A furnace is almost always a background player at home, ensuring you're warm across the cold winter months. It regularly isn't noticed until something breaks down.
One root cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s important to learn the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you suspect that might be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps transition heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that circulates inside the ventilation. It usually accomplishes this with coils or tubes that warm the air while acting as a barrier to keep the gasses created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from leaking out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its important role, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a cracked heat exchanger can be hazardous. A crack in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate across your home.
For that reason, never turn on your heating if you think you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as doing so could make the entire family ill. Reach out to an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A cracked heat exchanger can cause your furnace to shut off.
- Strange Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has a powerful chemical smell, it may be an indicator that gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you feel poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or family members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your alarm goes off or you feel unwell, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty buildup on the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something may be seriously wrong.
What to Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if needed, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will differ depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
However, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly protected by the warranty. You should review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly reduce your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is via consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they work efficiently. Calling a certified professional to examine your furnace for worn-out parts, clogged filters and other likely problems can keep you from 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 are not part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of pulling air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work harder to complete its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more strain components like the heat exchanger will endure.