Discussing heat exchangers

  Whats the worst furnace breakdown you can have? What’s the one repair you don’t want to make? What’s the last thing you want us to tell you is wrong with the furnace? Well I’ll tell you. You do not want to hear us talk about your heat exchanger. They can be cracked, or they can be plugged. But either way it is a serious safety issue inside your home that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

  In its most simplest level a heat exchanger allows the flue gas a place to travel through before it leaves your furnace. It is a sealed airtight chamber that begins at the burners and ends where the flue gas meets the vent. The heat exchanger can be made out of various metals like stainless steel or aluminum. This metal can crack over time. By continually expanding and contracting from operation the cell walls become weak. Imagine taking a paper clip and bending it back a forth in small movements. It will take time but eventually the paperclip will break. Now imagine the furnace has been oversized for the home, another common problem routinely found during furnace inspections, this provides even more stress on the heat exchanger causing premature failure even sooner.

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  Another threat to heat exchangers is lack of proper air flow, likely from a dirty air filter. If more homeowners could remember to regularly change their filter, we could likely eliminate 50% of furnace failures. Lack of air flow causes the furnace (as well as the heat exchanger) to overheat, compromising both. Poor airflow isn’t just from filters though. Undersized ductwork can restrict air flow causing heat build up within the furnace. We came across this exact situation at a new home in north-west Regina. The furnace was fairly new and we discussed options with the homeowner to alter the ductwork allowing more space for the air to fill. 

No matter the reason, once your heat exchanger is damaged you’ve already gone too far.  A cracked heat exchanger now allows carbon monoxide (CO) to exit the heat exchanger and mix in with the air within your ductwork and eventually into your lungs. CO has been deemed the “silent killer” as it’s odourless, tasteless, etc, and with sufficient amounts, can cause individuals to be poisoned. 

Another major problem happens when a heat exchanger becomes plugged. This is usually from the coating on the heat exchanger walls peeling away causing a partial blockage. This leads to incomplete combustion creating carbon buildup inside the furnace progressing to a full blown blockage. Plugged heat exchangers are easier to pick out as there are often tell tale signs of their failure. Tripped flame roll out switches, visible sooting, burnt wires are all signs the heat exchanger is plugged. 

What can I do as a homeowner to prevent my heat exchanger failing too soon?

  As we’ve previously discussed, change you air filter regularly. Best advice is to buy yourself 3 or 4 replacement filters, so you have them on site and ready to go. Next set up timers on your phone at the appropriate intervals to remind you to replace your filter. Perfect way to never forget. Also remember to keep your heat register vents open as well. We want to allow the air to flow as freely as possible. If you do have issues with hot and cold spots in your home that is a separate issue that you should call us about and we can take a look at solutions. Third would be maintenances. I’ve previously discussed the importance of having your furnace maintenance yearly.

Is it worth replacing the heat exchanger? 

Yes….maybe…..I guess it depends. Furnace manufactures often provide long term warranty for heat exchangers. They may also provide additional labour warranty for replacing the heat exchanger. Carrier does this for example. So now your repair covers the heat exchanger (which is the most expensive part in your furnace) as well as a portion, if not all of the labour as well. A situation like this it may be favourable to simply replace the heat exchanger after discussion with your HVAC tech.

In my personal opinion if your 10, 15, 20 years into your furnace, repair is out of the question. The amount of money you may invest into replacing the heat exchanger will likely not pay off over time based off the age of the unit. It’s like you mechanic coming up to you to recommend replacing the engine in your car. Sure you have a brand new engine, but you’re still left with a ’95 Sunfire. Whoopee! What happens next year when your furnace gives out again and you’ve already put X amount of dollars to keep it going this far. This is money that could have been spent on the new unit. Especially now that all major manufactures are providing 10 year parts warranty, (as well as Family Plumbing having options for additional 10 year labour warranty) your money would be better well spent with a new unit. 

In no way are we trying to scare you into thinking that a cracked heat exchanger is a life or death event. We’ll save that for the others. But what I do want to get across is the importance of a working heat exchanger and that every failed heat exchanger DOES need to be repaired. As trained, licensed HVAC contractors we have an obligation both legally and ethically to ensure a damaged heat exchanger is taken care of. By Saskatchewan law if we find a heat exchanger to be cracked, plugged, etc, we are required to “red tag” that furnace. That means we shut off the as to the unit so it fails to operate and we contact the gas inspectors and inform them that an issue needs to be resolved. Gas inspection takes “red tagged” furnaces very seriously and will ensure resolutions are made before they remove restrictions. More importantly though CO is a very serious threat with life altering effects. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to fail to inform the homeowner of the dangers and find out later they suffered from CO poisoning.

On a brighter note Family Plumbing and Heating would like to thank all of our clients and homeowners that have continued to have us out to their businesses and homes during these crazy times. Everyone within our organization works very hard to keep up the high standard of customer support we expect and we appreciate your business. Saskatchewan has been doing a great job flattening the curve, let’s keep up the good work and hope some of these restrictions can be lifted by sooner than later 

Note: the information provided has primarily been in relation to residential furnaces. The information above can also be applied to commercial units as well as residential boilers, on-demand systems, etc. Feel free to reach out to us animate to discuss this further.

