A furnace is often a background player in your home, ensuring you're warm during the cold winter months. It regularly won't be noticed until something breaks down.
One source might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s worthwhile to learn the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should do if you suspect that is the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber inside your furnace to the air that circulates inside the ventilation. It generally does this using coils or tubes that heat up the air while serving as a barrier to keep byproducts 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 shouldn't come as a surprise that a broken heat exchanger can be hazardous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow across your home.
For obvious reasons, do NOT run your furnace if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as this could make the whole family ill. Call an HVAC professional immediately if you believe your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A cracked heat exchanger could cause your furnace to turn off.
- Strange Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has a powerful chemical smell, it may be a sign gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you recognize poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or family members may experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If an alarm goes off or you feel sick, leave the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty buildup around the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something might be seriously wrong.
What to Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a pro experienced in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if required, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often vary depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
However, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally covered by the warranty. It's a good idea to confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly reduce your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the most convenient ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is through consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they run efficiently. Hiring a skilled professional to inspect your furnace for broken-down parts, dirty filters and other common problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also beneficial to take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged some filters be replaced every 90 days or sooner if they are dirty or grimy. While the filters are not part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of drawing air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work more vigorously to complete its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more wear and tear components like the heat exchanger will endure.