A furnace is almost always a background player in your home, helping keep you warm across the cold winter months. It regularly won't be noticed until a malfunction appears.
One cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you are worried that may be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber inside your furnace to the air that moves through the system. It generally accomplishes this via coils or tubes that heat the air while acting as a barrier to keep byproducts created in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Given its central role, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be very dangerous. A damaged heat exchanger can allow dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate throughout your home.
For obvious reasons, do NOT turn on your heater if you think it has a cracked heat exchanger, as this could make the whole family sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional right away if you think your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger that needs repair.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: A cracked heat exchanger may cause your furnace to switch off.
- Odd Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a powerful chemical scent, it could be a sign gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you recognize health problems: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or family members could start experiencing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If an alarm goes off or you feel sick, get out of the home as soon as you can and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot black sooty accumulating on the exterior of your furnace, it’s more evidence something may be seriously wrong.
What to Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you believe your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, call a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation right away so they can take a look at your system and, if required, handle a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs often vary depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are often included in the warranty. It's a good idea to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly reduce your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is with routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces provide the best possible return on investment when they operate efficiently. Calling a trained professional to check your furnace for worn-out parts, clogs in the air filters and other common problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also beneficial to take a look at 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 are not part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of pulling air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work harder to do its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will sustain.