A furnace is often a background player at home, helping keep you warm during the cold winter months. It frequently won't be noticed until something breaks down.
One root cause might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s worthwhile to learn the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should 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 through the system. It generally accomplishes this using coils or tubes that heat the air while acting as a barrier to keep byproducts produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Given its important role, it’s no surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. A crack in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate through your home.
For obvious reasons, never turn on your furnace if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household ill. Call an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: Cracks in the heat exchanger can cause your furnace to shut off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a powerful chemical smell, it could be an indicator that gasses are seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you notice symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or family members may struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If the alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, exit the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot black sooty collecting around the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something might be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a pro experienced in furnace installation right away so they can take a look at your system and, if required, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates run in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly protected by the warranty. You should confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly shrink your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the easiest ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is via routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they operate efficiently. Calling a skilled professional to examine your furnace for old parts, dirty filters and other common problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to review 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 complete its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more strain pieces like the heat exchanger will endure.