A furnace is often a background player for your home, keeping you warm in the cold winter months. It regularly isn't noticed until a malfunction appears.
One cause may be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s worthwhile to know the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you are worried that is the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that flows inside the air ducts. It typically handles this via coils or tubes that heat the air while functioning as a barrier to keep gas created 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 broken heat exchanger can be very dangerous. A crack in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow throughout your home.
For this reason, never turn on your heating if you suspect you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household ill. Contact an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: A cracked heat exchanger may cause your furnace to switch off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical smell, it might be a sign gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you recognize health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household 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 unusually tired, leave the home as soon as you can and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something could be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a professional well versed in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if required, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often differ depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
However, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly covered by the warranty. You should confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly reduce 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 with consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they operate efficiently. Contacting a skilled professional to inspect your furnace for old parts, clogs in the air filters and other common problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to inspect your furnace filters every few months – it’s recommended 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 longer to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration components like the heat exchanger will endure.