A furnace is almost always a background player at home, keeping you warm across the cold winter months. It frequently doesn’t get noticed until something breaks down.
One cause might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s worthwhile to learn the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should do if you believe that is the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that circulates inside the ventilation. It usually does this using coils or tubes that warm the air while acting as a barrier to keep gas produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its central role, it isn't surprising that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed through your home.
For obvious reasons, don't ever turn on your heating if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household sick. Call an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you believe your heater 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 turn off.
- Strange Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has an intense chemical scent, it could be an indicator that gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you feel symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or family members could struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If the alarm goes off or you feel unwell, leave the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty buildup on the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something might be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a pro experienced in furnace installation right away so they can take a look at your system and, if required, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly included in the warranty. It's a good idea to confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty might 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 best ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is via routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they run efficiently. Calling a skilled professional to check your furnace for worn-out parts, clogged filters and other common 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 recommended 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 drawing air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work more vigorously to do its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration parts like the heat exchanger will endure.