A furnace is almost always a background player for your home, helping keep you warm across the cold winter months. It often doesn’t get noticed until a malfunction appears.
One root cause may be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s important to learn the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you suspect that is the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger helps move heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that flows throughout the air ducts. It usually handles this via coils or tubes that warm the air while functioning 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?
Given its central role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. A damaged heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed through your home.
For obvious reasons, do NOT run your heater if you suspect there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as this could make the whole household ill. Contact 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 switches off: A cracked heat exchanger can cause your furnace to switch off.
- Strange Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a powerful chemical scent, it may be evidence gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you feel health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household members could start experiencing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If an alarm goes off or you feel sick, leave the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you find black sooty buildup around the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something may be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a professional well versed in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if needed, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will differ depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
However, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly covered by the warranty. You should check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it could 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 operate efficiently. Contacting a certified professional to check your furnace for broken-down parts, dirty filters and other potential problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful 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 pulling 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 wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will endure.