A furnace is almost always a background player in your home, helping keep you warm during the cold winter months. It regularly isn't noticed until something goes wrong.
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 signs 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 inside the system. It generally handles this via coils or tubes that heat the air while acting as a barrier to keep byproducts formed in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Because of its key role, it’s no surprise that a broken heat exchanger can pose a risk. Cracks in the heat exchanger can permit dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow across your home.
For that reason, don't ever turn on your heater if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make the whole household sick. Contact 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 switches off: Cracks in the heat exchanger could cause your furnace to turn off.
- Odd Smells: If the air escaping your furnace has a strong chemical scent, it might be an indicator that gas is slipping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm goes off or you recognize health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide into your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or family members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If your alarm goes off or you feel unwell, leave the home immediately and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot black sooty accumulating on the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something might be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a professional well versed in furnace installation as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if needed, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should differ depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are regularly included in the warranty. You’ll want to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly lower your bill.
How to Prevent 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 offer the most benefits when they run efficiently. Calling a certified professional to check your furnace for worn-out parts, clogged filters and other common problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also beneficial to review your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged some filters be swapped out 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 pulling air through a clogged filter makes the entire furnace work harder to do its job. And the harder your furnace works, the more strain pieces like the heat exchanger will sustain.