A furnace is almost always a background player in your home, ensuring you're warm across the cold winter months. It frequently won't be noticed until something goes wrong.
One cause might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s critical to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you are worried that may be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that flows through the system. It generally does this via coils or tubes that warm the air while functioning as a barrier to keep byproducts produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its central role, it isn't surprising that a damaged heat exchanger can pose a risk. A damaged heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow throughout your home.
For obvious reasons, don't ever run your heating if you believe you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as this could make the whole household sick. Contact an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: Cracks in the heat exchanger could cause your furnace to turn off.
- Strange Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a powerful chemical smell, it may be an indicator that gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you recognize poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or household members could struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, leave the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty buildup around the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something might be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a pro with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if necessary, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should vary depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
However, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly included in the warranty. You’ll want to review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly reduce your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the most convenient ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is through routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they run efficiently. Calling a skilled professional to examine 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 helpful to review your furnace filters every few months – it’s ideal 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 the entire furnace work more vigorously to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more strain components like the heat exchanger will experience.