A furnace is almost always a background player at home, keeping you warm across the cold winter months. It frequently isn't noticed until something goes wrong.
One source might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s critical to learn the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can 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 in your furnace to the air that flows inside the air ducts. It usually accomplishes this with coils or tubes that warm the air while functioning as a barrier to keep the gasses formed in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its central role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. A crack in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed across your home.
For obvious reasons, do NOT use your furnace if you suspect there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as this could make your entire household sick. Call an HVAC professional right away if you believe your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: Cracks in the heat exchanger may cause your furnace to shut off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical odor, it might be a sign gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you recognize symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or household members may struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling tired. If your alarm goes off or you feel sick, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty buildup near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something might be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a pro with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can inspect your system and, if required, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should 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 included in the warranty. You’ll want to confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly lower 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 work the best when they run efficiently. Contacting a skilled professional to inspect your furnace for worn-out parts, clogs in the air filters and other likely problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to take a look at 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 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 strain pieces like the heat exchanger will endure.