A furnace is often a background player at home, keeping you warm across the cold winter months. It frequently won't be noticed until something breaks down.
One source could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s critical to know the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you believe 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 usually accomplishes this through coils or tubes that heat up the air while serving as a barrier to keep gas created 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 broken heat exchanger can pose a risk. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow through your home.
For obvious reasons, never turn on your furnace if you believe it has a cracked heat exchanger, as this could make the entire family ill. Reach out to an HVAC professional immediately if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A crack in your heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Strange Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical odor, it could be evidence gasses are 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 feel poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or family members might experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling tired. If the alarm goes off or you feel sick, get out of the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty buildup near the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something could be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can inspect your system and, if needed, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should 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 included in the warranty. You should confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly lower your bill.
How to Prevent 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 regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Contacting a certified professional to inspect your furnace for broken-down parts, dirty filters and other potential problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to review your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged 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 your entire furnace work more vigorously to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more strain pieces like the heat exchanger will endure.