A furnace is usually a background player at home, keeping you warm during the cold winter months. It often isn't noticed until a malfunction appears.
One source may be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you believe that might be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that flows throughout the ventilation. It typically handles this through coils or tubes that warm the air while serving as a barrier to keep the gasses produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Given its central role, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a broken heat exchanger can be hazardous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate throughout your home.
For that reason, don't ever use your heater if you suspect it has a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make the entire household sick. Call an HVAC professional immediately if you think your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A cracked heat exchanger could cause your furnace to turn off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a powerful chemical odor, it may be a sign gas is slipping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you recognize symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or family members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If your alarm goes off or you feel unwell, leave the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty collecting near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something could be seriously wrong.
What to Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro well versed in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if required, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will vary 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 regularly included in the warranty. You should confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty may 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 best ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is with regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Hiring a skilled professional to examine your furnace for broken-down parts, clogged 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 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 pulling air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work harder to do its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will sustain.