means peace of mind for you!

When we determine that there is a crack or hole in your heat exchanger we shut down your furnace to protect you and your family from any potential dangers and work with you to facilitate an expedited repair or replacement.  We will provide you with an electric heater temporarily so you can remain in your home. Sometimes homeowners seek out a second opinion and we recommend that they do so if there is any doubt on their part as to our findings. This situation can lead to a very 'charged or heated' discussion. We do our best to prevent that.

The question is, when will the crack be large enough to begin leaking carbon monoxide into your home.  It's never a black and white situation. We also take into account the age or your furnace, the manufacturer and model including our service history with them.

We take a very serious approach with the utmost of professionalism and concern for our reputation. We've built our success on preventative maintenance where 100's of homeowners join our annual maintenance plan and have the benefits of a tune up year in and year out.

Here's a true story:

A homeowner had a problem where his CO detector would go off but only on the coldest nights of the year.  It turns out that on the coldest nights his furnace was running longer to keep his home warm and the metal in the heat exchanger expanded more as it got hotter and the hole opened up enough to emit CO into his home.  They has their furnace replaced and they haven’t had any problems since.
You can put a CO detector in your home but you can’t knowingly allow a furnace to be operated with a crack or hole in the heat exchanger and rely on the CO detector as the sole means to protect you and your family. 

Here is a link to the American Gas Association. The following is some of the information:

! DANGER !
IF YOUR APPLIANCE SYSTEMS
HAVE NOT BEEN SAFETY INSPECTED

For your safety and the safety of those around you, it is important to have major electric or fuel-burning appliances and equipment, such as furnaces, boilers, ranges, water heaters and clothes dryers, periodically safety inspected. Annual safety inspections are often recommended by manufacturers. This safety inspection can be performed by a qualified service agency that is experienced in performing service work and has complied with all the requirements of your state or local building or mechanical code inspection agency. If you need the name and telephone numbers of a qualified inspector, you might look in your telephone directory under the heading “heating equipment service” or “appliance service.” You may also telephone or visit the website of your local or state consumer affairs office, fuel supplier or electric or gas utility for information.

Failure to have this equipment properly maintained could lead to property damage, personal injury or death. If you have not had an inspection performed within the last three years, you should make an appointment today for you and your family’s safety and the safety of those around you.

If you're just not sure and you need 'peace of mind', schedule a Furnace Tune Up NOW!

Topics: Furnace Tune Up, Testing, Carbon Monoxide, Heat Exchanger

What Is A Furnace Heat Exchanger?

Posted by John Sims on Tue, Dec, 10, 2013 @ 16:12 PM

What Is A Furnace Heat Exchanger and Why Does That Matter?

It's very important for homeowners in the Battle Creek area to understand what a heat exchanger is considering most homes use a gas furnace for heat. The heat exchanger is the metal passage separating combustion products and gasses from the indoor air being heated. This metal is exposed to the hot flame within the furnace and isHeat exchanger
constantly expanding and contracting as the furnace heats up and cools down. The stress of this constant expansion and contraction will eventually wear the metal out. This is known as “metal fatigue”. Over time, this will cause the metal in the heat exchanger to split or crack-no different than if you were to bend a metal coat hanger back and forth until it breaks. Oversized furnaces (where the gas is continually turning on and off) are subject to more stress and usually wear out sooner due to their operating conditions. These types of furnaces should be inspected yearly.

Plenty of uninformed homeowners will go on line and read things like this information we pulled from the Better Business Bureau's website where it says:

"Fall is the ideal time of year to have your furnace serviced - before the busy winter season starts. All too often, however, unsuspecting homeowners are duped into buying a new home furnace or authorizing expensive, but unneeded, repairs to their existing heating system by contractors who use scare tactics.

The Better Business Bureau reports that while most furnace companies are reputable, competent and fair; others may falsely tell you that your furnace needs to be repaired or replaced when in reality it does not. These con artists may try to frighten you with warnings that your system is leaking dangerous gases that could explode or poison those inside the house.

Sometimes unscrupulous furnace dealers will offer you a furnace inspection at a too-good-to-be-true low price. They may then use scare tactics to get you to buy a new furnace whether you need one or not. One method they might use in trying to sell you unneeded equipment is to tell you that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, is emitting carbon monoxide, must be shut down immediately, and that you need to replace it.

