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Furnace heat exchanger: Here’s how they work and what can go wrong

During the coldest days and nights of the year, your home relies on a properly working furnace to keep your family warm and comfortable. In turn, your furnace relies on a properly working furnace heat exchanger. It’s arguably the most important part of your heating system, and any problems with it could not only lead to a breakdown, but could actually pose a safety risk to your entire family.

In this article, we’ll review the 5 most-prominent signs that something is wrong with your heat exchanger and your overall furnace. We’ll also explore just how a heat exchanger works and what can go wrong.

Reimer Home Services is Buffalo’s trusted name in heating repair services. If you suspect that your heat exchanger is damaged or that your furnace is on the verge of a breakdown, call our team for 24/7 emergency service here in Western New York. Our friendly, professional technicians are ready to help!


Experiencing furnace problems?

If you’re noticing any of these signs of furnace trouble—or have been experiencing efficiency or performance problems—you need to have one of our technicians out to take a look at your gas furnace. It could be on the verge of a breakdown.


The heat from furnace combustion warms the heat exchanger, which separates the flue gases from the air in your home.

The heat from furnace combustion warms the heat exchanger, which separates the flue gases from the air in your home.

What is the furnace heat exchanger?

Every furnace contains a heat exchanger. It’s an essential part of the heating process. To create heat, your furnace combusts fuel—typically gas, but other varieties exist—in a sealed chamber. This combustion process generates heat energy from the fuel source. This is one of the things that makes gas furnaces different from electric ones, which generate heat through electric coils.

The mixture of gas and combustion fumes (known as “flue gases“) isn’t safe to breathe. That’s where the exchanger comes in.

Essentially, the exchanger is a thin metal shield standing between the combustion chamber and the blower, which distributes heated air from the furnace through air ducts into the living spaces of your home. As the combustion chamber heats the exchanger, air is blown across its surface on the other side, rapidly heating the breathable air. This air is then sent through your home’s ductwork to the living spaces of your home.

To work properly and prevent flue gases from escaping, the heat exchanger needs to be completely sealed. This is often where things start to go wrong.

Issues with your heat exchanger can negatively impact how the entire furnace operates. If you’re experiencing furnace issues here in Buffalo and Western New York, call the team at Reimer for service.

What can go wrong with a heat exchanger?

We tend to think of metal as being stable and unchanging, but heat actually has a big impact on metallic objects. As the heat exchanger rapidly heats up, the metal expands. When the furnace turns off, that heated metal cools and contracts back to the shape it held before at room temperature.

However, after doing this for a decade or more, the metal starts to become fatigued. Eventually, it’s more prone to becoming brittle, which leads to cracking, snapping, and other failures. This may lead to strange sounds you can hear coming from your furnace.

When this happens, the heat exchanger is no longer forming an effective seal between the breathable air in your and the flue air. This is a big problem: flue air is not safe for humans or pets. It can even contain carbon monoxide—a colorless, odorless gas that has a well-earned reputation as a silent killer.

How does a cracked heat exchanger release carbon monoxide?

In most cases, the flue gases in your furnace will not contain carbon monoxide—it’s not a typical byproduct of gas combustion in the furnace. For carbon monoxide to leak from a cracked heat exchanger, two things need to be happening:

  • The heat exchanger is cracked or otherwise has an air leak.
  • There’s something wrong with how the system is combusting gas.

However, given the high-stake dangers associated with carbon monoxide inhalation, the general recommendation from the CDC is to deal with potential sources of this gas as soon as possible.

How can homeowners prevent heat exchanger problems?

Here are some ways homes with gas furnaces can help ensure that their heat exchanger is continuing to operate safely and effectively:

Schedule a professional heating tune-up

Have an expert HVAC technician inspect your furnace every fall to make sure the heat exchanger is still in good shape. Your technician will likely run a test using specialized equipment to see if there are any leaks in the exchanger. They’ll also visually inspect the unit to make sure there’s no obvious signs of damage or metal fatigue.

Know when you’re due for a replacement

A vast majority of heat exchangers last about 10-20 years. During the 15-20 year mark, homeowners should be considering whether or not they need to replace the part, and probably be talking with their HVAC technician during their annual tune-up about where things stand.

