Any gas, oil, or wood furnace or stove in the home produces carbon monoxide as a by-product of burning these fuels for heat. Typically, propane and natural gas burns very cleanly, but they do produce carbon monoxide in small amounts during the combustion process. When a heat exchanger works properly, these harmful by-products are safely piped out of the home, and away from the occupants. However, if the heat exchanger is cracked, rusted or has failed in another way, carbon monoxide can begin leaking into the home itself.
Because carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless, it is incredibly difficult to tell if a heat exchanger is damaged without a visual inspection. There are signs that a technician can look for that might indicate if the heat exchanger is damaged, without having to examine the bottom of the exchanger itself. These signs might include:
- A build-up of soot and ash within the furnace
- Development of rust of the heat exchanger
- The burner flames appear to flicker or sputter
- Water begins pooling around the base of the furnace
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most serious risk posed by a damaged or failed heat exchanger. Carbon monoxide poisoning can knock someone unconscious, or even kill them. If the occupants in the home begin to experience the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, like nausea, disorientation, and irritation of eyes and nose, this is a clear sign that their furnace heat exchanger has failed, and needs immediate attention.