A furnace is usually a background player in your home, helping keep you warm in the cold winter months. It often doesn’t get noticed until something goes wrong.
One cause may be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s important to know the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you suspect that might be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that flows through the system. It generally handles this using coils or tubes that warm the air while functioning as a barrier to keep gas produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its key role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can pose a risk. A crack in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed throughout your home.
For obvious reasons, don't ever use your heating if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make your entire family sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: A cracked heat exchanger can cause your furnace to switch off.
- Odd Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has an intense chemical smell, it might be a sign gasses are leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you notice poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or household members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling tired. If the alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, leave the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty collecting on the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something could be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if required, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often vary depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally covered by the warranty. It's a good idea to review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly shrink your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is with routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they run efficiently. Calling a certified professional to check your furnace for worn-out parts, clogs in the air filters and other common problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also a good idea to inspect your furnace filters every few months – it’s ideal some filters be replaced every 90 days or sooner if they are dirty or grimy. While the filters aren't connected to the heat exchanger itself, the strain of drawing air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work longer to do its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration components like the heat exchanger will experience.