Opt for professional installation

It’s possible for a heat exchanger to become damaged during installation if the furnace is not installed right or carefully. This is just one of the reasons we recommend always leaving furnace installation to the professionals.

What are the signs of problems with the furnace heat exchanger?

Here are five signs that you need to call Reimer for furnace repair here in Buffalo:

#1. Your HVAC technician reports that there’s cracks or damage

As mentioned before, metal fatigue can lead to cracks in the heat exchanger, which in turn can cause a whole host of problems. These cracks aren’t always quite the size of the one in the Liberty Bell. These can be micro-fractures that are incredibly difficult to see, but still allow flue gas molecules to pass through the exchanger.

If your technician reports that your heat exchanger has cracked, the time for replacing it is now.

#2. There’s a change in flame color

A fully functional gas furnace should generate a steady blue flame. That’s because it’s being combusted in a closed environment. Technicians will take note of an erratic burn behavior in the furnace, since that could be a sign that external oxygen is getting into the system through the cracked exchanger.

#3. There’s soot buildup inside the heat exchanger

If the furnace has a soot buildup inside of it, then chances are that the heat exchanger is damaged. This is a sign that the burner is not burning properly and needs to be fixed. The cause can be anything from tilted burners to cracks in the heat exchange itself.

#4. There’s discoloration and buildup

If the heat exchanger develops cracks, the metal will get discolored with the soot that builds up on it. The cracks will allow that deposit through, making the heat exchanger appear “sooty,” as discussed in the section above. The site of the crack should have a buildup as well, or there might be spots that are darker than the rest of the metal.

#5. You detect carbon monoxide

As discussed earlier, carbon monoxide can be a byproduct of the combustion process in your furnace. It’s a colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal. This is why it’s important to address furnace heat exchanger problems before they turn into a major danger to your family and house.

Every home should have a functioning carbon monoxide detector. If you suspect there’s a leak, evacuate and then call the fire department.

For even more potential signs you might need furnace repair, keep reading and check out this article.

If you haven't already, call Reimer to schedule a furnace heat exchanger inspection.

When Reimer checks your furnace, we’ll also look at the heat exchanger to make sure it’s in good condition.

Schedule a furnace inspection with Reimer

Here’s the connection between the first four items on the list above: these aren’t things you as the homeowner can spot just looking at the exterior of your furnace. You need to have a technician inspect your system on an annual basis. Or, if you’ve already had a carbon monoxide alarm go off, you need to have a technician out to inspect your system and address the problem.

Here are Reimer, we offer 24/7 emergency furnace repair in Buffalo and Western New York. Our technicians also perform fall safety and tune-up services. Contact us for service by calling (716) 694-8524 or contact us online.

Remember: dealing with your furnace heat exchanger sooner than later can both prevent a furnace breakdown and keep your family safe.

Fill out this form to request service from our team:

Here are the five signs you need a new water heater in your home

There are certain telltale signs that indicate that it’s time to replace your water heater. You just have to know what to look for. In this blog, we’ll run through the five signs that you need a new water heater, and when you need to call in the professionals at Reimer.

5 signs you need a new water heater

For most of the time, your water heater just works, without incident. So, how do you know when it’s time for a new system? Let’s run through the 5 signs that you need a new heater—and when you need to call Reimer.

1. Your older water heater is getting up there in age

Most standard water heaters last about a decade before they need to be replaced. You may squeeze a few more years out of your system, but past the 10-year mark, you need to at least consider buying a replacement water heater.

If you’re unsure how old your water heater is, check the serial number. This is most likely on a sticker on top of the unit. If you can’t find a date, plug that serial number into the manufacturer’s website for more information.

2. It’s making strange noises

A water heater makes strange noises as it gets older. Over time, sediment builds up at the bottom of the tank. When the water is heated, the sediments harden. As a result, you can hear banging or rumbling noises from inside the heater.

This is a sign that you need to get a new hot water heater, as its nearing the end of its operational lifespan.

