A furnace is usually a background player at home, keeping you warm during the cold winter months. It regularly doesn’t get noticed until a malfunction appears.
One cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s important to know the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should do if you are worried that might be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that flows inside the air ducts. It generally does this using coils or tubes that heat the air while functioning 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?
Given its key role, it isn't surprising that a broken heat exchanger can pose a risk. A crack in the heat exchanger can allow dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate through your home.
For that reason, never use your heating if you believe it has a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire family sick. Call an HVAC professional right away if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: A crack in your heat exchanger may cause your furnace to switch off.
- Strange Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has an intense chemical odor, it might be evidence gasses are slipping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you recognize poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your alarm goes off or you feel sick, exit the home as soon as you can and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty buildup on the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something might be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a professional experienced in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if needed, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should vary 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 often protected by the warranty. It's a good idea to review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly shrink your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the easiest ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is through routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Calling a trained professional to check your furnace for worn-out parts, clogs in the air filters and other potential problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged some filters be changed every 90 days or sooner if they are dirty or grimy. While the filters aren't connected to the heat exchanger itself, the strain of dragging air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work longer to do its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration components like the heat exchanger will sustain.