A furnace is usually a background player at home, helping keep you warm in the cold winter months. It frequently isn't noticed until something breaks down.
One root cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s critical to learn the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you are worried that might be 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 flows inside the air ducts. It generally accomplishes this with coils or tubes that heat the air while serving 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 central role, it isn't surprising that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. A damaged heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow through your home.
For that reason, don't ever run your furnace if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make the entire household sick. Contact an HVAC professional as soon as possible if you believe your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: A crack in your heat exchanger may cause your furnace to switch off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a powerful chemical scent, it might be a sign gasses are seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you feel health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or family members may struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If the alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, exit the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty collecting on the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something might be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a pro experienced in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can inspect your system and, if needed, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will differ depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are often 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 can significantly reduce your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the easiest ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is through consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they run efficiently. Calling a trained professional to inspect your furnace for broken-down parts, clogs in the air filters and other common problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also beneficial to take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s recommended some filters be changed 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 more vigorously to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration pieces like the heat exchanger will experience.