A furnace is almost always a background player for your home, ensuring you're warm in the cold winter months. It frequently isn't noticed until something goes wrong.
One cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you suspect that is the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that circulates inside the ventilation. It usually accomplishes this using coils or tubes that heat up the air while acting as a barrier to keep the gasses formed in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from leaking out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its central role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can pose a risk. A damaged heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow through your home.
For that reason, don't ever turn on your heater if you believe you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make the entire family sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you believe your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: Cracks in the heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has an intense chemical odor, it could be an indicator that gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you recognize health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or family members may struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, leave the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty accumulating around the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something may be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can take a look at your system and, if required, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often differ depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly included in the warranty. You’ll want to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly shrink your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is through routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Calling a certified professional to inspect your furnace for broken-down parts, clogged 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 changed 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 dragging air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work harder to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more strain parts like the heat exchanger will sustain.