-Brenden

 

*A cracked heat exchanger led to this new install in Regina’s west end.

Family Plumbing: A Jiu Jitsu Story

 Last month Tyler and I competed in the Queen City Open, an annual Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament held in Regina every fall. Humble brag: both Tyler and I were able to walk away with multiple pieces of hardware. Jiu jitsu actually plays an important role in the formation of Family Plumbing and Heating. We get asked a lot if Tyler and I are brothers but we actually met through jiu jitsu.

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   Pretty shocking eh? I understand how one could come to the conclusion we must be brothers but I originally met Tyler on the mats of Complete MMA in 2016. The first time I remember talking to Tyler was at a Saturday open mat session. I believe Tyler at the time was training for an amateur fight while I was training just to try and avoid getting tapped out too many times in a row. We paired off and I remember making some (likely hilarious) joke to try and break the ice rolling with the guy for the first time. Tyler neither laughed or even cracked a smile and I could tell it was about to get serious. The next five minutes went by in a blur as I proceeded to get tossed around for the remainder of the roll. At the time Tyler had just been promoted to blue belt while I was a lowly white belt with about 4 months experience under my belt just trying to get by. I didn’t talk to Tyler again for almost another 2 years. I usually only saw him when we crossed each other on the mat. My beginner class would be wrapping up as his advanced class was beginning. My next convo with Tyler wouldn’t take place until 2017!

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    Fast forward to my first day with Ambassador Mechanical. I was told to meet at the new Superstore building that was going up on Albert Street. Once I arrived I was told to find “Tyler” and we would be working on some items that needed to be corrected. I found “Tyler” and right off the bat felt like I knew this guy from somewhere. (I guess everyone looks different in coveralls and a hard hat.) It took me about 30 minutes to place him but I finally figured it out.

Me: Hey man, I think I know you.

“Tyler”: Yeah man, I think we’ve met before.

My belief was he only said this to make me feel better.

Me: “I think we’ve rolled against each other at Complete.

“Tyler”: Yes! That’s it.

  After that moment I found it pretty sweet at Ambassador, having a work buddy to prattle on about what’s the best open guard and how to defend against leg locks. Soon we ended up going our separate ways work-wise but were able to keep in touch through Complete MMA, eventually forming Family Plumbing and Heating. While operating Family Plumbing with Tyler has been awesome because it’s so easy to run a company where both owner’s share the same values for workmanship and customer care, it also helps that we can motivate each other in training. Speaking for myself, there are definitely some early morning classes I would have hit snooze on the alarm for if wasn’t for the fact Tyler would be waiting with some chirps once the work day began. Both Tyler and I owe a big thank you to Complete MMA and it’s founder and head instructor AJ Scales. Without Complete, Tyler and I may not have ever gotten to know each other as we did, Family Plumbing might only be a dream in the back of our minds, and we would not have a venue to learn and train in the great sport of jiu jitsu.

– Brenden

And that’s a wrap on the 2019 Spring Home Show! It was quite the weekend and was incredibly fun. Tyler and I had been working hard the past months getting our booth together. Neither of us had ever been in a trade show before so the experience was something new to both of us and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We are already cooking up some ideas of what we would add to our booth for next year’s show. (Can you start planning too early? Is a laser light show allowed?)

We met a lot of great people and are thrilled with the exposure Family Plumbing and Heating received from being apart of the event. Thursday started off a little slow and had me second guessing our decision to enter the show but as I walked into the building at 1:10 Friday (Yes I know the doors opened at 1) and saw the lineup out the door of people waiting to get in, I knew we were in for a pretty busy weekend.

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If you asked us what we would do differently next year we would probably start by getting a bigger booth. This is both our first year in business and first time at the show so we decided to stay small so we wouldn’t over extend ourselves but we found while we were designing our booth that we were becoming too limited in what we wanted to display. We’d also like to develop more interactive displays for next year. Most of the plumbing/HVAC contractors that attended the show (us included) had quite a bit of product on hand, but if we can’t show off how it works is it really worth it? Third, I’d bring a dog. If this weekend taught me anything it’s that everyone has to stop and pet a puppy. The bed bug booth beside us had brought their bug sniffing dogs and were the stars of our row. Until I brought out the big guns….the kids!

Smith, Georgia, and Ginny showed up and were gracious enough to step in and act as my marketing team handing out pamphlets. Smith especially took to his new role in the company and showed us his inner used car salesmen. He was handing out pamphlets left, right and centre. At one point he turned to me with excitement

Smith: I’ve handed out 80 million flyers!

Me: Wow bud, good job.

Smith: If I hand out one more it will get all the way to the Mayor! Then the mayor will have to use you guys for his office.

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But there is no rest for Family Plumbing and Heating and no time to nurse our home show hangover. It’s back to work ASAP out in the field. Once we get back into our rhythm we will be able to draw for the awesome prizes we were giving away this weekend and contacting the winners. We would like to thank everyone who helped us with getting to the event and lended a hand this weekend. A special thanks goes out to our families, the suppliers who helped us out with our displays and prizes, and a big thank you to Colby and Amanda for helping out inside the booth. Hope to see everyone again next year.

– Brenden

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