A furnace is usually a background player for your home, ensuring you're warm in the cold winter months. It frequently isn't noticed until a malfunction appears.
One cause might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s worthwhile to learn the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should 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 of your furnace to the air that circulates throughout the air ducts. It generally does this via coils or tubes that heat up the air while functioning as a barrier to keep byproducts created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from leaking out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Given its important role, it isn't surprising that a damaged heat exchanger can pose a risk. A damaged heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate through your home.
For obvious reasons, do NOT use your furnace if you think it has a cracked heat exchanger, as doing so could make the entire family sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: Cracks in the heat exchanger can cause your furnace to shut off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has an intense chemical smell, it might be a sign gas is slipping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you notice symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or family members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your 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 buildup around the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something could be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro experienced in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if required, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are often protected by the warranty. You should review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly shrink your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the most convenient ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is with regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they run efficiently. Contacting a trained professional to examine your furnace for old parts, clogs in the air filters and other likely 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 ideal some filters be changed 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 harder to do its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more strain pieces like the heat exchanger will sustain.