A furnace is often a background player in your home, helping keep you warm across the cold winter months. It often isn't noticed until something goes wrong.
One source could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s important to know the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what to 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 in your furnace to the air that circulates throughout the air ducts. It usually does this via coils or tubes that warm the air while functioning as a barrier to keep the gasses produced 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 broken heat exchanger can be very dangerous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed throughout your home.
For this reason, do NOT turn on your furnace if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make the whole family ill. Call an HVAC professional right away if you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A cracked heat exchanger can cause your furnace to shut off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a powerful chemical odor, it may be a sign gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you notice poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or household members could start experiencing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling tired. If an alarm goes off or you feel unwell, exit the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something might be seriously wrong.
What to Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a pro experienced in furnace installation right away so they can examine your system and, if needed, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally covered by the warranty. It's a good idea to confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it can 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 with consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Calling a trained professional to inspect your furnace for worn-out parts, clogs in the air 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 encouraged some filters be swapped out 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 pulling air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work longer to do its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more wear and tear components like the heat exchanger will experience.