A furnace is usually a background player at home, helping keep you warm in the cold winter months. It regularly won't be noticed until a malfunction appears.
One root cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s critical to know the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should do if you believe that might be 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 moves throughout the system. It typically handles this via coils or tubes that heat up the air while functioning as a barrier to keep byproducts formed in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its key role, it’s no surprise that a cracked heat exchanger can pose a risk. A crack in the heat exchanger can allow dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow across your home.
For that reason, don't ever turn on your heating if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make the entire family ill. Contact an HVAC professional right away if you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A cracked heat exchanger may cause your furnace to shut off.
- Strange Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has a powerful chemical smell, it could be a sign gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a common 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 could go off or family members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. 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 find black sooty collecting around the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something could be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a pro experienced in furnace installation right away so they can inspect your system and, if required, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will differ 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 protected by the warranty. You should check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly reduce 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 via routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they work efficiently. Calling a skilled professional to check your furnace for broken-down parts, clogged filters and other common problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also beneficial to review 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 are not part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of dragging air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work harder to do its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more strain components like the heat exchanger will experience.