3. You’re getting rusty water out of the tap

Another sign that you need to replace your water heater is rusty water. Water, plus metal, will eventually equal corrosion, especially after the sacrificial anode rod is exhausted. After that point, the water will likely pick up the corrosion, leading to rust.

If this is happening early in the system’s life, you can have the team of plumbers here at Reimer add a new zinc anode rod to the water heater. However, late in the system’s life, it’s probably more cost-effective and easier to just replace the entire unit.

If you’ve noticed the signs that your water heater needs to be replaced, call Reimer to have a plumber assess your water heater today.

4. Your hot water doesn’t last as long as it used to

Insufficient hot water is yet another sign that you need to buy a water heater. Not only do water heaters get worse at heating water as they age, but they also lose capacity due to that sediment buildup we mentioned earlier.

Lack of hot water is a clear sign that your heater is failing and needs to be replaced. If hot water supply is an issue in your home, you may want to consider the benefits of a tankless water heater, which can provide your family with an endless supply of hot water.

5. There are water puddles around the unit

If you see water leaks around the water heater, there might be a leak in the tank that needs to be dealt with—immediately. Slight fractures develop over time as the metal tank expands and contracts with heat, over and over again. However, when it fractures, you’re at serious risk of a tank burst, and it’s time to call in the professionals at Reimer.

Call Reimer for new water heater here in Buffalo and Western New York

If you’re experiencing water heater trouble, Reimer is the company to call here in Buffalo and Western New York. Our experienced and licensed plumbers can resolve all kinds of plumbing issues. We also repair and install new water heater units. Contact us today!

Signs you’re having sewer line problems and what to do about them

While your home sewage line might not be something that crosses your mind daily, it’ll certainly be top-of-mind when you have sewer line problems. Dealing with sewage problems can be very unpleasant and is best left to experienced hands.

In this blog, we’re going to review the top-3 signs of major sewer line problems. If you believe you’re seeing any of these signs, don’t wait to contact Reimer Home Services here in Buffalo and Western New York.

Here are the 3 major signs you’re having sewer line issues

#1. Mold inside your home

Mold. Just hearing the word can make anyone feel uncomfortable. When found within the walls of your own home, mold can feel like a violation of your personal space. Mold becomes a problem most often in damp or humid places.

If you discover mold growing on surfaces of your home such as ceilings, floors, or walls, you may be seeing the effects of a broken or damage sewer line. Treating mold quickly and resolving the problem at its core are the best ways to prevent the health effects that mold can cause for pets and residents alike.

#2. Regular drain clogs

While drain clogs are commonplace for most homeowners, reoccurring clogs may be a symptom for more serious concern. After applying your common drain cleaning solution or plunging repeatedly to no avail, it may be time to have a professional take a closer look.

  • Probable sewage line problems may include:
  • Damaged pipes or broken sewer line
  • Sagging lines known as “bellies”
  • Obstructed pipelines from underground root overgrowth

#3. Foul-smelling drains

Drains can often become bogged down with smelly debris over time. More serious sewage problems can lead to a lingering foul odor. If a gaseous smell is wafting from the drains inside or around your home it is best to call our plumbers for a proper diagnosis.

When sealed properly, your pipelines should not give off strong enough odors—or at least strong enough  for you to pick up regularly. A strong and frequent smell, especially above ground around your sewer line, may be an indicator that there is a crack or full break along your current sewage pipe line.

Call Reimer for help with your sewer line problems

When you’re in need of sewer line repair, the Reimer team has the knowledge and experience to do the job right. Contact us to make an appointment at your earliest convenience. We’re your trusted team for plumbing repair here in Buffalo and Western New York.

Why you should work with an HVAC company that values its employees

For many HVAC employees, working for a company that treats its personnel well is just as important as working for a company that pays well. Reimer is proud to be one of the top HVAC, plumbing, and home services companies in Buffalo and Western New York.

In this blog, we’ll review just some of the reasons our team loves working at Reimer—and why you should never settle for less than an HVAC company that values its employees.

Pictured: Reimer is a great HVAC company with fantastic employees!Why work with Reimer Home Services?

