A furnace is usually a background player for your home, helping keep you warm in the cold winter months. It frequently won't be noticed until something goes wrong.
One root cause might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s critical to learn the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you believe that may be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that moves through the air ducts. It generally does this via coils or tubes that heat up the air while acting 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 key role, it isn't surprising that a broken heat exchanger can be very dangerous. A damaged heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow through your home.
For this reason, don't ever turn on your heater if you think it has a cracked heat exchanger, as this could make the whole family sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional immediately if you believe your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: Cracks in the heat exchanger could cause your furnace to shut off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a powerful chemical scent, it may be evidence gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you recognize poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or family members could struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling tired. If your alarm goes off or you feel sick, exit the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot 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, hire a professional well versed in furnace installation right away so they can inspect your system and, if necessary, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should differ depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
However, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally covered by the warranty. You should check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly reduce 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 provide the best possible return on investment when they work 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 review 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 connected to the heat exchanger itself, the strain of drawing air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work more vigorously to complete its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will experience.