A furnace is often a background player in your home, keeping you warm in the cold winter months. It frequently isn't noticed until a malfunction appears.
One source could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s important to learn the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should 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 inside your furnace to the air that flows inside the air ducts. It typically does this with coils or tubes that heat the air while acting as a barrier to keep gas created 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 shouldn't come as a surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be very dangerous. A crack in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate throughout your home.
For that reason, never run your heating if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make the whole family sick. Contact an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: Cracks in the heat exchanger may cause your furnace to switch off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong 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 is triggered or you notice symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or family members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If the alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you find black sooty collecting around the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication 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, contact a pro well versed in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if required, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often 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 generally included in the warranty. You’ll want to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly shrink your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the easiest ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is with consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they run efficiently. Contacting a certified 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 a good idea 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 aren't a part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of drawing air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work harder to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more deterioration parts like the heat exchanger will experience.