A furnace is often a background player for your home, helping keep you warm across the cold winter months. It frequently isn't noticed until a malfunction appears.
One cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you believe 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 flows throughout the ventilation. It usually accomplishes this through coils or tubes that heat up the air while serving as a barrier to keep the gasses produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Given its key role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be very dangerous. A damaged heat exchanger can allow dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate through your home.
For that reason, do NOT turn on your heating if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household sick. Call an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you think your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A cracked heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Odd Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a strong chemical smell, it might be a sign gasses are seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you feel health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or family members could start experiencing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling tired. If your alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, leave the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you find black sooty collecting near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something may be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can inspect your system and, if needed, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
However, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly covered by the warranty. You should 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 most convenient ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is via consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they operate efficiently. Calling a trained professional to check your furnace for broken-down parts, clogs in the air filters and other potential 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 recommended 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 dragging air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work longer to do its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will endure.