A furnace is often a background player at home, helping keep you warm in the cold winter months. It often isn't noticed until something breaks down.
One cause might 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 can do if you suspect that may be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that moves throughout the system. It generally does this through coils or tubes that warm the air while serving as a barrier to keep gas formed in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its key role, it isn't surprising that a broken heat exchanger can be very dangerous. A damaged heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed throughout your home.
For that reason, do NOT turn on your heating if you believe you're dealing with a cracked heat exchanger, as this could make the entire household ill. Call an HVAC professional immediately if you think your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A cracked heat exchanger can cause your furnace to turn off.
- Strange Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical smell, it may be a sign gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which may smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you notice symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or household members could struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. 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 see black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something could be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if a Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a pro experienced in furnace installation right away so they can examine 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.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally protected by the warranty. You’ll want to confirm the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly shrink your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the most convenient ways to prevent a problem in your furnace overall is via routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they work efficiently. Contacting a skilled professional to examine your furnace for worn-out parts, clogs in the air filters and other likely 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 encouraged 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 pulling air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work longer to complete its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more wear and tear components like the heat exchanger will endure.