#1. Greater sense of fulfillment in your work

Employees who are treated well generally have a greater sense of fulfillment in their work. If you want to feel like what you do really matters, choose to work for an that appreciates your efforts and rewards you well.

#2. Improved opportunities for advancement

Employee-centric companies love to offer opportunities for advancement. They emphasize upward movement and reward top performers by giving them the ability to move up the ladder and experience even greater levels of success.

#3. Attractive workplace culture

Who wants to work in an environment marred by poor morale and bad attitudes? Unsurprisingly, the answer is no one. A company that values its employees works hard to create an attractive workplace culture that inspires employees to willingly perform at their best.

As a natural result of such an environment, morale generally remains high and good teamwork becomes more achievable.

#4. Work with top talent

It’s no secret that top industry talent tends to flock to companies that value their employees. If you want to work with other professionals who are just as committed to quality as you are, apply to work at a company that treats their HVAC technicians and plumbers well.

Work with an HVAC company that cares about its employees

At Reimer Home Services, we take pride in treating our employees like the indispensable assets they are. Happy employees generally outperform unhappy employees and find more fulfillment in their work.

So, whether you’re a customer looking for a great HVAC company, or you’re a HVAC / plumbing professional looking to take the next step in your career, call Reimer. We’ve been serving Buffalo and Western New York since 1921.

Here’s how to clean your kitchen’s in-sink garbage disposal

Your garbage disposal is a great way to get rid of unwanted food items when you do dishes. While this is true, your garage disposal may actually start to smell like garbage after a little bit, making you long for the days of having a clean garbage disposal. In this blog, we’re going to tackle just a few of the ways to clean your kitchen’s in-sink garbage disposal unit.

For help dealing with sink clogs and other drain cleaning problems, call us at Reimer Home Services.

Pictured: Citrus is a great means for cleaning your kitchen's in-sink garbage disposal.

Use the power of citrus fruit to clean your in-sink garbage disposal.

Use the power of citrus

Citrus fruits, like grapefruit, lemon, and lime, are natural deodorizers. Not only that, but they can also help with cleaning. For both of these reasons, that leftover orange peel or lemon from your tree are excellent tools to clear food waste from the wall and blades of your disposal.

To use this disposal cleaning method, put a few slices of citrus fruit down into your disposal. Hit the “on” button and let the fruit grind around for a minute before switching the system off.

Give your in-sink garbage disposal a wash

To give your garbage disposal a good cleaning, you don’t need to do anything special! All you need is some dish soap and a strong-bristled scrubbing brush. Take the scrub brush and apply some soap to it. Then, scrub down all the parts of your garbage disposal that you can see.

This cleaning methods eliminates food stuck in your disposal while also preventing mold from taking over as time passes. Mold most often develops in the joint between the rim of the disposal and the sink, so it’s a good idea to clean it every once in a while.

Mix baking soda and vinegar

This tried-and-true combination is a great way to clean your garbage disposal! Plus, you probably already have both baking soda and vinegar in your kitchen. Simply fill our disposal with some baking soda, add some vinegar, and then let the solution sit for a few minutes before rinsing the drain with water.

Let our plumbers help

If you still can’t get your garbage disposal to smell better, or your disposal isn’t working at all, give us a call at Reimer Home Services. We offer expert plumbing services throughout Buffalo and Western New York. We’re always happy to help, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Here’s the complete picture of what a tankless water heater costs

By now, you’ve probably heard about tankless water heaters. Also known as “demand-type” systems, these water heaters are capable of providing your home with limitless hot water, greater energy-efficiency, and even space savings. However, homeowners most want to know what a new tankless water heater costs.

In this blog, we’re going to dive into both the short-term and long-term pictures of what a tankless water heater costs relative to a standard water heater. Our goal is to paint a complete picture of what getting a demand-type system will entail.

For a quote on a new tankless water heater here in Buffalo and Western New York, contact the team at Reimer.

Pictured: Two tankless water heaters. In this blog, we break down what a tankless water heater costs.Higher upfront costs, but savings for years to come

A tankless water heater costs typically more than a standard water heater. Just how much more can greatly depend on the brand or type (gas / electric) being compared, but—on average—it’s not unusual for a tankless unit to cost twice or three times as much as a “tanked” water heater.

