A furnace is usually a background player in your home, ensuring you're warm across the cold winter months. It often doesn’t get noticed until something breaks down.
One root cause may be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs 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 transfers heat from the combustion chamber in your furnace to the air that flows through the system. It generally accomplishes this via coils or tubes that warm the air while serving as a barrier to keep byproducts produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Given its important role, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a cracked heat exchanger can pose a risk. A damaged heat exchanger can allow dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to circulate throughout your home.
For this reason, never turn on your furnace if you believe it has a cracked heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire household sick. Reach out to an HVAC professional right away if you are worried your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.
Four Symptoms of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace shuts off: Cracks in the heat exchanger can cause your furnace to shut off.
- Strange Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a strong chemical smell, it could be an indicator that gas is seeping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you notice symptoms of poisoning: If a cracked heat exchanger is relieving carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or household members could experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If the alarm goes off or you feel unwell, exit the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you spot black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something might be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a professional with extensive experience in furnace installation Mechanicsburg right away so they can inspect your system and, if needed, perform a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will fluctuate depending on the situation, but estimates can roughly suggest $1,000 to $3,000.
Estimates aside, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally included in the warranty. You should review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it could significantly shrink your bill.
How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the easiest ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is with routine furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they operate efficiently. Calling a certified professional to check your furnace for old parts, dirty filters and other likely problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful 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 a part of the heat exchanger itself, the strain of drawing air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work harder to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will experience.