A furnace is often a background player at home, keeping you warm in the cold winter months. It regularly doesn’t get noticed until something breaks down.
One source might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s critical to know the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should 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 inside your furnace to the air that flows through the air ducts. It generally handles this via 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?
Thanks to its central role, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can pose a risk. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate throughout your home.
For that reason, don't ever turn on your furnace if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make the whole family sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you think your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: Cracks in the heat exchanger may cause your furnace to turn off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a powerful chemical scent, it may be a sign 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 goes off or you recognize poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or family members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unwell, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty collecting near 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 believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a pro with extensive experience in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can take a look at your system and, if needed, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are often included in the warranty. You’ll want to review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly reduce your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is through routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Hiring a certified professional to examine your furnace for old parts, clogged filters and other likely problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also a good idea to take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged some filters be changed 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 pulling air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work harder to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration parts like the heat exchanger will endure.