Yet, just looking at these upfront costs doesn’t tell the complete story. In many cases, upgrading to a tankless water heater means you’ll come out ahead. Let’s explain:

Energy-Efficiency

Tankless heaters are about 30% more efficient at heating water for your home than a standard unit. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that switching from standard to tankless can save homeowners, on average, about $100 a year. That number increases as you use more hot water; larger families with large hot water needs will likely see more savings.

“$100 a year,” you might say. “That doesn’t seem like all that much.” Sure, but consider this: your tankless water heater will likely last about 20-25 years before needing to be replaced. That’s $2,000 – $2,500 in savings over the lifespan of the system. In many cases, that’s more than the initial difference in price between a standard and an upgraded system.

Of course, that long system life has another advantage for your bottom-line:

Longevity

Tanked water heaters just aren’t made to last. That’s not a knock on manufacturers: it’s just that the constant combination of heat, metal, pressure, and water is inevitably headed for system failure at one point or another.

If you want to get down to what a tankless water heater costs, think about lifespan. A tanked system may last anywhere from 8-12 years (possibly longer than that, but efficiency might take a huge dip in the back-half of the system’s life). A tankless system typically lasts between 20 and 25 years.

Realistically, that means you could be in the position of buying two regular water heaters in the period of time you’d buy one tankless. At that point, you’re not saving all that much money with your initial decision to choose the cheaper of the two systems.

Avoiding disaster

Most homeowners don’t like to think about this, but—with a standard water heater—the potential for a tank burst always exists. Especially as they age and the anode rod corrodes fully, that combination of pressure, water, and heat on the metal can lead to hairline fractures that, left unchecked, develop into a fissure, requiring plumbing repair.

In contrast, tankless units don’t have tanks that can burst.

The difference in costs between these two types of water heaters is probably far, far less than your home insurance deductible—or the hit to your home’s market value—if you have to clean up flooding or damage from a burst tank.

Sure, there’s no price on peace of mind, but there is an actual cost-benefit to choosing a demand-type system here.

Your comfort matters, too

In this blog, we’ve made the case that tankless water heater costs aren’t always what they seem at the “sticker price” level. However, you should also consider the other benefits of a tankless system, including the main one: limitless hot water.

If you have a large family with a busy house, and you’re constantly running out of hot water in the mornings, a tankless system will make your home more comfortable and less stressful. You just can’t put a price on that.

For a detailed breakdown of tankless water heater costs, call Reimer

Interested in learning more about whether or not a demand-type system is right for your home? Contact us here at Reimer! We’re always happy to give plumbing advice to homeowners here in Buffalo and Western New York.

Signs of water heater issues, and when to call Reimer for plumbing repair

No one wants to step into what they think is a hot shower, only to be greeted with lukewarm or cold water. Understanding how your water heater works and knowing the signs of water heater issues can prevent this scenario by allowing you to get problems fixed in advance.

For emergency plumbing services here in Buffalo and Western New York, contact us at Reimer.

The inner workings of your water heater

Pictured: A shower that no longer has hot water refreshed is one of the signs of water heater issues.Most standard water heaters are fairly simple, consisting of a large metal drum filled with water and a heating apparatus inside or at the bottom. While some homes have tankless water heaters, they are less common than those with tanks.

Cold water travels from your home’s water lines into the cold water intake at the bottom of the tank, where it’s heated and delivered to the sinks and showers on demand. The heating mechanism turns on automatically when you request hot water and switches off when you’ve reached the desired temperature.

Here are some signs of water heater issues:

Water heater repair signs are easy to spot if you’re aware of them. Some of the most common symptoms that could signify a problem with the heater include:

  • Lack of sufficient hot water, which could be caused by mineral deposit buildup in the tank or by failure of the heating element
  • Popping or banging noises caused by overheating
  • Leaking from the tank, which occurs when overheating causes the metal to fail
  • Hot water that looks cloudy or has an unpleasant odor, similar to the smell of rotten eggs
  • Leaky or rusted connections caused by depletion of the anode rod, an element that prevents corrosion
  • Leaking temperature or pressure release valve

Call Reimer for emergency plumbing repair in Buffalo

Left untreated, water heater issues can cause expensive, dangerous problems, including a water tank failure if the pressure release valve fails.

