A furnace is usually a background player for your home, helping keep you warm during the cold winter months. It often won't be noticed until something goes wrong.
One source might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms 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 helps transition heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that moves throughout the system. It typically does this using coils or tubes that heat the air while serving as a barrier to keep byproducts created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its important role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. A damaged heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed throughout your home.
For this reason, don't ever use your furnace if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make the entire family sick. Call an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you believe your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A crack in your heat exchanger may cause your furnace to shut off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has an intense chemical smell, it might be evidence gasses are leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you recognize health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or household members may struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, exit the home as soon as you can and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot black sooty accumulating on the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something might be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro well versed in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if needed, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will differ depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally protected by the warranty. You should review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly lower your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is with regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Contacting a trained 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 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 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 components like the heat exchanger will endure.