A furnace is usually a background player at home, ensuring you're warm across the cold winter months. It frequently won't be noticed until a malfunction appears.
One root cause could be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can be a safety risk, so it’s worthwhile to know the symptoms of a cracked heat exchanger and what to 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 throughout the system. It typically handles this through coils or tubes that warm the air while functioning as a barrier to keep the gasses produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from getting out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its important role, it isn't surprising that a damaged heat exchanger can pose a risk. Cracks in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow through your home.
For this reason, do NOT turn on your heating if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make your entire household ill. Contact an HVAC professional immediately if you are worried your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace turns off: A cracked heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Unusual Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has a strong chemical smell, it might be a sign gas is leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which can smell like formaldehyde, are a common warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm is triggered or you feel poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm could go off or family members may experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling drowsy. If an alarm goes off or you feel sick, leave the home as soon as you can and then call for help.
- Soot: If you find black sooty accumulating near the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something may be seriously wrong.
What You Should Do if the Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a professional well versed in furnace installation Des Moines as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if necessary, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will 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 generally included in the warranty. You’ll want to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, since while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly shrink your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the easiest ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is via regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they run efficiently. Hiring a trained professional to inspect your furnace for old parts, dirty filters and other potential problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to inspect your furnace filters every few months – it’s recommended some filters be swapped out 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 the entire furnace work longer to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace has to work, the more wear and tear parts like the heat exchanger will experience.