A furnace is often a background player in your home, helping keep you warm in the cold winter months. It often doesn’t get 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 worthwhile to learn the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you should do if you believe 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 flows through the system. It typically does this through 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?
Thanks to its key role, it isn't surprising that a damaged heat exchanger can be very dangerous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate throughout your home.
For that reason, never use your heating if you suspect there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional right away if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: Cracks in the heat exchanger could cause your furnace to shut off.
- Strange Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has a powerful chemical scent, it might be a sign gasses are seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a major warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you recognize poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or household members might struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Complications include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If the alarm goes off or you feel unwell, leave the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you see black sooty buildup around the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something may be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can inspect your system and, if needed, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often differ depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are often covered by the warranty. You should review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty won't always 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 regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they run efficiently. Calling a certified professional to check 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 take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged some filters be changed 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 dragging air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work harder to do its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more deterioration pieces like the heat exchanger will sustain.