Is a Stainless Steel Heat Exchanger a Good idea?

April 20, 2021

Is a stainless steel heat exchanger the best option for your furnace, or should you opt for a copper model instead? The heat exchanger is vital for furnace efficiency and performance — but also for safety too: It’s the part that keeps dangerous combustion fumes from contaminating the furnace airflow. If you keep your existing furnace long enough, choosing between a replacement stainless steel heat exchanger versus one made of copper is one of the decisions you may have to make.

Here are some pros and cons of a stainless steel heat exchanger and the typical unit made of copper:

Service life. Furnace heat exchangers of any type are an expensive component, so you want a replacement that is reliable and which will be long-lasting for many winters ahead. Corrosion due to moisture deposited by gas combustion is one of the factors that accelerates wear and tear of this part. However, a stainless steel heat exchanger forms an oxide coating when exposed to heat, making the unit more resistant to corrosion. Copper heat exchangers, conversely, are somewhat more susceptible to corrosion and therefore may have a shorter expected service life than stainless steel.

Heating efficiency. The efficiency of a heat exchanger depends in part on how effectively the material utilized in the component transfers heat from the gas combustion chamber into the airflow that circulates throughout your home. Copper heat exchangers are generally more efficient and will transfer more heat faster than a stainless steel model of similar size.

Upfront price versus long-term cost. Because raw copper is more plentiful and does not require additional processing like stainless steel, the copper model is generally a less-expensive upfront purchase. However, calculating the total cost of replacing a heat exchanger must take into account potential future costs. A copper heat exchanger that may fail again within the typical time frame of a furnace service life will impose more expense than the higher upfront cost of the more durable, longer-lasting stainless steel heat exchanger.

For experienced advice about evaluating a stainless steel heat exchanger versus a copper alternative, contact the professionals at Aggressive Mechanical Contractors.