A furnace is often a background player for your home, keeping you warm during the cold winter months. It often doesn’t get noticed until a malfunction appears.
One source could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s critical to familiarize yourself with the evidence 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 transfers heat from the combustion chamber inside your furnace to the air that flows through the ventilation. It usually handles this through coils or tubes that heat the air while serving as a barrier to keep byproducts created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its key role, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a cracked heat exchanger can pose a risk. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow through your home.
For this reason, don't ever run your furnace if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as this could make the whole family ill. Contact an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: Cracks in the heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Strange Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical scent, it may be evidence gasses are leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you notice health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household members might struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your alarm goes off or you feel unwell, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot black sooty buildup on the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something might be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro well versed in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can inspect your system and, if needed, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often differ depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are often covered by the warranty. It's a good idea to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty may not 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 easiest ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is via routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they run efficiently. Contacting a certified professional to check your furnace for worn-out parts, dirty filters and other likely problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also a good idea to review 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 aren't connected to the heat exchanger itself, the strain of dragging 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 deterioration components like the heat exchanger will endure.