If they claim your furnace is unsafe, allow them to shut it down, after all, it's better to be safe than sorry. But don't sign a contract to buy a new furnace until you've gotten a second opinion, preferably from your public gas utility, as they won't try to sell you anything."

Don't Let That Information Throw You, Here's What Causes A Heat Exchanger To Fail?

Start with keeping your furnace’s blower motor and blades clean; is critical. Dirt build-up on the blades of your furnace's blower can also contribute to early aging of your furnace's heat exchanger. Blower cleaning is critical since a buildup of dirt on the blower blades will reduce the furnace's airflow and cause it to use more electricity. The lower airflow will cause the furnace to run hotter, increasing the rate of expansion and contraction of the heat exchanger's metal. The end result is excessive metal fatigue and eventual premature failure. This is another reason annual furnace maintenance is so critical ---  especially if more than ten years old.

Inspecting The Heat Exchanger

A comprehensive heating system inspection is designed to do just that.  We think we do one of the best heat exchanger inspections available.  For years the best the best way was a visible inspection of the exposed areas of the heat exchanger with a flashlight and a mirror.  This was effective in finding larger holes in easily accessible areas. 

Several years ago we learned of a new method which we now employ as necessary based upon the observed conditions of your furnace and its age.

Several years ago we at Sims Heating & Cooling, learned of a new method using a combustion analyzer, which we now use. A combustion analyzer measures your system’s flue gases to determine the completeness of the combustion process. A combustion analysis on your furnace helps us figure out exactly where it’s losing efficiency – and what we can do about it!

The question is, when will the crack be large enough to begin leaking carbon monoxide into your home. When we find a crack or hole in your heat exchanger we shut down your furnace to protect you and your family from any potential dangers and work with you to facilitate an expedited repair or replacement. When it comes to furnaces, knowing positively  whether you have a crack or hole in the heat exchanger is a big deal.

You want to know if your family is exposed to a Carbon Monoxide Threat!(watch the video)

Topics: Carbon Monoxide, Heat Exchanger, Furnace Repair

Carbon Monoxide Danger In The House: Your Furnace.

Posted by John Sims on Thu, Oct, 24, 2013 @ 15:10 PM

What Every Homeowner Should Know.

Although your furnace is not the only potential risk for carbon monoxide(CO), it will be the focus of this article. There are steps to determine the risks and potential for carbon monoxide.carbonmonoxide symbol Questions like:

  • Is there any carbon in the burner area, flue or vent?
  • How are the flames burning?
  • Are there any visible signs of a problem, such as flames burning erratically, no flames visible on part of the burner, weak flames, or white tips on the flames?

Regardless of the visual inspection, a test must be performed to verify that there is no CO in the combustion gases.

What Is A Heat Exchanger?

One of the most important areas to understand therefore check it thoroughly is what is known as the heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is the metal passage separating combustion products and gasses from the indoor air being heated. This metal is exposed to the hot flame within the furnace and is constantly expanding and contracting as the furnace heats up and cools down. The stress of this constant expansion and contraction will eventually wear the metal out. This is known as “metal fatigue”. Over time, this will cause the metal in the heat exchanger to split or crack-no different than if you were to bend a metal coat hanger back and forth until it breaks. Oversized furnaces (where the gas is continually turning on and off) are subject to more stress and usually wear out sooner due to their operating conditions. These types of furnaces should be inspected yearly.

What Causes A Heat Exchanger To Fail?

Start with keeping your furnace’s blower motor and blades clean; is critical. Dirt build-up on the blades of your furnace's blower can also contribute to early aging of your furnace's heat exchanger. Blower cleaning is critical since a buildup of dirt on the blower blades will reduce the furnace's airflow and cause it to use more electricity. The lower airflow will cause the furnace to run hotter, increasing the rate of expansion and contraction of the heat exchanger's metal. The end result is excessive metal fatigue and eventual premature failure. This is another reason annual furnace maintenance is so critical ---  especially if more than ten years old.

If You Haven't Had A Furnace Tune Up Recently, Now May Be A Great Time.

Topics: Furnace Tune Up, Carbon Monoxide, Heat Exchanger

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