Here in Buffalo and Western New York, consider scheduling regular water heater service with Reimer Home Services. If you are noticing any of the signs of water heater issues listed above and want to have your water heater checked by our experienced professionals, contact us!

What you need to know about hybrid HVAC systems

Whether you are buying a new house or updating the one you currently own, you need to decide what kind of heating and cooling system you should have. You may be familiar with standard furnaces and air conditioners, but do you know about hybrid HVAC systems?

These systems are gaining in popularity because of their energy-efficiency and cost savings over time. In this blog, we’ll explore what these systems are and how they work.

For a free in-home estimate on a new hybrid system, contact our team!

Get to know dual-fuel

Hybrid systems, like those Reimer offers, are different than standard units because they rely on two power sources to run. They combine the best aspects of both electric power and gas power, which can include propane, fuel oil, or natural gas.

With the use of smart technology, the hybrid HVAC can switch back-and-forth between the fuel sources to use the most efficient and affordable option for the temperature and season.

Most of the time, the electric heat pump is in charge and functions much like a typical heat pump would by drawing warmer air inside during the cooler months or reversing and pumping warmer air outside during the summer.

When the temperatures dip lower, typically around 40 degrees F, the hybrid HVAC control system will switch over to the gas fuel system for better efficiency. Some systems allow homeowners to manually switch the fuel source, while others may work automatically.

Fall in love with the savings!

Hybrid HVAC systems may cost more initially, but they can save homeowners on their heating and cooling bills all year long—for years to come. It’s a win-win because you can be more comfortable in any season and save around 30-50 percent on your energy expenses.

Not only are you saving money, you are also doing your part to help save the planet. Just like a hybrid vehicle, a hybrid HVAC can reduce your carbon footprint. Many homeowners want to find greener features for their homes, and these hybrid systems fit the bill.

Call Reimer to learn more about hybrid HVAC systems

If you want to learn more about the advantages of hybrid HVAC systems, contact the pros at Reimer Home Services.

Stop hard water from damaging your home’s plumbing

Western New York State’s unique geologic formations account for the area containing areas with water that includes an overabundance of calcium and magnesium. This condition, known as hard water, may eventually cause damage to your home’s plumbing system if not dealt with appropriately with water softening.

Pictured: Do you know what's in your home's water? Here in Buffalo, many homes have hard water, and need water softening solutions installed.

If you have hard water, not only the pipes running in-and-out of your home, but also anything connected to those pipes may be harmed by the resulting mineral buildup. Appliances such as water heaters, washing machines, and dishwashers are especially at risk.

Homeowners can solve most hard water problems with the professional installation of a water softener. These devices use charged ions to remove alkaline minerals from the water supply. Solving hard water problems early, before any damage occurs, is the most cost-effective way to deal with the issue.

How to spot hard water in your home

Your local water company should be able to provide you with a water hardness report, but several signs can also alert you to a potential problem.

  • Washing machine issues When you start noticing that it takes longer for your washing machine to fill up, it could mean hard water deposits are beginning to clog the supply line.
  • Water heater problems Mineral buildup inside your water heater tank can cause you to have less available hot water and frequently burned out heating elements in electric models. This is one the main reasons homeowners need water heater replacement.
  • Dishwasher difficulties Spots on dishes and glassware are the visible signs of hard water, but minerals may also partially clog your dishwasher supply lines.
  • Low water pressureThe pipes in your home that supply water throughout your home are susceptible to blockage caused by hard water.
  • Water leaks In severe hard water situations where the homeowner delays taking action, water leaks and even burst pipes may occur.

What to do if you suspect you have hard water

Like most problems in the home, early detection and correction can save you money in the end. If you notice water leaking from pipes or around appliances, it is time to contact a qualified plumbing repair company like Reimer before your home incurs any more damage.

If you need water softening in your home, contact us at Reimer, and we will gladly discuss your options on correcting this common plumbing problem.