A furnace is often a background player at home, keeping you warm in the cold winter months. It often isn't noticed until something goes wrong.
One root cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s critical to know the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you suspect that might be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps transition heat from the combustion chamber inside your furnace to the air that moves inside the ventilation. It typically accomplishes this with coils or tubes that heat the air while acting as a barrier to keep gas created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from leaking out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its key role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. A crack in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed through your home.
For obvious reasons, do NOT run your heater if you think it has a cracked heat exchanger, as this could make the entire family ill. Call an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A crack in your heat exchanger could cause your furnace to shut off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has an intense chemical odor, it may be an indicator that gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you notice poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household members might experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, leave the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something could be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe 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, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will differ depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally covered by the warranty. You’ll want to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly shrink your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the most convenient ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is via routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they run efficiently. Hiring a certified professional to examine your furnace for old parts, dirty filters and other potential 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 encouraged some filters be swapped out 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 dragging air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work harder to complete its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more wear and tear pieces like the heat exchanger will sustain.