A furnace is almost always a background player in your home, ensuring you're warm during the cold winter months. It regularly doesn’t get noticed until something breaks down.
One cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s critical to learn the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you are worried that might be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that flows throughout the air ducts. It typically handles this using coils or tubes that heat up the air while serving 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 isn't surprising that a cracked heat exchanger can be hazardous. A crack in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate across your home.
For that reason, never turn on your heating if you believe you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire family sick. Contact an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you are worried your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A cracked heat exchanger may cause your furnace to shut off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a powerful chemical smell, it could be a sign gas is 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 health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or household members might experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, leave the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you find black sooty collecting on the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something may be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a pro with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if necessary, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often 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’ll want to confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty might 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 most convenient ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is with consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they run efficiently. Contacting a skilled professional to check your furnace for broken-down parts, clogs in the air filters and other common problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also a good idea to review your furnace filters every few months – it’s ideal some filters be replaced 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 the entire furnace work longer to complete its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more strain pieces like the heat exchanger will sustain.