A furnace is almost always a background player in your home, helping keep you warm across the cold winter months. It regularly isn't noticed until something goes wrong.
One cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s critical to familiarize yourself with the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can 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 through the system. It usually handles this using coils or tubes that heat up the air while acting as a barrier to keep gas produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from leaking out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its important role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can pose a risk. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed through your home.
For obvious reasons, do NOT use your heating if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make your entire family sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you are worried your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A cracked heat exchanger may cause your furnace to turn off.
- Strange Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a powerful chemical smell, it may be a sign gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you feel poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or family members might struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unwell, exit the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something might be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if required, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should vary depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly covered by 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 lower your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is with routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they operate efficiently. Hiring a skilled 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 beneficial to inspect your furnace filters every few months – it’s recommended some filters be swapped out 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 dragging air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work longer to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more deterioration components like the heat exchanger will experience.