A furnace is almost always a background player for your home, helping keep you warm across the cold winter months. It often won't be noticed until something breaks down.
One source might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s critical to know the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what you can do if you suspect 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 through the air ducts. It generally handles this with coils or tubes that heat the air while acting as a barrier to keep byproducts formed 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 cracked heat exchanger can pose a risk. A crack in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow throughout your home.
For obvious reasons, don't ever turn on your heater if you believe you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make the entire household sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional right away if you think your heating has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: A cracked heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Odd Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has a powerful chemical odor, it could be an indicator that gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you recognize poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is emitting carbon monoxide in 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 drowsy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, 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 more evidence something may be seriously wrong.
What to Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro 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 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 covered by the warranty. You’ll want to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty won't always cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly reduce your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is through consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they run efficiently. Hiring a trained professional to examine your furnace for broken-down parts, clogs in the air filters and other potential problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also a good idea to inspect your furnace filters every few months – it’s recommended some filters be replaced 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 drawing air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work longer to complete its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more deterioration parts like the heat exchanger will sustain.