A furnace is often a background player in your home, keeping you warm during the cold winter months. It regularly doesn’t get noticed until something breaks down.
One cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s critical to know the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you are worried that may be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps transition heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that moves inside the ventilation. It typically does this via coils or tubes that heat up the air while functioning as a barrier to keep the gasses created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its key role, it’s no surprise that a broken heat exchanger can pose a risk. A crack in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow throughout your home.
For obvious reasons, never use your heating if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household sick. Contact an HVAC professional immediately if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A cracked heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical smell, it might be evidence gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you notice poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or family members may struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your alarm goes off or you feel sick, exit the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you find black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something could be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro experienced in furnace installation right away so they can inspect your system and, if necessary, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly protected by the warranty. You should confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly shrink your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is with regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they run efficiently. Contacting a trained professional to examine your furnace for worn-out parts, dirty filters and other likely problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to review your furnace filters every few months – it’s ideal some filters be swapped out every 90 days or sooner if they are dirty or grimy. While the filters aren't a part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of drawing air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work more vigorously to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will endure.