A furnace is often a background player for your home, ensuring you're warm during the cold winter months. It regularly isn't noticed until something breaks down.
One root cause may be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s critical to learn the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should do if you believe that is the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that flows throughout the ventilation. It usually accomplishes this with coils or tubes that heat the air while functioning as a barrier to keep the gasses formed 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 broken heat exchanger can be hazardous. A damaged heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate throughout your home.
For that reason, don't ever turn on your heater if you think it has a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make the whole household ill. Reach out to an HVAC professional right away if you are worried your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches 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 an indicator that gas is slipping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you notice symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household members may start experiencing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If the alarm goes off or you feel sick, get out of the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty buildup around the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something could be seriously wrong.
What to Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a professional well versed in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can take a look at your system and, if necessary, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should differ depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally included in the warranty. It's a good idea to confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly shrink 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 with consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they work efficiently. Contacting a trained professional to inspect your furnace for old parts, clogs in the air filters and other likely problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also a good idea to inspect 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 the entire furnace work more vigorously to complete its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more strain parts like the heat exchanger will endure.