A furnace is almost always a background player in your home, keeping you warm during the cold winter months. It frequently isn't 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 familiarize yourself with the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you suspect that might be 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 flows through the ventilation. It usually does this through coils or tubes that heat up the air while functioning as a barrier to keep the gasses created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its central role, it isn't surprising that a broken heat exchanger can be very dangerous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can allow dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed through your home.
For this reason, never use your furnace if you believe it has a cracked heat exchanger, as doing so could make your entire household ill. Reach out to an HVAC professional immediately if you think your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: A crack in your heat exchanger can cause your furnace to switch off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical smell, it may be evidence gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you feel symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could 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 an alarm goes off or you feel unwell, get out of the home as soon as you can and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty buildup on the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something could be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if required, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will differ depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally protected by the warranty. You’ll want to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly reduce your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is with routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they operate efficiently. Contacting a skilled professional to inspect your furnace for old parts, clogs in the air filters and other potential 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 ideal some filters be swapped out every 90 days or sooner if they are dirty or grimy. While the filters aren't a part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of pulling air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work longer to complete its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will sustain.