A furnace is usually a background player at home, keeping you warm in the cold winter months. It regularly doesn’t get noticed until something goes wrong.
One root cause might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s important to know the evidence 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 transition heat from the combustion chamber inside your furnace to the air that circulates through the system. It typically handles this via coils or tubes that warm the air while functioning as a barrier to keep byproducts formed in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its central role, it isn't surprising that a broken heat exchanger can be hazardous. A damaged heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate through your home.
For obvious reasons, don't ever run your heating if you think you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household ill. Reach out to an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A cracked heat exchanger may cause your furnace to shut off.
- Odd Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has an intense chemical scent, it might be a sign gasses are seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you feel poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household members may struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If your alarm goes off or you feel sick, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty collecting near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something might be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can take a look at your system and, if necessary, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will vary depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly protected by the warranty. You’ll want to review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly reduce your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the most convenient ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is with consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they work efficiently. Calling a trained professional to examine your furnace for broken-down parts, dirty filters and other common problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also a good idea to take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged 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 drawing air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work harder to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more strain parts like the heat exchanger will endure.