A furnace is almost always a background player at home, keeping you warm during the cold winter months. It frequently won't be noticed until something breaks down.
One source might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you suspect that may 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 circulates through the ventilation. It typically handles this using coils or tubes that heat the air while serving as a barrier to keep the gasses produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from leaking out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its key role, it isn't surprising that a cracked heat exchanger can be very dangerous. A crack in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate across your home.
For this reason, don't ever run your heating if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make the whole household ill. Contact an HVAC professional right away 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 could cause your furnace to shut off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical scent, it could be evidence gasses are slipping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you feel symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or household members might experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, leave the home as soon as you can and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty collecting on the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something might be seriously wrong.
What to Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a pro experienced in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can take a look at your system and, if necessary, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will 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 covered by the warranty. It's a good idea to review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly lower your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the easiest ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is through routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Calling a certified professional to check your furnace for broken-down parts, clogs in the air filters and other potential problems can keep you from 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 drawing air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work more vigorously to do its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration pieces like the heat exchanger will experience.